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Dixon v. Cole

United States District Court, D. Maryland

February 15, 2018

WILLIAM DIXON, Plaintiff,
v.
MICHELLE W. COLE, Defendan..

          MEMORANDUM ORDER

          THEODORE D. CHUANG UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff William Dixon, a prisoner incarcerated at North Branch Correctional Institution ("NBCI") in Cumberland, Maryland, has brought this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983 against Administrative Law Judge Michelle W. Cole of the Maryland Office of Administrative Hearings ("OAR"). He alleges that ALJ Cole violated his rights under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution and the Code of Maryland Regulations when she refused to award him damages pursuant to a complaint he had filed with the Inmate Grievance Office ("IGO"). ALJ Cole has filed a Motion to Dismiss on the basis that Dixonss claim is barred by the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution and that she is absolutely immune from liability for actions taken in her role as an administrative law judge. Having reviewed the pleadings and briefs, the Court finds that no hearing is necessary to decide this Motion. See D. Md. Local R. 105.6. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion is GRANTED.

         BACKGROUND

         On February 17, 2015, Dixon filed a grievance with the IGO alleging that his television, remote control, and sunglasses were damaged by Maryland Division of Correction ("DOC") staff while he was in administrative segregation at NBC!. On June 8, 2015, ALJ Cole convened a video conference hearing. See Dixon v. Maryland Div. of Corr., No. DPSC-IGO-002V-15-18857 (Md. Office of Admin. Hearings Sept. 1, 2015) ("ALJ Gp."), ECF No. 72.[1] Cole dismissed the IGO grievance, finding that although Dixon had established that his television was damaged by DOC staff, he had offered insufficient evidence of the fair market value of his property and thus could not be awarded damages. Id. at 5-6. Cole's determination to withhold a damages award is the basis for this suit.

         Dixon filed his Complaint with this Court on December 7, 2016, seeking the replacement cost of the property, damages for "disrespect, " punitive damages, and injunctive relief mandating that ALJ Cole be suspended for 60 days. Compl. at 4, ECF NO.1. Dixon alleges that the value of his property could be derived from an Inmate Standard Property Inventory Sheet, and that Cole did not take into consideration the difficulty faced by prisoners who are transferred among institutions in maintaining such evidence.

         DISCUSSION

         Cole seeks dismissal of the Complaint on the grounds that Dixon's claims are barred by the Eleventh Amendment and that she is entitled to absolute judicial immunity.

         I. Legal Standard

         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 factual allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 268 (1994); Lambeth v. Bd of Comm'rs of Davidson Cty., 407 F.3d 266, 268 (4th Cir. 2005). Documents attached to the complaint or motion may be considered if "they are integral to the complaint and authentic." Sec'y of State for Defence v. Trimble Navigaiion Ltd., 484 F.3d 700, 705 (4th Cir. 2007). The court may also take judicial notice of matters of public record, such as administrative proceeding.. Philips v. Pitt Cty. Mem l Hosp., 572 F.3d 176, 180 (4th Cir. 2009); Dyer v. Maryland State Bd. of Educ, 187 F.Supp.3d 599, 608 (D. Md. 2016) ("Courts sitting in this Circuit have taken judicial notice of such administrative documents as decisions of the Maryland OAFL").

         II. Eleventh Amendment Immunity

         Although not delineated in the Complain,, the Court assumes that Dixon is suing Cole in both her official and individual capacities. Cole contends that she is protected from suit in her official capacity under the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution.

         The Eleventh Amendment provides that "[t]he Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or subjects of any Foreign State." U.S. Const. amend XL In effect, the Eleventh Amendment bars suits for damages against a state in federal court unless the state has waived its sovereign immunity or Congress has abrogated its immunity. See Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 100-02 (1984) ("It is clear, of course, that in the absence of consent a suit in which the State or one of its agencies or departments is named as the defendant is proscribed by the Eleventh Amendment."). Moreover, "a suit against a state official in his or her official capacity is not a suit against the official but rather is a suit against the officials office. As such, it is no different from a suit against the State itself." Will v. Michigan Dep tt of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989) (internal citation omitted).

         ALJ Cole is a State employee under Maryland law. See Md. Code Ann., State Gov't §12-101(a)(1) (2015) (defining "state personnel"). To the extent, therefore, that Dixon is seeking damages against Cole in her official capacity, he has asserted a claim against the State of Maryland. Although Dixon asserts that he may sue ALJ Cole under 42 U.S.C. §1983, the statute allowing private lawsuits against government officials for violations of federal law, Congress did not abrogate the states' sovereign immunity when it enacted §1983. Will, 491 U.S. at 66; Dyer, 187 F.Supp.3d at 611 & n.16. Furthermore, Maryland has not waived it sovereign immunity for claims brought in federal court. Md. Code Ann., State Gov't §12-104(a); Dyer, 187 F.Supp.3d at 611. Thus, Dixon's claim for monetary damages against Cole in her official capacity is barred by the Eleventh Amendmen.. See Pennhurs,, 465 U.S. 100-01; Darling v. Falls, 236 F.Supp.3d 914, 925-26 (M.D. N.C. 2017) (holding that a §1983 claim against state judges was barred by the Eleventh Amendment).

         III. ...


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