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Murrill v. Warden, Baltimore City Detention Center

United States District Court, D. Maryland

January 14, 2019

LONNIE K. MURRILL, Plaintiff
v.
WARDEN, BALTIMORE CITY DETENTION CENTER, Defendants

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          DEBORAH K. CHASANOW UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Petitioner Lonnie K. Murrill is incarcerated at Roxbury Correctional Institution. On August 7, 2017, he initiated this lawsuit by filing a complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which he supplemented at court direction. ECF Nos. 1, 2, 3.[1] Defendants Warden Otis Merritt and the Baltimore City Detention Center (“BCDC”) filed a motion for dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment, ECF No. 18, and Murrill filed an opposition. ECF No. 23. Murrill subsequently filed an amended complaint, [2] and a motion for appointment of counsel. ECF Nos. 24, 25. For reasons to follow, the court will by separate order dismiss the claims against BCDC, and grant Murrill's motion for appointment of counsel.

         BACKGROUND

         Murrill's claims arise from his pre-trial confinement at the Baltimore City Detention Center (BCDC). ECF Nos. 1, 3, 18-1 at p. 2. Murrill asserts that he was placed on “lock-up” instead of administrative segregation because no other beds were available, and on February 16, 2015, he was assaulted and injured by his “dangerously strange” cellmate Joel Santiago. ECF Nos. 1, 3. Murrill was taken to the Baltimore Shock Trauma Pavilion (“Shock Trauma”) for treatment.[3] ECF No. 3 at 2, 4. Murrill asserts that after he was released from Shock Trauma, he was transferred immediately to the Maryland Division of Correction “to avoid bearing plaintiff's injury liability. No administrative remedy was adjudicated at BCDC.” ECF No. 3 at 4. Murrill asserts that he stayed in a prison hospital for over eight months. ECF No. 3 at 2. He avers that he attempted to resolve his claims through the administrative remedy procedure (ARP) process, but his grievance was denied due to insufficient evidence and because BCDC had closed.[4] ECF No. 3 at 4.

         Murrill claims that he sustained permanent neck and spinal cord injuries due to the housing to which he was assigned at BCDC. As relief, Murrill asks that Defendants “to pay as much as they can because my life will always be in pain & extreme paranoia will always be there….” ECF No. 3 at 3. Later in the complaint, he asks for damages of $50 million due Defendants' negligence. ECF No. 3 at 5.

         DISCUSSION

         Defendants assert several grounds for dismissal or summary judgment including: (1) BCDC is not amenable to suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (2) failure to state a claim; and (3) Murrill has failed to exhaust his administrative remedies.

         Administrative Exhaustion

         A claim not properly presented through the ARP process must be dismissed pursuant to the Prisoner Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”), 42 U.S.C. §1997e. The PLRA provides in pertinent part that:

No action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 of this title, or any other Federal law, by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted.

42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a).

         The exhaustion requirement serves several purposes. These include “allowing a prison to address complaints about the program it administers before being subjected to suit, reducing litigation to the extent complaints are satisfactorily resolved, and improving litigation that does occur by leading to the preparation of a useful record.” Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 219 (2007); see Moore v. Bennette, 517 F.3d 717, 725 (4th Cir. 2008) (exhaustion means providing prison officials with the opportunity to respond to a complaint through proper use of administrative remedies). It is designed so that prisoners pursue administrative grievances until they receive a final denial of the claims, appealing through all available stages in the administrative process. Chase v. Peay, 286 F.Supp.2d 523, 530 (D. Md. 2003), aff'd, 98 Fed.Appx. 253 (4th Cir. 2004); Gibbs v. Bureau of Prisons, 986 F.Supp. 941, 943-44 (D. Md. 1997) (dismissing a federal prisoner's lawsuit for failure to exhaust, where plaintiff did not appeal his administrative claim through all four stages of the BOP's grievance process); see also Booth v. Churner, 532 U.S. 731, 735 (2001) (affirming dismissal of prisoner's claim for failure to exhaust where he “never sought intermediate or full administrative review after prison authority denied relief”); Thomas v. Woolum, 337 F.3d 720, 726 (6th Cir. 2003) (noting that a prisoner must appeal administrative rulings “to the highest possible administrative level”); Pozo v. McCaughtry, 286 F.3d 1022, 1024 (7th Cir. 2002) (prisoner must follow all administrative steps to meet the exhaustion requirement, but need not seek judicial review).

         Administrative exhaustion under § 1997e(a) is not a jurisdictional requirement and does not impose a heightened pleading requirement on the prisoner. Failure to exhaust administrative remedies is an affirmative defense to be pleaded and proven by defendants. See Bock, 549 U.S. at 215-216; Anderson v. XYZ Correctional Health Services, Inc., 407 F.2d 674, 682 (4th Cir. 2005). Nevertheless, a claim that has not been exhausted may not be considered by this court. See Bock, 549 U.S. at 220. In other words, exhaustion is mandatory. Ross v. Blake, __ U.S. __, 136 S.Ct. 1850, 1857 (2016), citing Miller v. French, 530 U.S. 327, 337 (2000) (explaining “[t]he mandatory ‘shall'. . . normally creates an obligation impervious to judicial discretion”)).

         Ordinarily, an inmate must follow the required procedural steps to exhaust his administrative remedies. Moore v. Bennette, 517 F.3d at 725, 729. Exhaustion requires completion of “the administrative review process in accordance with the applicable procedural rules, including deadlines.” Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 88, 93 (2006). This requirement is one of “proper exhaustion of administrative remedies, which ‘means using all steps that the agency holds out and doing so properly (so that the agency addresses the issues on the merits).'” Woodford, 548 U.S. at 93 (quoting Pozo, 286 F.3d at 1024 (7th Cir. 2002) (emphasis in original)). But, the court is “obligated to ensure that any defects in [administrative] ...


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