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Mitchell v. Stump

United States District Court, D. Maryland

September 18, 2018

SHAKIR A. MITCHELL, # 450-764, Plaintiff
TINA STUMP, Warden, MRDCC, OFC. BOLA AYENI, Corrections Officer, [1]OFC. TAMIKA CARTER, Corrections Officer, Defendants


          Paula Xinis United States District Judge.

         On July 24, 2017, Plaintiff Shakir A. Mitchell filed a civil rights action against the Warden and two Corrections Officers at Maryland Reception Diagnostic Classification Center in Baltimore (“MRDCC”). Broadly construed, Mitchell challenges Defendants' failure to observe and supervise his walking to a shower in restraints, during which time he fell and was injured. Mitchell seeks money damages of $800, 000.00 and an order compelling Defendants to provide “proper medical care” for his injuries, including an MRI. ECF No. 1 at 3. Mitchell has since been transferred to another institution; accordingly is request for injunctive relief as to Defendants is denied as moot.[2]

         Presently pending before the Court are Defendants' motions to dismiss or in the alternative for summary judgment in their favor. Defendants contend that dismissal is warranted because Mitchell failed to exhaust administrative remedies prior to initiating this suit and that Defendants are immune from suit in their official capacities. Additionally, Defendants Ayeni and Carter assert that dismissal is proper because the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction and, alternatively, summary judgment should be granted in their favor on the merits of Mitchell's claim. Warden Stump moves for dismissal or summary judgment, asserting she played no role in the incident. ECF No. 14. Mitchell opposes the dispositive motions and requests appointment of counsel. ECF Nos. 16, 17, 18. The Court has reviewed the pleadings and finds no hearing necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the following reasons, Defendants' dispositive motions are GRANTED and Mitchell's motion for appointment of counsel is DENIED.

         I. Factual Background

         The parties do not dispute the following material facts. On December 19, 2016, Mitchell was one of six prisoners released from a cell for recreation and showers. Defendant Correction Officers Ayeni and Carter, together with Officer I. Nwachukwu, [3] placed three-piece restraints on these individuals including Plaintiff, in compliance with institutional policy. ECF No. 14-2, Ayeni Decl., ¶ 2. Neither Ayeni nor Carter remember specifically who placed Mitchell in restraints, and Mitchell's complaint is silent on this fact. See ECF No. 14-2, Ayeni Decl., ¶ 2; ECF No. 14-3. Carter Decl. ¶ 2. Mitchell was not under escort when he walked to the stairway and fell. ECF No. 14-2. Ayeni Decl., ¶ 3. Medical personnel were called at 5:08 p.m. Mitchell was taken to the medical unit and then returned to his cell at 5:44 p.m. ECF No. 14-2, Ayeni Decl., ¶ 3. MRDCC Post Orders state that once an inmate is placed in full restraints, “a CO [correctional officer] may escort the inmate within the institution, ” but escorting is not required. ECF No. 17-4, Post Order 110-1-31b, pp. 4-5.

         Mitchell pursued an administrative remedy procedure (“ARP”) grievance, contending that the injuries he sustained were the fault of DOC personnel. The grievance procedure culminated in proceedings before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). Following a hearing, the ALJ found that Mitchell's fall was an accident which occurred through no negligence or fault of the Department of Corrections (“DOC”) personnel. See Mitchell v. Maryland DOC, OAH No. DPSC-IGO-002V-17-28485, ECF No. 14-4. The decision was issued on December 12, 2017, several months after Mitchell had filed this federal suit.

         II. Mitchell's Motion for Appointment of Counsel

         Mitchell moves for appointment of counsel to represent him because he is incarcerated and lacks legal training or other comparable education. ECF Nos. 16 and 18. The Court's power to appoint counsel under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(1) is discretionary and appropriate only where an indigent claimant presents “exceptional circumstances” justifying the need for counsel. Id. at 170; Miller v. Simmons, 814 F.2d 962, 966 (4th Cir. 1987). Such circumstances exist where a “pro se litigant has a colorable claim but lacks the capacity to present it.” See Whisenant v. Yuam, 739 F.2d 160, 163 (4th Cir. 1984), abrogated on other grounds by Mallard v. U.S. Dist. Ct., 490 U.S. 296, 298 (1989) (holding that 28 U.S.C. § 1915 does not authorize compulsory appointment of counsel). A pro se prisoner is not automatically entitled to counsel by virtue of bringing a civil rights claim. See Evans v. Kuplinski, 713 Fed.Appx. 167, 170 (4th Cir. 2017).

         Upon careful consideration of the motions and documents filed by Mitchell, the Court finds that he has demonstrated the wherewithal to either articulate the legal and factual basis of his claims himself or secure meaningful assistance in doing so. Moreover, the issues pending before the Court are not unduly complicated, and no exceptional circumstances exist to warrant the appointment of an attorney. Mitchell's motion is therefore denied.

         II. Defendants' Motions

         A. Standard of Review

         Because the parties have submitted evidence outside the four corners of the Complaint and have been given reasonable opportunity to present all pertinent material, the Court will treat the motion as one for summary judgment. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(d). Pursuant to Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment shall be granted if the movant demonstrates that no genuine issue of disputed material fact exists, rendering the movant entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(d). “By its very terms, this standard provides that 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). “The 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.” See Bouchat v. Baltimore Ravens Football Club, Inc., 346 F.3d 514, 525 (4th Cir. 2003) (alteration in original) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)). The Court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant, and draw all inferences in his favor without weighing the evidence or assessing witness credibility. See Dennis v. Columbia Colleton Med. Ctr., Inc., 290 F.3d 639, 644-45 (4th Cir. 2002). Factually unsupported claims and defenses from proceeding to trial. Bouchat, 346 F.3d at 526.

         B. Analysis

         Mitchell contends that the acts or omissions of the Defendant correction officers contributed to his fall and the injuries sustained as a result. The Court views this claim as alleging a violation of Mitchell' right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Where inmates are subjected to sufficiently harsh conditions of confinement, an Eighth Amendment violation may lie. See Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347 (1981) (conditions which “deprive inmates of the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities” may amount to cruel and unusual punishment.) However, the defendants must do more than exhibit an ordinary lack of care toward the prisoner to be held liable for an Eighth Amendment violation. Arnold v. South Carolina Dep't of Corr.,843 F.Supp. 110, 113 (D. S.C. 1994), citing Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 319 (1986). The prisoner must show that the defendants' conduct against the prisoner was “sufficiently serious, ” and that defendants acted with a “culpable state of mind” when failing to take steps to ensure the prisoner's safety. Wilson v. Seiter,501 U.S. 294, 297-98 (1991); Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976) (deliberate indifference requires state of mind more blameworthy than negligence). ...

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