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Carmichael v. Buss

United States District Court, D. Maryland

June 9, 2017

DAVID CARMICHAEL, Plaintiff,
v.
BENJAMIN BUSS, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          THEODORE D. CHUANG United States District Judge.

         David Carmichael, currently confined at Roxbury Correctional Institution ("RCI") in Hagerstown, Maryland, filed this action alleging that Benjamin Buss, a Correctional Officer at RCI, used excessive force against him in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.[1] Pending before the Court is Buss's Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion is denied.

         BACKGROUND

         The following facts are presented in the light most favorable to Carmichael, the nonmoving party.

         I. July 8, 2014 Incident

         On the morning of July 8, 2014, Buss was conducting a routine count of the inmates, during which he typically noted any inmate requests for showers, recreation, and phone calls. Both Carmichael and his cellmate, Bruce Owens, requested a shower, recreation time, and a phone call, which Buss noted on a piece of paper. Approximately 15 minutes later, Buss returned to their cell to escort them to the shower stalls. After the showers, Buss walked Carmichael and Owens back to their cell rather than providing them with recreation and a phone call. When Carmichael asked him why he had denied their requests for recreation and phone calls, Buss became agitated. Carmichael then asked to speak with a supervisor. Buss responded that he would "send a supervisor to the cell, " but Carmichael nevertheless asked again for a supervisor. Carmichael Dep. 88:21, 89:1-11, Pl.'s Opp'n Ex. A, ECF No. 51-1. Buss instructed Carmichael and Owens, in an angry, forceful tone, to step into the cell and closed the door behind them. Carmichael, who was handcuffed with his hands behind his back, put his hands through the food slot of the cell door so that Buss could remove his handcuffs. Buss uncuffed his left wrist and, as Carmichael extended his right arm through the food slot, Carmichael asked again for a supervisor. According to Carmichael, an agitated Buss then forcefully yanked Carmichael's right arm, still handcuffed, causing the right side of Carmichael's body, including his shoulder, to slam into the inside of the cell door. Carmichael pulled back, in the process breaking the handcuff key and pinching Buss's hand between the food slot and cell door. According to Owens, Buss "pulled" and "yanked" again once more. Owens Dep. 32:17-21, Pl.'s Opp'n Ex. C, ECF No. 51-3. For his part, Buss denies pulling Carmichael against the door and asserts that it was Carmichael, upset about not getting recreation time, who pulled away, causing Buss's hand to get caught in the food slot and the handcuff key to break.

         As a result of the July 8 incident, Carmichael felt pain in his right shoulder, which he described as an eight on a scale from one to ten, and a numbing sensation in his right hand from where the handcuff tightened around his right wrist. Carmichael asked for medical care on several occasions and continued to complain of pain for approximately one week or more.

         II. Internal Grievances

         Carmichael filed three Administrative Remedy Procedure forms ("ARPs") regarding the July 8, 2014 incident. According to the RCI inmate handbook, an ARP is "a formal complaint allowing formal appeal of the Warden's response to the Deputy Secretary for resolution of the complaint at Division Headquarters." Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 2, at 4. The first ARP, numbered RCI-0463-14 ("First ARP"), was submitted on July 8 and complains that Buss denied Carmichael his recreation that day "for no apparent reason." First ARP 1, Carmichael Dep. Ex. 6, Pl.'s Opp'n Ex. A. The second ARP, numbered RCI-0462-14 ("Second ARP"), was filed on July 10 and complains, as relevant here, about Buss's use of force on July 8, stating that Buss became "physically aggressive by forcefully yanking my arm through the door's open food slot" after Carmichael asked to speak to Buss's supervisor. Second ARP 1, Carmichael Dep. Ex. 7, Pl.'s Opp'n Ex. A. The third ARP, numbered RCI-0477-14 ("Third ARP") and submitted on July 18, also alleges that Buss "physically assaulted" Carmichael after he had asked for a supervisor. Third ARP 1, Carmichael Dep. Ex. 8, Pl.'s Opp'n Ex. A.

         On July 16, 2014, prison officials dismissed the First ARP as repetitive of the Second ARP. Sometime after the Second ARP was filed, Sergeant Harsh, the RCI ARP coordinator, asked Carmichael to "sign off on it because the incident involving Buss was "already being investigated" by the Internal Investigative Unit ("IIU") and was therefore "moot." Carmichael Dep. 156-57, Pl.'s Opp'n Ex. A; Carmichael Dep. 181-82, Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 1. On July 22, 2014, Carmichael withdrew the Second ARP, signing a form that stated, "I acknowledge that my complaint can not be further addressed through the administrative remedy procedure. I also understand that failure to exhaust the administrative remedy procedure by withdrawing my request may result in dismissal of my complaint at a higher level." Second ARP 1. Also on July 22, 2014, prison officials dismissed the Third ARP because the complaint had been forwarded to the IIU.

         Carmichael did not dispute the withdrawal of the Second ARP or appeal the dismissal of the First or Third ARPs. Carmichael did not take further action on the ARPs because of Sergeant Harsh's statements. According to Carmichael, "I took him for his word, " and "I had no reason to doubt what he was saying" because Carmichael received the IIU case number for the investigation of the July 8 incident. Carmichael Dep. 156-57, Pl.'s Opp'n Ex. A.

         According to the inmate handbook, an appeal of an ARP must be filed with the Inmate Grievance Office ("IGO") within 30 days of the final ARP decision. When Carmichael first arrived at RCI, he received a copy of the inmate handbook at an orientation session that included information on how to file ARPs. Carmichael acknowledged reading the handbook. In September 2014, Carmichael received a letter from Prisoner Rights Information System of Maryland, Inc. ("PRISM"), in response to a request for guidance on whether he could file a lawsuit or criminal charges against Buss. The letter, in relevant part, summarized the exhaustion requirement and appeals process, tracking the information set forth in the Inmate Handbook and DCD.

         III. Disciplinary Proceeding

         On July 8, 2014, after Carmichael had filed his first ARP relating to the July 8 incident, Buss filed a disciplinary ticket against Carmichael accusing him of assault or battery and damaging prison property based on the pinching of his hand and the breaking of the handcuff key. During a disciplinary hearing on July 16, 2014, Carmichael maintained that Buss had yanked him into the cell door by his cuffed right hand when he asked for a supervisor, and that "as a normal reaction, " he yanked it back. Mot. Summ. J. Ex 5, ECF No. 48-8. At the hearing, Carmichael stated in his defense that "I did not intentionally assault Officer Buss or cause any problem for him to issue me a ticket, " that Buss had filed the disciplinary ticket in retaliation for his filing of an ARP, and "whatever happened between Officer Buss and I-we both probably had a misunderstanding somewhere-and whatever happened, it never was not intentional. And I do apologize for that." Id. Hearing Office Peter Juknelis accepted Buss's version of events and penalized Carmichael by imposing 365 days of segregation, revoking 365 good-conduct credits, charging $4.99 in restitution for the broken handcuff key, and suspending visitation privileges for six months.

         DISCUSSION

         In his Motion, Buss seeks summary judgment in his favor on the grounds that: (1) Carmichael failed to exhaust his administrative remedies; (2) Buss did not engage in excessive force against Carmichael; and (3) Buss is entitled to qualified immunity because he did not violate a clearly established federal right. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion is denied.

         I. ...


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