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Murray v. Foxwell

United States District Court, D. Maryland

February 12, 2019

CHRIS MURRAY, Plaintiff,
v.
MR. RICKY FOXWELL, Warden - ECI, LT. EVAN WARD, SGT. JASON WALLACE and KEITH SCHAFFER, C0. II, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          THEODORE D. CHUANG UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Chris Murray, an inmate at Western Correctional Institution in Cumberland, Maryland, has filed a civil action against Defendants Ricky Foxwell, Warden of the Eastern Correctional Institution ("ECI") in Westover, Maryland; Lt. Evan Ward, the Institutional Remedy Coordinator at ECI; and ECI correctional officers Sgt. Jason Wallace and Correctional Officer II Keith Schaffer. Murray alleges that Defendants violated his constitutional rights to access the courts, to freedom of speech and expression, and to due process of law by suppressing complaints he filed through the prisonss administraiive remedy procedure ("ARPs".. He seeks an order directing Defendants to comply with prison policies governing the handling of ARPs.

         Pending before the Court are Defendants' Motions to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Motions for Summary Judgment. Upon review of the submitted materials, the Court finds that no hearing is necessary. See D. Md. Local R. 105.6. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' Motions are GRANTED.

         BACKGROUND

         Murray was transferred from the Roxbury Correctional Institution to ECI on October 19, 2016. According to Murray, ECI correctional staff improperly handled his ARPs, refused to issue forms for filing ARPs, and told him that they may only issue one ARP form per week. In addition, Murray alleges that correctional staff have obstructed inmates' access to the ARP process through different forms of retaliation, including verbal and physical harassmen,, denial of recreation and programs, and transfer from one unit, compound, or institution to another. He claims that staff at ECI "negligenlly or deliberately misplaced or stole 100 postage stamps along with approximately $45.00 worth of commissary food items" from his personal property and that his television had been broken, "as if someone tried to pr[y] it open deliberately and maliciously." Mot. Am. Pet'n 9, ECF No.33.

         Specifically, Murray claims that on October 22, 2016, he gave Officer Schaffer three completed ARP forms and asked him to sign them and to issue him the carbon copies, but Officer Schaffer refused to do so. On October 23, 2016, Murray again saw Officer Schaffer and repeated his request for copies but was told that the ARPs had been forwarded to Sgt. Wallace for processing. Murray then approached another correctional officer, who told Murray that carbon copies are not issued until it has been determined whether the matter can be resolved informally. According to Murray, the officer explained that at ECI, the inmate would receive a carbon copy of a submitted ARP only if the matter remained unresolved after investigation.

         On October 25, 2016, having not yet received the carbon copies, Murray submitted another ARP, complaining about "the 'arbitrary' action of the ECI staff and how the staff had infringed on his rights. CompI. 3, ECF NO.3. Between October 27, 2016 and December 15, 2016, Murray sent correspondence to several correctional and government officials, as well as non-proftt organization,, requesting intervention and an investigation of ECI's handling of ARPs. On November 22, 2016, Murray submitted two ARPs to Sgt. Wallace/who stated that he would forward them to a lieutenant. Murray states that he never received carbon copies or responses to any of the ARPs he submitted.

         On December 21, 2016, Murray was summoned to meet with ECI's ARP Coordinator Lt. Ward and another lieutenant, who explained to him the process by which ECl handles ARPs. At that time, Murray told Lt. Ward that ECl correctional officers, including Officer Schaffer and Sgt. Wallace, had accepted his ARPs but refused to provide the requested carbon copies. The lieutenants informed Murray that ECl staff were required to attempt to resolve any ARP issues prior to the ARP being submitted. They also advised him to directly submit any other issues with the ARP process to Lt. Ward by using a mailbox in the Housing Unit.

         As of August 21, 207,, Murray had filed 24 ARPs at ECl. ARP No. ECl-067017,, filed by Murray on October 31, 2016, complained about ECI's failure to provide him with carbon copies of his grievances. ARP No. ECl-0670-17 was stamped as received on March 16, 2017, approximately one month after Murray filed the Complaint in this case. An assigned ARP investigator interviewed Murray on March 24, 2017 and concluded that Murray was unable to provide any details to support his claim. The investigator noted that Murray could not provide the time of day when he filed his initial complaint or what the complaint was about. Murray acknowledged that he did not follow up regarding his "missing" ARP forms and that nobody witnessed the incidents. Defs.' First Mot. Dismiss Ex. 1 at 5, ECF No. 17-3. Because Murray was unable to provide sufficient evidence or any witnesses to substantiate his claims, the investigator found ARP No. ECl-0670117 to be without merit and subject to dismissal.

         The investigative report for ARP No. ECI-0670-17, dated April 28, 2017, included signed statements from each of the four officers listed in the ARP, including Sgt. Wallace and Officer Schaffer. Three of the officers either denied or could not recall receiving ARPs from Murray on the day in question, while one acknowledged that he received an ARP from Murray but returned it to him because it contained multiple issues and thus needed to be revised to raise only a single issue. On May 4, 2017, Warden Foxwell dismissed ARP No. ECI-0670-17 with the following statement:

Your request for Administrative Remedy has been investigated and is hereby Dismissed: upon review of reports from staff and supporting documentaiion it has been determined that there is no evidence to substantiate your claim that your access to the courts ha[s] been hampered. Documentaiion shows that your ARP forms were handled properly in accordance with IB 09-10 "the inmate population will turn in all completed ARP forms to the dayshift OIC [Officer in Charge] for signature. The OIC will issue the inmate the signed copy of the complaint form. The housing unit manager will collect the completed ARP forms from the control center daily. The unit manager will review the ARP complaint and conduct an interview to determine if he/she can resolve the complaint. If it is determined that the complaint cannot be resolved, the unit manager shall forward the complaint to the ARP dept.

         Id at 2.

         Murray prepared other ARPs dated October 31, 2016 which were not stamped as received by ECI staff. In one of those un-numbered ARPs, Murray complained that Officer Schaffer had denied him ARP forms upon request. Murray later appealed that ARP to the Commissioner of Corrections and then to the Inmate Grievance Office ("IGO"), alleging that the Warden had failed to address his grievance. By letter dated June 30, 2017, an IGO Administrative Officer informed Murray that his grievance was being dismissed. The Administraiive Officer concluded that Murray had failed to state a claim meriting administraiive relief because ARP forms can be obtained through means other than requesting them from correctional officers, such as obtaining them from the prison library.

         In another un-numbered ARP dated October 31, 2016, Murray alleged that he was being subjected to retaliation for filing ARPs earlier that week. According to Murray, a correctional officer, Correctional Officer II Johnson, conducted a search of Murrayss cell and stated, "This is just a prelude to what lies ahead for people who like to file ARPs." Defs.' First Mot. Dismiss Ex. 3 at 26, ECF No. 17-5. Murray requested an investigation into the matter and asked that Officer Johnson, Sgt. Wallace, and two other correctional officers be held accountable. Murray appealed that un-numbered ARP up to the IGO. By letter dated June 30, 2017, an IGO Administrative Officer dismissed Murrayss grievance for failure to state a claim upon which administrative relief could be granted. According to the Administraiive Officer, Murray failed to provide any ...


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