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Lawson v. Green

United States District Court, D. Maryland

August 23, 2017

LARRY LAWSON, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
KATHLEEN GREEN, LT. W. JOSEPH and DIVISION OF CORRECTION, Defendants. v.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          THEODORE D. CHUANG, United States District Judge

         On December 24, 205,, self-represented Plaintiff Larry Lawson, Jr., an inmate at Eastern Correctional Institution ("ECI") in Westover, Maryland, was stabbed by another inmate. He now brings this civil action against Defendants Kathleen Green, the Warden of ECI at that time; Lieutenant Wendy Joseph, a correctional officer at ECI; and the Division of Correction (the "DOC") pursuant to 42 U.S.C. S 1983, alleging that Defendants failed adequately to protect him from a known threat to his health and safety, in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Pending before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, or in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion is GRANTED.

         BACKGROUND

         On May 29, 2015, Lawson was transferred from a housing unit on the east side of ECI to Housing Unit 2, on the west side of ECI. Lawson was transferred due to a dispute with Larry Pollin, a member of the Crips gang who was known to ECI officials to be an "enemy" of Lawson and was listed as such in Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services ("DPSCS") records. Pollin was flagged as Lawson's enemy when Lawson reported that Pollin had threatened to stab him or have other Crips members assault him. Pollin was served with an infraction as a result.

         On July 18, 2015, while in Housing Unit 2, Lawson provided information to ECI officials regarding contraband possessed by his cellmate. After providing the information, Lawson was placed in segregation in Housing Unit 4 as a preventative measure. While there, Lawson learned that other inmates had told his former cellmate that they had seen Lawson give a correctional officer a note about the contraband located in their cell, and the former cellmate had then told other inmates that Lawson was a snitch.

         Lawson was due to be released from segregation on July 27, 2015. That day, he participated in an interview with Lt. Joseph, then the manager of Housing Unit 2, regarding rehousing. Lawson told Lt. Joseph that he did not feel safe in Housing Unit 2, because "everybody knows about the information I gave officers in her building, " and because members of the Crips were housed there. Compl. at 5-6, ECF No. .. According to Lawson, all of the Crips at ECI were housed together on the D Tier of Housing Unit 2, and he had explained to Lt. Joseph months before "the danger of my safety being placed around known Crips." Id. at 6. Lt. Joseph did not offer Lawson the opportunity to make a written statement regarding his safety concerns.

         Instead of investigating Lawson's safety concerns, Lt. Joseph issued him infractions for refusing housing and disobeying an order. As a result, Lawson was returned to segregation. On July 28, 2015, Lawson completed an Administrative Remedy Procedure request ("ARP") challenging his return to segregation. In the ARP, Lawson stated that he had told Lt. Joseph that he could not be placed on the D Tier in Housing Unit 2 because he has a known enemy who is a member of the Crips gang, Crips are housed on the D Tier, and Lawson had previously been approached by a Crips member about "the reason I have [an] enemy as a Crip from [the] start." Lawson ARP at 1, Resp. Mot. Dismiss Ex. A, ECF No. 17-3. According to Lawson, the "only thing that was saving me" from the Crips members was the fact that he was previously assigned to C Tier, rather than D Tier. Id. In addition, Lawson stated that he had advised Lt. Joseph that "word got out about" the "info I gave on 7-18-15 about my cell buddy." Id. Lawson claimed that he had "told Lt. W. Joseph, I just want to be safe and it would be good for me to be placed in another building, " but that instead she had punished him by returning him to segregation. Id. On August 25, 205,, the complaint was dismissed by the Warden's office without a direct response from Warden Green. The ARP was stamped with the message that it was dismissed "for procedural reasons" because "[i]nmates may not seek to resolve a complaint through the ARP for Inmate disciplinary proceeding procedures and decisions." Id.

         After his release from segregation on November 9, 2015, Lawson was directed to return to Housing Unit 2. Lawson went to his cell as directed to avoid remaining in segregation. While assigned to Housing Unit 2, Lawson was extorted by other inmates and denied access to the public phones. On November 19, 2015, his television was stolen out of his cell. The television was recovered that same day. Lawson was then reassigned to Housing Unit 3. Lawson asserts that the transfer to Housing Unit 3 did not present less of a threat than his assignment to Housing Unit 2 because Housing Unit 3 is next door to Housing Unit 2, Lawson had been "labeled a snitch, " and other inmates were blaming him for the loss of contraband that was discovered and destroyed during the search for the television. Comp I. at 7. Lawson was approached by Crips members, who extorted him to pay for the lost contraband. Lawson asserts that instead of transferring him to Housing Unit 3, Lt. Joseph should have placed him on "pending 120" status, which refers to having a pending investigation of safety concerns. Id.

         On December 24, 2015, while assigned to Housing Unit 3, Lawson was attacked by another inmate. At approximately 8:15 p.m., while Lawson was making a telephone call, he was approached by another Housing Unit 3 inmate who told Lawson that he could not use the telephone. Lawson ignored him and continued with the call. Shortly afterwards, as Lawson was leaving the recreation room, the other inmate stabbed Lawson several times in the head and upper body with a homemade metal weapon. During security rounds, Correctional Officer Brian Tawney became aware of the attack when he saw that Lawson was bleeding profusely from his head. Lawson's injuries, which included a punctured lung, were severe enough to require his transport to the emergency room at Peninsula Regional Medical Center. Lawson remained hospitalized until January 1, 2016, when he was returned to ECI for further medical treatment. Lawson states that since the stabbing he has been dealing with mental and physical issues on a daily basis.

         Based on a description by Lawson, the assailant was identified as Oba Mitchiner. It is unknown whether Mitchiner is affiliated with any criminal gang. Mitchiner had not previously been identified by DPSCS as an enemy of Lawson.

         On January 11, 2016, Warden Green wrote to Lawson in response to correspondence Lawson sent to Maryland Governor Larry Hogan regarding the December assault.[1] In the letter, Warden Green acknowledged that after the theft of his television, Lawson was "moved to housing unit 3 from housing unit 2 as a preventative measure, " but stated that there was "no documentation on file that substantiates your claim that the institution had prior knowledge that you were in fear of your life or that you believed you would be harmed, while housing in unit 3." Resp. Mot. Dismiss Ex. D, ECF No. 17-6. In the letter, Warden Green also advised Lawson that because he had informed the investigating officer that he no longer felt safe in general population at ECI, Lawson had been placed on "the transfer list" and would be transferred to another institution when "safe, suitable housing" could be found. Id.

         DISCUSSION

         I. Motion to Appoint Counsel

         Pending before the Court is Lawson's Motion to Appoint Counsel. A federal district court may appoint counsel when an indigent claimant presents exceptional circumstance.. 28 U.S.C. S 1915(e)(1) (2012); see Cook v. Bounds,518 F.2d 779, 780 (4th Cir. 1975); see also Branch v. Cole, 686 F.2d 264, 266 (5th Cir. 1982). Upon careful consideration of Lawson's filings, the Court finds that he has demonstrated the ability either to articulate the legal and factual basis of his claims himself or to secure meaningful assistance in doing so. Because no hearing is necessary to the disposition of this ...


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