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Black v. Eastern Correctional Institution

United States District Court, D. Maryland

March 19, 2018

JOSEPH D. BLACK, # 283-6537, Plaintiff



         Plaintiff Joseph Black filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action seeking money damages against Eastern Correctional Institution ("ECI")[3] and several of its employees. ECF No. 1. Black claims that Officers Clayton and Arndt violated his constitutional rights by assaulting him during a March 14, 2017 strip search conducted in a location that was visible by others, including female corrections officers. ECF No. 1 at 3; ECF No. 13 at 3; ECF No. 34. Black claims that Officer Christopher[4] then retaliated against him for complaining about the strip-search incident by discarding his mail, preventing him from doing certain activities like taking showers, withholding food, mail, and commissary purchases, and placing him in danger by telling other inmates that Black was cooperating with law enforcement officers. ECF No. 1 at 3-4; ECF No. 13 at 3. Black also claims that Warden Foxwell failed to address his complaints about Christopher's retaliation.

         Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment. ECF No. 27. Consonant with the dictates of Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975), Black was notified the Motion could be treated as a Motion for Summary Judgment and he was entitled to file an opposition with supporting material. ECF No. 28. Black has filed a Response in Opposition. ECF No. 31.

         Defendants' Motion is ripe for disposition. After considering the pleadings, exhibits, and applicable law, the Court now rules pursuant to Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016), as a hearing is unnecessary. For the reasons that follow, the Court GRANTS the Motion to Dismiss as to ECI and DENIES the Motion to Dismiss as to all claims against all other Defendants; GRANTS the Motion for Summary Judgment as to Foxwell; and DENIES the Motion for Summary Judgment as to Clayton, Christopher and Arndt.

         Standard of Review

         Motion to Dismiss

         In reviewing the complaint in light of a Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 12(b)(6) the Court accepts all well-pleaded allegations of the complaint as true and construes the facts and reasonable inferences derived there from in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Co. v. Kolon Industries, Inc., 637 F.3d 435, 439 (4th Cir. 2011); Venkatraman v. REI Sys., Inc., 417 F.3d 418, 420 (4th Cir. 2005), citing Mylan Labs., Inc. v. Matkari, 7 F.3d 1130, 1134 (4th Cir. 1993); Ibarra v. United States, 120 F.3d 472, 473 (4th Cir. 1997). In doing so, this Court has an obligation to liberally construe a self-represented plaintiffs pleadings, see Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007), and must assume the factual allegations to be true. Id. at 93, citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007). Nonetheless, liberal construction does not mean that this Court can ignore a clear failure in the pleading to allege facts which set forth a cognizable claim. See Wetter v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387 (4th Cir. 1990); see also Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985) (stating a district court may not "conjure up questions never squarely presented."). Although a complaint need not contain detailed allegations, the facts alleged must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level and require "more than labels and conclusions, " as "courts 'are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.'" Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

         A complaint does not need "detailed factual allegations" to survive a motion to dismiss. Id. at 555. Instead, "once a claim has been stated adequately, it may be supported by showing any set of facts consistent with the allegations in the complaint." Id. at 563. To survive a motion to dismiss, "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677-78 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. "But where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged -- but it has not 'show[n]' - 'that the pleader is entitled to relief.'" Id. at 679 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)).

         "[O]nce a claim has been stated adequately, it may be supported by showing any set of facts consistent with the allegations in the complaint." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 563 (citing Sanjuan v. Am. Bd. of Psychiatry and Neurology, Inc., 40 F.3d, 247, 251 (7th Cir. 1994) (once a claim for relief has been stated, a plaintiff "receives the benefit of imagination, so long as the hypotheses are consistent with the complaint.")). Black's allegations against Defendants Clayton, Arndt, and Foxwell survive dismissal under this standard as a matter of law.[5] As noted, the claim as to Eastern Correctional Institution must be dismissed as it is not a proper party in a §1983 suit.

