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Bennett v. Wolfe

United States District Court, D. Maryland

February 20, 2018




         Pending before the court are a motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, motion for summary judgment filed by defendants Warden John Wolfe, Librarian June Brittingham, Lieutenant Vanessa Jones, Secretary Stephen Moyer, and Commissioners Dayena Corcoran and Carolyn Scruggs (ECF No. 15) and Chauncey Demetrius Bennett's opposition. ECF No. 17. Upon review of the pleadings, the court finds a hearing in this matter unnecessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the reasons stated below, defendants' dispositive motion will be granted.

         I. Complaint Allegations

         Bennett is currently confined at Eastern Correctional Institution (“ECI”) in Westover, Maryland. His complaint alleges that on July 27, 2016, he wrote an administrative remedy procedure grievance claiming that he had been removed from the special exception library pass. Bennett claims that this action commenced because of his civil litigation. ECF No. 1, p. 4. He further claims that he was denied the ability to take out Black's Law Dictionary, which he claims was needed to challenge the conditions of his confinement. Bennett contends that the psychological abuse he has experienced has caused him to “[seek] psychology aid and [receive] ridicule [sic] treatment from staff, as well as inmates.” ECF No. 1, p. 4. He maintains that he has been denied adequate time to conduct research so as to prepare documents to be filed with the courts, violating his First Amendment rights. Bennett further claims he has been deprived of copy work from case management personnel and there is no “proof that I turn in vouchers for copying card, to assure my merits.” Bennett complains that there is no legal training, no printer to copy the law off the computer, no updated legal research books, no available correction tape, and access to “very old typewriters.” He contends that his time in the library is extremely limited due to prison lockdowns and his requests for materials from the Library Assistance to State Institutions program ("LASI") takes nearly two months. Bennett additionally complains that boots are not allowed in the library, “enhancing discrimination” as weather during the fall and winter months necessitates proper foot wear. He claims that Secretary Moyer was on notice due to a letter Bennett wrote to Assistant Warden West on August 30, 2016. He states that the ARP responses violate the Constitution as he is “being deprived of current case law, to litigate current case law.”[1] Id., pp. 4-7.

         In later letter filings construed as amendments to his original complaint, Bennett complains that on February 15, 2017, he was cited with an infraction for using a public bathroom. He further asserts that during the month of April 2017, the library was closed on one day; three passes were issued for the library; he received clearance to review reference materials; and he was permitted to attend a seminar, but was “fussed at” by the librarian for leaving the seminar to go to the bathroom. Bennett complains that the library was closed on several days in April and May of 2017, the legal research books, such as the Georgetown Journal and Maryland Rules, are not updated, there is no printer to copy legal materials, and personnel fail to provide him adequate time in the library. ECF Nos. 6 & 10.

         II. Dispositive Response

         Defendants state that Bennett received an ECI inmate handbook on May 9, 2013, that advises inmates about access to the library, legal services, and copies and addresses for legal services. They assert that the handbook informs inmates that the librarian is not an attorney, but can assist them in attaining help; further, they are allowed to have legal materials in their cells as long as they follow institutional rules about space, safety, fire, and security, the institutional library has books available for reference, and each housing unit has a scheduled library day each week. ECF No. 15-3, pp. 5, 10, 13 & 27-32.[2]

         Defendants maintain that library services are available daily, including on weekend and in the evenings. The schedule for library visits is to be posted in the library and all housing units. Further, the addresses for the state courts, Legal Aid Bureau, Federal Public Defender system, and Prisoner Rights Information System (PRISM) are provided in the prisoner handbook. Id., pp. 13, 27-32. Defendants explain that under a prison directive, ECI inmates have access to legal reference materials and paper, typewriters or typing services, photocopiers, and other supplies and services related to legal matters at the inmate's expense through the commissary. Further, LASI service and library programs are available to ECI inmates. ECF No. 15-4, pp. 2-7.

         Defendants contend that the ECI librarian posts the monthly schedule in the library and on housing unit bulletin boards. ECF No. 15-5, Brittingham Decl. According to the monthly schedule for Housing Unit 2, where Bennett is housed, inmates may access the library daily through either “reference” or “regular” passes. Id., ECF No. 15-5, Brittingham Decl. Regular passes allow the inmate 45 minutes in the library. A reference pass extends the time inmates are allowed in the library to two periods for a total of 90 minutes. Librarians create a reference pass list for those who request it and unit officers are responsible for distributing the passes. In addition to the foregoing, Brittingham, the ECI librarian, initiated a process wherein pro se inmates who had pending court cases were accommodated with additional library time. She issued them “special exception” passes as long as they could produce documentation of the pending court case. Several inmates complained about the practice and in June of 2016, it was discontinued by the ECI Assistant Warden to allow all inmates equal access to the library. Brittingham affirms that as a courtesy, she issued special exception passes to those inmates with pending court cases. Id.

