United States District Court, D. Maryland
VERONICA WALKER, et al. Plaintiffs
FRANK B. BISHOP, JR., et al. Defendants
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
J. Garbis, United States District Judge.
Court has before it Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Or, In
the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 94],
Defendant Reginald Heavener's Motion to Dismiss
Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint [ECF No. 93], and the
materials submitted relating thereto. The Court has held a
hearing and has had the benefit of arguments of counsel.
original Complaint [ECF No. 1], Plaintiffs asserted claims
against the State of Maryland and eleven Individual
The Court granted Defendants' motions to dismiss
Plaintiffs' Complaint, and dismissed all claims asserted
in that Complaint. See Memorandum and Order at 25,
ECF No. 81 (“Memorandum and Order”). Certain
claims were dismissed with prejudice, i.e.,
negligence, funeral expenses, and all claims against the
State of Maryland. However, leave was granted for Plaintiffs
to file an Amended Complaint asserting other claims against
the Individual Defendants. Thereafter, Plaintiffs filed the
Amended Complaint [ECF No. 86]. By the instant motions, Defendants seek
dismissal of all claims against them, and in the alternative,
summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56.
Court finds it premature to proceed on a motion for summary
judgment prior to any discovery and will treat both motions
solely as motions to dismiss. In doing so, the Court shall
consider only non-conclusory factual allegations in the
Amended Complaint, and not any materials or exhibits
presented that are not included in the Amended Complaint.
case pertains to the September 13, 2013 killing of inmate
Jason Wallace (“Wallace”) by his cellmate,
Darnell Thompson (“Thompson”), in their cell at
Western Correctional Institution (“WCI”).
Plaintiffs, Wallace's parents (Veronica
Gilbert Wallace), and his surviving minor children, V.W. and
K.W., (collectively, “Plaintiffs”), file the
Amended Complaint [ECF No. 86] asserting claims against the
nine Individual Defendants: the former Warden Frank B.
Bishop, Jr. (“Bishop”), Captain George Sneathen
(“Sneathen”), Correctional Officer William May
(“May”), Correctional Officer Reginald Heavener
(“Heavener”), Correctional Officer David Stevey
(“Stevey”), Correctional Officer Drew Cook
(“Cook”), and three “John Doe”
Correctional Officers (collectively,
Plaintiffs assert the following claims:
Violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Eighth and
Heavener, Cook, May, Stevey
Violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Eighth and
Bishop, Sneathen, and the three John Doe Defendants
Violation of Maryland Declaration of Rights
Articles 24 and 25
Plaintiffs assert claims based upon the assignment of
Thompson to be Wallace's cellmate, and the events of
September 13, 2013 resulting in the death of Wallace.
Assignment of Thompson and Wallace as Cellmates
date of his death, September 13, 2013, Wallace was
incarcerated at WCI in the general population and assigned to Housing
Unit #3. Am. Compl. ¶ 22. Housing Unit #3 houses inmates
who have been released from disciplinary segregation, who are
ineligible or removed from “high privileged tiers,
” overflow inmates, certain disabled inmates, or
inmates deemed “detrimental to the good order and
operation” of WCI. Id. ¶ 26.
assignments at WCI are made based upon security, program
needs, and “behaviorally oriented factors.”
Id. ¶ 27. For this purpose, WCI maintains a
“case management system” which stores information
about inmates, including who has been identified as a sexual
predator, as a danger to others, and/or as having certain
vulnerabilities. Id. ¶ 28. Inmates who are
mentally ill or have special needs may be placed in special
needs housing or another institution (e.g., CMHC-J
at Patuxent), based on decisions made by the Chief
Psychologist, the Warden, and the Chief of Security.
Id. ¶¶ 29-30. “Routine” inmate
housing assignments are made by the Housing Unit Manager or
the Correctional Officer in charge of the Housing Unit, after
taking into account “age, physical characteristics,
intelligence information, . . . behavior record, ” and
whether the inmate cellmates will get along. Id.
was serving a life sentence for murder and had been
transferred from disciplinary segregation in North Branch
Correctional based on some undescribed
“altercation” with another inmate. Id.
¶¶ 32-33. Prior to joining the general population
at WCI, Thompson was housed in administrative segregation.
Id. ¶ 33. After joining the general population,
Thompson committed multiple housing violations, landing him
in disciplinary segregation. Id. ¶ 35. Thompson
allegedly had a “history throughout his incarceration
of repeatedly attacking other inmates and law enforcement
officers, ” and had received criminal sentences for
some of those attacks. Id. ¶ 36. For example,
in 2002, Thompson was convicted of Reckless Endangerment.
