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Brown v. Moyer

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

February 20, 2018

SHAWN LEE BROWN, # 419-413, Plaintiff,



         Plaintiff Shawn Lee Brown, a prisoner confined at Eastern Correctional Institution ("ECI"), has filed this self-represented civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Brown seeks money damages against Stephen T. Moyer, Secretary for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS) for injuries caused when a mechanical door abruptly slammed shut on his finger. Pending before the Court is Moyer's Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment, [1] ECF No. 9, Brown's Opposition, ECF No. 13, Brown's Motion for Jury Trial, ECF No. 11, and Brown's Motion to Appoint Counsel, ECF No. 12. No hearing is needed to resolve the pending motions. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the following reasons, Brown's motions will be DENIED and Moyer's Motion will be GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The facts surrounding Brown's Complaint are largely uncontested. On January 14, 2017, the middle finger of Brown's right hand was fractured when a hydraulic door at the ECI-Annex abruptly slammed shut on it. Brown required an emergency room visit for stitches and splinting. ECF No. 1 at 2-3; ECF No. 9-2 at l-2.[2] Following his injury, Brown claims he requested an incident report, but nothing was done. ECF No. 13-1 at 2. Brown alleges he still has problems moving his finger.[3] Id. He states that the problem with the frequently-used door should have been discovered and fixed prior to his injury. Id. at 4. Following the incident, a repair order was received in the Maintenance Department on February 6, 2017, and the door was repaired the following day. ECF No. 9-3 ¶ 2 (Decl. of Kenneth Glasgow).


         Moyer's Motion is styled as a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) or, in the alternative, for summary judgment under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. If the Court considers materials outside the pleadings, as the Court does here, the Court must treat a motion to dismiss as one for summary judgment. Fed. R Civ. P. 12(d). When the Court treats a motion to dismiss as a motion for summary judgment, "[a]ll parties must be given a reasonable opportunity to present all the material that is pertinent to the motion." Id. When the moving party styles its motion as a Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment, as is the case here, and the nonmoving party attaches exhibits to its opposition, the nonmoving party is aware that materials outside the pleadings are before the Court, and the Court can treat the motion as one for summary judgment. See Laughlin v. Metropolitan Wash. Airports. Autk, 149 F.3d 253, 260-61 (4th Cir. 1998). Further, the Court is not prohibited from granting a motion for summary judgment before the commencement of discovery. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a) (stating that the court "shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact" without distinguishing pre- or post-discovery).

         Summary judgment should not be granted, however, if the nonmoving party has not had the opportunity to discover information that is essential to his opposition to the motion. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 n. 5 (1987). If the nonmoving party feels that the motion is premature, that party can invoke Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(d). See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 326 (1986). Brown, who has received copies of the exhibits that accompany the dispositive motion, ECF No. 9, and has attached an exhibit to his opposition, is aware that materials outside the pleadings are before the Court, and that the Court may treat the motion as one for summary judgment. Furthermore, Brown has not filed an affidavit, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(d), to show what essential facts, currently unavailable to him, he could present if given an opportunity to conduct discovery. Thus, the Court is satisfied that it is appropriate to address Moyer's Motion as one for summary judgment.

         Summary judgment is appropriate if "materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations ... admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials" show that there is "no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c), 56(a); see also Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. The party moving for summary judgment bears the burden of demonstrating that no genuine dispute exists as to material facts. Pulliam Inv., Co. v. Cameo Props., 810 F.2d 1282, 1286 (4th Cir. 1987). If the moving party demonstrates that there is no evidence to support the non-moving party's case, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to identify specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23.

         A material fact is one that "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Spriggs v. Diamond Auto Glass, 242 F.3d 179, 183 (4th Cir. 2011) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248). A dispute of material fact is only genuine if sufficient evidence favoring the non-moving party exists for the trier of fact to return a verdict for that party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. However, the nonmoving party "cannot create a genuine issue of material fact through mere speculation or the building of one inference upon another." Beale v. Hardy, 769 F.2d 213, 214 (4th Cir. 1985). The Court may only rely on facts supported in the record, not simply assertions in the pleadings, in order to fulfill its "affirmative obligation... to prevent 'factually unsupported claims or defenses' from proceeding to trial." Felty v., Grave-Humphreys Co., 818 F.2d 1126, 1128 (4th Cir. 1987) (quoting Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324-25). When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, "[t]he evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. Finally, because Brown is self-represented, his submissions are liberally construed. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007).


         A. Appointment of Counsel

         A federal judge's power to appoint counsel under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(1), [4] is a discretionary one, and may be considered where an indigent claimant presents exceptional circumstances. See Cook v. Bounds, 518 F.2d 779 (4th Cir. 1975); see also, Branch v. Cole, 686 F.2d 264 (5th Cir. 1982). There is no absolute right to appointment of counsel in civil matters; an indigent claimant must present "exceptional circumstances." See Miller v. Simmons, 814 F.2d 962, 966 (4th Cir. 1987). Exceptional circumstances exist where a "pro se litigant has a colorable claim but lacks the capacity to present it." See Whisenant v. Yuam, 739 F.2d 160, 163 (4th Cir. 1984), abrogated on other grounds by Mallard v. U.S. Dist. Ct., 490 U.S. 296, 298 (1989) (holding that 28 U.S.C. § 1915 does not authorize compulsory appointment of counsel).

         Upon careful consideration of Brown's filings herein, the Court finds that he has demonstrated the wherewithal to either articulate the legal and factual basis of his claims himself or secure meaningful assistance in doing so. The issues pending before the Court are not unduly complicated, and there are no exceptional circumstances that would warrant the appointment of an attorney to represent Brown under § 1915(e)(1). His Motion to Appoint Counsel, ECF No. 12, shall be denied.

         B. Motion ...

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