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Diggs v. Balogun

United States District Court, D. Maryland

October 31, 2017

TYRONE DIGGS, Plaintiff,



         Plaintiff Tyrone Diggs, an inmate in the Maryland State Correctional System, has filed this lawsuit against Defendants Correctional Officer Ramon Balogun (“Officer Balogun”) and Correctional Officer Shawn Holly (“Officer Holly”) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of his rights under the First and Eighth Amendments to the United States Constitution. The Office of the Attorney General of Maryland (“the State”) has filed a Motion to Dismiss, seeking dismissal of the claims against Defendants in their official capacities. Diggs has filed a Motion for Default Judgment against Officer Holly, who has not filed an Answer or otherwise responded to the Amended Complaint. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED, and the Motion for Default Judgment is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.


         I. Factual Allegations

         The following facts are set forth in the Amended Complaint and are taken as true for purposes of resolving both Motions. Between approximately 2009 and 2012, Diggs was incarcerated at the Maryland Correctional Institution-Jessup (“MCIJ”). During his time at MCIJ, Diggs earned his high school diploma, enrolled in online adult education classes at Anne Arundel Community College, earned certificates of achievement through the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation, and completed courses in alternatives to violence and victim awareness. He did not experience any major problems with prison guards or other prisoners while housed at MCIJ.

         On November 12, 2012, Diggs was transferred to Jessup Correctional Institution (“JCI”), where he was required to share a cell with a member of a criminal gang, Reginald Lewis. On December 23, 2012, Lewis was involved in a fight, outside of Diggs's presence, that caused him to be immediately taken to disciplinary segregation. The next day, prison staff requested that Diggs pack up Lewis's belongings from their shared cell. While doing so, Diggs discovered a bottle of fermented juice behind Lewis's locker. Diggs began to dispose of the contents by flushing them down the toilet. A correctional officer noticed and asked Diggs to leave the cell, handcuffed him, and seized the bottle. A field test revealed the presence of Suboxone, a prohibited substance. Diggs was immediately taken to disciplinary segregation and received Notices of Violation for possession of contraband, possession of an intoxicant, and possession of an intoxicant with intent to distribute. Though Diggs was ultimately cleared of the charges, he remained in segregation for 180 days while his disciplinary case worked its way through the system.

         The two separate attacks that form the basis of Diggs's complaint both occurred during his period in disciplinary segregation. First, on February 19, 2013, Officer Balogun physically assaulted Diggs in a JCI hallway. According to Diggs, the attack occurred as another correctional officer was escorting him, handcuffed, to discuss a concern about his cellmate with other prison staff. Officer Balogun began by threatening and jeering at Diggs and mocking him for his efforts to study the Code of Maryland Regulations (“COMAR”) and represent other inmates in disciplinary proceedings. Officer Balogun then attacked Diggs from behind, beating him across the head and face with a fist. Other officers intervened to restrain Officer Balogun, who broke free and continued the assault. Diggs suffered pain and bruising from the attack.

         Diggs reported the attack and filed an inmate grievance against Officer Balogun. Other inmates and prison staff began to harass him as a result. In fact, Diggs claims that the second assault on him, by Officer Holly, was directly related to Diggs's reporting of Officer Balogun's attack on him, because Officer Holly worked the same shift as Officer Balogun and was aware of both the assault and subsequent grievance.

