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Oakes v. Department of Public Safety

United States District Court, D. Maryland

November 18, 2016



          George L. Russell, III United States District Judge

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendants', Sgt. Treme Stone, Lt. Pius Uwalor, Lt. Brandon Barnett, Officer Misbau Raji, and Sgt. Iwill Mason (collectively, “Defendants”), Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 14) and Plaintiff Michael Oakes's Motion to Appoint Counsel (ECF No. 39). The Motions are ripe for disposition, and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D.Md. 2016). For the reasons outlined below, the Court will grant in part and deny in part Defendants' Motion and grant Oakes's Motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Oakes is a Maryland Division of Correction (“DOC”) inmate currently incarcerated at Brockbridge Correctional Facility. Defendants are corrections personnel employed by the DOC who work at Jessup Correctional Institution (“JCI”), Oakes' previous place of incarceration. In exhibits attached to the Complaint, Oakes alleges a use of force incident happened at 2:30 p.m. on December 17, 2012, in B-Building, C-Wing. (Compl. at 4, ECF No. 1-1).[1] Oakes states Raji, without provocation, threw him to the ground. (Id. at 4). Oakes pleads he was taken to the medical department following this incident because of the bruising, swelling, and bloody nose he suffered. (Id. at 4-5). He alleges a second incident occurred between 3 and 4:00 p.m. that same day, while he was under escort from the medical department to a cell in lockup. (Id. at 5). Oakes states an unknown officer grabbed and twisted his wrists. (Id.). Barnett and Uwalor then forced him to the ground and kicked him in the face, back, head, and private area. (Id.). He alleges Barnett then pulled up and threw him into a wall. (Id. at 4-5). Oakes asserts this second incident was videotaped by Stone and that he sustained a swollen face, black eyes, scrapes, cuts and bruises, blood in his urine, and partial loss of movement in his left wrist which continued for several days. ( 5-6, 9). Oakes states generally that his personal property was damaged during the second incident and that after he requested a copy of the video, officers began “an intimidation campaign” against him. (Id. at 44).

         Oakes filed a complaint on June 20, 2014, raising 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims for excessive use of force, failure to provide medical care, and retaliation. (ECF No. 1). In addition to unspecified money damages, Oakes asks that disciplinary action be taken against Defendants. (Compl. at 3). He amended his Complaint to provide Defendants' names on July 17, 2014. (ECF No. 5). The Court dismissed the Department of Public Safety and the Inmate Grievance Office on August 7, 2015. (ECF No. 6).

         On November 5, 2014, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 14). On November 24, 2014, Oakes filed a “Response to Motion for Dismissal” opposing Defendants' Motion. (ECF No. 16). On March 25, 2015, this Court denied Defendants' Motion without prejudice and ordered counsel to file copies of Vicon Net video recordings purportedly showing the interaction between Barnett, Raji, and Oakes outside the day room on the tier, as well as the interaction between Oakes and several officers outside the medical department. (ECF No. 21). This supplemental material was filed on April 24, 2015. (ECF No. 24). Oakes was provided the opportunity to review the recordings. (Burton Decl. Ex. 1 at ¶¶ 2-4, ECF No. 24-1; Richardson Decl. Ex. 2 at ¶¶ 1-2, ECF No. 24-2). Oakes filed a Supplemental Opposition Response (ECF No. 25), and Defendants filed a Reply. (ECF No. 28).

         On June 5, 2015, the Clerk received a Motion for Voluntary Dismissal (ECF No. 29), which Defendants did not oppose. (ECF No. 30). Oakes' Motion did not contain his Inmate Identification Number and the signature on the Motion did not match his signature on previous pleadings. (Staff Note of June 8, 2015). The Court then directed Oakes to clarify whether the Motion for Voluntary Dismissal was, in fact, filed by him or on his behalf. (ECF No. 31). Oakes indicated he did not file the Motion (ECF No. 32), and on October 6, 2015, the Motion was denied. (ECF No. 34). On May 4, 2016, Oakes notified the Clerk that he was no longer housed at JCI. (ECF No. 38).


