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Chase v. Entire NBCI Prison Administration

United States District Court, D. Maryland

October 17, 2016



          Catherine C. Blake United States District Judge

         On February 18, 2015, Warren Chase, a Maryland Division of Correction (“DOC”) long-term disciplinary segregation prisoner incarcerated at the North Branch Correctional Institution in Cumberland, Maryland (“NBCI”), filed a civil rights action seeking money damages and injunctive relief mandating his removal from disciplinary segregation housing.[1] The complaint, accompanied by a motion and affidavit seeking in forma pauperis status (ECF No. 2), was granted subject to assessment of an initial partial filing fee and subsequent partial payments required pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1) and (2).[2]

         The complaint proceeded solely against Warden Frank Bishop, Jr., regarding plaintiff's claim that his indefinite placement on disciplinary segregation status has impacted his mental health. (ECF No. 4 at p. 2). Despite plaintiff's status as a “three strikes” litigant under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e), the claim proceeded as it arguably fell under the “imminent danger of serious physical injury” exception provided in § 1915(g). (ECF No. 1; ECF No. 4 at p. 2). Defendant was ordered to clarify how long plaintiff is likely to remain on segregation; whether his stay on disciplinary segregation status is actually for an indefinite period of time; whether regular review of plaintiff's placement on disciplinary segregation has occurred and will occur in the future; and whether plaintiff has been provided access to mental health services during his confinement.

         Following defendant's response (ECF No. 9), preliminary injunctive relief mandating plaintiff's immediate release from disciplinary segregation status was denied and defendant was ordered to analyze plaintiff's disciplinary segregation confinement in light of recent Fourth Circuit decisions, including Prieto v. Clarke, 780 F.3d 245 (4th Cir. 2015), and Incumaa v. Stirling, 791 F.3d 517, 531 (4th Cir. 2015), as amended (July 7, 2015). (ECF No. 11 at pp. 2-3). Defendant has complied, filing an unopposed[3] motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 15). A hearing in this matter is unnecessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For reasons set forth herein, the motion, construed as a motion for summary judgment, shall be granted and the case closed.


         Plaintiff asserts that his indefinite stay on disciplinary segregation since 2008 has caused “extreme social isolation” and impacted his mental health. Plaintiff also claims that he has not been permitted to take part in programming such as the Behavior Management Program (BMP) or for anger management, he has not had any of his disciplinary segregation time cut, he has not been protected from harm, he cannot exhaust administrative remedies because he is provided no forms, and mental health care is inadequate. He seeks declaratory and injunctive relief removing him from disciplinary segregation and 50 million dollars in damages.

         Acting Warden Richard Miller avers that plaintiff in fact is serving a defined, long-term assignment to disciplinary segregation status. (ECF No. 15-2, Miller Decl. at ¶ 5). Plaintiffs current release date from disciplinary segregation is January 18, 2032. (ECF No. 15-6, Inmate Data Manager). Plaintiff has accrued numerous institutional infractions during his incarceration.[4] (ECF No. 15-3, Randy Durst Records Decl. at ¶ 5; ECF No. 15-6, Rule Violations Summary).

         A warden has authority to suspend any and all of a disciplinary segregation sentence if deemed appropriate.[5] Although plaintiff had his disciplinary sentence reduced on March 22, 2013 (ECF No. 15-7), this option typically is not triggered because plaintiff continues to exhibit behavior detrimental to the security of the institution. (ECF No. 15-2 at 6).

         Plaintiff is housed on NBCI Housing Unit 1 in a single cell. (ECF No. 15-2 at ¶ 7; ECF No. 15-8; ECF No. 15-3, Durst Decl. at ¶ 9). Due to his history of assaultive behavior, he is classified as a Maximum II inmate, the highest security classification. (ECF No. 15-3, Durst Decl. at ¶ 9). His cell is situated between other cells and plaintiff is free to communicate with the occupants of those cells. (Id.). He has all the privileges afforded those on disciplinary segregation as outlined in Division of Correction Directive 110-6. (ECF No. 15-2 at ¶ 7; ECF No. 15-3, DCD 110-6 at pp. 61-67).

         Those on disciplinary segregation receive two showers each week, a weekly change of bed linen, monthly haircuts, out-of-cell activity, health care, and monthly reviews by case management staff. (ECF No. 15-2 at ¶ 7; ECF No. 15-3, DCD 110-6 (IV)(D)(1-3)(H, I, J) at pp. 63-64). Cell lights are generally turned off at night, with prisoners in control of the lights inside the cell. An exception is made for special housing inmates, who must rely on an officer to turn off the lights. (ECF No. 15-4, Bradly Wilt, Housing Unit 1 Manager, Decl. at ¶ 3). Out-of-cell activity is scheduled for at least five days each week for an hour, and is held outdoors, weather permitting. (ECF No. 15-3, DCD 110-6 (VI)(H) at p. 64; ECF No. 15-4 at ¶ 3).

         Medical care includes mental health and dental care. (ECF No. 15-3, DCD 110-6(VI)(I) at p. 64). Disciplinary segregation prisoners have access to educational services if provided by the Maryland State Department of Education, library services, legal reference materials, access to a chaplain for religious assistance, mail, commissary, and the material to clean their cells at least once each week. (ECF No. 15-3, DCD 110-6(VI)(K-M, O, Q-S) at pp. 64-66).

         Plaintiff may discuss his status monthly with NBCI case management staff. (ECF No. 15-8 at ¶ 7). A review of case notes for 2015 shows that on most occasions plaintiff attended those meetings. (Id; ECF No. 15-9, Confidential Case Notes). Plaintiff is seen by NBCI mental health, social work, medical, and case management staff on a regular basis. (ECF No. 15-8 at ¶ 8).

         NBCI offers both psychological and psychiatric treatment upon request, and mental health staff, medical staff, and corrections personnel may also refer a prisoner for mental health services if it appears necessary. (ECF No. 15-5, Decl. of Bruce Liller, MS, LCPC, NBCI Mental Health Program Manager, at ¶ 2). Appropriate medications may be prescribed or discontinued at the psychiatrist's direction. (Id.). Correctional personnel receive training about mental health issues and they are directed to seek mental health intervention for prisoners when appropriate. (Id.). In addition, as part of the mental health contract with a private entity, a nurse makes rounds in the Disciplinary/Administrative Segregation Housing weekly as another means to assess worsening mental health symptoms. (Id.).

         NBCI has a Special Needs Unit (SNU) which houses those with serious mental illnesses. (ECF No. 15-5 at ¶ 3). Plaintiff is not housed there because his poor conduct is deemed to stem mainly from behavioral maladjustment, rather than mental illness. (Id.). In the year following the filing of this lawsuit, plaintiff has been regularly monitored by medical and mental health staff and is deemed competent and responsible, with no worsening of his mental illness. (Id.). A review of medical and mental health records between February, 2014, and February, 2015, shows that he was physically seen and evaluated by health care and mental health personnel on numerous ...

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