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Ames v. Mallow

United States District Court, D. Maryland

March 3, 2017

MICHAEL L. AMES, #408348 Plaintiff



         Pending is Michael Ames's complaint filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. ECF No. 1. Corporal Warren G. Mallow, Sergeant Janet M. Puffenbarger, and Warden Frank B. Bishop, by their attorneys, have filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim or, in the alternative, motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 23), to which Ames replied.[1] ECF No. 28. No hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the reasons stated below, the court will grant defendants' motion. ECF No. 23. The claims against Puffenbarger and Bishop will be dismissed. Summary judgment will be granted in favor of Mallow. The court declines to assert supplemental jurisdiction over Ames's state law claims.


         Michael Ames is an inmate at North Branch Correctional Institution (“NBCI”) in Cumberland, Maryland. He submitted a complaint in the form of an affidavit, claiming that on October 28, 2015, Mallow, a member of the NBCI correctional staff, “viciously with force slammed” the cell door feed slot on his hand. ECF 1-1 at p. 3. ¶ 17. Ames claims his wrist and hand were bleeding and Mallow denied him medical care. Id. ¶ 19. Ames states Officer Durst arrived “to see what the commotion was” and observed Ames's right arm/hand pinned in the slot. ECF No. 1 at p. 3, ¶ 19. Officer Rounds arrived and told Ames that he would escort him to the medical room if he removed his hand form the feed slot. Id. at ¶ 20. Ames then removed his “injured hand.” Id. Rounds escorted Ames to the medical room and photographs were taken of Ames. Id. ¶ 20. Ames claims that he suffered several cuts, his hand and wrist swelled, he lost feeling for days, and he suffered severe pain. Id. ¶ 30. Later in the complaint, Ames alleges Mallow slammed his hand and wrist in the slot, told him to remove his hand from the slot, and slammed the metal slot again on his already bleeding and injured hand. Id. at ¶¶ 25, 26.

         Ames faults Sergeant Janet Puffenbarger for “on numerous occasions” ignoring his complaints against Mallow and other officers. Id. Ames claims that Warden Bishop refuses to properly investigate inmate complaints and, as a “direct result, ” Ames was assaulted. Id. ¶¶ 23, 28, 29. Ames claims Defendants' conduct violated his rights under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution as well as Maryland state law, and seeks declaratory and injunctive relief. He also seeks compensatory damages of $100, 000.00 against Mallow, $25, 000.00 against Puffenbarger, and $50, 000.00 against Bishop as well as punitive damages against Mallow, Puffenbarger, and Bishop in the amounts of $150, 000.00, $50, 000.00, and $75, 000.00, respectively. ECF No. 1 at 5.

         In support of the complaint, Ames submitted affidavits from inmates Dominick Simmons, #422-791, John Wagner, #371-133, and Anthony Cohen, #194-438. ECF 1-1 at pp. 4-10. Wagner states that on October 28, 2015, he heard Mallow tell Ames that he was not going to get a meal that day. Wagner states that he heard Ames say “give me my tray” and then heard the sound of the metal slot closing and Ames scream about his hand and his wrist. ECF 1-1 at p. 5, ¶ 5. Wagner states he could hear the slide opening and closing. Id.¶¶ 5, 7.[2] Wagner states that Ames left a trail of blood behind him on the tier and yelled in pain when he was escorted to the medical room. Id. at p. 6 ¶ 8. Simmons states he saw Mallow slam Ames's hand in the metal feed slot twice. ECF No. 1-1 at 8. Anthony Cohen states that Mallow slammed Ames's hand in the feed slot as he attempted to grab his lunch and Ames yelled out in pain. Id. at 9. According to Cohen, Mallow stated that “he didn't give a fuck now grab your tray bitch.” Id. Cohen states “Ames could not move his hand until he received medical attention (which was bleeding) [sic]” and Ames requested a supervisor to take pictures and his statement, which was denied. ECF 1-1 at 9.[3] Cohen claims Officer Durst[4] returned to Ames's cell and saw Ames's hand and wrist trapped in the slot bleeding and did nothing to remove Ames's hand or relieve his suffering. Id. at 10.[5]

         In the “Facts” section of the complaint, Ames describes events that allegedly occurred on the previous day, October 27, 2015, but he raises no specific claims based on these events. ECF No. 1 at pp. 2-3. Ames seemingly presents these allegations to provide context to his claim.[6]Ames alleges that on October 27, 2015, he had “words” with Mallow, after which Mallow instructed another prisoner to harm him by stating “Shit Ames' Big Mouth Ass Down and I'll take care of you and I'll back you up.” ECF No. 1 at 2 ¶ 8. Ames alleges Mallow arranged for another inmate to squirt a liquid concoction of feces on him later that day. Id. ¶ 10. Ames also claims Mallow denied him a meal and taunted him. ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 10, 11. The court recognizes that Ames is a self-represented litigant and his pleadings must be accorded liberal construction. See e.g., Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). Accordingly, these assertions shall also be considered.


         I. Motion to Dismiss

         A complaint must contain “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Facial plausibility exists “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. An inference of a mere possibility of misconduct is not sufficient to support a plausible claim. Id. at 679. The Supreme Court in Twombly stated, “Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” 550 U.S. at 555. “A pleading that offers ‘labels and conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'...Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders ‘naked assertion[s]' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557). Although when considering a motion to dismiss a court must accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint, this principle does not apply to legal conclusions couched as factual allegations. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. The claims against defendants Puffenbarger and Bishop will be reviewed under this standard.

