United States District Court, D. Maryland
ANTHONY M. SMALLS, #267031 Plaintiff,
THE PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT OF MARYLAND COURT CLERK'S OFFICE, Defendants.
Catherine C. Blake United States District Judge.
M. Smalls (“Smalls”) has filed a 42 U.S.C. §
1983 complaint for declaratory, injunctive, and monetary
relief against “The Prince George's County Circuit
Court of Maryland Court Clerks Office” and its
“court clerks.” In his complaint, filed on
December 15, 2016, Smalls claims his right of access to the
courts was violated due to the failure of the state court
clerk's office staff to properly handle and accept for
filing his petitions to reopen his post-conviction
proceedings and other “relative petitions, ”
submitted in 2015 and 2016, that collaterally attack his
conviction and sentence. (ECF No. 1, 2). He maintains that
four of his petitions were intentionally discarded and that
he did not become aware of this until June 2016.
defendants have filed a motion to dismiss or, in the
alternative, for summary judgment. (ECF No. 13). Smalls has
filed an opposition. (ECF No. 22). The defendants'
dispositive motion will be treated as a motion for summary
judgment and, for the following reasons, will be granted
without a hearing. See Local Rule 105.6. (D. Md.
to evidence offered by the defendants, Smalls was convicted
by a jury of first-degree rape, kidnapping, and other related
felonies in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County
in 1997. See State v. Smalls, Case No. CT962473X.
The conviction was affirmed by the Court of Special Appeals
of Maryland in March 1998. In October 1998, Smalls filed a
petition for post-conviction relief. A hearing was conducted
in April 1999, and relief was denied by Circuit Court Judge
Sherrie L. Krauser on December 29, 1999. His application for
leave to appeal that ruling was denied by the Court of
Special Appeals in January 2001. (See ECF No. 13-2,
defendants maintain that Smalls filed a petition to reopen
post-conviction proceedings in the circuit court on September
23, 2011, which was denied by Circuit Court Judge Michael P.
Whalen on November 3, 2011. On July 16, 2012, he filed a
second petition to reopen post-conviction proceedings, which
was denied by Judge Whalen on August 2, 2012. On October 22,
2012, Smalls filed a third petition to reopen post-conviction
proceedings, which was denied by Judge Whalen on December 18,
2012. On January 23, 2015, Smalls filed a fourth petition to
reopen post-conviction proceedings. On December 18, 2015, he
made three submissions to the court: a petition to withdraw
his previous petition to reopen post-conviction proceeding
without prejudice - which also requested permission to submit
a replacement petition to reopen - and two separate petitions
to reopen post-conviction proceedings. On April 12, 2016,
Smalls filed a petition to hold a hearing on his request to
reopen post-conviction proceedings. (ECF No. 13-2, 3, 20-21).
The defendants maintain the various petitions were filed and
docketed in his criminal case and transmitted to the circuit
court judge assigned to post-conviction matters, where they
remain for disposition. (Id. 3, 20-21).
defendants present several defenses. In particular, the
defendants claim that 1) they are immune from suit; 2) they
are not “persons” subject to suit under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983; 3) Smalls has failed to state any plausible
claim for which relief can be granted; and 4) Smalls has
failed to plead satisfaction of a condition precedent to
filing suit. (ECF No. 13-1, 5-17). In opposition, Smalls
contends that four petitions related to his motion to reopen
post-conviction proceedings were not properly handled. He
claims, for instance, that he filed two motions - one to
withdraw a previous petition to reopen post-conviction
proceedings, and the other to reopen post-conviction
proceedings - on July 14, 2015, which are not listed on the
state court docket. (See ECF No. 22, 19 & Exs. A
& B). Smalls also suggests that the defendants
inappropriately filed two petitions on December 18, 2015,
that were not submitted by the plaintiff. (Id. 19).
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. A motion styled in this
manner implicates the court's discretion under
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d). See Kensington Vol. Fire Dept., Inc.
v. Montgomery Cnty., 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). If, when
ruling on a motion under Rule 12(b)(6), a court considers
matters outside of the pleadings, the motion “must be
treated as one for summary judgment, ” 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); see Adams Housing, LLC v. City of
Salisbury, Maryland, 672 Fed. App'x. 220, 222 (4th
Cir. 2016) (per curiam). However, 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).
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.). 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.
the defendants have filed and relied on a declaration and
exhibit attached to their dispositive motion, (ECF No. 13-2),
their motion shall be treated as one for summary judgment.
Rule 56(a) provides that summary judgment should be granted
“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.” Fed.R.Civ.P.
56(a) (emphases added). “A dispute is genuine if
‘a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the
nonmoving party.'” Libertarian Party of Va. v.
Judd, 718 F.3d 308, 313 (4th Cir. 2013) (quoting
Dulaney v. Packaging Corp. of Am., 673 F.3d 323, 330
(4th Cir. 2012)). “A fact is material if it
‘might affect the outcome of the suit under the
governing law.'” Id. (quoting Anderson
v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)).
Accordingly, “the mere existence of some
alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat
an otherwise properly supported motion for summary
judgment[.]” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48.
“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 must view the evidence in the light most favorable
to the nonmoving party, Tolan v. Cotton, 134 S.Ct.
1861, 1866 (2014) (per curiam), and draw all reasonable
inferences in that party's favor, Scott v.
Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007) (citations omitted);
see also Jacobs v. N.C. Admin. Office of the Courts,
780 F.3d 562, 568-69 (4th Cir. 2015).
Smalls is self-represented, his submissions are liberally
construed. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94
(2007). At the same time, the court must “prevent
factually unsupported claims and defenses from proceeding to
trial.” Bouchat, 346 F.3d at 526 (quoting
Drewitt v. Pratt, 999 F.2d 774, 778-79 (4th Cir.
have a constitutionally protected right of access to the
courts. See Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 821
(1977). In particular, inmates must be provided the
“tools” they need in order to attack their
sentences, directly or collaterally, and to challenge the
conditions of their confinement. Lewis v. Casey, 518
U.S. 343, 355 (1996). However, “a prisoner wishing to
establish an unconstitutional burden on his right of access
to the courts must show ‘actual injury' to
‘the capability of bringing contemplated challenges to
sentences or conditions of confinement before the
courts.'” O'Dell v. Netherland, 112
F.3d 773, 776 (4th Cir. 1997) (quoting Lewis, 518
U.S. at 356). “The requirement that an inmate alleging
a violation of Bounds must show actual injury
derives ultimately from the doctrine of standing, a
constitutional principle that prevents courts of law from
undertaking tasks assigned to the political branches.”
Lewis, 518 U.S. at 349. It is a basic requirement
that the inmate asserting the claim show specific harm or
prejudice from the allegedly denied access. See Strickler