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Cofield v. Hogan

United States District Court, D. Maryland

March 27, 2018




         Pending is an unopposed[1] motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, motion for summary judgment, filed by defendants.[2] ECF No. 23. The motion is supported by a Memorandum (ECF No. 23-1) (collectively, the “Motion”) and exhibits in the form of a declaration and records. ECF No. 23-3-23-7.[3] The court finds a hearing in this matter unnecessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For reasons to follow, defendants' motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, motion for summary judgment, shall be granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Cofield's Complaint

         Keenan K. Cofield, a former state inmate, filed the instant 42 U.S.C. § 1983 complaint alleging that on or about April 14, 2015, defendants Webster, Green, and Gunter knowingly, purposely, and negligently conspired to violate the “RICO Act” by subjecting him to false arrest, imprisonment, and malicious prosecution for almost eight months when they ordered him confined on administrative segregation at the Eastern Correctional Institution (ECI) without due process or a “meaningful” hearing, causing him to be moved from general inmate population in the Wicomico Unit of the ECI-Annex. Cofield additionally complains that an internal memorandum was sent to case management to remove him from his institutional job, thus causing him to lose his monthly salary and possible diminution work credits. He alleges that although he filed several administrative complaints to ECI administrators and State officials, it took almost eight months to release him from administrative segregation. ECF No. 1, pp. 2-7. Cofield claims that when he was released from segregation to general population he was not restored to his prior job status, and was not credited with diminution credits or back wages. Id., p. 10.

         Cofield further contends that he is a chronic asthmatic patient and, as a fan was missing from his administrative segregation cell, he was subject to temperatures that exceeded 115 to 120 degrees in his cell. He claims that defendants refused to provide him a fan or anything to deal with the excessive heat. Cofield claims that defendants' actions were taken in retaliation for his filing administrative remedy procedure (ARP) grievances and complaints against staff. He further levels allegations that he was forced to perform personal jobs for prison staff in order to continue his job as a clerk and makes salacious allegations against ECI staff. ECF No. 1, pp.8-9 & 32. He argues that this conduct violates the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments. Id., p. 10.

         In Count II of the complaint, Cofield claims that upon his transfer to segregation, his property was confiscated, including nine boxes of legal material, educational and legal compact discs (CDs), and a “host of other property” including a flat screen television, surge protector, cable cords, postage stamps, and a typewriter. He alleges the property was all lost, stolen or intentionally misplaced. He contends that the confiscated property was taken without completion of the necessary personal property inventory process, and the items were only generally referenced on a confiscation form. Cofield states he was forced to send all his active case information home and was “adversely affected and impacted” by not being in possession of his active legal material and lost cases as a result. He alleges that his legal CDs, “stamped” by authorities, were taken in violation of prison information bulletins, after defendants learned that he had created hundreds of mobile applications, with an assessed value between one to five billion dollars. He contends that although defendants had agreed to replace the “stolen” legal CDs and to allow him to store and back up the information on the Clerk's computer, they did not comply with their promise. He seeks compensatory damages for the loss of the CDs.[4] Id., pp. 11-17.

         In Count III of the complaint Cofield claims that on or about April 14, 2015, Detective Pepper, a Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS) investigator at ECI, knowingly conspired to take his CDs and other personal and legal property, violating state law and DPSCS policy. He complains that defendants ordered ECI Technical Officer Morgan to retrieve, access, remove, and delete his copyrighted work stored on the ECI Wicomico Unit clerk's computer. Cofield claims that defendants crashed the computer and wiped the hard drive clean of all information. ECF No. 1, pp. 18-21.

         In Count V Cofield alleges that for a two or more year period he was sexually harassed by his supervisor, Sgt. Pam Trower, while serving as a Clerk.[5] Id., pp. 28-29. Count VI asserts claims that Cofield was called racial epithets and removed from his job in the Clerk's Office on April 7, 2015. He alleges that Caucasian prison staffers complained that he had too much power and filed too many complaints against prison staff and administrators. He alleges that he was almost killed on three separate occasions. Id., p. 30.

         Finally, in an “amendment to complaint” Cofield claims that defendants have violated the Maryland Public Information Act by failing to respond to a civil subpoena. He asserts that defendants have not provided him any of the documents requested. Id., p. 31. Cofield seeks damages, lost wages, diminution work credits, and other miscellaneous relief. Id., pp. 33-38.

