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Bell v. Messina

United States District Court, D. Maryland

June 1, 2018

KENT BELL, Plaintiff,
v.
J MESSINA, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          George L. Russell, III United States District Judge

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendants, J Messina, Stacey Hoffman, Jason Ganoe, and Richard Dovey's Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 10). The Motion is ripe for disposition, and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D.Md. 2016). For the reasons outlined below, the Court will grant Defendants' Motion.

         I. BACKGROUND [1]

         In his unsworn Complaint, Bell provides the following recitation of events and statement of claim:

On 02/01/17 at 8:40 am, my teacher a Mrs. J. Messina is guilty of slander and racial discrimination when she got upset when I said it[']s black history month and quoted the 13th Amendment, she said “I was stupid and ignorant[”] in front of the whole class. When I said [“]lady this is the truth[”]-she boldly said “don[']t call me lady, and your [sic] just ignorant.” I then went and told the principal Stacey Hoffman of racial discrimination and a couple of days later, 4 or 6 days later I got a ticket for #400 disobey an order & #405 demonstrate disrespect or use vulg[a]r language. The hearing officer, a Mr Jason Ganoe said “even though this ticket makes no sen[s]e and you don[']t have any witnesses” which I told him I did as I wrote out on my appeal or challenge to charge, the class, the officer outside of class at desk and the principal I told immediately, he said “well her being a white woman you should have just shut up and stayed in your place[!”]. He, Mr. Ganoe wrote based on the credible evidence and findings of facts, provide a written explanation for the decision, 15 days cell restriction. The warden, Mr Richard Dovey. [sic] I[']m citing false statement, false applications/affidavits and perjury. This whole situation is to show me to bow down to white supremacy & white privilege. All Defendants are employees of the Maryland Correctional Training Center in Hagerstown, MD[.]

(Compl. at 2-3, ECF No. 1).[2]

         Bell's Complaint is not a model of clarity. Based on his allegations that Messina “is guilty of . . . racial discrimination” for chastising Bell when he “said it[']s Black History Month and quoted the 13th Amendment, ” (id. at 2), and, possibly, for charging Bell with inmate rule violations, Bell appears to bring a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (2018) for violating Bell's rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.[3] Further, based on his allegations of “false statement, false applications/affidavits, and perjury, ” that seem to be the basis of his inmate rule violations, (Compl. at 3), Bell appears to bring a state law claim for defamation or malicious prosecution.[4]

         Finally, Bell states that Ganoe, purportedly acting in the capacity of hearing officer, violated his rights under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment during the disciplinary hearing by: failing to let Bell call witnesses despite Bell identifying witnesses on his violation notice receipt; injecting racial considerations into Bell's disciplinary hearing, (see Compl. at 3) (“[Ganoe] said ‘well her being a white woman you should have just shut up and stayed in your place'”); and finding Bell guilty of disciplinary violations despite Ganoe's acknowledgment that the reported violation notice “makes no sen[s]e.” (Id.).[5]

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Standard of Review 1.Motion to Dismiss

          “The purpose of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion is to test the sufficiency of a complaint, ” not to “resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses.” King v. Rubenstein, 825 F.3d 206, 214 (4th Cir. 2016) (quoting Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243-44 (4th Cir. 1999)). A complaint fails to state a claim if it does not contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), or does not “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face, ” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is facially plausible “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Though the plaintiff is not required to forecast evidence to prove the elements of the claim, the complaint must allege sufficient facts to establish each element. Goss v. Bank of Am., N.A., 917 F.Supp.2d 445, 449 (D.Md. 2013) (quoting Walters v. McMahen, 684 F.3d 435, 439 (4th Cir. 2012)), aff'd sub nom., Goss v. Bank of Am., NA, 546 Fed.Appx. 165 (4th Cir. 2013).

         In considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court must examine the complaint as a whole, consider the factual allegations in the complaint as true, and construe the factual allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 268 (1994); Lambeth v. Bd. of Comm'rs of Davidson Cty., 407 F.3d 266, 268 (4th Cir. 2005) (citing Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)). But, the court need not accept unsupported or conclusory factual allegations devoid of any reference to actual events, United Black Firefighters v. Hirst, 604 F.2d 844, 847 (4th Cir. 1979), or legal conclusions couched as factual allegations, Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         Bell filed his Amended Complaint pro se. Pro se pleadings are liberally construed and held to a less stringent standard than pleadings drafted by lawyers. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)); accord Brown v. N.C. Dep't of Corr., 612 F.3d 720, 722 (4th Cir. 2010). Pro se complaints are entitled to special care to determine whether any possible set of facts would entitle the plaintiff to relief. Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5, 9-10 (1980). But even a pro se complaint must be dismissed if it does not allege “a plausible claim for relief.” Forquer v. Schlee, No. RDB-12-969, 2012 WL 6087491, at *3 (D.Md. Dec. 4, 2012) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

         2. Conversion to a Motion ...


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