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Ragins v. Burman

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

February 3, 2017

DERRICK BURMAN, et al, Defendants.


          George J. Hazel United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Maurice Ragins was being housed at the Baltimore Central Booking & Intake Facility ("BCBIF"), [1] where he alleges he was struck by Correctional Officer Sergeant Brett Thomas ("Sgt. Thomas") with an open hand, immediately followed by assaults from several other officers. ECF No. 1-1 at 2.[2]Mr. Ragins states that this occurred while Lieutenant Derrick Burman (Lt. Burman") stood and watched from the doorway. On August 20, 2015, the Court received Ragins" civil rights complaint filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.[3] Defendants have filed a Motion to Dismiss, or in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 16, and Ragins filed an Opposition. ECF No. 21. Defendants filed a Reply. ECF No. 24. No hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the following reasons, Defendants" Motion is denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Mr. Ragins states he was detained at the BCBIF in 2014. He claims that on May 8, 2014, after conversations with correctional officers regarding a prison transfer and cell reassignment. Sgt. Thomas struck him in the face with an open hand. Ragins alleges he was subsequently assaulted by other officers, who used their boots and fists, while Lt. Burman stood and watched the officers attack him. ECF No. 1 at 2. Ragins maintains that after he complied with an order to place his hands behind his back for cuffing, he was hither stomped and kicked by the officers, including Sgt. Thomas. ECF No. 1 at 2. Ragins claims that he was then pulled from the cell floor and escorted to the medical department, where he received medical treatment, hand photographs were taken of his bloody face and ear. Id. He asserts that he filed administrative remedy procedure ("ARP") grievances after his return to the Maryland Correctional Institution in Hagerstown ("MCIH"), but that they were dismissed for procedural reasons. Id. at 3; ECF No. 1-1. Ragins further states that he was cited with disciplinary rule violations and was found not guilty of the infractions. Id. He alleges his rights were violated under the Eighth Amendment Fourteenth Amendment, and Article 16 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights and seeks $500, 000.00 in damages. ECF No. 1 at 3.

         In their Motion to Dismiss, or in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment, submitted without affidavit or exhibits, Defendants argue that as a pre-trial detainee, Ragins cannot maintain his claims under the Eighth Amendment. ECF No. 16-1 at 4. Instead they maintain that the claim should be raised order the Fourteenth Amendment. Id. Defendants further argue that Ragins has failed to state a chair upon which relief can be granted as to his Maryland Declaration of Rights allegation because such a state law claim is "contingent on the presence of a federal claim, " and because Ragins has failed to raise any claim cognizable under Article 16. Id. at 5.


         Defendants' dispositive motion, which solely questions the adequacy of Ragins* Complaint, shall be evaluated as a Motion to Dismiss. The purpose of a motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) is to test the sufficiency of the complaint. See Presley v. City of Charlottesville, 464 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Cir. 2006). A plaintiffs complaint must satisfy the standard of Rule 8(a), which requires a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). "Rule 8(a)(2) still requires a 'showing, ' rather than a blanket assertion, of entitlement to relief." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly. 550 U.S. 544, 555 n.3 (2007). That showing must consist of more than "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action" or "naked assertion[s] devoid of further factual enhancement." Ashcroft v. Iqbal. 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal citations omitted).

         At this stage, the court must consider all well-pleaded allegations in a complaint as true, Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 268 (1994), and must construe all factual allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Harrison v. Westinghonse 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)). Because Ragins is self-represented, his submissions are liberally construed. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). In evaluating the Complaint, the Court need not accept unsupported legal allegations, Revene v. Charles Cnty. Comm'rs, 882 F.2d 870, 873 (4th Cir. 1989), nor must it agree with legal conclusions couched as factual allegations, Ashcroft, 556 U.S. 662 at 678, or conclusory factual allegations devoid of any reference to actual events. United Black Firefighters v. Hirst, 604 F.2d 844, 847 (4th Cir. 1979); see also Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 193 (4th Cir. 2009). "[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged, but it has not 'show[n] ... that the pleader is entitled to relief.", Iqbal 129 S.Ct. at 1950 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). Thus, "[determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id.

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Defendants' Motion to Dismiss

         Although Defendants are correct that as a pre-trial detainee Plaintiff cannot bring a claim under the Eighth Amendment, see City of Revere v. Massachusetts General Hosp., 463 U.S. 239, 244 (1983), he has indeed invoked the Fourteenth Amendment and the court will liberally construe this pro-se complaint as stating such a claim. The application of force involved in a detainee's confinement is evaluated under the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause. See United States v. Cobb, 905 F.2d 784, 788-789 (4th Cir. 1990). Under that standard, the use of force violates the Due Process Clause if it is intended as punishment. See id, 905 F.2d 784; Bibum v. Prince George 's Cty., 85 F.Supp.2d 557, 562 (D. Md. 2000). Punitive intent may be inferred when the application of the force was not reasonably related to a legitimate non-punitive objective. Cobb, 905 F.2d at 789.

         Plainly, Ragins' allegations that he was, without cause, assaulted by Sgt. Thomas with an open hand and kicked and stomped on by Sgt. Thomas and other officers while Lt. Burman stood by and watched, set out a Fourteenth Amendment claim. Thus, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss is denied.

         B. Pending Non-Dispositive Motions

         Ragins argues in his Motion to Appoint Counsel that the appointment of counsel is warranted because cf extraordinary and mitigating circumstances associated with his case ECF No. 27 at 2. He contends that the Complaint has "very complex issues." Id. He firmer states that he is currently suffering from post-traumatic distress as a result of being brutally abused with excessive force, ...

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