         A. Standard of Review

         In this case, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss, or in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 22). A motion styled as a motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment implicates the Court's discretion under Rule 12(d). See Kensington Vol. Fire Dept., Inc. v. Montgomery Cty., 788 F.Supp.2d 431, 436-37 (D.Md. 2011), aff'd sub nom. Kensington Volunteer Fire Dep't, Inc. v. Montgomery Cty., 684 F.3d 462 (4th Cir. 2012). In the Court's discretion, it will not convert Defendants' Motion to Dismiss into a Motion for Summary Judgment.

         A complaint fails to state a claim if it does not contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), or does not state “a plausible claim for relief.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Though the plaintiff is not required to forecast evidence to prove the elements of the claim, the complaint must allege sufficient facts to establish each element. Goss v. Bank of Am., N.A., 917 F.Supp.2d 445, 449 (D.Md. 2013) (quoting Walters v. McMahen, 684 F.3d 435, 439 (4th Cir. 2012)) (internal quotation marks omitted), aff'd sub nom., Goss v. Bank of Am., NA, 546 F.App'x 165 (4th Cir. 2013).

         Pro se pleadings, however, are liberally construed and held to a less stringent standard than pleadings drafted by lawyers. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (citing Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)); accord Brown v. N.C. Dep't of Corr., 612 F.3d 720, 722 (4th Cir. 2010). In considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, read the complaint as a whole, and take the facts asserted therein as true. See Harrison v. Westinghouse Savannah River Co., 176 F.3d 776, 783 (4th Cir. 1999) (citing Mylan Labs., Inc. v. Matkari, 7 F.3d 1130, 1134 (4th Cir. 1993)).

         Here, Oakes attaches several exhibits to his Complaint; indeed, all of his allegations are found in his exhibits. At the 12(b)(6) stage, the court may consider the documents attached to the complaint. Abadian v. Lee, 117 F.Supp.2d 481, 485 (D.Md. 2000); see Fed.R.Civ.P. 10(c). When the “bare allegations of the complaint” conflict with any exhibits, however, whether attached or adopted by reference, the exhibits prevail. RaceRedi Motorsports, LLC v. Dart Mach., Ltd., 640 F.Supp.2d 660, 664 (D.Md. 2009) (citing Fayetteville Investors v. Commercial Builders, Inc., 936 F.2d 1462, 1465 (4th Cir. 1991).

         B. Analysis

         1. Sovereign Immunity

         Under the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution, a state, its agencies and departments are immune from suits in federal court brought by its citizens or the citizens of another state, unless it consents. See Pennhurst State School and Hospital v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 100 (1984). While the State of Maryland has waived its sovereign immunity for certain types of cases brought in state courts, see Md. State Gov't Code Ann., § 12-202(a), it has not waived its immunity under the Eleventh Amendment to suit in federal court. To the extent that Oakes seeks damages from Defendants in their official capacities, Defendants correctly state that they are immune from such damages. See Fed. Mar. Comm'n v. S.C. State Ports Auth., 535 U.S. 743, 760 (2002); Brandon v. Holt, 469 U.S. 464, 471-72 (1985).

         2. Administrative Exhaustion

         Defendants argue that Oakes' claim against Defendant Raji and his claims concerning denial of medical care should be dismissed because none of these claims was fully exhausted through the administrative process. “Motions to dismiss for failure to exhaust administrative remedies are governed by Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.” Khoury v. Meserve, 268 F.Supp.2d 600, 606 (D.Md. 2003). Accordingly, Defendants' Motion will be treated as a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction for the purpose of their exhaustion argument. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1); Jones v. Calvert Group, Ltd., 551 F.3d 297, 300 (4th Cir. 2009) (explaining ...

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