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Irons v. Lt. S. Goldman

United States District Court, D. Maryland

September 12, 2017

DARRYL IRONS, Plaintiff,
v.
LT. S. GOLDMAN, CAPT. W. BENNETT, OFFICER C. SHIELDS, MAJOR W. MOTT, WARDEN L. ARMSTEAD, P. JUKNELIS, Hearing Officer of Record, and C. SESSIONS, Headquarters Coordinator, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          THEODORE D. CHUANG UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Darryl Irons, currently confined at Patuxent Institution, has filed this civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that Lieutenant S. Goldman, Captain W. Bennett, Officer C. Shields, Major W. Mott, Warden L. Armstead, Hearing Officer P. Juknelis, and Headquarters Coordinator C. Sessions (collectively, "Defendants") denied him due process through, and subjected him to cruel and unusual punishment as a result of, prison disciplinary proceedings. Pending before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment. Having reviewed the submitted materials, the Court finds no hearing necessary. See D. Md. Local R. 105.6 (2016). For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' Motion, construed as a motion for summary judgment, is GRANTED.

         BACKGROUND

         The salient facts of this case are not in dispute. On April 19, 2015, Irons was instructed by a correctional officer to report immediately to the prison medical facility to provide a urine sample for a random drug test. He promptly complied. On April 27, 2015, Irons was issued a Notice of Inmate Rule Violation ("Violation") charging him with violating Rule 115, which prohibits inmates from, as relevant here, providing a diluted urine sample. Department of Corrections ("DOC") policy defines a diluted urine sample as one with a creatine level of 20 milligrams per deciliter or less. The Violation, signed by Defendant Goldman, stated that Irons's creatine level was 19 milligrams per deciliter, that Irons had no medical conditions or prescribed medications that would explain his creatine level, and that, in accordance with DOC policy, he was being charged with deliberately consuming excessive amounts of water in order to avoid detection of drug use. The Violation was reviewed by Defendant Bennett, who ordered a hearing and recommended that Irons be placed in administrative segregation pending that hearing. Defendant Mott then approved the administrative segregation recommendation. Irons was thus placed into administrative segregation that same day. Irons received written notice of the alleged infractions.

         At a May 13, 2015 hearing, presided over by Defendant Juknelis, Irons pleaded not guilty to violating Rule 115. Irons testified, and provided medical records to substantiate, that he had been prescribed the medication Amitriptyline, which can cause dry mouth and dehydration, with the latter symptom potentially causing liver damage. Irons asserted that he drank increased amounts of water to alleviate these side effects. Hearing Officer Juknelis did not admit Irons's medical records into evidence, and no other witnesses testified. Hearing Officer Juknelis credited the written Violation and found Irons guilty of violating Rule 115. As to Irons's proffered defense, Hearing Officer Juknelis asserted that the amount of water Irons would have had to drink to drop his creatine levels below 20 milligrams per deciliter was "far beyond what ANY normal person would drink to quench their thirst or to take medications." Compl. Ex. 1 at 6 (Inmate Hearing Record), ECF No. 1-1. He further noted that there were many other inmates in the prison who were prescribed Amitriptyline who had not been charged with urine dilution. As punishment for the violation, Hearing Officer Juknelis revoked 60 days of Irons's good-conduct credits, imposed a 10-day segregation period, and suspended Irons's visitation privileges for 180 days. As a result of the finding of guilt, Irons lost his institutional job assignment as an Observation Aide.

         Irons timely appealed the decision to Warden Armstead, arguing that the medical records established his innocence because they demonstrated that dehydration is a side effect of his prescribed medication, and that as a result of that side effect, he was required regularly to consume fluids. As a remedy, Irons asked for restoration of his good-conduct credits, visitation privileges, and position as an Observation Aide; an award of $100 per day from April 27, 2015 forward as damages; and the suspension of all of the officers involved in the disciplinary proceedings. Warden Armstead denied the appeal, noting that the information about Irons's prescription had been taken into consideration by Hearing Officer Juknelis.

         Irons then appealed the Warden's determination to the Inmate Grievance Office ("IGO"), and the matter was referred to an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") for a hearing. Irons requested permission to call Lt. Goldman, Major Mott, Hearing Officer Juknelis, and Warden Armstead as witnesses at the hearing. The request was denied on the basis that Irons had called no witnesses at the original hearing, and that none of the proposed witnesses could testify to the underlying alleged infraction. Irons also asked to be allowed to present his medical records, his psychiatric evaluation, and the Patuxent Institution Directive on urinalysis testing. Irons was allowed to introduce his medical records, but not his psychiatric record or the prison's urinalysis testing policy, which were deemed not relevant.

