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Johnson v. Gayflor

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

August 24, 2017

EARL D. JOHNSON, JR. Plaintiff,
MORLEY GAYFLOR, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff Earl D. Johnson, presently an inmate at the Maryland Correctional Training Center in Hagerstown, Maryland, filed this pro se lawsuit against Defendants, the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services ("DPSCS")[1] and Sergeant Morley Gayflor (collectively, "Defendants"), pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Johnson claims that he was denied due process because Sgt. Gayflor filed a false report against Johnson for possession of a weapon. ECF No. 1. Johnson provided a supplement to the Complaint at the Court's direction. See ECF Nos. 4 and 5. Defendants, by their counsel, have filed a Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 16, to which Johnson has filed an Opposition. ECF No. 18. The matter is briefed and ready for disposition. The Court finds a hearing is unnecessary. See Loc. Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For reasons to follow, the Defendants' Motion, treated as a Motion to Dismiss, shall be granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Johnson filed suit on March 25, 2016, presenting claims arising from the time he was incarcerated at Roxbury Correctional Institution in Hagerstown, Maryland in July of201.. ECF No. 1 at 3. Johnson claims that on July 16, 2011, Defendant Gayflor charged him with possession of a weapon. Id. Johnson was found guilty after a disciplinary hearing and sanctioned with 240 days of solitary confinement and loss of 18 months of visiting privileges. Id., ECF No. 5 ¶ 4. Johnson maintains that he was found guilty despite the absence of a weapon, corroborating video footage, or evidence that he was present in the recreation yard where a weapon was found. ECF No. 1 at 3. He claims that because of Gayflor's "'false report" he could have been regarded as a "rat" and killed by prison gang members. Id. Johnson presents no claim of injury. He requests $2 million dollars in damages and other relief. Id.


         Defendants may "test the adequacy of a complaint by way of a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6)." Prelich v. Med. Res.. Inc., 813 F.Supp.2d 654, 660 (D. Md. 2011) (citing German v. Fox, 267 F.App'x 231, 233 (4th Cir. 2008)). Motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim do "not resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses'" Prelich. 813 F.Supp.2d at 660 (citing Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999). The court should not grant a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim for relief unless "it is clear that no relief could be granted under any set of facts that could be proved consistent with the allegations." GE Inv., Private Placement Partners II, Parker, 247 F.3d 543, 548 (4th Cir. 2001) (citing H.J. Inc. v. Northwestern Bell Tel. Co., 492 U.S. 229, 249-50) (1989)). To overcome a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a complaint must allege enough facts to state a plausible claim for relief. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007); Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). A claim is plausible 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.

         In evaluating the sufficiency of the Plaintiffs claims, the Court accepts factual allegations in the complaint as true and construes the factual allegations in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff. See Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 268 (1994); Lambeth v. Ed. of Comm'rs of Davidson Cty., 407 F.3d 266, 268 (4th Cir. 2005). In addition, when reviewing a motion to dismiss, the Court "may consider documents attached to the complaint, as well as documents attached to the motion to dismiss, if they are integral to the complaint and their authenticity is not disputed." Philips v. Pitt Cty. Mem'l Hasp., 572 F.3d 176, 180 (4th Cir. 2009) (internal citations omitted). The filings of self-represented plaintiffs, as here, are to be liberally construed. See Erickson v. Pardus, 55I U.S. 89, 94 (2007). Nevertheles,, the complaint must contain more than "legal conclusions, elements of a cause of action, and bare assertions devoid of further factual enhancement." Nemet Chevrolet, Ltd v., Inc., 591 F.3d 250, 255 (4th Cir. 2009). The Court is not obligated to accept unsupported legal allegations, Revene v. Charles County Commissioners, 882 F.2d 870, 873 (4th Cir. 1989) or legal conclusions couched as factual allegations, Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986).


         Defendants claim that, to the extent they are sued as state agencies, they are immune from suit, and that Plaintiffs claims against them are time-barred by the applicable statute of limitations. See ECF No. 16-1 at 6-7. Further, Defendants argue that there was no violation of Johnson's due process rights, and move to dismiss the Complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. See Id. at 4-6.

         A. Eleventh Amendment Immunity

         As a threshold matter, the federal claims against DPSCS, and the claims for damages against Gaytlor in his official capacity are barred by the Eleventh Amendmen.. ECF No. 16-1 at 6-7. Under the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution, a state, its agencies, and departments are immune from suits in federal court brought by its citizens or the citizens of another state, unless it consents. See Pennhurst State Sch. and Hasp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 100 (1984). While the State of Maryland has waived its sovereign immunity for certain types of cases brought in state courts, see Md. Code, State Gov't § 12-202(a), it has not waived its immunity under the Eleventh Amendment for all suits in federal court. See Gray v. Laws, 51 F.3d 426, 431-32 (4th Cir. 1995) (noting that "it is well established that an unconsenting State is immune from suits brought in federal courts by her own citizens ...") (internal citations omitted). DPSCS is a state agency. See Md. Code., Corr. Servs. §1-101(f). Hence, the claims against DPSCS shall be dismissed because it is immune from suit under the Eleventh Amendmen.

         Further, judgment against a public employee "in his official capacity" imposes liability on the public entity. See Brandon v. Holt. 469 U.S. 464, 471-72 (1985) (citing Monell v. New, York Dep't of Soc., Serv., 436 U.S. 658, 690 n.55 (1978) (internal quotation omitted)). The Complaint is silent as to whether the allegations are raised against Sgt. Morley in his official or personal capacities, or both. Thus, to the extent Johnson's Complaint brings claims for damages against Sgt. Gaytlor in his official capacity, they are tantamount to claims against the State of Maryland, and must also be dismissed.

         B. Statute of Limitations

         In addition, Johnson's claims, arising from events in 2011, are time-barred. "Section 1983 provides a federal cause of action. but in several respects relevant here, federal law looks to the law of the State in which the cause of action arose. This is so for the length of the statute of limitations: it is that which the State provides for personal-injury torts." Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384, 387 (2007) (citing Owens v. Okure. 488 U.S. 235, 249-50 (1989)). In Maryland, the applicable statute of limitations is three years from the date of the occurrence. See Md. Cts. & Jud. Proc. Code § 5-101. The question when a cause of action has accrued under § 1983. however, is a federal question. See Nassim v. AM House of Correction,64 F.3d 951, 955 ...

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