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Knox v. State

United States District Court, D. Maryland

December 7, 2018

ELLIOT M. KNOX, #2926104, Plaintiff
v.
THE STATE OF MARYLAND and OFFICERS AT THE NORTH BRANCH CORRECTIONAL INSTITUTION, NANCY K. KOPP, Treasurer, LT. THOMAS SAWYERS, SGT. GREGORY FORNEY, CO II RONALD SAVILLE, CO II MICHAEL WALTERS, CO II JASON FRANTZ, CO II DAVID REED, [1] Defendants

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Ellen L. Hollander, United States District Judge.

         Elliot Knox, a Maryland prisoner incarcerated at North Branch Correctional Institution (“NBCI”), has filed a verified Complaint alleging he was subjected to unnecessary use of excessive force by NBCI officers on May 11, 2017, and thereafter he was falsely charged with an infraction to cover up the officers' misconduct. Knox, who is self-represented, seeks compensatory and punitive damages of $1, 000, 000 from each correctional officer involved, $200, 000 from the State of Maryland under the Maryland Tort Claims Act, [2] and injunctive relief mandating his transfer from NBCI. ECF 1. Knox filed a supplement to the Complaint on May 24, 2018. ECF 30.

         Defendants State of Maryland, Sawyers, Forney, Saville, Walters, Frantz, and Reed filed a Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment. ECF 22. It is supported by a memorandum (ECF 22-1) (collectively, the “Motion”) and numerous exhibits.[3] Defendants also filed a supplement to the motion. See ECF 25. Knox opposes the Motion (ECF 26; ECF 26-1) and also moves for emergency injunctive relief. ECF 27; ECF 29.

         No hearing is necessary to resolve the Motion. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the reasons noted herein, defendants' dispositive motion shall be GRANTED in part and DENIED in part; Knox's Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction shall be DENIED; and Knox's previous request for appointment of counsel, denied without prejudice (ECF 10; ECF 24) shall be reconsidered and GRANTED.

         I. Statement of Facts

         A. Mr. Knox

         In his verified Complaint, Knox states that on the morning of May 11, 2017, he was called into a poorly lighted holding cell in NBCI's Housing Unit #2 (“HU-2”) and questioned by Forney and Saville about a violation of shower rules. ECF 1 at 5. Part way through the conversation, Sawyers entered the cell, aggressively ordered Knox to “get over here, ” and grabbed Knox's wrist. Id. at 5-6. When Knox pulled back, Sawyers ordered Saville to call for assistance. Id. at 6. Walters, Frantz, Reed, and other unidentified officers responded, kicking and punching Knox, who had been restrained by Sawyers in a front-facing headlock. Id. at 6. Knox, who claims injury to his neck, hands and body, was then charged with a disciplinary infraction. Id. at 7.

         B. Defendants

         Defendants' version of events is presented by way of declarations and verified prison records. They contend that Knox became agitated during the discussion about shower policies, stating “what you all need is a good beat down.” ECF 22-3 (NBCI Use of Force (“UOF”) Report #17-038) at 3. Saville, Forney, and Sawyers viewed this statement as a threat. Id. When ordered by Sawyers to turn around for handcuffing, Knox stood up, walked towards Lt. Sawyers in a threatening manner, then stopped and turned around with his back to Sawyers, who took control of Knox's right wrist. Id. Despite orders to turn around for cuffing, Knox passively resisted by refusing to place his hands behind his back. Id. Forney and Saville turned Knox while trying to control his arms, to no avail. Id. Sawyers pushed Knox down and a struggle ensued, with Sawyers controlling Knox's head and upper body while Forney cuffed Knox's right wrist. Id. Walters responded to control Knox's right arm, while Saville and Frantz attempted to control Knox's left arm. Id. Frantz struck Knox in the back of the leg with Frantz's right knee while Saville cuffed Knox's left wrist. Id.

         Knox was escorted to HU-1's strip cage by Forney, Saville, Frantz, Walters, and Reed to await the arrival of medical staff. However, Knox refused medical evaluation. Id. at 3, 6 and 18; ECF 22-4 at 4. Knox, who was placed in Cell #1-C-22, was photographed, as were Sawyers, Forney, Saville, and Frantz. ECF 22-3 at 20-23.

         The Intelligence and Investigative Division (“IID”) was notified via an Officer's Use of Force Incident Report. ECF 22-3 at 3, 14-15. Knox, who refused to write a statement (ECF 22-3 at 17), received a notice of infraction charging him with violating inmate rules #104 (use of threatening language), #312 (interfering with/resisting the duties of staff/refusing to permit a search of a person, item, area or location), and #400 (disobeying a direct lawful order). Id. at 16- 17; ECF 22-5 (May 11, 2017, Notice of Infraction and related forms). IID investigator Lt. Patrick Speir avers that, based on his review, the amount of force used by staff during the incident was appropriate, and consistent with all applicable policies as well as the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (“DPSCS”) Use of Force Manual. ECF 22-12, ¶15; see also ECF 22-3 at 1. Further, defendants declare under oath that their versions of the event and its aftermath are true and accurate. ECF 22-6 through ECF 22-12.

