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Lee v. Maryland Division of Corrections

United States District Court, D. Maryland

February 22, 2017

JOHN LEE, #181952 Plaintiff,
v.
THE MARYLAND DIVISION OF CORRECTIONS WAYNE A. WEBB PATRICIA GOINS-JOHNSON KEITH LYONS ROSETTE SWAN FRANCINE M. DAVIS Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          Catherine C. Blake United States District Judge

         Jessup Correctional Institution (“JCI”) inmate John Lee (“Lee”) filed a self-represented 42 U.S.C. § 1983 complaint for injunctive relief relating to Lee's claim that JCI staff failed to follow the ruling of an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) allowing for the receipt of incoming personal mail (greeting cards). ECF No. 1. Lee subsequently was permitted to amend his complaint to seek damages.[1] ECF Nos. 14 & 16.

         Defendants, by their counsel, have filed a motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, a motion for summary judgment, accompanied by a declaration. ECF No. 20. Lee has filed an opposition response and a motion for discovery. ECF Nos. 22 & 23. Oral hearing is not needed to resolve the issues. See Local Rule 106.5 (D. Md. 2016). For the reasons to follow, defendants' motion, construed as a motion for summary judgment, will be granted and judgment will be entered in their favor.

         Standard of Review

         Defendants' motion is styled as a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) or, in the alternative, for summary judgment under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. ECF No. 20. A motion styled in this manner implicates the court's discretion under Rule 12(d) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Kensington Vol. Fire Dept., Inc. v. Montgomery Cty., 788 F.Supp.2d 431, 436- 37 (D. Md. 2011). Ordinarily, a court “is not to consider matters outside the pleadings or resolve factual disputes when ruling on a motion to dismiss.” Bosiger v. U.S. Airways, 510 F.3d 442, 450 (4th Cir. 2007). However, under Rule 12(b)(6), a court, in its discretion, may consider matters outside of the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(d). If the court does so, “the motion must be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56, ” and “[a]ll parties must be given a reasonable opportunity to present all the material that is pertinent to the motion.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d). When the movant expressly captions its motion “in the alternative” as one for summary judgment and submits matters outside the pleadings for the court's consideration, the parties are deemed to be on notice that conversion under Rule 12(d) may occur; the court “does not have an obligation to notify parties of the obvious.” Laughlin v. Metro. Wash. Airports Auth., 149 F.3d 253, 261 (4th Cir. 1998).[2]

         A district judge has “complete discretion to determine whether or not to accept the submission of any material beyond the pleadings that is offered in conjunction with a Rule 12(b)(6) motion and rely on it, thereby converting the motion, or to reject it or simply not consider it.” 5C Wright & Miller, Federal Practice & Procedure § 1366, at 159 (3d ed. 2004, 2011 Supp.). This discretion “should be exercised with great caution and attention to the parties' procedural rights.” Id. at 149. In general, courts are guided by whether consideration of extraneous material “is likely to facilitate the disposition of the action” and “whether discovery prior to the utilization of the summary judgment procedure” is necessary. Id. at 165-67.

         Ordinarily, summary judgment is inappropriate “where the parties have not had an opportunity for reasonable discovery.” E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. v. Kolon Indus., Inc., 637 F.3d 435, 448-49 (4th Cir. 2011). However, “the party opposing summary judgment ‘cannot complain that summary judgment was granted without discovery unless that party had made an attempt to oppose the motion on the grounds that more time was needed for discovery.'” Harrods Ltd. v. Sixty Internet Domain Names, 302 F.3d 214, 244 (4th Cir. 2002) (quoting Evans v. Techs. Applications & Serv. Co., 80 F.3d 954, 961 (4th Cir. 1996)); see Putney v. Likin, 656 Fed. App'x 632, 638-39 (4th Cir. 2016). To raise adequately the issue that discovery is needed, the non-movant typically must file an affidavit or declaration pursuant to Rule 56(d) (formerly Rule 56(f)) explaining why, “for specified reasons, it cannot present facts essential to justify its opposition” without discovery. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(d); see Harrods, 302 F.3d at 244-45 (discussing affidavit requirement of former Rule 56(f)).

