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Johnson v. Mill

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

September 12, 2017

EARL D. JOHNSON, #252-782, 335-615 Plaintiff,


          GEORGE J. HAZEL United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Earl D. Johnson is an inmate at the Maryland Correctional Training Center in Hagerstown, Maryland. In this case, Johnson filed his Complaint, ECF No. 1, alleging Defendants violated his constitutional right to due process by finding him guilty of prison rule violations and imposing sanctions. Johnson also filed a self-styled "Motion Amended to Said Summary Judgment, " ECF No. 29, which will be treated as a Motion to Amend his Complaint and granted. Defendants, the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services ("DPSCS"), CO II Ronald Mills, CO II Richard Sartin, and Hearing Office Anne Maddox, have filed a Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 30, and Johnson filed a Response in Opposition, ECF No. 32. No hearing is necessary. Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the following reasons, the Court grants Defendants' Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 30.

         I. BACKGROUND [2]

         A. Factual Background

         Johnson's Complaint is based on events that occurred during the time he was incarcerated at the Maryland Correctional Institution-Hagerstown ("MCI-H"). Defendants filed affidavits and prison records in support of their Motion for Summary Judgment. The exhibits indicate that on July 6, 2014, Officer Stephens and Defendant Sartin escorted Johnson to the MCI-H recreation hall for a strip search. ECF No. 30-2 at 7.[3] During the escort, Sartin noticed Johnson's left hand was closed in a fist. Sartin ordered Johnson to open his hand in order to ascertain whether he was hiding anything. Id. Johnson opened and closed his left hand. Sartin observed an object between Johnson's left ring finger and pinkie finger. Sartin ordered Johnson to unclench his hand and separate his fingers. Sartin observed a piece of rubber glove containing a folded piece of paper with a small orange strip inside. Sartin secured the paper with the orange strip, and the officers conducted a strip search of Johnson. Id.

         Sartin tested the orange strip with a MMC[4] field test kit. Id. The strip tested positive for Buprenorphine, a drug also known as Suboxone. The contraband was photographed. Id. Due to its small quantity, the contraband could not be weighed. Sartin issued a Notice of Rule Violation to Johnson, charging him with violating Rule 111 (possession or use of an unauthorized drug or substance) and Rule 112 (possession or use of a drug or controlled dangerous substance). ECF No. 30-3; see also ECF No. 30-2 at 3-13. Johnson acknowledges that on July 10, 2014, he received a Notice of Rule Violation for possessing the controlled substance Buprenorphine.[5] ECF No. 1 at 6.

         B. Procedural Background

         On July 10, 2014, Defendant Hearing Officer Maddox conducted Johnson's disciplinary hearing. ECF No. 30-2 at 21. Johnson did not request representation or witnesses. Johnson pleaded not guilty and testified that the substance was found on the floor of his cell during a cell shakedown and that the officers charged him because his cellmate was scheduled for release on the next day. Id. at 21-23.

         Hearing Officer Maddox's decision reads:

Hearing Officer considered Notice of Inmate Rule Violation by CO R. Sartin, photo printouts, chain of custody form, and field test results as well as presentation of Earl Johnson. Johnson's presentation is that Officer Sartin found the strip on the cell floor and his cell buddy went home the next day so he got the charge. Hearing Officer is not persuaded by Johnson's presentation. Hearing Officer finds that Johnson was being escorted in the recreation hall for a strip search when Officer Sartin noticed the inmates' [sic] hand clinched shut, and when the officer asked Johnson to open his hand, a piece of rubber glove with a [sic] orange strip concealed inside was recovered from Johnson's hand. The issue did not occur in the cell and does not involve another inmate. Officer Sartin tested the orange piece of strip using the MMC Buprenorphine Test and got a positive result for Buprenorphine. Hearing Officer finds Johnson guilty of rule 112.

Id. at 23; see also ECF No. 30-4 (Office Maddox stating that she found Johnson's testimony unpersuasive). Maddox found Johnson not guilty of violating Rule 111. Id.

         Maddox sanctioned Johnson with 225 days of segregation, [6] revoked 150 good time credits, and indefinitely suspended his visitation privileges for violating Rule 112. Id. at 23-24.[7] Johnson appealed Maddox's decision to Warden Richard Dovey, who affirmed the decision and sanctions on July 23, 2014. Id. at 26. Johnson subsequently filed a number of Administrative Remedy Procedure ("ARP") requests in July and August 2014, which were each dismissed. These ARPs alleged that Defendant Mills improperly confiscated Johnson's property-ARP MCI-H-560-14, ARP MCI-H-630-14-and that the test for Buprenorphine was improperly executed, ARP MCI-H-0583-14, ARP MCI-H 0608-14, ARP MCI-H-0631-14, ARP MCI-H-0667-14. At the same time, Johnson filed Inmate Grievance Office ("IGO") complaints in June 2014 and February 2015. These were also dismissed. See ECF No. 30-5 at 3-4, 43-47, 78.

         Johnson subsequently filed an action for replevin in Johnson v. Mills, Civil Case No. 1102-0002560-2014 in the District Court for Washington County. See ECF No. 30-2 at 48-49. The case was dismissed, and Johnson filed an appeal, Civil Case No. 21-C-15-53102 (Cir. Ct. Washington Cnty). Id.; ECF No 30-2 at 43-55. Johnson filed a separate action in the Circuit Court for Washington County for review of the dismissal of IGO Grievance No. 20141600. In the Matter of Earl Johnson, Jr. for Judicial Review of the Decision of the Secretary of the DPSCS was assigned Civil Case 2I-C-15-52799. ECF No 30-2 at 42-55.

         On February 5, 2016, the Honorable Daniel P. Dwyer held a hearing on Johnson's consolidated appeals. Id. Present were Johnson, who appeared pro se, Officer Ronald Mills, and Assistant Attorney General Benjamin Legum. On February 19, 2016, Judge Dwyer entered judgment in Civil Case No. 21-C-15-53102, in favor of Defendant, Ronald Mills. Judge Dwyer found substantial evidence to support the IGO decision, and affirmed. The Opinion and Order reads in pertinent part:

Regarding the de novo appeal from the District Court, this Court is not convinced by a preponderance of evidence that Mr. Johnson was wrongfully deprived of his property by Officer Mills. Officer Mills was acting within the scope of his duties following Division of Correction procedures. Officer Mills afforded Mr. Johnson the opportunity to safeguard his possessions by having them mailed to someone and Mr. Johnson simply declined that invitation. Therefore in the case 21-C-15-53102, judgment is entered in favor of the Defendant, Ronald Mills.
In case 21-C-15-52799, the Court finds that there is substantial evidence in this record upon which the Inmate Grievance Office declined to grant Mr. Johnson the relief he requested. Again, the record indicates that Officer Mills was following the Division of Correction procedure. Mr. Johnson was not permitted to possess his items of electronic personal property in segregation. Also, pursuant to DOC regulations, they could not be stored for more than 180 days. Mr. Johnson could have, but declined to provide an address where they could be safely mailed. Therefore in that case the ruling of the Inmate ...

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