United States District Court, D. Maryland
THEODORE D. CHUANG UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
David Hoff, an inmate at the Western Correctional Institution
("WO") in Cumberland, Maryland, has filed a
Complaint alleging that prison officials at both WCI and
Jessup Correctional Institution ("JCI"), where he
was previously housed, improperly processed his legal mail
and administrative remedy procedure grievances, interfered
with his access to courts, and transferred him in retaliation
for having filed a grievance, all in violation of his federal
constitutional rights. Defendants Warden Wayne Webb and
Correctional Officer Mark Maddux of JCI ("the JCI
Defendants"), and Defendants Warden Richard Graham, Jr.
and Correctional Officer Alicia Cartwright of WCI ("the
WCI Defendants"), have collectively filed a Motion to
Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment.
Having reviewed the Complaint and the submitted materials,
the Court finds no hearing necessary. See D. Md.
Local R. 105.6. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion
will be GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART. Hoff s Complaint
against Lt. Walker of JO, who has not been served with the
Complaint, will be DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE.
verified Complaint, Hoff alleges that on August 25, 2016, Lt.
Walker received in the JCI mailroom a letter for Hoff from
"Ethan Ice, Colorado Public Defender," Hoff s
public defender in a matter in Colorado state court relating
to the Interstate Agreement on Detainers Act
("IAD") ("the Colorado Letter"). Compl.
¶ 10, ECF No. 1. Although the envelope was not a
pre-printed envelope from a law office and instead had a
handwritten return address, the front and back of the
envelope were stamped in red with the warning
"Attorney/Client Confidentiality." Id.
following day, August 26, 2016, Correctional Officer Maddux
brought the letter, opened, to Hoff s cell along with Hoff s
regular mail. Hoff was housed with the general population at
JCI and had no restrictions relating to his mail. Hoff
advised Maddux that he had received legal mail after it had
been opened. Maddux advised Hoff that he did not handle legal
mail and that he did not open or inspect any kind of mail. He
further advised Hoff that only sergeants may pass out legal
mail and only the mailroom may open and inspect the mail.
to Hoff, shortly before the letter from Ice was opened,
Warden Webb contacted Case Manager Ernest Knox and instructed
Knox to prevent Hoff "from contacting Colorado any
further, meaning the courts and attorney Ice." Compl.
¶ 12. Hoff alleges that this instruction made it appear
as if the opening of his "legal mail was in cahoots with
instructions not to contact Colorado any further."
Id. Warden Webb denies ever directly or indirectly
instructing Knox to prevent Hoff from contacting Ice or the
same day that Hoff received the opened letter, he filed an
administrative remedy procedure grievance ("ARP"),
ARP No. JCI-1037-16, relating to the incident. On September
13, 2016, Hoff was interviewed as part of the investigation
into the ARP. The next day, Hoff was transferred from JCI to
WCI. Hoff alleges that there was no reason for the transfer,
such that it "appear[ed] to be retaliation for [the]
grievance filed by petitioner, especially since petitioner
was transferred the next day after being investigated on
grievance." Compl. ¶ 13.
the investigation, Warden Webb dismissed the ARP on December
5, 2016 based on a determination that there was no proof that
the letter was opened by the mailroom staff and the mail was
not listed in the legal mail book. When Hoff appealed to the
Inmate Grievance Office ("IGO"), a videoconference
hearing was held before an administrative law judge
("ALJ"). The ALJ denied the appeal on the grounds
that because the return address on the letter was
handwritten, the letter did not qualify as legal mail under
the applicable regulations and therefore did not have to be
opened in Hoff s presence.
after his transfer to WCI, Hoff asked about the status of his
ARP and, on or about October 20, 2016, submitted an ARP
appeal form with a photocopy of the original ARP to the
Division of Correction, Office of the Commissioner ("the
Commissioner"). The Commissioner, apparently construing
the filing as a new ARP, advised Hoff that the ARP would be
redirected to the facility where he was then housed, WCI. On
November 14, 2016, Correctional Officer Cartwright, the
Institutional ARP Coordinator at WCI, received the ARP and
assigned it ARP No. WCI-2554-16. That ARP was processed and
dismissed as untimely filed.
result of the processing of his second ARP filing, Hoff
alleges that Cartwright altered it to "cover up"
his claim. Compl. ¶ 14. Cartwright denies altering the
ARP in any way and asserts that she processed the ARP
"in the normal course in accordance with prison
procedure." Cartwright Decl. ¶ 5, Mot. Dismiss Ex.