         “[T]o justify a denial of summary judgment on the grounds that additional discovery is necessary, the facts identified in a Rule 56 affidavit must be ‘essential to [the] opposition.'” Scott v. Nuvell Fin. Servs., LLC, 789 F.Supp.2d 637, 641 (D. Md. 2011) (alteration in original) (citation omitted). A non-moving party's Rule 56(d) request for additional discovery is properly denied “where the additional evidence sought for discovery would not have by itself created a genuine issue of material fact sufficient to defeat summary judgment.” Strag v. Bd. of Trs., Craven Cmty. Coll., 55 F.3d 943, 954 (4th Cir. 1995); see Amirmokri v. Abraham, 437 F.Supp.2d 414, 420 (D. Md. 2006), aff'd, 266 F. App'x 274 (4th Cir. 2008).

         If a non-moving party believes that further discovery is necessary before consideration of summary judgment, the party fails to file a Rule 56(d) affidavit at his peril, because “the failure to file an affidavit . . . is itself sufficient grounds to reject a claim that the opportunity for discovery was inadequate.” Harrods, 302 F.3d at 244 (internal quotations omitted). But the non-moving party's failure to file a Rule 56(d) affidavit cannot obligate a court to issue a summary judgment ruling that is obviously premature. Although the Fourth Circuit has placed “‘great weight'” on the Rule 56(d) affidavit and has said that a mere “reference to Rule 56(f) [now Rule 56(d)] and the need for additional discovery in a memorandum of law in opposition to a motion for summary judgment is not an adequate substitute for [an] affidavit, ” the appellate court has “not always insisted” on a Rule 56(d) affidavit. Id. (internal quotations omitted); see also Putney, 656 Fed. App'x at 638-40; Nader v. Blair, 549 F.3d 953, 961 (4th Cir. 2008). According to the Fourth Circuit, failure to file an affidavit may be excused “if the nonmoving party has adequately informed the district court that the motion is premature and that more discovery is necessary” and the “nonmoving party's objections before the district court served as the functional equivalent of an affidavit.” Harrods, 302 F.3d 244-45 (internal quotations omitted). Moreover, “[t]his is especially true where . . . the non-moving party is proceeding pro se.” Putney, 656 Fed. App'x at 638.

         Lee has filed a motion for discovery seeking information bulletins and inmate administrative remedy procedure grievances that were issued and filed between January 2011 and August 2016 and which concern inmate mail and property. ECF No. 23. He has not filed an affidavit under Rule 56(d) nor has he indicated that such discovery is needed to properly respond to defendants' motion and declaration, which does include relevant information bulletins related to inmate mail. Further, Lee's motion for discovery calls into question Local Rule 104.4 (D. Md. 2016) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(a)(1)(B)(iv), which provide that discovery shall not commence until a scheduling order is entered and that self-represented actions filed by prisoners are exempt from initial discovery disclosures. A scheduling order was not entered in this case. In light of the foregoing, I am satisfied that it is appropriate to address the defendants' opposed motion as one for summary judgment, both because it will facilitate resolution of the case and because the discovery sought by Lee is not needed for his response. Lee's motion for discovery will be denied.

         Summary judgment is governed by Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a), which provides in part:

The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

         The Supreme Court has clarified that this does not mean that any factual dispute will defeat the motion. By its very terms, this standard provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986) (emphasis in original). “A party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment ‘may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of [his] pleadings, ' but rather must ‘set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Bouchat v. Balt. Ravens Football Club, Inc., 346 F.3d 514, 525 (4th Cir. 2003) (alteration in original) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)). The court should “view the evidence in the light most favorable to . . . the nonmovant, and draw all inferences in her favor without weighing the evidence or assessing the witnesses' credibility.” Dennis v. Columbia Colleton Med. Ctr., Inc., 290 F.3d 639, 644-45 (4th Cir. 2002). Because plaintiff is self-represented, his submissions are liberally construed. See ...


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