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Mills v. State

United States District Court, D. Maryland

September 21, 2018

STATE OF MARYLAND, et al., Defendants



         In response to this verified civil rights complaint, Defendants State of Maryland, Maryland Division of Correction, North Branch Correctional Institution (NBCI), Governor Larry Hogan, Secretary Stephen Moyer, and Bruce Liller, MHPM, filed a motion to dismiss or in the alternative for summary judgment. ECF No. 9. Plaintiff filed a response in opposition to the motion.[1] ECF No. 18. The court finds no need for a hearing. See Local Rule 105.6 (D.Md. 2016). For the reasons that follow, Defendants' motion, construed as a motion for summary judgment, will be GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Plaintiff's Claims

         Plaintiff Albert Curtis Mills, an inmate committed to the custody of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS) and currently confined in NBCI (ECF No. 1 at p. 1), complains that while he was incarcerated at NBCI, Defendants denied him access to religious services in violation of his First Amendment Free Exercise right; and invokes without elaboration the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Person's Act (RLUIPA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Rehabilitation Act as bases for his claim. ECF No. 1 at p. 12. He seeks injunctive relief directing Defendants to permit his attendance at church services as well as compensatory and punitive damages. Id. at p. 15.

         Specifically, Plaintiff states that he suffers from mental illness. ECF No. 1 at p. 14. In his sworn complaint, Plaintiff alleges that on August 24, 2014, Chief Psychologist Bruce Liller placed Plaintiff on “Level 1” where he remained until December 6, 2015. ECF No. 1 at p. 7. Plaintiff indicates that his placement on Level 1 prevented him from attending “church services” which as a Christian, he is required to attend. Id. at p. 8.

         Plaintiff alleges that Governor Hogan is responsible for Stephen Moyer who is responsible for Bruce Liller. ECF No. 1 at ¶ 8. He claims that Governor Hogan and Stephen Moyer knew or should have known about the policy which has existed since 2009. ECF No. 1 at pp. 8-9. Plaintiff also claims that Moyer is responsible for the policy that denies church services to all inmates housed on the special needs unit. Id. at p. 9.

         Plaintiff claims that he was not required to file an administrative grievance regarding this claim as “medical staff are not Maryland Division of Correction Staff[] so the Maryland Court of Appeals has ruled that the grievance by the prison's administrative remedy procedure is not required.” ECF No. 1 at p. 6.

         B. Defendants' Response

         Defendants provide verified business records, which include Plaintiff's case management notes, along with their declarations under oath in support of their motion. Bruce Liller, Mental Health Program Manager at NBCI and an employee of the DPSCS, avers that staff members of the psychology department assess inmates and provide mental health care. ECF No. 9-3, ¶¶ 1, 3 (Liller Decl.). He denies prohibiting Plaintiff from attending church services or from practicing his religion. ECF No. 9-3 at ¶ 9. Liller oversees the Special Needs Unit (“SNU”) (id. at ¶ 3) which he describes as “a tier developed to house the validly mentally ill who have a qualifying diagnosis and who demonstrate behavioral stability to where they may function within the structure of the program.” Id. at ¶ 4.

         Plaintiff was placed on the SNU in 2009 due to the difficulty he experienced being housed in general population and in light of Plaintiff's unspecified mental health diagnosis and his level of functioning. ECF No. 9-3 at ¶¶ 5-6. After placement on the SNU, Plaintiff's mental health symptoms worsened which resulted in his being designated “as a level two status; a one level reduction as precaution. Id. Although rare for inmate Mills (reduction in level), he returned to level 3 after his symptoms remitted.” Id. at ¶ 5. Liller avers that from August 11, 2014, through August 11, 2017, Plaintiff maintained a level three status. Id. at ¶ 6; see also ECF No. 9-2 (Case Management Notes).[2] Presumably because Liller denies Plaintiff's assertion that he was assigned to Level 1 during this timeframe, Plaintiff's claim that SNU inmates assigned to Level 1 are categorically denied the opportunity to attend congregate religious services is not directly addressed.

