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Ryidu-X v. Pennington

United States District Court, D. Maryland

June 13, 2016



          Catherine C. Blake United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Malcom Maxwell Ryidu-X, a prisoner confined within the Maryland Division of Correction ("DOC"), claims that his right to equal protection has been violated because he has been denied access to prison commissary services based on his use of a religious name. Now pending is a motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, motion for summary judgment filed by Lt. James Pennington and Russell Ambrose. A hearing is not needed to resolve the issues presented in this case. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2014). For reasons set forth below, the defendants' dispositive motion, construed as a motion for summary judgment, will be granted.


         On May 29, 2014, Ryidu-X filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against prison personnel ("the Correctional Defendants") and unidentified employees of Keefe Commissary Network, LLC ("Keefe"), the outside contractor charged with providing prison commissary services, claiming that they have violated his right to equal protection as well as his First and Eighth Amendment rights, from "April 27, 2013 through this, " by denying him "access to inmate commissary services to purchase personal hygiene and stationery materials, etc." because of his "religious practices and choice of name." (ECF No. 1 at 5-6, 9).[2]

         On July 6, 2015, the Honorable William D. Quarles, Jr.[3] entered a memorandum opinion and order dismissing defendants Keefe, DOC, Western Correctional Institution ("WCI"), Maryland Correctional Institution-Hagerstown ("MHI-H"), two John Does, Tony Unknown, Lee Ann Crawford, Maureen Reid, and granting the Correctional Defendants' motion for summary judgment with regard to Ryidu-X's First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment claims. Judge Quarles denied summary judgment as to the remaining claim regarding equal protection, and required Ryidu-X to supplement his complaint to name the Correctional Defendants responsible for overseeing the performance of Keefe employees at Jessup Correctional Institution ("JCI") and MCI-H. (ECF Nos. 31 and 32). The plaintiff complied with the court order, naming defendants Ambrose and Pennington. (ECF No. 37 at 2). In turn, these defendants have submitted a dispositive response to the complaint (ECF No. 42), which is opposed.[4] (ECF No. 44).

         This lawsuit derives in pertinent part from an earlier action wherein Ryidu-X asserted that prison personnel at JCI violated his constitutional rights by denying commissary, mail order privileges, and access to prison records when he used his adopted Islamic name. See Ryidu-x v. Wolfe, No. 11-358 (D. Md.). Judge Quarles granted summary judgment to the defendants, finding insufficient facts to establish a violation of constitutional magnitude with regard to Ryidu-X's First Amendment claim, and further finding that Ryidu-X failed to establish actual harm based on his due process claim that he had been denied access to various prison records. Ryidu-x v. Wolfe, No. 11-358, ECF No. 36 at 6-7.

         The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit appointed counsel to represent Ryidu-X on appeal. Ryidu-x v. Wolfe, No. 11-0358, ECF No. 42. On April 4, 2013, Ryidu-X, through counsel, entered into a settlement agreement with prison personnel and the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services ("DPSCS"), wherein:

Within Fourteen (14) days of the execution of this Settlement Agreement, (a) Appellant Ryidu-X will be transferred to Eastern Correctional Institution (ECI) or Western Correctional Institution (WCI) on either protective custody or administrative segregation status and be held in a single cell; (b) Appellant Ryidu-X will be provided at no cost to him an identification card with his religious name, Malcom Maxwell Ryidu-X, on the front of the card; and (c) the Deputy Secretary will issue a memorandum order that states as follows:
Malcom Maxwell Ryidu-X, who was committed under the name Richard Edward Janey, has encountered problems accessing prison services, including commissary, mail orders and packages, and records, when using his legal/religious name: Malcom Maxwell Ryidu-X. Under DPSCS/DOC regulation, Mr. Ryidu-X is entitled to use his legal/religious name to access prison services. All DPSCS/DOC personnel are HEREBY ORDERED to take the necessary steps to comply with DPSCS/DOC regulation to ensure Mr. Ryidu-X's ability to access prison services using his legal/religious name. This order is mandatory.
The order will be distributed directly to each of the following: two regional executive directors, two correctional directors, two wardens, the wardens' assistant wardens, the warden's security chiefs, and Appellant Ryidu-X's case manager. The security chiefs will give a copy of the order to the Captains who will ensure that it is promulgated to the security staff of the housing tier where Appellant Ryidu-X is housed. A copy of the order also will be given to Appellant Ryidu-X's counsel with the understanding that Appellant's counsel will give a copy to Appellant Ryidu-X. A copy of the order also will be placed in Appellant Ryidu-X's basefile.
Within fifteen (15) days of the execution of this Settlement Agreement, the Deputy Secretary's Office will submit to Appellees' counsel a compliance report, showing the status of the terms mentioned in paragraph 1, above.

(ECF No. 21-2 at 2-3). An order of voluntary dismissal of the appeal was subsequently issued. Ryidu-x v. Wolfe, No. 11-0358, ECF No. 43.

         As noted by Judge Quarles in the instant action, "implementation of the Settlement Agreement has not been seamless." (ECF No. 31 at 4). The alleged misconduct in this case began in April 2013, when Ryidu-X was housed at WCI. (ECF No. 1 at 6). He was transferred from WCI to MCI-H on or about December 17, 2013. (Id.) Thus, his equal protection claim spans conduct occurring at two prisons, WCI and MCI-H.

         In his declaration, defendant Pennington, who has held the position of WCI's Correctional Supply Officer Supervisor since 2001, describes the processing of prisoner commissary orders. (ECF No. 42-6 at ¶¶ 1, 5). Pennington asserts that prisoners order commissary items using forms called "scantrons, " which are collected by officers and taken to WCI's business office, where they are forwarded to Keefe, a private provider of prison commissary services. (Id. at ¶ 5). Pennington does not collect the scantrons and has no access to them until after copies are sent to Keefe. (Id. at ¶ 6). When commissary items arrive, they are distributed by Keefe employees; Pennington's only role in the distribution process is to monitor the items by X-ray to ensure that contraband does not enter the prison. (Id. at ¶¶ 7-8). Pennington is unaware of any discrimination on the part of those he supervises or Keefe employees, (id. at ΒΆΒΆ 10-11), and he plays no role in the updating ...

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