         A video recording, referenced in defendants' use of force incident reports, captured the incident. ECF 22-12, ¶ 5; ECF 22-14. On April 10, 2018, this Court directed defendants to provide any video evidence to the Court within 21 days. ECF 24 at 2. In response, defendants stated that the video of the incident no longer exists. ECF 25. Defendants reference their Memorandum in Support of Summary Judgment (ECF 22-1 at 7, 8, 10, and 11-12) and the Declarations of Patrick Speir, Jason Harbaugh, and Christopher Wedlock (ECF 22-14, ¶¶ 7, 11, 14; ECF 22-15, ¶¶ 5-8; ECF 22-16, ¶¶ 6, 14-15, 20-21), asserting the video of the incident was taped over. According to defendants, the loss of the video was inadvertent, due to an error in cataloguing the time of the incident, which allowed the destruction of the necessary video while a video unrelated to the incident was archived and preserved. Id.

         Nevertheless, defendants contend that Speir was able to view video coverage immediately after the incident (prior to its destruction), and that Hearing Officer Brent also was able to view it at Knox's first scheduled adjustment hearing, set for June 15, 2017. This hearing, however, was postponed because Frantz, a witness, was unavailable. Because the hearing did not occur, the video was not presented as evidence.[4] ECF 22-14, ¶ 10; ECF 22-12, ¶ 12; ECF 22-15, ¶ 6. The adjustment hearing, rescheduled for August 15, 2017, was again postponed so that Sawyers, Forney, and Saville could appear as witnesses. ECF 22-14, ¶ 11; ECF 22-12, ¶ 13; ECF 22-15, ¶ 7.

         On January 9, 2018, Hearing Officer Brent requested the video and, when he was advised that the video was unavailable, he dismissed the adjustment charges. ECF 22-14 at ¶17; ECF 22-17. After Brent dismissed the charges, Wedlock submitted a request to Warden Bishop to remand the adjustment proceedings for rehearing. ECF 22-14 at ¶ 9. The request for remand remains pending. ECF 22-14, ¶ 22

         II. Standard of Review

         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. ECF 22. 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 (4th Cir. 2007). However, under Rule 12(b)(6), a court, in its discretion, may consider matters outside of the pleadings, pursuant to Rule 12(d); see Adams Hous., LLC v. The City of Salisbury, Maryland, 672 Fed.Appx. 220, 222 (4th Cir. 2016) (per curiam). 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). But, 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).[5]

         A district judge has “complete discretion to determine whether or not to accept the submission of any material beyond the pleadings that is offered in conjunction with a Rule 12(b)(6) motion and rely on it, thereby converting the motion, or to reject it or simply not consider it.” 5C Wright & Miller, Federal Practice & Procedure § 1366, at 159 (3d ed. 2004, 2011 Supp.). This discretion “should be exercised with great caution and attention to the parties' procedural rights.” Id. at 149. In general, courts are guided by whether consideration of extraneous material “is likely to facilitate the disposition of the action, ” and “whether discovery prior to the utilization of the summary judgment procedure” is necessary. Id. at 165-67.

         In general, summary judgment is inappropriate “where the parties have not had an opportunity for reasonable discovery.” E.I. du Pont De Nemours and Co. v. Kolon Industries, Inc., 637 F.3d 435, 448-49 (4th Cir. 2011); see Putney v. Likin, 656 Fed.Appx. 632, 638 (4th Cir. 2016); McCray v. Maryland Dep't of Transp., 741 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Cir. 2015). However, “the party opposing summary judgment ‘cannot complain that summary judgment was granted without discovery unless that party has made an attempt to oppose the motion on the grounds that more time was needed for discovery.'” Harrods Ltd. v. Sixty Internet Domain Names, 302 F.3d 214, 244 (4th Cir. 2002) (quoting Evans v. Techs. Applications & Serv. Co., 80 F.3d 954, 961 (4th Cir. 1996)); see also Dave & Buster's, Inc. v. White Flint Mall, LLLP, 616 Fed.Appx. 552, 561 (4th Cir. 2015).

         To raise adequately the issue that discovery is needed, the non-movant typically must file an affidavit or declaration pursuant to Rule 56(d) (formerly Rule 56(f)), explaining why, “for specified reasons, it cannot present facts essential to justify its opposition, ” without needed discovery. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(d); see Harrods, 302 F.3d at 244-45 (discussing affidavit requirement of former Rule 56(f)) “[T]o justify a denial of summary judgment on the grounds that additional discovery is necessary, the facts identified in a Rule 56 affidavit must be ‘essential to [the] opposition.'” Scott v. Nuvell Fin. Servs., LLC, 789 F.Supp.2d 637, 641 (D. Md. 2011) (alteration in original) (citation omitted). A nonmoving party's Rule 56(d) request for additional discovery is properly denied “where the additional evidence sought for discovery would not have by itself created a genuine issue of material fact sufficient to defeat summary judgment.” Strag v. Bd. of Trs., Craven Cmty. Coll., 55 F.3d 943, 954 (4th Cir. 1995); see Amirmokri v. Abraham, 437 F.Supp.2d 414, 420 (D. Md. 2006), aff'd, 266 Fed.Appx. 274 (4th Cir. 2008), cert. denied, 555 U.S. 885 (2008).

         If a nonmoving party believes that further discovery is necessary before consideration of summary judgment, the party fails to file a Rule 56(d) affidavit at his peril, because “‘the failure to file an affidavit … is itself sufficient grounds to reject a claim that the opportunity for discovery was inadequate.'” Harrods, 302 F.3d at 244 (citations omitted). But, the nonmoving party's failure to file a Rule 56(d) affidavit does not obligate a court to issue a summary judgment ruling that is obviously premature. And, a court “should hesitate before ...


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