         II. Motion for Summary Judgment

         Defendants assert they are entitled to dismissal or summary judgment in their favor on several grounds, including lack of exhaustion and there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact. Summary judgment is proper when the moving party demonstrates, through “particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations ..., admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials, ” that “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a), (c)(1)(A); see Baldwin v. City of Greensboro, 714 F.3d 828, 833 (4th Cir. 2013). If the party seeking summary judgment demonstrates that there is no evidence to support the nonmoving party's case, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to identify evidence that shows a genuine dispute exists as to material facts. See Celotex v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986). The existence of only a “scintilla of evidence” is not enough to defeat a motion for summary judgment. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986). Instead, the evidentiary materials submitted must show facts from which the finder of fact reasonably could find for the party opposing summary judgment. Id. “In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, this Court reviews the facts and all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Downing v. Baltimore City Bd. of School Comm'rs, Civ. No. RDB 12-1047, 2015 WL 1186430, at *1 (D. Md. Mar. 13, 2015) (citing Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007)).

         Defendants have filed copies of verified documents and declarations with their pleadings. The court may consider a wider range of documents when it treats a motion to dismiss as a motion for summary judgment, which it may do pursuant to Rule 12(d). See Syncrude Canada Ltd. v. Highland Consulting Group, Inc., 916 F.Supp.2d 620, 623 (D. Md. 2013). When the court does so, “[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). Notably, “the Federal Rules do not prescribe that any particular notice be given before a Rule 12 motion is converted to a Rule 56 motion.” Ridgell v. Astrue, Civ. No. DKC-10-3280, 2012 WL 707008, at *7 (D. Md. Mar. 2, 2012). Thus, this requirement “can be satisfied when a party is ‘aware that material outside the pleadings is before the court.'” Walker v. Univ. of Md. Med. Sys. Corp., Civ. No. CCB-12-3151, 2013 WL 2370442, at *3 (D. Md. May 30, 2013) (quoting Gay v. Wall, 761 F.2d 175, 177 (4th Cir. 1985)). Though the Court “clearly has an obligation to notify parties regarding any court-instituted changes in the pending proceedings, [it] 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). Here, defendants designate their motion as a “motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, motion for summary judgment.” Ames was provided the opportunity to dispute these exhibits with verified exhibits and affidavits. ECF No. 24. Thus, the Court deems it appropriate to review the claims against Mallow in the context of a motion for summary judgment.


         In October of 2015, Ames was incarcerated in disciplinary segregation in Housing Unit 1. Inmates on disciplinary status have meals brought them because they are not allowed to leave their housing units. ECF No. 23-2 (Mallow decl.). Inmate meals are passed on a tray through the “feed slot, ” a rectangular opening in the middle of the cell door, which is secured by a sliding door, sometimes called a “slider, ” which usually opens left to right. ECF No. 23-3 (Werner decl.). The slider is locked and unlocked with a key that is placed in a lock located near the side of the feed slot. As the slider pulls closed, the key locks into place and the slider cannot be pulled back open, unless the officer stops and manipulates the key again. The edge of the slider has “teeth” which run against the grooves along the edge of the feed slot. Neither the teeth nor the grooves are exposed in order to minimize risk of injury. The design provides security measures so that an inmate cannot force the slot open. Some cells have a small box covering the feed slot for additional security. The box is secured with a latch and must be opened and pulled down. The food tray is placed in the box as the food passes through the slot. After the inmate receives his food, the slot is closed for security reasons. ECF No. 23-3. Ames's cell was equipped with a security box on the feed slot. ECF 23-2.

         Mallow states that on October 28, 2015, at approximately 9:30 a.m., he was distributing meals on Housing Unit 1. ECF 23-2 at p. 6 (Mallow decl); ECF 23-6 (Information Report Form). Because Ames was disruptive and threatening to staff, Mallow placed the food tray into the security slot, but did not immediately open the slot due to Ames's “hysteria.” ECF 23-6. Mallow asked Ames to calm down and said that he would return to give him his meal in ten minutes after he finished passing out and collecting the trays of other inmates on the tier. Ames agreed. Upon returning to Ames's cell, Mallow opened the slider. Ames said he no longer wanted the food tray so Mallow proceeded to close the security slot. When the slider was almost closed, Ames shoved his arm out. Mallow states he stopped the slider when it was just short of striking Ames's arm. Id. Mallow ordered Ames to remove his arm and hand, but Ames refused and wanted the officer in charge. Mallow then called Officer D. Rounds, Sr., to bring a security barrier to the cell. Before the barrier was placed, Ames stated, “you assaulted me, I got you all now.” Id. Mallow checked and observed no marks or injuries on Ames's arm. Once the barrier was set in front of the cell, Mallow told Ames he would give him another chance to close the slot after he calmed down. Id. In his declaration, Mallow attests: “At no time did I purposely shut the sliding door on Mr. Ames or on his arm.” ECF 23-2 ¶ 6.

         Officer Rounds states that when he arrived at Ames's cell, he observed Ames's right hand was wrapped around a drinking cup and he was refusing to remove his arm from the slot and take his meal. ECF 23-6 at 34. Rounds saw no injury to Ames's right arm that was breaching the slot until several minutes later, after he retrieved the barricade. ECF No. 23-6. Rounds states at no time did he see Mallow slam or shut the sliding feed slot door onto Ames's arm. A few minutes later, Rounds returned to Ames's cell during routine checks on the tier. Rounds noticed that Ames had calmed and had a small cut on his hand. Rounds states he does not know when Ames received ...

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