         Prior to February 2017, up to 50 inmates at a time could access the ECI library because a correctional officer was posted there. However, due to a reduction in correctional officers for the library post assignment, only 20 inmates can access a library at a time pursuant to the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. This includes five inmate library workers. Id.

         Defendants assert that the ECI library maintains up-to-date legal reference materials including Black's Law Dictionary and the Maryland Rules. The Maryland Rules are updated yearly. The 8th Edition of Black's Law Dictionary is available to the entire ECI prison population and must therefore remain in the library as a reference book. A 5th Edition of Black's Law Dictionary is available for check out. Inmates may review reference material in the library and may also request check-out copies of limited reference pages for review outside of the library in the event they are unable to review materials while in the library. ECF No. 15-5, Brittingham Decl. Black's Law Dictionary is updated every three years. The most recent Georgetown Journal is from 2016. There are three computers that contain Lexis/Nexis databases, which are updated four times per year. Two other computers contain legal reference materials including sentencing guidelines, health care bills, and information on veterans' issues. Inmates may request, free of charge, up to five judicial opinions per request per week by filling out a LASI order form with the librarian. The librarian forwards the approved orders to LASI for processing. The LASI orders are filled and copies of cases are sent back to the libraries for distribution to the inmates. According to Brittingham, Bennett placed two LASI orders dated April 21, 2016 and September 23, 2016. The orders were filled and returned to the library on June 9, 2016 and November 10, 2016. Id.

         Defendants maintain that the library does not provide printers, but does provide typewriters for inmate use. Id. Indigent inmates who are unable to purchase copies may qualify to receive copies at no charge. Additional paper and envelopes for legal correspondence is provided as necessary to facilitate access to the courts. ECF No. 15-8, pp. 5-11. Defendants acknowledge that boots are not permitted in the Education Building where the library is located for security reasons, but inmates may wear sneakers in the Building. ECF No. 15-5, Brittingham Decl.

         Defendants state that a law-related seminar was held at the library on April 13, 2017. Inmates could attend the seminar upon prior written request. They argue that Bennett did not make an advance request to attend the seminar, but instead came to the library the day of the seminar and insisted that he be allowed to attend. Brittingham affirms that she nonetheless made arrangements for Bennett to attend. She maintains that he arrived late and was boisterous, but eventually settled down and sat through the remainder of the seminar. At the conclusion of the seminar, the inmates were instructed not to leave the library before meal time, which was about to start. Bennett nevertheless exited the seminar room and went to the bathroom. Brittingham states that she asked Bennett where he was going and advised him he was not allowed to leave the library. Bennett told her he was going to the bathroom because he had taken medication and had to go. ECF No. 15-5, Brittingham Decl. Brittingham advised him that anyone taking medication usually has medical paperwork if it causes them to have to use the bathroom. He was cautioned that leaving the seminar room is out of bounds and he could get an adjustment ticket from the correctional officer. Bennett left the seminar room and did not return. Brittingham denies “fussing” at Bennett. Id.

         Lieutenant Vanessa Jones is an ECI corrections officer posted to Housing Unit 2, where Bennett is assigned. Her duties also involved investigating administrative remedy procedure (ARP) grievances, and she was the assigned supervisory official at the ECI Education, Medical and Gymnasium buildings. ECF No. 15-6, Jones Decl. Jones investigated Bennett's grievance that his weekly library hours had been reduced (ARP ECI-502-17). Her investigation revealed that as a result of daily post assignment change, the inmate occupancy limit in the ECI library had been reduced from 50 to 20 inmates. She claims she has no control over the issuance of library passes or in eliminating library post assignments and maintains that she never reduced, restricted, or impeded Bennett's ability to access the prison library or his access to legal resource material. ECF No. 15-6, Jones Decl.

         On January 4, 2016, Bennett filed ARP ECI 0038-16, alleging that Warden Green had violated his rights as he had been deprived of library access for one month on the morning shift. The ARP was investigated by Diane King and dismissed on February 5, 2016. The ARP response included a letter from Brittingham explaining the library policies and Bennett's attendance. Documentation showed that Bennett was granted reference time in the library for a total of eight days in November and December 2015, during which time he checked out three reference books. The appeal of this decision was dismissed. ECF No. 15-8, pp. 12-27

         On June 6, 2016, Bennett filed ARP ECI-1204-16, in which he complained that he had been discriminated against as to whether library material has a checkout or reference designation. The ARP was dismissed based on the finding that Bennett had not been denied the opportunity to check out Black's Law Dictionary as he could have checked out an older edition and had access ...

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