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Tarpley v. Bishop

United States District Court, D. Maryland

August 2, 2016

STEVEN E. TARPLEY, Plaintiff,
v.
FRANK B. BISHOP, JR., et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          George L. Russell, III United States District Judge

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendants’, Warden Frank B. Bishop, Jr. (“Warden Bishop”), Chief of Security William S. Bohrer (“Chief Bohrer”), Officer Sharon L. Lipscomb (“Officer Lipscomb”), Lieutenant Thomas L. Sawyers (“Lieutenant Sawyers”), and Sergeant William L. Thomas (“Sergeant Thomas”), Motion to Dismiss or, in the alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 13). The Motion is ripe for disposition. Having reviewed the Motion and supporting documents, the Court finds no hearing necessary pursuant to Local Rule 105.6 (D.Md. 2016). For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant Defendants’ Motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Tarpley’s Allegations[1]

         Plaintiff Steven E. Tarpley is a prisoner confined to the North Branch Correctional Institution (“NBCI”) in Cumberland, Maryland. At all times relevant to the Complaint he was housed in Unit 2 in A or B wing. Although Unit 2 is a general-population housing unit, Tarpley did not have direct access to a mail box and, as such, had to rely on the NBCI corrections staff to properly deposit his outgoing mail for processing.

         On the morning of Thursday July 3, 2014, at approximately 8:00 a.m., Tarpley left his cell and handed Officer Lipscomb a 9 inch by 12 inch envelope containing responsive pleadings in a civil case Tarpley had filed in the Circuit Court for Allegany County, Maryland. As an indigent inmate, Tarpley made a request to Case Manager Susan Johnson for additional postage for his legal mail as required by Code of Maryland Administrative Regulations (“COMAR”) 12.02.20.03.B. Johnson, however, referred Tarpley back to the corrections staff. NBCI policy purportedly requires indigent inmates to attach a money voucher to any mail that requires additional postage which is then presented to the tier officer to be verified and is further approved by the Unit Manager. An amount equal to the postage required is then debited against the inmate’s account to be satisfied when sufficient funds reach the inmate’s account.

         On July 14, 2014, Tarpley learned that his civil action had been dismissed due to his failure to respond to a pending motion to dismiss (the “Outgoing Mail Incident”). Tarpley asked Officer Lipscomb what she had done with his legal mail, and she responded, “[i]f you can redo it, then I would redo it.” (Compl. at 4, ECF No. 1).

         Tarpley sent a letter to Assistant Commissioner Randy Watson complaining about criminal interference with his outgoing mail. In response, Captain Wigfield of the Internal Investigations Division (“IID”) interviewed Tarpley. Tarpley then received a letter from Wayne Webb, Executive Director of the Northern Region. Webb advised that an investigation revealed that the court did not receive Tarpley’s mail until one day after the deadline and there were no “inconsistencies” in the performance of the corrections staffs’ duties. (Defs.’ Mot. Dismiss or Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 3, ECF No. 13-5).

         Captain Wigfield and Director Webb allegedly ignored COMAR 12.02.20.04.B, which prohibits prison officials from holding outgoing mail for more than twenty-four hours, excluding weekends and holidays. Tarpley asserts that under COMAR 12.02.20.04.B, his legal mail should have been processed no later than Monday July 7, 2014.[2]

         B. Procedural History

         Tarpley filed his Complaint with this Court on July 1, 2015, raising claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (2012). Specifically, Tarpley maintains that when Lieutenant Sawyers, Officer Lipscomb, and Sergeant Thomas failed to timely process his outgoing legal mail they violated the First and Fourth Amendments to the United States Constitution and Article 26 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights. As for Warden Bishop and Chief Bohrer, Tarpley maintains they are liable under the doctrine of supervisory liability. Tarpley seeks a declaration that Defendants’ conduct in not timely processing his outgoing legal mail violated Tarpley’s federal constitutional rights, an injunction requiring prison officials to implement a means by which inmates may electronically file pleadings with any court, and compensatory and punitive damages.

         Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss or, in the alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment on December 28, 2015 (ECF No. 13). Tarpley submitted an Opposition on March 24, 2016 (ECF No. 19).

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Stand ...


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