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Bessick v. Goins-Johnson

United States District Court, D. Maryland

December 15, 2017




         On September 6, 2016, self-represented Plaintiff Joshua R. Bessick was assaulted by other inmates while returning to his housing unit at Roxbury Correctional Institution ("RCI") in Hagerstown, Maryland. He now brings this civil action against Defendants Patricia Goins-Johnson, Commissioner of Correction for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services; Richard E. Miller, Jr., Warden of RCI; Todd K. Faith RCI Chief of Security; and Lieutenant Appel, a correctional officer at RCI, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 91983. Bessick alleges that Defendants: (1) failed to protect him from harm while he was housed at RCI; (2) failed to supervise their subordinates; (3) imposed unconstitutional conditions of confinement; (4) denied him adequate medical care; (5) failed to control inmate access to dangerous weapons; (6) failed to "prevent prisoner dominance"; and (7) failed to maintain adequate staffing. Compl. ¶¶ 11-39, ECF No. .. He seeks $15 million in compensatory and punitive damages.

         Pending before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment. Bessick was informed by the Court, pursuant to Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309, 310 (4th Cir. 1975), that failure to file a memorandum in opposition to the Motion could result in dismissal of the Complaint. Bessick did not oppose the Motion. Upon consideration of the Complaint and the Motion, the Court finds no hearing necessary. See D. Md. Local R. 105.6. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' Motion, construed as a Motion for Summary Judgment, will be GRANTED.


         Bessick arrived at RCI in February 2016 and was placed in Housing Unit 3. On the morning of September 6, 2016, as Bessick was returning to that unit, two other inmates attacked him with knives, causing lacerations to the right side of his face and to his left hand. After the incident, RCI medical staff treated Bessick, who received 59 sutures to close the wounds. On September 13, 2016, Bessickss facial sutures were removed, and medical staff noted that his wounds were healing well. On September 19, 2016, when the sutures on Bessickss hand were removed, Bessick told medical personnel that that his hand was healing but he was still experiencing some pain. Bessick did not have any additional complaints during that visit.

         Following the assault, correctional officers searched the area and recovered two homemade weapons. Although security video was reviewed, the inmates who assaulted Bessick could not be identified. Bessick did not cooperate with the investigation and declined to give a statement. He was placed in voluntary administrative segregation for his own safety until his transfer to another facility.

         According to Bessick, Housing Unit 3 was "a well-known and notoriously violent Gang Unit" where the incidence of prison stabbing incidents was "exceptionally high." Compl. ¶ 6. He alleges that upon his arrival in Unit 3, members of the Black Guerrilla Family ("BGF") gang asked him to hide their knives for them and to join the BGF. Bessick declined either to join the BGF or to hide weapons for BGF members. Instead, he wrote a note to the Housing Unit Supervisors requesting to be transferred to another housing unit. According to Bessick, he received no response to his request.

         Defendants assert that contrary to Bessickss allegations, Unit 3 was not a "well-known and notoriously violent Gang Unit" at RCI. Id. According to Lt. Appel, the RCI correctional officer responsible for intelligence matters, "RCI houses members of Security Threat Groups in all of the Housing Units" and does not assign such members to a particular housing unit. Appel Decl. ¶ 3, Mot. Dismiss Ex. 2, ECF No. 16-3. In addition, Lt. Appel asserts that Bessick is "a validated member" of the BGF. Id.

         According to Warden Miller, RCI correctional officers are trained to respond appropriately to an inmate's request that he not be housed with another inmate because of hostility between them, different gang affiliations, or other safety concerns. Upon such a request, correctional officers are trained to arrange for a different cell assignment. Warden Miller, Security Chief Faith, and Lt. Appel all assert that prior to the September 2016 incident, they had not received any information that Bessick was in danger or feared that he was in danger of assault by any other inmate, nor did they have information that any group targeted Bessick or intended to harm him. According to Lt. Appel, when an inmate has a known verified enemy, that enemy is listed in the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services ("DPSCS") records.

         Warden Miller's duties include reviewing staff worksheets daily to ensure that all posts are adequately staffed. According to Warden Miller, at the time of Bessickss stabbing, the security posts responsible for overseeing the movement of inmates back to Unit 3 were adequately staffed. He asserts that despite the best efforts of correctional staff, including frequent searches of inmates' persons and cells, inmates are adept at making, obtaining, and hiding contraband weapons such as homemade knives.


         In their Motion, Defendants seek dismissal under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) or summary judgment under Rule 56. In support of their Motion, Defendants argue that (1) the Eleventh Amendment bars claims against Defendants in their official capacities; (2) Bessick has not alleged sufficient facts to state a plausible claim for relief for Eighth Amendment violations; (3) Bessick cannot demonstrate that Defendants are liable under a theory of supervisory liability under S 1983; and (4) Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity.

         I. Legal Standards

         Defendants seek dismissal of the claims against them in their official capacity pursuant to Eleventh Amendment immunity. To defeat a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the complaint must allege enough facts to state a plausible claim for relief. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). A claim is plausible when the facts pleaded allow "the Court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. Although courts should construe pleadings of self-represented litigants liberally, Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007), legal conclusions or conclusory statements do not suffice, Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. The Court must examine the complaint as a whole, consider the factual allegations in the complaint as true, and construe the ...

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