3, ECF No. 17-5.
to Hoff, the tampering with his legal mail has continued
while he has resided at WCI, as "[m]any legal mail
letters petitioner send out never reaches its proper
destination." Compl. ¶ 15. In his verified
memorandum in opposition to the Motion, Hoff identified
specific instances of such tampering. For example, he alleges
that he is the plaintiff in another case against the Warden
of WCI, and although the Warden filed for summary judgment,
Hoff was never served with a copy of the motion. Hoff then
"blindly" filed a memorandum in opposition to the
motion, and the motion for summary judgment was dismissed.
Pl.'s Opp'n Mot. Dismiss ("Opp'n") at
6, ECF No. 19. Hoff also alleges that he has written to
unspecified courts but has not received responses to his
motions, that on one occasion he received notice of a hearing
on or after March 12, 2018, a week after the scheduled
hearing date of March 6, 2018, and that unspecified outgoing
mail was held for over a week before being sent out. Hoff
asserts that Warden Graham is responsible for this alleged
tampering at WCI. Graham asserts that he expects staff to
comply with directives and policies regarding the handling of
inmate mail at WCI.
liberally, Hoff s Complaint alleges that (1) through
tampering with his legal mail and his ARP filings, Defendants
have violated his right to access the courts, in violation of
the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United
States Constitution; and (2) by transferring him to WCI,
Defendants have engaged in unlawful retaliation for filing
grievances, in violation of the First Amendment.
their Motion, Defendants seek either dismissal of the
Complaint or summary judgment in their favor on the grounds
that (1) under the doctrine of collateral estoppel, Hoff s
claims are foreclosed by the ALJ's finding that the
Colorado Letter had a handwritten return address and was
therefore not legal mail under the applicable regulations;
(2) Hoff has not shown that he was denied access to the
courts or due process of law; (3) the allegations are
insufficient to state a claim for retaliation; (4) Hoff s
transfer to WCI did not implicate a protected liberty
interest; and (5) Defendants are entitled to qualified
immunity. Because the Court resolves the Motion on other
grounds, it need not address the collateral estoppel
have filed their Motion as a Motion to Dismiss or, in the
Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment. Typically, when
deciding a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6), the Court considers only the complaint
and any attached documents "integral to the
complaint." Sec'y of State for Defense v.
Trimble Navigation Ltd., 484 F.3d 700, 705 (4th Cir.
2007). To the extent that grounds for dismissal are based
solely on the contents of the Complaint, the Court may
dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) if the complaint does not allege
enough facts to state a plausible claim for relief.
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). A claim
is plausible when the facts pleaded allow "the Court to
draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable
for the misconduct alleged." Id. Although
courts should construe pleadings of self-represented
litigants liberally, Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S.
89, 94 (2007), legal conclusions or conclusory statements do
not suffice, Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. The Court must
examine the complaint as a whole, consider the factual
allegations in the complaint as true, and construe the
factual allegations in the light most favorable to the
plaintiff. Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 268
(1994); Lambeth v. Bd. of Comm'rs of Davidson
Cty., 407 F.3d 266, 268 (4th Cir. 2005).
12(d) requires courts to treat a Rule 12(b)(6) motion as a
motion for summary judgment when matters outside the
pleadings are considered and not excluded. Fed.R.Civ.P.
12(d). Before converting a motion to dismiss to one for
summary judgment, courts must give the nonmoving party
"a reasonable opportunity to present all the material
that is pertinent to the motion." Id.
"Reasonable opportunity" has two requirements: (1)
the nonmoving party must have some indication that the court
is treating the Rule 12(b)(6) motion as a motion for summary
judgment, and (2) the nonmoving party "must be afforded
a reasonable opportunity for discovery" to obtain
information essential to oppose the motion. Gay v.
Wall,761 F.2d 175, 177 (4th Cir. 1985) (citation
omitted). Here, the notice requirement has been satisfied by
the title of the Motion. To show that a reasonable
opportunity for discovery has not been afforded, the
nonmoving party must file an affidavit or declaration under
Rule 56(d) explaining why "for specified reasons, it
cannot present facts essential to justify its
opposition," Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(d), or otherwise put the
district court on notice of the reasons why summary judgment
is premature, see Harrods Ltd. v. Sixty Internet Domain
Names,302 F.3d 214, 244-45 (4th Cir. 2002). Here, Hoff
has not filed a Rule 56(d) affidavit or otherwise requested