         The Special Needs Unit Program Manual (DOC.124.0451) describes the program levels:

Level 1: An inmate on level one will meet the criteria for an SMI diagnosis. This inmate's functioning is impaired to the point of being dangerous or severely disruptive to the functioning of the housing area. Inmates on this level shall be fed in their cells. Their recreation shall be done individually.
Level 2: An inmate on this level will meet the criteria for an SMI diagnosis. The inmate's functioning is impaired in some area of his life. However, the inmate can function well enough to interact socially with other inmates without posing a danger to others. Inmates on this level may eat either in their cells or the recreation hall as determined by the Special Needs Treatment Team.
Level 3: An inmate on this level is experiencing only mild functional impairment due to mental illness. The inmate will be able to function with minimal staff support in all areas of daily living. Inmates on this level shall eat in the dining room. They will be capable of holding an institutional job and they will be able to maintain their personal hygiene with minimal cues.

ECF No. 9-2 at p. 10.[3]

         Liller explains that inmates on Level 3 status enjoy the same movement as inmates in general population; they may request passes for religious worship, access the main library, and receive the same amount of recreation as the general population. ECF No. 9-3 at ¶ 7. Kevin Lamp, Chaplain at NBCI, confirms that inmates housed on the SNU are permitted to practice their religion, but does not specifically address whether Level 1 inmates are permitted to attend congregate religious services. ECF No. 9-4 at ¶ 3 (Lamp Decl.).

         Liller describes Plaintiff as “frequently participat[ing in] and coordinat[ing] bible study on the SNU.” ECF No. 9-3 at ¶ 8; see also ECF No. 9-2 at p. 3 (case management note dated 6/10/15- Plaintiff reports studying the bible); ECF No. 9-2 at pp. 4-5 (case management notes dated 9/2/15 and 11/25/15, Plaintiff reports running a bible study group in the dayroom). On three occasions during his monthly meetings with his therapist (April 2014, July 2014, and August 2014) he indicated his desire to attend church services. ECF No. 9-3 at ¶ 8. Plaintiff was advised that he should contact the Chaplain to request a pass. Id. Plaintiff advised his therapist on August 26, 2014, that the issue regarding church services was resolved.[4] Id.

         Plaintiff's case management notes reflect that he was provided administrative remedy procedure forms. ECF No. 9-2 at pp. 6-7 (case management notes dated 7/12/16 and 8/10/16). Russell Neverdon, Executive Director of the Inmate Grievance Office (IGO) avers that Plaintiff filed one grievance with the IGO concerning the policy limiting the number of books he could bring into the yard.[5] ECF No. 9-5 at ¶ 3a.


         Defendants' motion is styled as a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) or, in the alternative, for summary judgment under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. A motion styled in this manner implicates the Court's discretion under Rule 12(d) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Kensington Vol. Fire Dept., Inc. v. Montgomery County, 788 F.Supp.2d 431, 436-37 (D.Md. 2011). Ordinarily, a court “is not to consider matters outside the pleadings or resolve factual disputes when ruling on a motion to dismiss.” Bosiger v. U.S. Airways, 510 F.3d 442, 450 (4thCir. 2007). However, under Rule 12(b)(6), a court, in its discretion, may consider matters outside of the pleadings, pursuant to Rule 12(d). If the court does so, “the motion must be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56[, ]” and “[a]ll parties must be given a reasonable opportunity to present all the material that is pertinent to the motion.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d).

         When the movant expressly captions its motion “in the alternative” as one for summary judgment, and submits matters outside the pleadings for the court's consideration, the parties are deemed to be on notice that conversion under Rule 12(d) may occur; the court “does not have an obligation to notify parties of the obvious.” Laughlin v. Metro. Wash. Airports Auth., 149 F.3d 253, 261 (4th Cir. 1998). Because matters outside the ...

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