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Cohen v. Miller

United States District Court, D. Maryland

July 5, 2016

ANTHONY COHEN, Plaintiff
v.
ASSISTANT WARDEN RICHARD MILLER et al., Defendants

          MEMORANDUM

          WILLIAM M. NICKERSON SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss or for Summary Judgment (ECF 20) in response to the above-entitled civil rights complaint.[1] Plaintiff opposes the motion. ECF 29. The Court finds a hearing in this matter unnecessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2014). For the reasons stated below, Defendants' motion, construed as a Motion for Summary Judgment, shall be granted.

         This Court directed counsel for Defendants to respond to Plaintiff's Motion for Extension of Time indicating that he was denied access to legal materials during the pendency of this case. ECF 27. Prior to receipt of that response (ECF 30), Plaintiff filed a response indicating he had received his legal materials. ECF 28. The issue regarding his alleged denial of legal materials is therefore moot and will not be addressed further.

         Background

         Plaintiff Anthony Cohen, a prisoner confined to North Branch Correctional Institution ("NBCI"), alleges that on March 7, 2014, he was given a "false infraction" to cover up a "malicious and brutal attack" on Cohen by correctional officers. The assault was the subject of a prior case filed by Cohen in this Court. See Cohen v. Wexford Health Source, et al., Civil Action WMN-14-1850 (D. Md.).[2] He states that Officer Shawn Murray came to the isolation cell where Cohen was being held, told him he had an adjustment hearing, and then stated that Cohen would not be attending the hearing. ECF 1 at p. 3.

         On March 19, 2014, Cohen appealed the adjustment hearing decision to the warden, based on the refusal to allow him to attend the hearing. In his appeal, Cohen states he never received a copy of the infraction[3] prior to the hearing date and that Officer Murray's comment regarding Cohen's behavior being the reason he would not be allowed to attend the hearing was unfounded. ECF 1-1 at p. 2. Cohen stated that at the time he was told he could not attend the hearing, he was sitting in his cell with a fever, high blood pressure, and a mild concussion. Id. He further alleged that Murray was not an escort officer, nor was he involved in conducting adjustment hearings that day, so his presence at Cohen's cell constituted harassment. Id. Cohen claimed he could prove beyond a reasonable doubt he did not commit the assault had he been allowed to attend the hearing. Id. His appeal was denied by Assistant Warden Richard Miller on April 5, 2014. ECF 1 at pp. 3 - 4, see also ECF 1-1 at p. 12. Cohen appealed Miller's denial, to the Inmate Grievance Office ("IGO") on May 1, 2014. Id. at p. 4.

         Cohen states he sent three letters to the IGO inquiring about the status of his appeal, dated July 15, 2014, August 4, 2014, and August 18, 2014. Executive Director of the IGO, Scott Oakley, dismissed Cohen's appeal as untimely, maintaining the first correspondence received from Cohen was the letter dated August 18, 2014. ECF 1 at p. 4.

         Cohen appealed the IGO dismissal to the Circuit Court for Allegany County, alleging the dismissal was not valid because Cohen had "all returned letters of inquiry." ECF 1 at pp. 4 - 5 He states the letters were stamped received by the IGO on July 18, August 8, and August 25, 2014. Id., see also ECF 1-1 at pp. 15 - 20. The Circuit Court affirmed the IGO's decision in an order dated June 4, 2015. ECF 1-1 at p. 13.

         Cohen states that in a similar case, Assistant Commissioner Randy Watson issued a memorandum dated October 1, 2014, stating that an officer in a different case did not have the authority to decide that Cohen could not attend an adjustment hearing. ECF 1 at p. 5, see also ECF 1-1 at pp. 21-23.

         Cohen claims he has been housed in punitive segregation since 2013 based on false infractions for which he was not allowed to attend adjustment hearings. He explains that segregation inmates are not allowed any of the amenities permitted in general population. As relief he seeks ten thousand dollars in damages. ECF 1 at pp. 5 - 6.

         Defendants assert that Cohen refused to sign the receipt indicating he received a copy of the Notice of Infraction charging him with violation of rules 101 (assault or battery on staff) and 400 (disobeying a direct lawful order). ECF 20 at Ex. 1 at pp. 2 - 4. Cohen's refusal to sign the receipt was witnessed by Officers Marken and Shaffer. Id. at p. 2; see also Ex. 3 at p. 2.

         The adjustment hearing was conducted on March 11, 2014, by hearing officer La'Tricia Taylor. ECF 20 at Ex. 4. Defendants assert that Cohen was heard in absentia "because he was on staff alert due to his assault upon the officers." Id. at p. 8, Ex. 3 at p. 8, Ex. 5, p. 2, Ex. 6, p. 2. Defendants maintain that Cohen did not appeal the Warden's decision finding him guilty to the IGO until August 25, 2014. Id. at Ex. 4, pp. 12 - 13.

         Standard ...


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