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Mekuria v. Adams

United States District Court, D. Maryland

December 21, 2018

J. ADAMS, Defendants.


          George L. Russell, III United States District Judge.

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendants CO II Justin Adams, Sgt. William Thomas, and Lt. Thomas Sawyers'[1] Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint or, in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment[2] (ECF No. 15).[3] The Motion is ripe for disposition, and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D.Md. 2018). For the reasons outlined below, the Court will grant the Motion.

         I. BACKGROUND [4]

         Plaintiff Mekonnen Mekuria is incarcerated in the Special Needs Unit (“SNU”) at North Branch Correctional Institution (“NBCI”) in Cumberland, Maryland. (Compl. at 1, 5).[5] Early in the morning on August 21, 2015, Defendants Adams, Thomas, and Sawyers were conducting cell inspections. (Id. at 3). When Adams entered Mekuria's his cell, cell 11, his cellmate, Jameel, complained about Mekuria and asked Adams to move Mekuria to another cell. (Id.). After consulting with Thomas and Sawyers, Adams moved Mekuria to cell 3, which Mekuria describes as an “isolation room” and a “punishment cell.” (Id.; see also Defs.' Mot. Dismiss Summ. J. [“Defs.' Mot.”] Ex. 1 at 004-005, ECF No. 15-2). The toilet and sink water were “cut off” and there was “[n]o hot water” in cell 3. (Compl. Ex. 1 at 1, ECF No. 1-1). Cell 3's window was “blocked” and it had no table or chair. (Id.). Mekuria asserts that he should not have been placed in cell 3 because he had “not violated any rule” and “no ticket [was] written” to document a rules violation. (Compl. at 3). In addition, when Adams moved Mekuria from cell 11 to cell 3, there were three other cells open-1, 55, and 57. (Supp. at 1, ECF No. 6). At an unspecified point in time, when Mekuria left his cell, Sawyers, Thomas, and Adams moved his property to his old cell, cell 57. (Compl. at 3).[6] Mekuria remained in cell 3 for nineteen days. (Supp. at 1).

         Mekuria appears to assert that the only reason he was removed from cell 3 is that he filed an administrative remedy procedure (“ARP”) complaint. (See id.). After providing the complaint to Officer Cox, who was the tier officer, Mekuria went outside. (Id.). When Mekuria returned, his property had been moved to cell 57. (Id.).

         On April 30, 2018, Mekuria sued Defendants. (ECF No. 1).[7] He alleges that Defendants violated his rights under the Fourth Amendment and Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. (Compl. at 5; Supp. at 1-2). He seeks monetary damages and injunctive relief. (Compl. at 5).


         A. Conversion of Defendants' Motion

         Defendants style their Motion as a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) or, in the alternative, for summary judgment under Rule 56. A motion styled in this manner implicates the Court's discretion under Rule 12(d). See Kensington Vol. Fire Dep't, Inc. v. Montgomery Cty., 788 F.Supp.2d 431, 436-37 (D.Md. 2011), aff'd, 684 F.3d 462 (4th Cir. 2012). This Rule provides that when “matters outside the pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the court, the [Rule 12(b)(6)] motion must be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d). The Court 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.” Wells-Bey v. Kopp, No. ELH-12-2319, 2013 WL 1700927, at *5 (D.Md. Apr. 16, 2013) (quoting 5C Wright & Miller, Federal Practice & Procedure § 1366, at 159 (3d ed. 2004, 2012 Supp.)).

         The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has articulated two requirements for proper conversion of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to a Rule 56 motion: notice and a reasonable opportunity for discovery. See Greater Balt. Ctr. for Pregnancy Concerns, Inc. v. Mayor of Balt., 721 F.3d 264, 281 (4th Cir. 2013). 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. See Moret v. Harvey, 381 F.Supp.2d 458, 464 (D.Md. 2005). 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).

         Ordinarily, summary judgment is inappropriate when “the parties have not had an opportunity for reasonable discovery.” E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. v. Kolon Indus., Inc., 637 F.3d 435, 448 (4th Cir. 2011). Yet, “the party opposing summary judgment ‘cannot complain that summary judgment was granted without discovery unless that party had 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)). To raise sufficiently the issue that more discovery is needed, the non-movant must typically file an affidavit or declaration under Rule 56(d), explaining the “specified reasons” why “it cannot present facts essential to justify its opposition.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(d). A Rule 56(d) affidavit is inadequate if it simply demands “discovery for the sake of discovery.” Hamilton v. Mayor of Balt., 807 F.Supp.2d 331, 342 (D.Md. 2011) (citation omitted). A Rule 56(d) request for discovery is properly denied when “the additional evidence sought for discovery would not have by itself created a genuine issue of material fact sufficient to defeat summary judgment.” Ingle ex rel. Estate of Ingle v. Yelton, 439 F.3d 191, 195 (4th Cir. 2006) (quoting Strag v. Bd. of Trs., Craven Cmty. Coll., 55 F.3d 943, 953 (4th Cir. 1995)).

         The Fourth Circuit has warned that it “‘place[s] great weight on the Rule 56[d] affidavit' and that ‘a reference to Rule 56[d] and the need for additional discovery in a memorandum of law in opposition to a motion for summary judgment is not an adequate substitute for a Rule 56[d] affidavit.'” Harrods, 302 F.3d at 244 (quoting Evans, 80 F.3d at 961). Failing to file a Rule 56(d) affidavit “is itself sufficient grounds to reject a claim that the opportunity for discovery was inadequate.” Id. (quoting Evans, 80 F.3d at 961). Nevertheless, the Fourth Circuit has indicated that there are some limited instances in which summary judgment may be premature notwithstanding the non-movants' failure to file a Rule 56(d) affidavit. See id. A court may excuse the failure to file a Rule 56(d) affidavit when “fact-intensive issues, such as intent, are involved” and the nonmovant's objections to deciding summary judgment without discovery “serve[ ] as the functional equivalent of an affidavit.” Id. at 245 (quoting First Chicago Int'l v. United Exch. Co., 836 F.2d 1375, 1380-81 (D.C.Cir. 1988)).

         Here, both requirements for conversion have been satisfied. First, Defendants captioned their motion in the alternative, putting Mekuria on notice that the Court may convert the motion into one for summary judgment. Moret, 381 F.Supp.2d at 464. Second, Mekuria did not file a Rule 56(d) affidavit or otherwise request discovery. Harrods, 302 F.3d at 244 (quoting Evans, 80 F.3d at 961). Accordingly, the Court will convert Defendants' Motion into a motion for summary judgment.

         B. Stand ...

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