United States District Court, D. Maryland
W. GRIMM, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
before the Court is Azaniah Blankumsee's Verified
Complaint, filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which
alleges that Defendants violated his rights under the First
and Eighth Amendments to the Constitution of the United
States. ECF No. 1. Blankumsee claims that Defendants denied
him adequate medical care, interfered with his right of
access to courts, and unlawfully retaliated against him.
Id. Defendants, the Maryland Department of Public
Safety and Correctional Services (“DPSCS”),
Commissioner of Correction Dayena Corcoran,  Warden Richard J.
Graham, Jr., Assistant Warden Denise Gelsinger, Correctional
Officer II Christopher Loibel, and Correctional Officer II
Alicia A. Cartwright (collectively, the “State
Defendants”), filed a Motion to Dismiss or, in the
Alternative for Summary Judgment, supported by a Memorandum.
ECF Nos. 11, 11-1. Defendants Ryan Browning, LPN, Janice
Gilmore, Robustiano Barrera, M.D. and Wexford Health Sources,
Inc. (collectively, the “Medical Defendants”)
filed a separate Motion to Dismiss, or in the Alternative,
Motion for Summary Judgment, supported by a Memorandum. ECF
Nos. 21, 21-3. The Clerk sent notice to Blankumsee, who
is self-represented, informing him of his right to respond to
Defendants' dispositive motions and to file affidavits
and exhibits in support of his claims. ECF Nos. 16, 24.
Blankumsee filed Responses (ECF Nos. 20, 27) opposing
Defendants' Motions. The Medical Defendants filed a
Reply. ECF No. 28.
hearing is necessary. Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). After
considering the Verified Complaint, exhibits, and applicable
law, I will grant both dispositive motions.
is an inmate in the custody of the Maryland Division of
Correction and presently incarcerated at the Maryland
Correctional Institution in Hagerstown. The allegations in
Blankumsee's Complaint arise from incidents that occurred
during the time he was housed at the Western Correctional
Institution (“WCI”) in Cumberland, Maryland.
filed an administrative remedy procedure (“ARP”)
request, ARP-WCI-623-16, on March 21, 2016, complaining that
the medication Dr. Robustiano Barrera prescribed for him was
“being altered and interfered with” by registered
nurses assigned to administer medication. Compl. 3,
¶ 17; ARP-WCI-623-16, ECF No. 1-2. He alleges that,
to retaliate against him for filing ARP-WCI-623-16,
Defendants fabricated a story a few weeks later, on April 14,
2016, falsely claiming that he was hoarding prescription
medication. As a result, his pain medication was stopped,
“causing him unnecessary suffering and pain for 84
days.” Id. at 5, ¶ 27. In he
(matter not available)
to Blankumsee, the truth about the April 14, 2016 incident is
that, after he left the medication line and took his
medication, he was searched by “Officer Elliott,
” who did not find any contraband on him.
Compl. 3. Blankumsee was then approached by Officer Loibel,
who had found an empty medication cup on the grass. When
Loibel asked Blankumsee whether the cup was his, Blankumsee
responded, “No, after I took my medicine I threw my cup
in the trash.” Compl. 3. Blankumsee then returned to
his cell. That evening, Blankumsee learned that his pain
medication was discontinued for hoarding.
April 17, 2016, Blankumsee filed ARP WCI-913-16, challenging
the cessation of his pain medications for hoarding. ARP
WCI-913-16, at 1, ECF No. 1-4. In it, Blankumsee denied
hoarding medication. Id. On April 21, 2016, Angela
Cartwright, the institutional ARP Coordinator, procedurally
dismissed the ARP because Blankumsee had exceeded the limit
of requests approved by the Commissioner. Id.
3, 2016, Blankumsee filed ARP WCI-997-16. ARP WCI-997-16, at
1, ECF No. 11-5. In it, again referring to the incident on
April 14, 2016, Blankumsee asserted that Loibel was
“unprofessional” and, against prison policy,
left his post; as a result, he was unable to see Blankumsee
take his medications. Id. Blankumsee asserted that
he had taken his medication and discarded the cup and was not
found with any medication on him. Id. After
investigation and reports by Lieutenant L.C. Bennett (ARP
WCI-997-16, at 7-8) and Ryan Browning (id. at 4-5),
Acting Warden Denise Gelsinger denied the ARP on May 23,
Your request for administrative remedy is dismissed. On
4-14-16 you were observed by the medication nurse leaving the
medication window without taking your medication. Nursing
staff notified custody staff of this. The yard officer was
notified and instructed to complete a pat search on you.