Id. In 2011, Thompson was convicted of Second Degree
Assault on a Law Enforcement officer. Id.
allege that it was “well known” that Thompson
suffered from “a mental and/or psychological
illness” which involved eating foreign objects, putting
strange materials in his hair, talking to himself, talking
about hurting others, and wandering around the prison
pretending to shoot others. Id. ¶ 37. These
behaviors were “observed by anyone who came into
contact with” him. Id. ¶ 38.
point, an Assistant State's Attorney for Alleghany County
had filed a “Suggestion of Incompetency”
confirming that Thompson had been diagnosed with
“Nonorganic Psychosis, ” and “believed Thompson to be
delusional.” Id. ¶¶ 39-40. A year
prior to Wallace's murder, Thompson's case management
file stated that Thompson “displayed behavior that
could possibly be a threat to the institution.”
Id. ¶ 41.
September 2, 2013, Wallace was assigned to share a cell with
Thompson. This decision was approved by Defendant Warden
Bishop and two John Doe Defendants, the Chief of Security and
the Chief Psychologist. Id. ¶ 42. Wallace was
“Muslim and was 5'7 and weighed approximately 182
pounds.” Id. ¶ 54. Thompson was
“not Muslim and was” larger, described as
“6'4 and [who] struck a very imposing
figure.” Id. The assignment was allegedly
“not in compliance with WCI's directives set forth
for internal movements and assignments of inmates.”
allege that the Individual Defendants knew about
Thompson's prior violence and mental health issues but,
contrary to WCI's rules and regulations, approved the
cell assignment with Wallace and failed to take measures to
report or mitigate the harm that Thompson posed to Wallace.
Id. ¶¶ 42-43. The Amended Complaint states
that “[U]pon information and belief, ” this
reassignment was done intentionally by Defendants “as
retribution for an earlier altercation involving Wallace and
a staff member within the Housing Unit at WCI.”
Id. ¶ 45. There are no allegations stating who
was involved in this “altercation, ” when it
occurred, and under what circumstances.
September 3, 2013, Wallace wrote to his family, expressing
concerns for his safety and stating that he wanted to be
transferred out of the cell he shared with Thompson to
another cell as soon as possible. Id. ¶ 44.
Wallace, however, did not take action to seek a transfer at
WCI and was murdered 10 days later. Id.
Wallace's Murder on September 13, 2013
date of the murder, Captain Sneathen was the
“highest-ranking official in charge” for Housing
Unit #3, Officer Cook was the “Officer in Charge”
of Housing Unit #3, and Officers Heavener, Stevey, and May
were correctional officers assigned to Housing Unit #3.
Id. ¶¶ 49-53.
evening, Wallace was assaulted and beaten by Thompson in
their cell sometime between 6:10 PM and 6:30 PM. Id.
¶ 55. After the beating he lay injured on the floor of
his cell until, more than two hours later, he was discovered
by officers and later died from his injuries. Id.
the assault, at 6:10 PM, Wallace and Thompson had returned to
their cell after dinner. Id. ¶ 56. Officer
Heavener “conducted a head count on the tier”
starting at 6:10 PM and finishing at 6:30 PM, and then
returned to the control room. Id. ¶¶
57-58. Thus, Heavener was allegedly on the tier at the time
of the assault.
6:30 PM, the Special Housing Observation Unit
(“SHOU”) contacted the control room and requested
that Thompson report to them for urinalysis testing.
Id. ¶ 58. When this request was made, Officers
Heavener, May, Stevey, and Cook were in the control room.
Defendants “Heavener [and/]or May unlocked”
Thompson's and Wallace's cell at approximately 6:30
PM. Id. ¶ 58. Thompson went
“unescorted” from his cell to the control room
and was then escorted to SHOU by Defendant Stevey for
urinalysis testing. Id. ¶ 59.
allege that the Individual Defendants failed to notice that
Wallace had been attacked. Officer Heavener stated at
Thompson's murder trial that he watched Thompson walk
down the tier towards the control room wearing white shoes
rather than his usual brown boots, “which he thought
was strange.” Id. ¶ 60. When escorting
Thompson to SHOU, Officer Stevey “failed to see”
blood stains on Thompson's shirt sleeve, rips in his
shirt, and his bloody knuckles. Id. ¶ 61.
Another inmate, Middleton, was housed in a nearby cell and
testified at Thompson's trial that between 6:10 and 6:30,
he heard Wallace say “Chill dog” to Thompson.
Id. ¶ 62. Middleton also heard “sounds of
fighting” and the sound of “metal scraping along
the floor” coming from the shared cell. Id.
Heavener conducted “another walk on the tier” and
noted at 7:00 PM that the tier was secure. Id.
¶ 66. At 7:30 PM, the inmates of the tier were sent to
the Recreational Hall. Id. ¶ 66. At this time,
both Officer Heavener and Officer May “noticed several
inmates making a point to walk past” Thompson's and
Wallace's cell, “survey the inside and then talk
amongst themselves.” Id. ¶ 66. Nothing
was done in response to this observation.
was not discovered until “well over an hour later,
” (presumably, 8:30 PM or later), when Middleton
approached Officers Heavener and May and told them that
Wallace was lying unresponsive on the floor of his cell.
