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Murphy v. Ortt

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

March 26, 2018

EDDIE MURPHY, #306651, Plaintiff,
v.
CHRISTOPHER ORTT, COII, LT. WILLIAM GILLUM, NICHOLAS SOLTAS, COII, CRAIG PETERS, COII, KRISTI CORTEZ, RN, UNKNOWN CORRECTIONAL OFFICERS,[1] Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          GEORGE J. HAZEL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pending before the Court is pro se Plaintiff Eddie Murphy's Complaint filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983. ECF No. 1. Murphy's allegations are premised on events that occurred when he was an inmate at North Branch Correctional Institution ("NBCI") in Cumberland, Maryland. Id. Murphy alleges, among other complaints, that excessive force was used against him, that he was not properly treated for the effects of pepper spray, and that NBCI employees fabricated rule violations against him. Id. Defendant Krissi Cortez, R.N., has filed a Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 15, in response to which Murphy has filed an opposition, ECF No. 19. Defendants, former CO. II Christopher Ortt, [2] CO. II Craig Peters, Lt. William Gillum, and CO. II Nicholas Soltes (collectively, the "State Defendants") have filed a Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Mo:ion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 31, which is unopposed.[3]

         This case is ready for adjudication. No. hearing is required. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For reasons to follow, Krissi Cortez's Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 15, is granted. The State Defendants' Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 31, is granted-in-part and denied-in-part.

         I. BACKGROUND[4]

         Murphy alleges that on October 2, 2013, at approximately 10:00 a.m., Officer Ortt assaulted him by slamming Murphy's arm and hand in the tray slot of his cell door, and that he was denied immediate medical treatment. ECF No. 1 at 2-3. Murphy claims that Ortt wrote a "false report" to "cover it up." Id. at 3. Murphy was issued a Notice of Rule Violation for committing assault or battery on staff (Rule 101) and demonstrating disrespect or use of vulgar language (Rule 405). ECF No. 1-1. Ortt denies having assaulted Murphy and states that, in fact, he was assaulted by Murphy, who spit on his arm as Ortt gave him his food tray through the slot of the cell door. ECF No. 31-6 ¶ 4. Ortt states that Murphy's arm and hand had cleared the slot when he closed it. Id.

         Murphy further alleges that at approximately 11:45 a.m. that morning, Ortt returned to Murphy's cell. While Murphy was "attending lo his lacerations" from having his hand slammed in the door, Ortt allegedly opened the cell door slot and sprayed him with pepper spray for "about 10 seconds[, ] an excessive amount." ECF No. 1 at 3. Murphy asserts that Ortt wrote another "false Notice of Inmate Rule Violation" to justify his actions. Id. Ortt refutes this account, stating that Murphy was using the sink and toilet in his cell to flood the tier and that Murphy also was observed attempting to break a fire sprinkler in his cell. ECF No. 31 -6 ¶ 5. Ortt states that he disbursed a single burst of pepper spray into the cell to subdue Murphy and prevent further damage. Murphy then complied with Ortt's order to come to the cell door slot to be handcuffed, and was escorted to the medical room. ECF No. 31-6 ¶¶ 5-6.

         Murphy claims that Ortt and the other Defendants know that pepper spray symptoms can last forty-five minutes if left untreated. Murphy alleges that Ortt and Officer Soltas refused to offer him first aid and left him in his cell for four to five minutes. ECF No. 1 at 3. Murphy alleges that he tried to splash water into his eyes, but that the sink in the cell had been turned off by Defendants. Murphy states that his "only recourse was to place his head into the toilet to stop the burning to his eyes, body, and face, " which caused his eyes to hurt for several days and his skin to peel. Id.

         Murphy was eventually taken to the medical room where he was examined by Nurse Cortez. He claims that he could barely see, complained of pain, and was soaked in pepper spray. Id. at 3-4, 8. He claims that Cortez failed to flush his eyes with water, to wipe the pepper spray from his skin, or to ask the correctional officers whether he would receive a decontamination shower. Id. at 3-4. Murphy claims that he was "forced back" into his cell by correctional officers upon the orders of Lt. Gillum and Lt. Wilt.[5] Murphy claims that he was not provided a decontamination shower and states that he again used water in the toilet to wash off the pepper spray. Id. at 4.

         Murphy further claims that on an unstated date his cellmate blocked the cell window and assaulted him.[6] When Officer Peters and other unknown officers arrived at the cell, they found him beaten and lying on the floor. Murphy alleges that an officer used a "stun shield"[7] on Murphy that "zapped" his already burning skin. Id. at 4. Murphy maintains that even if Peters was not the officer who used the stun shield, then Peters acted improperly by failing to stop its use. Id. Officer Peters states that on a date he cannot recall, the window of Murphy's cell was indeed covered. ECF No. 31-14 ¶ 4. Peters, with three other officers, entered the cell to check on him and found Murphy unresponsive on the cell floor. Id. Peters states that they walked over to Murphy, lightly tapped him on the shoulder, and that Murphy demonstrated verbally and physically that he was conscious and in no distress. The staff exited the cell without incident. Peters denies that on that occasion Murphy was "zapped, " but states that the officers had a stun shield with them for their safety when they entered the cell. ECF No. 31-14 ¶ 6.

         Murphy states that the excessive force that the officers allegedly used against him was the result of retaliation by Defendant Ortt against him for filing Murphy v. Rounds, Civil Action No. WDQ-13-2480. ECF No. 1 ¶ 10. Murphy alleges that Ortt retaliated against him "three times with authorization from his supervisor Lt. Wilt." Id[8]

         Lastly, Murphy alleges that NBCI Administrative Remedy Coordinator .Tared Zais[9] and correctional staff use conspiratorial practices to violate his rights under the First Amendment, including refusing to provide him with necessary documents and receipts used in processing Administrative Remedy Procedure (ARP) requests, fraudulently acting in the Warden's capacity to dismiss ARP requests, and reporting "false" information in the course of responding to an ARP request. ECF No. 1 at 5-6.

         In his Complaint, Murphy seeks compensatory damages in the amount of $100, 000 and punitive damages in the amount of $200, 000 against each defendant. ECF No. 1 at 8.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Defendants' motions are styled as Motions to Dismiss, or in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment. 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, for Summary Judgment, " as is the case here, and attaches additional materials to its motion, the nonmoving party is, of course, aware that materials outside the pleadings are before the Court, and the Ccurt can treat the motion as one for summary judgment. See Laughlin v. Metropolitan Wash. Airports Auth. 149 F.3d253, 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 is appropriate if "materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations ..., admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials, " Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c), 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(a); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). 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 nonmoving party's case, the burden shifts to the nonmoving 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. 2001) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby. Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). A dispute of material fact is only "genuine" if sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving 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. 1986). 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.

         The Court is mindful that Murphy is a pro se litigant. A federal court must liberally construe pro se pleadings to allow the development of potentially meritorious cases. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); Cruz v. Beto, 405 U.S. 319 (1972). Liberal construction does not mean, however, that this Court can ignore a clear failure in the pleadings to allege facts sufficient to state a claim. See Weller v. Department of Social Services, 901 F.2d 387, 391 (4th Cir. 1990). A court cannot assume a genuine issue of material fact where none exists. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c).

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Claim Against Krissi Cortez

         Murphy faults Nurse Cortez for failing to flush his eyes with water, wipe the pepper spray from his skin, or ask the correctional officers whether he would receive a decontamination shower, although he "complained of pain and was obviously ...


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