         B. Cofield's amended/supplemental complaints

         Cofield seeks to add John and Jane Doe as defendants, claiming that they violated the DPSCS mission statement and Division of Corrections Directives (DCD) based upon their aforementioned conduct. ECF No. 4. He also requests that another count be added to his complaint, alleging that defendant Webster and his property officer mailed several boxes of confiscated materials to his father. Cofield contends that the partial mailing of four of the nine boxes without notice violates prison policy. He states that upon examination, he noticed that his property had been trashed and dumped into the four boxes rendering it a “total loss.” He seeks the return of the five boxes of materials, damages, and to have a copy of his files transferred to a flash drive.[6] ECF No. 11.

         C. Correctional defendants' response

         Defendants argue that on April 14, 2016, Cofield was placed on administrative segregation pending an investigation for his misuse of state property during his work assignment in the Wicomico Housing Unit Clerk's Office.[7] ECF No, 23-3, pp. 5 & 9. According to the matter of record, three large boxes were found in a secured locker area. The boxes contained clippings, a large amount of State of Maryland office supplies and paper work belonging to Cofield, the assigned Clerk on the 7 to 3 shift. ECF No, 23-3, pp. 2-4. They assert that as a Clerk, Cofield's job duties were to “create and update inmate pass lists, movement sheets and update inmate rosters.” Defendants state that Cofield instead used the computer system to work on his own personal material, which is not permitted.

         Defendants maintain that inmates are assigned to segregation for a number of reasons, all of which are in an effort to preserve order and institutional security at ECI. Inmates in segregation are handcuffed, behind the back at all times, during movements. Further, their access to telephone privileges and contact visits are limited. ECF No. 23-5, pp. 5, 8-9. They are, however, permitted out-of-cell recreation five hours a week and have access to weekly laundry services as do general population inmates. Further, segregation inmates may write and receive letters on the same basis as general population inmates. There are no limitations placed on their legal mail, they have access to health care the same as general population inmates, including medication distribution, they receive meal service on a similar basis as general population inmates, with the exception that they are fed in their cells, and have access to legal reference materials, case management, social work, psychology, education, and library services. Id., pp. 5-9 & 14-15.

         According to defendants, Cofield's administrative segregation status was continuously reviewed by Case Management personnel, but he chose not to participate in these status review meetings. ECF No. 23-3, pp. 5-7. He was removed from administrative segregation on or about October 2, 2015, upon the completion of an investigation. Id., p. 8.


         Motion for Summary Judgment

         Because defendants have filed and relied on a declaration and exhibits attached to their dispositive motion, their motion shall be treated as a summary judgment motion. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) provides that summary judgment should be granted “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.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a) (emphases added). “A dispute is genuine if ‘a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.'” Libertarian Party of Va. v. Judd, 718 F.3d 308, 313 (4th Cir. 2013) (quoting Dulaney v. Packaging Corp. of Am., 673 F.3d 323, 330 (4th Cir. 2012)). “A fact is material if it ‘might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.'” Id. (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). Accordingly, “the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment[.]” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48. The court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, Tolan v. Cotton, 134 S.Ct. 1861, 1866 (2014) (per curiam), and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor, Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007) (citations omitted); see also Jacobs v. N.C. Admin. Office of the Courts, 780 F.3d 562, 568-69 (4th Cir. 2015). At the same time, the court must “prevent factually unsupported claims and defenses from proceeding to trial.” Bouchat v. Balt. Ravens Football Club, Inc., 346 F.3d 514, 526 (4th Cir. 2003) (quoting Drewitt v. Pratt, 999 F.2d 774, 778-79 (4th Cir. 1993)).


         Sovereign Immunity

         It is argued that the State of Maryland has not waived its sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment to suit in federal court. Neither a state nor an agency of a state is a “person” within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See Will v. Michigan Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 64-65, 69-71 (1989). Moreover, the State of Maryland is immune from liability under the Eleventh Amendment from a § 1983 suit in federal court without regard to the nature of the relief sought. See Pennhurst State School & Hospital v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 101 (1984); see also Puerto Rico Aqueduct & Sewer Auth. v. Metcalf & Eddy, Inc., 506 U.S. 139, 144 (1993) (stating that absent waiver of Eleventh Amendment immunity, ‚Äúneither a State nor agencies ...

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