         Summary Judgment

         Defendants' motion, styled as a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) or, in the alternative, for summary judgment under Rule 56, implicates the Court's discretion under Rule 12(d) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Kensington Vol. Fire Dep't, Inc. v. Montgomery Cty., 788 F.Supp.2d 431, 436-37 (D. Md. 2011). Ordinarily, a court "is not to consider matters outside the pleadings or resolve factual disputes when ruling on a motion to dismiss." Bosiger v. U.S. Airways, 510 F.3d 442, 450 (4th Cir. 2007). However, under Rule 12(b)(6), a court, in its discretion, may consider matters outside of the pleadings, pursuant to Rule 12(d). If the court does so, "the motion must be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56, " and "[a]ll parties must be given a reasonable opportunity to present all the material that is pertinent to the motion." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d). When the movant expressly captions its motion "in the alternative" as one for summary judgment and submits matters outside the pleadings for the court's consideration, the parties are deemed to be on notice that conversion under Rule 12(d) may occur; the court "does not have an obligation to notify parties of the obvious." Laughlin v. Metro. Wash. Airports Auth, 149 F.3d 253, 261 (4th Cir. 1998). Because Defendants have filed and relied on declarations and exhibits attached to their dispositive motion, their motion shall be treated as one for summary judgment.

         Summary judgment is governed by Rule 56(a), which provides in relevant part that "[t]he court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." In analyzing a summary judgment motion, the Court must "view the evidence in the light most favorable to ... the nonmovant, and draw all reasonable inferences in her favor without weighing the evidence or assessing the witnesses' credibility." Dennis v. Columbia Colleton Med. Ctr., Inc., 290 F.3d 639, 644-45 (4th Cir. 2002); see Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); FDIC v. Cushion, 720 F.3d 169, 173 (4th Cir. 2013).

         "A party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment 'may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of [his] pleadings, ' but rather must 'set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.' " Bouchat v. Baltimore Ravens Football Club, Inc., 346 F.3d 514, 525 (4th Cir. 2003) (alteration in original) (quoting former Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)). Although Black's submissions are liberally construed, Erickson, 551 U.S. at 94, this Court must also abide by the "affirmative obligation of the trial judge to prevent factually unsupported claims and defenses from proceeding to trial." Bouchat, 346 F.3d at 526 (internal quotation marks omitted).

         The Parties' Submissions

         A. Plaintiffs Claims

         Black asserts that on March 14, 2017, correctional officers at ECI planned to move him from his cell to administrative segregation housing based on disciplinary charges issued by Defendant Clayton. ECF No. 27-6 at 8-9; ECF No. 27-8 at 10. Black alleges that, at the start of the moving process, Clayton

[C]ame to my cell and advised me that this is a shake down then he took me and my cell buddy from out [of] our cell and put us in the top day room in[ ]front of passing inmates and female officers and male officers then told us to strip take off all our clo[thes.] [T]hen as I was doing as I was told I was then ... advised me [sic] to separate my private parts then put my hands inside my mouth and move my fingers around then I was told to drop open my butt using both hands and then show both bottom of my feet[.] Also I was told to cough twice[.] Now after I did everything that I was told to do[, ] now once more I am being told to bend over and hold open my butt hole[.] I said I've already done that then Officer Clayton and his partner[, who Plaintiff subsequently identified as Officer Arndt (ECF No. 34), ] attacked me from behind and started chocking [sic] me and screaming open your butt now[.] Then Officer Clayton stuck his hand up in my rectum with so much force causing me so much pain that I just gave up while he sexually assault[ed] me till he [saw there] was nothing in my rectum or on my person.

ECF No. 1 at 3, 5 (capitalization altered). Black states that for an unspecified time after the incident, his "rectum was in so much pain [he] couldn't use the bathroom for days at a time." ECF No. 1 at 4 (capitalization altered).

         Black reported these actions to Foxwell, and a Prison Rape Elimination Act ("PREA")[6] investigation was convened. Black claims that following his PREA claim and complaints against Clayton and Arndt for their alleged actions during the strip search, Christopher and other officers, not named as Defendants here, began to retaliate against him. ECF No. 1, p. 3. Black alleges that despite being informed of the retaliatory actions by his staff, Warden Foxwell failed to correct the actions of his employees. ECF No. 13 at 1.

         B. Defendants' Response

         Defendants note that prior to placement in administrative segregation, inmates routinely are examined by medical staff. See ECF No. 27-4 at 9. Accordingly, after Clayton and Arndt removed Black from his cell and searched for contraband, they took him to the medical unit. There, Black informed staff that he wished to make a Prison Rape Elimination Act ("PREA") complaint against Clayton and Arndt based on the search. ECF No. 27-5 at 14. Black refused to make a written statement at that time. ECF No. 27-5 at 12. According to Nurse Amanda Morris, Black refused to be physically examined and appeared very agitated. ECF No. 27-4 at 13. Nonetheless, Black was "[c]leared by medical" for placement in administrative segregation. Id.

         Defendants provide the following details concerning Black's medical care following the incident. On March 24, 2017, ten days after the alleged assault, a registered nurse saw Black. ...

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