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Williams v. Baltimore County Dept. of Corrections

United States District Court, D. Maryland

February 21, 2018

COLIN B. WILLIAMS, JR., #253-434 Plaintiff
v.
BALTIMORE COUNTY DEPT. OF CORRECTIONS, CORRECTIONAL OFFICER BLACK, Defendants

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Ellen L. Hollander United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Colin B. Williams, who is self-represented, filed suit during the time he was confined at the Baltimore County Detention Center as a pretrial detainee. ECF 1. Williams alleges that defendant Officer Shakiara Black violated his Due Process and Equal Protection rights by conducting two disciplinary hearings that were not fair or impartial, and sanctioned him with 45 days of restrictive housing. Defendant Baltimore County Department of Corrections (“BCDC”) filed a motion to dismiss (ECF 10), along with a memorandum. ECF 10-1. BCDC and Officer Black later filed a motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, motion for summary judgment (ECF 19), supported by a memorandum (ECF 19-1) and exhibits. Williams has filed an opposition (ECF 21). Defendants have replied. ECF 22.

         No hearing is necessary to resolve the issues. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For reasons that follow, I shall grant BCDC's motion to dismiss (ECF 10). And, I will construe Black's motion (ECF 19) as a motion for summary judgment and grant it as to the equal protection claim, but deny it, without prejudice, as to the due process claim.

         I. Factual Background

         At 8:45 p.m. on March 31, 2017, Williams assaulted Officer K. Johnson, which resulted in the use of “O.C.” (oleoresin capsicum)[1] (Incident A3170834). ECF 1-1 at 2 (Report of Incident). Approximately one hour later, Sgt. T. Brooks was packing Williams's personal property when he discovered a bag of homemade wine wrapped in a blanket. Report of Incident, ECF 1-1 at 1. Williams, who was the sole occupant of the cell where the contraband was found, was charged with possession of contraband (Incident A3170835). ECF 1-1 at 1.

         Officer Black held a disciplinary hearing on Incident A3170835 (contraband possession) on April 4, 2017, at which Williams pleaded not guilty. Williams argued the substance found was not alcohol and it was not his. ECF 19-4 at 2. Moreover, there were “no photos, test [sic], or reports” introduced to show that that the substance was alcohol. ECF 1 at 2. Officer Black found Williams guilty of possession of an unauthorized substance and imposed 10 days of restrictive housing with loss of telephone, visiting, commissary, television, and out-of-cell privileges. Id.; see also ECF 1-1 at 1. Williams's appeal was denied by Captain R. Alford. ECF 1-1 at 4; ECF 19-6 at 4 (appeal letter). Captain Alford determined Williams had “provided insufficient evidence to overturn the guilty finding. The penalty is appropriate.” ECF 1-1 at 4.

         On April 5, 2017, Officer Black conducted a hearing on Incident A3170834 (assault on Officer Johnson). Officer Black found Williams guilty of all charges and imposed 45 days of restrictive housing. ECF 1 at 2.[2] Williams alleges that because he was not present at the hearing, Office Black interpreted his lack of attendance as a refusal to testify and an indication of guilt. ECF 1 at 2. The incident report boilerplate includes the statement: “At the Disciplinary Hearing, you DO NOT have to testify in your own defense. However, a refusal to testify may be interpreted as an indication of guilt.” ECF 1-1 at 3. It also appears that Officer Johnson, the officer involved in the assault, was not present at the disciplinary hearing. ECF 1-1 at 3 (notation indicating K. Johnson refused to appear). Williams's appeal of the guilty finding was denied by Captain Alford. ECF 19-6; ECF 19-6 at 2 (appeal letter). Alford found the evidence insufficient to overturn the guilty finding and that the penalty was appropriate. ECF 19-6.

         Williams alleges the BCDC disciplinary procedure is unfair and does not comply with the Code of Maryland Regulations (“COMAR”), because it “subjects one to a disciplinary hearing in front of an officer who is not detached or neutral from the institution.” ECF 1 at 2. Williams adds: “Black is an employee of the institution as she wears the badge and uniform of the institution.” Id.

         Plaintiff seeks an order to bar correctional officers from conducting disciplinary hearings, and to have the “County Commissioner” preside over them instead. ECF 1 at 3. Williams also seeks compensatory damages of $1, 000 a day for the 45 days he was assigned to restrictive housing, without privileges. Id.