         While Officer Holly was working, he did not permit Diggs to take the one hour of recreation time to which Diggs believed he was entitled under the COMAR, but he allowed other inmates to take two or three hours of recreation time. On April 12, 2013, Diggs asked about the discrepancy. Officer Holly became confrontational. He began to pace back and forth outside the cell door while threatening Diggs. At one point, it appeared that Officer Holly was going to leave, and Diggs turned his back on the cell door. In fact, Officer Holly was radioing another correctional officer to request that he open Diggs's cell door. Officer Holly then entered Diggs's cell, in violation of prison protocol requiring that two officers be present to escort an inmate from a cell, and approached Diggs, standing so close to him that Diggs could smell his breath. Diggs asked Officer Holly to leave twice. Instead, Officer Holly hit Diggs in the face with an open palm and said, “I should take your ass back in the days of the ‘Cut.'” Am. Compl. ¶ 48, ECF No. 36. Diggs fell to the ground, and during the ensuing struggle, Officer Holly punched Diggs in the face repeatedly. When Diggs managed to escape, Officer Holly chased him up the stairs to the Lieutenant's office, where Officer Holly cornered Diggs and again proceeded to attack and punch him. Diggs again broke away and ran back downstairs, holding his hands above his head and yelling that he was not fighting. He eventually encountered another correctional officer, who handcuffed him. Other prison guards restrained Officer Holly. Diggs immediately reported the incident to Major Harris. He was then taken to the medical unit, where he was given Tylenol for a blood clot in his finger, severe pain, and bruising under his eye.

         Officer Holly filed a Notice of Inmate Rule Violation falsely charging Diggs with various violations, including assault or battery on prison staff, disobeying an order, and being in a location without authorization. He claimed that Diggs started the fight by swinging at Officer Holly with a closed fist, a charge that Diggs denies. The charges against Diggs were eventually dismissed.

         Diggs, for his part, filed a grievance against Officer Holly. Major Harris also filed an official report summarizing Officer Holly's attack on Diggs, which corroborated Diggs's account. According to Diggs, Officer Holly lost his job as a result of the assault and his falsification of the Notice of Inmate Rule Violation. In addition, Officer Holly was charged with, and pled guilty to, second degree assault in connection with the attack.

         The grievances against the officers were each dismissed for procedural reasons, and Diggs appealed the dismissals to the Inmate Grievance Office (“IGO”). On October 22, 2013, the IGO held a hearing at which it determined that Diggs's grievances were meritorious. The ALJ awarded Diggs $500 for the assault by Officer Holly and $200 for the assault by Officer Balogun.

         II. Procedural History

         Diggs, proceeding pro se, filed his Complaint in this Court on February 24, 2015. Following the procedure established in In re State Prisoner Litigation, Misc. No. 00-308, Administrative Order 2012-01 (D. Md. Apr. 27, 2012), the Clerk transmitted a copy of the Complaint to the Correctional Litigation Unit of the Office of the Attorney General of Maryland and the Litigation Coordinator at JCI. On March 26, 2015, the Litigation Coordinator at JCI accepted service on behalf of Officer Balogun, but not on behalf of Officer Holly, noting that Officer Holly had resigned in July 2014. On April 10, 2015, an Assistant Attorney General entered an appearance on behalf of the State as an “Interested Party.” Notice, ECF No. 8.

         Officer Balogun filed a pro se Answer to the Complaint. The Court directed the State to provide under seal Officer Holly's last known home or business address for purposes of service of process. Using the address provided by the State, the United States Marshal served Officer Holly on November 25, 2015.

         On February 16, 2016, the Court appointed counsel to represent Diggs. On August 12, 2016, Diggs filed an Amended Complaint, naming Officer Balogun and Officer Holly as defendants in both their individual and official capacities. Balogun again filed a pro se Answer. Although a copy of the Amended Complaint was delivered to Officer Holly's sealed address via Federal Express, Officer Holly failed to file any response. The Amended Complaint was also filed electronically on the Court's CM/ECF system and was thus received by the State in its capacity as an Interested Party. It was not otherwise served on the State pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4.

         After Diggs moved for a Clerk's Entry of Default against Officer Holly, an Order of Default was entered. On March 9, 2017, Diggs filed a Motion for Default Judgment against Officer Holly. The same day, Diggs and Officer Balogun requested a Case Management Conference with the Court. After the Court scheduled the conference, the State submitted a letter to the Court stating that the State does not represent Officer Balogun and Officer Holly in their individual capacities, but asserting that the claims against Defendants in their official capacities were barred by the Eleventh Amendment, among other defenses. The State offered to participate in the Case Management Conference and was granted leave to do so. Counsel for Diggs responded with a letter asserting that ...

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