While walking towards the officer you were observed dropping
something on the ground. It was discovered that you had
dropped a cup containing crushed medication on the ground. No
other medication was found on you at this time. Nursing staff
was notified of these events. Nursing staff then contacted
the onsite provider and were given instruction to discontinue
your Ultram and Neurontin due to hoarding. This was completed
and instructed by the doctor. You continue to be monitored
through the sick call process.
Id. at 3, 4-5. He appealed on June 7, 2016.
Id. at 11-13. His appeal was dismissed on June 20,
2016 for failure to provide additional evidence in support of
his claim. Id. at 15.
Count I, Blankumsee claims that Defendants Gelsinger, Loibel,
Wexford, Barrera, Gilmore, Browning, and Jane Doe provided
him inadequate medical care in violation of his rights under
the Eighth Amendment, thus causing him unnecessary pain.
Id. at 4, ¶¶ 22-25. In his opposition, he
argues that he was punished for hoarding, and suffered nerve
damage that paralyzes his fourth and fifth fingers on both
hands because his medication was stopped. Pl.'s Opp'n
Count II, Blankumsee claims that all Defendants interfered
with and denied him medical treatment for his serious and
chronic conditions for 84 days. Compl. 4, ¶ 27. In Count
III, Blankumsee alleges that Gelsinger and Cartwright
violated his right to seek redress under the First Amendment
by withholding necessary information and
“maliciously” dismissing his ARP complaints.
Id. at 5 ¶ 30. He faults Commissioner Corcoran
for violating his First Amendment rights by
“instigating and personally participating” in the
dismissal of his grievances without a hearing. Id.
at 5, ¶ 31. In Count IV, Blankumsee claims that DPSCS,
Graham, Gelsinger, Commissioner Corcoran, and Wexford Health
Sources, Inc. (“Wexford”), failed to train
employees and “respond appropriately.”
Id. at 5, ¶ 32.
seeks declaratory relief, injunctive relief “to
continue [his] medical treatment, ” $1 million dollars
in compensatory damages against each Defendant jointly and
severally, and $75, 000 in punitive damages against each
Defendant. Compl. 5, ¶¶ 35-37.
State Defendants provide the following version of the April
14, 2016 events, which they support with declarations and
verified copies of Blankumsee's prison records. ECF No.
11. On April 14, 2016, Nurse Jami Wratchford
was distributing medication to inmates. Wratchford notified
Officer Loibel that Blankumsee had left the medication window
without taking his medicine. Loibel Decl. ¶ 2, ECF No.
11-2. Loibel followed Blankumsee, who was walking very fast.
Loibel radioed Officer Elyard who was ahead of Blankumsee and
asked him to stop Blankumsee for a pat search. When Officer
Elyard called Blankumsee, Loibel, who was walking behind,
observed Blankumsee drop something on the ground so that
Elyard would not see it. Id. Elyard then proceeded
to pat search Blankumsee while Loibel approached them and
identified the dropped item, which was a medication cup with
crushed pills in it. Id. Loibel asked Blankumsee why
he threw down the pill cup. Blankumsee denied that the cup
was his. Loibel then informed Blankumsee that he needs to
take his medications before leaving the medication window
because staff is required to watch him ingest the medicine.
Loibel informed Nurse Wratchford that he found the pills.
Loibel learned from Wratchford that Blankumsee had not taken
his medications at the window in the past, but she had been
unable get an officer's attention to stop him.
Id. Loibel states that he has never conspired
against Blankumsee or interfered with his medical treatment
or receipt of prescribed medication. Id. ¶ 3.
staff contacted Dr. Barrera, who instructed them to
discontinue Blankumsee's prescriptions for Ultram,
Baclofen, and Neurontin due to hoarding. Barrera Aff. ¶
5, ECF No. 21-5; Med. Recs. 1-2, ECF No. 23.
medical contractors provide health care for WCI Inmates.
