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Williams v. Black

United States District Court, D. Maryland

February 1, 2019

COLIN B. WILLIAMS, JR., #253-434 Plaintiff
v.
CORRECTIONAL OFFICER BLACK, Defendant

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ELLEN L. HOLLANDER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Colin B. Williams, who is self-represented, has filed suit, supported by exhibits, against defendant Shakiara Black, a Baltimore County Correctional Officer employed by the Baltimore County Department of Corrections (“BCDC”). At the relevant time, he was incarcerated at BCDC as a pretrial detainee. ECF 26-1 at 1.

         Williams alleges the denial of due process in regard to two disciplinary hearings. ECF 1. He seeks injunctive relief and compensatory damages of $1, 000 a day for the 45 days he was sanctioned with restrictive housing.[1]

         Pending is Black's motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. ECF 26. It is supported by a memorandum (ECF 26-1) (collectively, the “Motion”) and numerous exhibits. Williams filed an opposition and a Declaration (ECF 35; ECF 35-1), to which Black filed a reply. ECF 38. Williams subsequently filed a motion for partial summary judgment (ECF 43), supported by his own Declaration (ECF 43-1), to which Black filed an opposition. ECF 44.

         No hearing is necessary to resolve the issues. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the reasons that follow, I will grant Black's motion for summary judgment (ECF 26) as to Williams' claims arising from his hearing on April 4, 2017, with regard to contraband charges, and deny Black's motion for summary judgment as to Williams' claims arising from his hearing on April 5, 2017, as to an assault charge. Further, I will deny Williams' cross motion for partial summary judgment as to his claim arising from his hearing on April 4, 2017, on the contraband charges, without prejudice to his right to refile after appointment of counsel for him.

         I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Williams filed this action against BCDC and Black on April 26, 2017, alleging that Officer Black violated his due process and equal protection rights. Williams, now confined at the Howard County Detention Center, [2] claimes that during the time he was a pretrial detainee at BCDC, Officer Black presided over two disciplinary hearings that were not fair or impartial and, as a result, he was sanctioned with 45 days of restrictive housing. ECF 1. Williams also claims the BCDC disciplinary procedure is unfair and does not comply with the Code of Maryland Regulations (“COMAR”), because it “subjects one to a disciplinary hearing in front of an officer who is not detached or neutral from the institution.” ECF 1 at 2.

         On July 12, 2017, BCDC filed a motion to dismiss. ECF 10. On August 24, 2017, BCDC and Officer Black filed a motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment, supported by a memorandum and exhibits. ECF 19; ECF 19-1.

         By Memorandum Opinion and Order of February 20, 2018 (ECF 24, ECF 25) I granted BCDC's motion to dismiss (ECF 10), construed Black's motion (ECF 19) as a motion for summary judgment, granted Black's motion for summary judgment as to the equal protection claim, and denied the motion for summary judgment, without prejudice, as to the due process claim.

         In denying summary judgment as to the due process claim, I noted that Williams' 45-day placement on restricted housing seemed to amount to a disciplinary action that triggered due process protections and other protections under state law. ECF 24 at 15, 18. In light of the limited record before me at the time concerning the process afforded Black, including what evidence was actually presented at his disciplinary hearings, the circumstances surrounding his refusal to appear at his second hearing, why a witness he requested, Officer Johnson, refused to appear, and the summary and conclusory nature of the hearing officer's findings, I found summary judgment inappropriate on the record before me. ECF 24 at 15, 18.

         However, I granted Black the opportunity to file a dispositive motion, supported by verified evidence, to address whether Williams' placement in restrictive housing implicated a liberty interest triggering due process protections and, if so, whether the procedures provided to him satisfied these requirements. Thereafter, Black filed the pending Motion. I also granted Williams additional time to respond. ECF 32. Williams' response is docketed at ECF 35.

         On December 28, 2018, Williams filed a motion partial summary judgment and declaration which essentially reiterates the allegations in his Complaint and opposition to Black's dispositive motion. ECF 43. Black filed an opposition to Williams' motion. ECF 44.

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND [3]

         On March 31, 2017, Williams was involved in an assault against Officer K. Johnson. See Incident A3170834; ECF 1-1 (Report of Incident) at 2. Approximately one hour later, as Sgt. T. Brooks was packing Williams' personal property for transfer, Brooks discovered a bag of homemade wine wrapped in a blanket. ECF 1-1 (Report of Incident) at 1. Williams, who was the sole occupant of the cell where the contraband was found, was charged with possession of contraband. See Incident A3170835; ECF 1-1 (Report of Incident) at 1.

         On March 31, 2017, Williams was provided with notice of the charges arising from both incidents and signed acknowledgements of receipt of the notices. ECF 26-4 at 2 (charges and incident report A3170834); ECF 26-5 at 2 (charges and incident report A3170835); ECF 35-1, Declaration of Colin Williams, ¶19; ECF 26-2, Affidavit of Shakiara Black, ¶¶ 12, 13, 15, 25. He asserts the written dispositions he received lacked a meaningful explanation of his guilt and rationale for the disciplinary sanctions imposed. ECF 35-1, Williams Decl., at 8.

         Officer Black declares that she has received training in the disciplinary hearing process and may not conduct a hearing for an incident in which she was involved. Further, she avers that she was not involved in the incidents of March 31, 2017. ECF 26-2, Black Aff., ¶¶ 9, 10, 11; BCDC Directive Disciplinary Process ECF 26-3§ IV.C.5.

         A. April 4, 2017 Hearing Assault Incident (A3170834)

         In the first incident, A3170834, Williams was charged with interfering with correctional personnel in the performance of duties, assaulting an employee, failure to obey the order of correctional staff, being in an unauthorized area, and changing cell assignments. ECF 19-3 at 1; ECF 19-2, Black Aff., ¶11.

         At the April 4, 2017 hearing, Black asked Williams whether he wanted to call any witnesses. Williams asked to call Officer Johnson, the officer involved in the assault. ECF 35-1, Williams' Decl., ¶21. Black postponed the hearing until the following day to arrange for Johnson to attend the hearing. ECF 35-1, Williams' Decl., ¶26; ECF 26-2, Black Aff., ¶26.

         B. Contraband Incident (A3170835)

         In the second incident, A3170835, Williams was charged with possession of contraband and possession or manufacture of unauthorized substances. ECF 19-4 at 1; ECF 19-2, Black Aff., ¶ 12.

         Williams advised Black that he did not want to call any witnesses regarding the contraband incident (A3170835) and the hearing on the contraband charges proceeded. ECF 35-1, Williams' Decl., ¶23.[4]

         Black advised Williams of his rights as listed in the Inmate Rule and Regulations Handbook, but Williams refused to sign the acknowledgement. ECF 35-1, Williams' Decl., ¶ 22; ECF 26-2, Black Aff., ¶¶ 17, 18; Inmate Rules and Regs, ECF 26-9. Williams asserts he refused to sign the acknowledgment because it included “boilerplate”[5] that “a ...


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