United States District Court, D. Maryland
Paula Xinis United States District Judge.
Jerrod Ward, a Maryland prisoner, filed a 42 U.S.C. §
1983 action against Western Correctional Institution
(“WCI”), Warden Richard J. Graham, Jr., Secretary
of Maryland's Division of Corrections Stephen T. Moyer,
and WCI Correctional Officers James Smith and Phillip
Merling. Compl., p. 1, ECF No. 1. Defendants move to dismiss
or alternatively for summary judgment in their favor, arguing
that Ward has failed to exhaust administrative remedies. ECF
No. 29. To date, Ward has not opposed Defendants'
sought declaratory relief, averring that Defendants had
violated his rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth
Amendments of the United States Constitution. Ward also
requests compensatory damages and injunctive relief to
prohibit Defendants from using an isolation cell as a tool
for punishment, harassment, and intimidation. Id.,
pp. 4-5. Ward alleges that Graham and Moyer are legally
responsible for the actions of Smith and Merling, who on
September 16, 2017, removed Ward from his disciplinary
segregation cell, strip-searched him, and placed him in an
isolation cell for five days. Id., pp. 1-2. Ward
also states that his requests to be seen by a nurse were
refused and his sick call slips were ignored. Id.,
do not dispute that between September 16, 2017 and September
20, 2017, Ward was placed on Staff Alert Status and housed in
a special cell. L. Tenille Winters Record Decl., p. 2, ECF
No. 29-2. Defendants provide record evidence that this action
was taken after Ward threatened violence against a nurse who
was handing out medications to prisoners on the tier.
Id., p. 4. Thereafter, Ward filed an Administrative
Remedy Procedure (“ARP”) grievance, ARP
WCI-2323-17, complaining about his assignment to an isolation
cell and placement on Staff Alert Status. ECF No. 29-2, p.
19. On October 31, 2017, the Warden's office dismissed
the ARP on the grounds that threats to staff warranted such
placement per standard operating procedure. Id., p.
20. Ward did not appeal that finding to the Commissioner.
Janifer Decl, ECF No. 29-3, ¶¶ 1-2. Ward did,
however, file a grievance with the Inmate Grievance Office.
Hassan Decl., ECF No. 29-4, ¶¶ 2-3. The grievance
remains pending further preliminary review. Id.,
Court considers documents beyond those intrinsic to
Ward's Complaint. Consequently, the Court treats
Defendants' Motion as one for summary judgment. Where
“the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as
to any material fact, ” the movant is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. Importantly,
“the mere existence of some alleged factual
dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise
properly supported motion for summary judgment; the
requirement is that there be no genuine issue of
material fact.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986) (emphasis in
original). “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, 522 (4th Cir.
2003) (alteration in original) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)).
The court views the evidence in the light most favorable to
the nonmoving party and draws all inferences in his favor.
Dennis v. Columbia Colleton Med. Ctr.,
Inc., 290 F.3d 639, 644-45 (4th Cir. 2002). That said,
the Court must nonetheless fulfill its “affirmative
obligation” to “prevent factually unsupported
claims and defenses from proceeding to trial.”
Bouchat, 346 F.3d at 526 (internal quotation marks
omitted) (quoting Drewitt v. Pratt, 999 F.2d 774,
778-79 (4th Cir. 1993), and citing Celotex Corp.
v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986)).
argue that summary judgment is warranted because Ward has
failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. ECF No. 29-1,
pp. 8-10. Before claims related to prison conditions may be
reviewed by this court, the Prisoner Litigation Reform Act
(“PLRA”) mandates that a plaintiff must first
exhaust all state administrative remedies. 42 U.S.C.
PLRA provides in pertinent part that:
No action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions
under section 1983 of this title, or any other Federal law,
by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other
correctional facility until such administrative remedies as
are available are exhausted.
42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). For purposes of the PLRA,
“the term ‘prisoner' means any person
incarcerated or detained in any facility who is accused of,
convicted of, sentenced for, or adjudicated delinquent for,
violations of criminal law or the terms and conditions of
parole, probation, pretrial release, or diversionary
program.” 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(h). The phrase
“prison conditions” encompasses “all inmate
suits about prison life, whether they involve general
circumstances or particular episodes, and whether they allege
excessive force or some other wrong.” Porter v.
Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 532 (2002); see Chase v.
Peay, 286 F.Supp.2d 523, 528 (D. Md. 2003),
aff'd, 98 Fed.Appx. 253 (4th Cir. 2004).
administrative exhaustion under § 1997e(a) is not
jurisdictional and does not impose a heightened pleading
requirement on the prisoner. Rather, the failure to exhaust
administrative remedies is an affirmative defense to be
pleaded and proven by defendants. See Jones v. Bock,
549 U.S. 199, 215-216 (2007); Anderson v. XYZ
Correctional Health Services, Inc., 407 F.2d 674, 682
(4th Cir. 2005). That said, exhaustion is mandatory. Ross
v. Blake, ___ U.S. ___, 136 S.Ct. 1850, 1857 (2016).
Therefore, a court ordinarily may not excuse a failure to
exhaust. Ross, 136 S.Ct. at 1856 (citing Miller
v. French, 530 U.S. 327, 337 (2000)
(explaining“[t]he mandatory ‘shall'. . .
normally creates an obligation impervious to judicial
the PLRA's exhaustion requirement “allow[s] a
prison to address complaints about the program it administers
before being subjected to suit, reducing litigation to the
extent complaints are satisfactorily resolved, and improving
litigation that does occur by leading to the preparation of a
useful record.” Bock, 549 U.S. at 219; see
Moore v. Bennette, 517 F.3d 717, 725 (4th Cir. 2008)
(exhaustion means providing prison officials with the
opportunity to respond to a complaint through proper use of
administrative remedies). Exhaustion, in other words, is
designed to encourage pursuit of administrative grievances
through final denial of the claims, appealing through all
available stages in the administrative process. Chase v.
Peay, 286 F.Supp. at 530; Gibbs v. Bureau of
Prisons, 986 F.Supp. 941, 943-44 (D. Md. 1997)
(dismissing a federal prisoner's lawsuit for failure to
exhaust, where plaintiff did not appeal his administrative
claim through all four stages of the BOP's grievance
process); see also Booth v. Churner, 532 U.S. 731,
735 (2001) (affirming dismissal of prisoner's claim for
failure to exhaust where he “never sought intermediate
or full administrative review after prison authority denied
relief”); Thomas v. Woolum, 337 F.3d 720, 726