         In a December 29, 2015 decision, the ALJ overturned the decision issued by Hearing Officer Juknelis and affirmed by Warden Armstead, finding that the decision was not supported by substantial evidence and was clearly erroneous. See Md. Code Regs. l2.O7.Ol.O8B(1)(a) (2012) (providing that a Hearing Officer's decision should be affirmed if the ALJ determines that it is supported by substantial evidence). The ALJ concluded that Hearing Officer Juknelis improperly refused to admit Irons's medical records into evidence, and that he cited insufficient evidence for his assertions that other inmates taking the same medication had not been found in violation of Rule 115 and that Irons's urine was diluted beyond that of any normal person. Lastly, the ALJ noted that Irons had no advance notice of the urine test, making it improbable that he could have increased his fluid intake in order to alter the test results.

         The ALJ thus proposed reversal of the Hearing Officer's decision and expungement of the violation from Irons's record, but he recommended against any of the additional relief requested from the Warden. The Secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services affirmed the ALJ's proposed decision on January 19, 2016. Irons's violation was accordingly expunged and his good-conduct credits restored. By the time of the ALJ hearing, however, Irons had already served his term of administrative segregation and completed the six-month period without visitation privileges.

         On February 23, 2016, Irons filed a Request for Administrative Remedy under the Administrative Remedy Procedure ("ARP") seeking the additional relief he requested in his appeal to the Warden, specifically, reinstatement to his Observation Aide position, damages of $100 per day since the violation finding, and the suspension of the officers involved. He also sought additional relief in the form of good-conduct credits he would have earned during the period that the violation was on his record, back pay for the time he was not employed as an Observation Aide, an additional $100 per day for the 16 days he spent in administrative segregation, and a letter of apology. Defendant Shields denied the ARP on the ground that inmates cannot seek relief from disciplinary proceedings through the ARP process. After Irons appealed the denial, Defendant Sessions denied his appeal on March 10, 2016 on the same basis. That same day, Irons was reinstated to his position as an Observation Aide. On March 27, 2016, Irons appealed the matter to the IGO, which administratively dismissed his appeal because it repeated the claims Irons had asserted in the prior ALJ proceeding.

         Meanwhile, on March 7, 2016, Irons filed his Complaint in this Court in which he asserts that Defendants violated his rights under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution by subjecting him to cruel and unusual punishment in the form of deliberate indifference throughout this process, and his right to due process of law under the Fourteenth Amendment. He seeks a declaratory judgment that his constitutional rights were violated, a preliminary and permanent injunction ordering Defendants to adhere to all relevant DOC policies, compensatory and punitive damages, suspension of each Defendant for five days, an apology, and an exoneration letter. Irons has attached to his Complaint: (1) the Notice of Inmate Rule Violation, (2) the Inmate Hearing Record, (3) his medical records, (4) his appeal to and the response from Warden Armstead, (5) his appeal to the IGO, and (6) the ALJ opinion. In response to Irons's Complaint, Defendants have filed a Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment to which they attached exhibits that largely duplicate Irons's exhibits. Defendants also include Irons's ARP and IGO appeal filed after the ALJ decision.

         DISCUSSION

         Defendants move to dismiss the Amended Complaint for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) or, in the alternative, for summary judgment under Rule 56, on the grounds that: (1) Irons's claims are moot because his Violation was reversed and his good-time credits restored by the ALJ; (2) Irons fails to state a claim on which relief can be granted because he has no constitutionally protected liberty interest on which to base his claim; (3) Defendants are immune to suit under the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution; (4) Defendants have qualified immunity; and (5) Irons fails to plead sufficient facts of Defendants' personal involvement in any alleged wrongdoing. As discussed below, the Court grants summary judgment on the grounds that the undisputed evidence establishes that Irons's constitutional rights were not violated because the ALJ decision reversed the alleged violations and, to the extent that he has claims left unaddressed by that decision, those claims do not implicate any constitutionally protected liberty interest. The Court need not, and thus does not, address Defendants' remaining arguments.

         I. ...


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