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Williams v. Commissioner of Correction

United States District Court, D. Maryland

July 3, 2018

SCOTLAND WILLIAMS, #276777, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF CORRECTION, WARDEN FRANK BISHOP, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ELLEN L. HOLLANDER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         The self-represented plaintiff, Scotland Williams, an inmate incarcerated at North Branch Correctional Institution (“NBCI”) in Cumberland, Maryland, brings this civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983 against two defendants: the Commissioner of Correction and Warden Frank Bishop. ECF 1.[1] Williams alleges that he was “wrongly charg[ed] photocopy fees, ” in violation of his due process rights. Id. He seeks preliminary and permanent injunctive relief, compensatory damages in the amount of $30.27, and punitive damages in the amount of $1, 000. Id. at 12-13.

         On November 29, 2017, defendants moved to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. ECF 11. The motion is supported by a memorandum of law (ECF 11-1) (collectively, the “Motion”) and several exhibits. On February 1, 2018, Williams filed an opposition.[2] ECF 16. No. reply was submitted.

         Upon review of the record, exhibits, and applicable law, the court deems a hearing unnecessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). Defendants' motion, construed as a motion for summary judgment, shall be granted.

         I. Background

         On April 1, 2016, $50.00 was deposited into Williams' inmate account at NBCI. ECF 1 at 5; ECF 11-2 at 1.[3] On the same date, NBCI debited $30.27 from Williams' account as “Payment for PRIOR DEBT on 2014-08-01-08.” ECF 11-2 at 1. On June 1, 2016, when Williams received his trust activity statement from NBCI, he learned that he had been charged $30.27. ECF 1 at 5.

         It is undisputed that the debt of $30.27 stemmed from photocopy fees incurred by Williams between April 15, 2009 and September 25, 2015, when he was indigent and lacked the ability to pay for the photocopies. ECF 1 at 5; ECF 1-1 at 3; ECF 11-1 at 2; ECF 11-2. Cheryl Lindner, the Fiscal Account Clerk Manager at NBCI, explained on September 22, 2016, ECF 11-3:

The charges resulted in a negative “reserve” balance, which is considered debt, due to insufficient funds in his Active balance to pay the charges. His account was indigent at the time the charges occurred, however, vouchers are submitted by Medical for the Medical copies and Case Management and housing unit staff for the copies and other charges. The accounts are not checked for indigency by Inmate Accounts prior to posting the charges.

         Williams states that although he “always informed staff that he was indigent and needed the photocopies for court, he was still required to sign a voucher in which he agreed that the [Division of Correction] could charge him for the copies.” ECF 1 at 6. According to Williams, if he refused to sign the voucher, he would not have been able to obtain the photocopies. Id. But, he maintains that he signed the vouchers after being “advised . . . that if he had no money in his account he could not be charged.” Id.

         The Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (“DPSCS”) issues Directives that spell out policies governing photocopy fees. See ECF 11-4. DPSCS also has a Medical Records Manual that regulates when an inmate, indigent or otherwise, can be charged for photocopies of medical records. ECF 11-5. Photocopies are available to inmates involved in legal or administrative proceedings. ECF 11-4 at 2. Inmates are charged $0.15 per copy for all but medical records. ECF 11-4 at 3. Photocopies of medical records are available to indigent inmates for court-related activities, at the rate of $0.20 per page. ECF 11-5 at 5. However, such fees are waived for indigent inmates, so long as “the photocopies are reasonably necessary” for legal proceedings. ECF 11-4 at 2. “[A]n inmate who in the previous 30 days . . . has not had at least $4.00 in his/her active and commissary accounts” is considered indigent. Id. at 1.

         On June 13, 2016, less than two weeks after Williams discovered the recoupment by DPSCS, he filed a request for an administrative remedy procedure (“ARP”). ECF 11-6. In his ARP, Williams claimed that because photocopy fees are waived for indigent inmates, the amount of $30.27 that was debited from his account for copies made from 2009 to 2015 was “unjustified and contrary to [DPSCS policy].” Id. Thus, he sought reimbursement of the $30.27. Id. Williams' ARP was dismissed as untimely. Id. Williams then appealed to the Commissioner of Correction on June 29, 2016, claiming that he filed the ARP within the established time frame. ECF 11-7 at 2. Subsequently, the appeal was dismissed because the Commissioner deemed his ARP untimely. Id.

         Thereafter, on August 8, 2016, Williams filed a grievance with the Inmate Grievance Office (“IGO”), asserting that his ARP was timely filed. ECF 11-7 at 1; ECF 1-1 at 1. According to Russell A. Neverdon, Sr., Executive Director of the IGO, Williams' grievance was referred to the Maryland Office of Administrative Hearings (“OAH”). ECF 11-8. Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Robert Levin conducted a hearing on November 17, 2016, via videoconference. ECF 1-1 at 2; ECF 11-8 at 1.

         In a Decision and Order dated January 11, 2017, ALJ Levin denied and dismissed the grievance. ECF 1-1. He concluded “that the DOC's action of recouping, when [Williams] accumulated sufficient funds in his account, the $30.27 it had advanced on behalf of [Williams] for [Williams'] photocopies, was not arbitrary and capricious, or inconsistent with the law. COMAR 12.07.01.08A(c); 12.07.01.08C(2).”

         Williams could have sought judicial review in a Maryland circuit court. See Md. Code (2017 Repl. Vol.), § 10-210(b) of the Correctional Services Article. But, there is no indication that he did so. However, he was not required to seek judicial review in a Maryland court before lodging this suit. Pozo v. McCaughtry, 286 F.3d 1022, 1024 (7th Cir. 2002).

         II. ...


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