Id. ¶ 67. When the two officers arrived at the
cell, Wallace's “head and chest” were
“under his bunk” and he was bleeding from his
ears, nose, and mouth, although he was still alive and
“making a wheezing or gargling noise.”
Id. ¶ 68. He had sustained massive head trauma
with exposed brain matter and later died from his injuries.
Id. ¶ 69. Ultimately, Thompson was convicted of
second degree murder for Wallace's death.
motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of a
complaint. A complaint need only contain “a short and
plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is
entitled to relief, in order to give the defendant fair
notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which
it rests.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550
U.S. 544, 555 (2007)(citations omitted). When evaluating a
12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a plaintiff's well-pleaded
allegations are accepted as true and the complaint is viewed
in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. However,
conclusory statements or a “formulaic recitation of the
elements of a cause of action” will not suffice.
Id. A complaint must allege sufficient facts to
“cross ‘the line between possibility and
plausibility of entitlement to relief.'”
Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 193 (4th Cir.
2009)(quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).
into whether a complaint states a plausible claim is “a
context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to
draw on its judicial experience and common sense.”
Id. Thus, if the well-pleaded facts contained within
a complaint “do not permit the court to infer more than
the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged
- but it has not shown - that the pleader is entitled to
relief.” Id. (quoting Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009)).
a motion to dismiss filed under Rule 12(b)(6) cannot reach
the merits of an affirmative defense. Goodman v. Praxair,
Inc., 494 F.3d 458, 464 (4th Cir. 2007). However,
affirmative defenses are appropriate to consider at the Rule
12(b)(6) stage “when the face of the complaint
clearly reveals the existence of a meritorious
affirmative defense.” Occupy Columbia v.
Haley, 738 F.3d 107, 116 (4th Cir. 2013) (emphasis
added) (quoting Brockington v. Boykins, 637 F.3d
503, 506 (4th Cir. 2011)).
Counts I and II - Federal Constitutional Claims
assert claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged
violations of rights provided by the Eighth and Fourteenth
Amendments. Count I is asserted against Defendants Heavener,
Cook, May, and Stevey (“Inferior Officers”).
Count II is asserted against Defendants Bishop, Sneathen, and
the three John Doe Defendants (“Superior
Officers”), and includes an allegation that these
Defendants failed to supervise their inferiors. The Court
will address these two counts together.
Every person who, under color of [state law] subjects, or
causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States . .
. to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities
secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the
party injured . . . .
42 U.S.C. § 1983. Thus, to establish a § 1983
claim, a plaintiff must prove that a defendant:
1. Acted under color of state law,
2. Deprived him/her of a right secured by the Constitution,
3. Is not entitled to qualified immunity.
is no doubt that all pertinent actions of the Individual
Defendants were performed under color of state law,
i.e., as state officials.
Eighth Amendment Claims
Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides
that “[e]xcessive bail shall not be required, nor
excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments
inflicted.” U.S. Const. amend. VIII. “The Eighth
Amendment imposes a duty on prison officials ‘to
protect prisoners from violence at the hands of other
prisoners.'” Odom v. S.C. Dep't of
Corr., 349 F.3d 765, 770 (4th Cir. 2003) (quoting
Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 833 (1994)). To
establish a failure to protect claim under the Eighth
Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment,
a plaintiff must prove that (1) there was a
“sufficiently serious” deprivation, and (2) the
defendants had a “sufficiently culpable state of
mind.” Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834.
first part of the test, “the inmate must show that he
is incarcerated under conditions posing a substantial risk of
serious harm.” Id. “[T]o demonstrate
such an extreme deprivation, a prisoner must allege a serious
or significant physical or emotional injury resulting from
the challenged conditions . . . .” Odom, 349
F.3d at 770 (alteration in original) (quoting
De'Lonta v. Angelone, 330 F.3d 630, 634 (4th
second part of the test, the requisite state of mind
“is one of ‘deliberate indifference' to
inmate health or safety.” Farmer, 511 U.S. at
834 (quoting Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 302-303
(1991)). Deliberate indifference “entails something
more than mere negligence” but it can be
“satisfied by something less than acts or omissions for
the very purpose of causing harm or with knowledge that harm
will result.” Id. at 835. “It is . . .
fair to say that acting or failing to act with deliberate
indifference to a substantial risk of serious harm to a
prisoner is the equivalent of recklessly disregarding that
risk.” Id. at 836.
apply a subjective standard, under which “the official
must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be
drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he
must also draw the inference.” Id. at 837.
Court has held in the Memorandum and Order [ECF No. 81] that
Plaintiffs adequately alleged the first element of serious
harm. See Parker v. Maryland, 413 Fed.Appx. 634, 638
(4th Cir. 2011) (“Since Parker was murdered while in