Graham Decl., ECF No. 11-3. Warden Graham does not have, nor
has he ever had the authority to influence the medical
decisions of the private medical care contractor.
Id. ¶ 2 Graham states that he is not licensed
to practice medicine and defers to the expertise of medical
providers concerning inmate health matters. Id. When
responding to WCI inmates' complaints about the medical
care, Warden Graham and his staff rely on the reports,
assessments, and judgments of the medical contractor's
trained medical staff to prepare any response for his
signature. Id. ¶ 4. Graham denies interfering
with, hindering, or delaying medical treatment or care to
Blankumsee. Id. ¶ 5.
Medical Defendants filed verified copies of Blankumsee's
relevant medical records and Dr. Barrera's affidavit (ECF
Nos. 23, 21-5) in support of their motion; that evidence
provides the following information. Blankumsee sustained
multiple gunshot wounds to his face and legs in 2000 and
fractured his left leg and right hand in vehicular accidents
in 1999 and 2002. He suffers from arthritis in his right
hand. Blankumsee was prescribed Ultram, Baclofen, and
Neurontin for his pain. Barrera Aff. ¶ 4.
Barrera discontinued Blankumsee's Ultram, Baclofen, and
Neurontin after he was informed that Blankumsee was caught
attempting to hoard the medication. Id. ¶ 5;
Med. Recs. 1-2. Immediately after the pain medication was
stopped, Blankumsee was able to complete his activities of
daily living without difficulty or assistance. Barrera Aff.
¶ 6; Med. Recs. 2. Blankumsee later refused several
substitute medications for his chronic pain, including Elavil
and steroid injections. Barrera Aff. ¶ 6; Med. Recs. 4,
Barrera states that inmate hoarding and distributing
prescription medications in prison is a serious offense. The
medical director has discretion to stop the medication of an
inmate who is hoarding or attempting to hoard prescription
medications. Dr. Barrera explains that in prisons, medication
is crushed for ingestion when there is concern of hoarding.
Crushing the medication does not affect its efficacy, but
renders it more difficult to hoard and/or distribute. Barrera
Aff. ¶¶ 7-8.
Barrera explains that terminating the pain medications was
medically appropriate because Blankumsee was hoarding, not
ingesting the medication. Hoarding is commonly practiced in
prisons as a means of acquiring contraband for the purpose of
obtaining other commodities or accommodations from other
inmates seeking the medications for their own use.
Additionally, hoarding may allow an inmate to store and then
ingest a much stronger dosage than medically prescribed,
thereby creating a substantial danger to the patient. Barrera
Supp. Aff. ¶ 4, ECF No. 28-2. Barrera states that
Blankumsee's hoarding “strongly indicate[s] that
Plaintiff did not medically need the pain medications.”
Id. Barrera asserts that his decision to discontinue
medication was in no manner a decision to retaliate against
Blankumsee or punish him. Id. ¶ 5.
to Dr. Barrera, there is no medical support for
Blankumsee's allegation that discontinuing the Ultram,
Neurontin, and Baclofen caused permanent loss of feeling in
the fourth and fifth fingers of his right hand. Id.
¶ 7. Further, Blankumsee's apparent hoarding
indicated that he had discontinued his pain medication on his
own. Barrera notes that Blankumsee previously had claimed to
be suffering from carpal tunnel symptoms in both hands while
on these medications. Id. Thus, the symptoms and
conditions that Blankumsee alleges resulted from
discontinuing the Ultram, Neurontin, and Baclofen
(unspecified chronic illnesses, arthritis, and unspecified
nerve damage with severe pain) existed before his medications
were discontinued. Further, Dr. Barrera states there is no
medical indication that discontinuing the pain medications
had any effect on these conditions. Id. ¶ 8.
Barerra states that Gilmore and Browning were not involved in
the decision to discontinue Blankumsee's medication.
Barrera Aff. ¶ 9. He opines that, to a reasonable degree
of medical probability, the decision to stop Blankunsee's
prescription pain medication due to hoarding was ...