         II. Standard of Review

         A. Motion to Dismiss

         The purpose of a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) is to test the sufficiency of a complaint. See In re Birmingham, 846 F.3d 88, 92 (4th Cir. 2017); Goines v. Valley Cmty. Servs. Bd., 822 F.3d 159, 165-66 (4th Cir. 2016); McBurney v. Cuccinelli, 616 F.3d 393, 408 (4th Cir. 2010), aff'd sub nom. McBurney v. Young, 569 U.S. 221 (2013); Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999). A Rule 12(b)(6) motion constitutes an assertion by a defendant that, even if the facts alleged by a plaintiff are true, the complaint fails as a matter of law “to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.”

         Whether a complaint states a claim for relief is assessed by reference to the pleading requirements of Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). It provides that a complaint must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” The purpose of the rule is to ensure that defendants are provided with “fair notice” of the claim(s) made against them and the “grounds” for entitlement to relief. Bell Atl., Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007).

         To survive a motion under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain facts sufficient to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570; see Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 684 (2009) (“Our decision in Twombly expounded the pleading standard for ‘all civil actions' . . . .”) (citation omitted); see also Willner v. Dimon, 849 F.3d 93, 112 (4th Cir. 2017). But, a plaintiff need not include “detailed factual allegations” in order to satisfy Rule 8(a)(2). Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Moreover, federal pleading rules “do not countenance dismissal of a complaint for imperfect statement of the legal theory supporting the claim asserted.” Johnson v. City of Shelby, __U.S.__, 135 S.Ct. 346, 346 (2014) (per curiam).

         “When determining whether a complaint fails to comply with Rule 8(a), ‘courts have looked to various factors, including the length and complexity of the complaint, whether the complaint was clear enough to enable the defendant to know how to defend himself, and whether the plaintiff was represented by counsel.'” Rush v. Am. Home Mortg., Inc., WMN-07-854, 2009 WL 4728971, at *4 (D. Md. Dec. 3, 2009) (emphasis added) (internal citations omitted) (quoting North Carolina v. McGuirt, 114 F. App'x 555, 558 (4th Cir. 2004) (per curiam)). A court may properly dismiss a complaint under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to comport with Rule 8(a) if the complaint “does not permit the defendants to figure out what legally sufficient claim the plaintiffs are making and against whom they are making it.” McGuirt, 114 F. App'x at 559.

         Thus, a complaint requires more than bald accusations or mere speculation. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; see Painter's Mill Grille, LLC v. Brown, 716 F.3d 342, 350 (4th Cir. 2013). If a complaint provides no more than “labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action, ” it is insufficient. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Rather, to satisfy the minimal requirements of Rule 8(a)(2), the complaint must set forth “enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest” a cognizable cause of action, “even if . . . [the] actual proof of those facts is improbable and . . . recovery is very remote and unlikely.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556 (internal quotations omitted).

         In reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court “‘must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint'” and must “‘draw all reasonable inferences [from those facts] in favor of the plaintiff.'” E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co., 637 F.3d 435, 440 (4th Cir. 2012) (citations omitted); see Semenova v. Md. Transit Admin., 845 F.3d 564, 567 (4th Cir. 2017); Houck v. Substitute Tr. Servs., Inc., 791 F.3d 473, 484 (4th Cir. 2015); Kendall v. Balcerzak, 650 F.3d 515, 522 (4th Cir. 2011), cert. denied, 565 U.S. 943 (2011). But, a court is not required to accept legal conclusions drawn from the facts. See Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986). “A court decides whether [the pleading] standard is met by separating the legal conclusions from the factual allegations, assuming the truth of only the factual allegations, and then determining whether those allegations allow the court to reasonably infer” that plaintiff is entitled to the legal remedy sought. A Society Without a Name v. Virginia, 655 F.3d 342, 346 (4th. Cir. 2011), cert. denied, 566 U.S. 937 (2012).

         In general, courts do not “resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses” through a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. Edwards, 178 F.3d at 243. But, “in the relatively rare circumstances where facts sufficient to rule on an affirmative defense are alleged in the complaint, the defense may be reached by a motion to dismiss filed under Rule 12(b)(6).” Goodman v. Praxair, Inc., 494 F.3d 458, 464 (4th Cir. 2007) (en banc); accord Pressley v. Tupperware Long Term Disability Plan, 533 F.3d 334, 336 (4th Cir. 2009); see also Meridian Investments, Inc. v. Fed. Home Loan Mortg. Corp., 855 F.3d 573, 577 (4th Cir. 2017) (quoting Leichling v. Honeywell Int'l, Inc., 842 F.3d 848, 850-51 (4th Cir. 2016)) (“A defendant's claim that an action is time-barred is an affirmative defense that it can raise in a motion to dismiss when the ‘face of the complaint includes all necessary facts for the defense to prevail.'”). However, because Rule 12(b)(6) “is intended [only] to test the legal adequacy of the complaint, ” Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac R.R. ...


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