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Harris v. Maddox

United States District Court, D. Maryland

February 21, 2019

TRESTON HARRIS, #288-008, Plaintiff,
v.
ANNE MADDOX, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendant Anne Maddox's Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 21). 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 Maddox's Motion.

         I.BACKGROUND[1]

         Harris is a Division of Corrections (the “DOC”) inmate presently housed at the North Branch Correctional Institution (“NBCI”) in Cumberland, Maryland. (Compl. at 1, ECF No. 1).[2] On March 14, 2015 at approximately 9:47 a.m., Harris and other inmates were in the dining room when an inmate repeatedly struck another inmate in the back of the head with a sock containing an A/C adaptor, and then a second inmate joined in the assault. (Harris Aff. ¶¶ 2-3, ECF No. 23-3; Def.'s Mot. Dismiss Mot. Summ. J. [“Def.'s Mot.”] Ex. 1 at 4, ECF No. 21-2).[3] A corrections officer ordered the inmates to stop fighting. (Def.'s Mot. Ex. 1 at 4). When the inmates did not comply, the corrections officer deployed pepper spray in the area. (Id.).

         After the inmates involved in the incident were removed from the dining room, Officer Christopher McKenzie (“Officer McKenzie”) found Harris sitting on the A/C adaptor, “attempting to conceal it from staff.” (Id.). Officer McKenzie confiscated the weapon and secured it inside the NBCI Evidence Room.[4] (Id.). According to Officer McKenzie, Harris was handcuffed and escorted to Housing Unit #1, where he was and placed on administrative segregation pending adjustment. (Id. at 6).

         That same day, Officer McKenzie's supervisor, Ernest Dolly, charged Harris with three rule violations: (1) the possession, use, or manufacture of a weapon; (2) interfering with or resisting the performance of staff duties to include a search of a person, item, area or location; and (3) possessing or passing contraband. (Id.). Harris was given notice of an inmate disciplinary hearing (the “Notice”) along with the rule violation report (the “Rule Violation Report”). (Id. at 7). The Notice stated, in relevant part, that Harris “may be permitted to call a witness” at the hearing if he “list[s] the individual by name below.” (Id.). The Notice cautioned Harris that “failure to list a witness by name below at the time of the service of this notice shall be deemed at your hearing a waiver by you of the witness.” (Id.). Harris did not list the names of any witnesses he intended to call, nor did he sign the Notice. (Id. at 7-9). He asserts that he “was not allowed to sign the Notice of Inmate Rule Violation Form.”[5] (Pl.'s Opp'n at 1, ECF No. 23).

         On March 31, 2015, Harris attended his formal disciplinary hearing, at which Maddox served as the hearing officer. (Compl. at 3, 6). Harris moved for Maddox to review camera footage of the incident, which she granted. (Def.'s Mot. Ex. 1 at 10). Harris also testified that he had complied with the corrections officer's order to get down on the floor during the incident and that “unfortunately, after all was said and done the weapon was in [his] area.” (Id. at 11). According to Harris, contrary to Officer McKenzie's report, the officers patted him down and allowed him to return to his housing unit before moving him to administrative segregation thirty minutes later. (Id.). Harris also asserted that the officers never confiscated a weapon from him. (Id.). Harris asked to call Sgt. Forney as a witness, but Maddox denied his request he did not list any witness on the Notice at the time of service. (Compl. at 6; Def.'s Mot. Ex. 1 at 10; see also id. at 7).

         Maddox found Harris guilty of all three rule violations. (Def.'s Mot. Ex. 1 at 12- 13). She imposed sanctions of 110 days in disciplinary segregation, revocation of 110 good conduct credits, and suspension of his visitation privileges for six months. (Id.). Maddox provided the following written explanation for her decision:

Treston Harris stated that the officer did not confiscate anything from him nor was he locked up in the dining hall, but the officers came to the cell later and locked him up. The video does show that Officer McKenzie left the dining hall without Harris, but the Serious Incident Report indicated that Officer McKenzie took the pieces of the weapon to Operations for placement in the Contraband box, and not that he escorted Harris to segregation unit. It is unlikely that the officer would carry the weapon to the segregation unit, thus it makes sense that Harris was taken by someone else. Hearing Officer finds that Harris did pick up the pieces of the object that was used to assault another inmate and did possess the remains of the weapon.

(Id. at 12).

         Harris appealed Maddox's decision and sanctions to Frank Bishop, Warden of NBCI (“Warden Bishop”), arguing that Maddox refused to call Sgt. Forney as a witness and that her decision was unsupported by any evidence. (Compl. Ex. A at 1, ECF No. 1-1). On April 22, 2015, Warden Bishop affirmed Maddox's guilty findings but reduced Harris's segregation period from 110 to ninety days and reduced his good conduct credit revocation from 110 to thirty credits. (Compl. Exs. B-C, ECF Nos. 1-2, 1-3). Warden Bishop imposed a forty-five-day cell restriction. (Id.). On May 21, 2015, Harris appealed to the Inmate Grievance Office (“IGO”), arguing that Maddox violated his procedural due process rights. (Compl. Ex. D at 1-2, ECF No. 1-4). The IGO scheduled a hearing on Harris's appeal for August 5, 2015. (Compl. Ex. E, ECF No. 1-5).

         On August 4, 2015, a day before the scheduled hearing was to take place, Patricia Goins-Johnson, the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services'(“DPSCS”) Executive Director of Field Services, sent a memorandum to Warden Bishop reversing Harris's convictions and vacating the sanctions imposed, including the forty-five-day cell restriction. (Compl. Ex. I, ECF No. 1-9). Goins-Johnson indicated that the video of the incident did not show Officer McKenzie confronting Harris or recovering a weapon. (Id.). She acknowledged that Harris returned to his cell and that Maddox did not “sufficiently resolve” the discrepancies between Officer McKenzie's report and what was depicted on the video. (Id.).

         During the IGO hearing the following day, counsel for the DOC moved to dismiss Harris's grievance as moot based on Goins-Johnson's decision. (Compl. Ex. J at 7-10, ECF No. 1-10). The Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) granted that motion. (Id. at 10; Compl. Ex. K at 6, ECF No. 1-11). Thereafter, Harris appealed the ALJ's decision to the Circuit Court for Allegany County, Maryland, (Compl. Ex. M at 1-3, ECF No. 1-13), which affirmed the ALJ's dismissal of Harris's grievance, (Compl. Ex. V, ECF No. 1-22).

         On March 6, 2018, Harris sued Maddox under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (2018), alleging that she wrongfully convicted him of false charges following his formal disciplinary hearing on March 31, 2015. (Compl. at 6). According to Harris, Maddox denied him the right to present exculpatory evidence, failed to properly conduct the hearing, exhibited bias, and decided his case arbitrarily. (Id. at 6-7). As a result, Harris asserts, he was wrongfully forced to endure ninety days in disciplinary segregation, where his outdoor recreation time was limited; he was denied visitation privileges; and he lost access to the telephone, commissary, library, religious services, cognitive activities, and electronics. (Id. at 7-9). Harris avers that Maddox violated his procedural due process rights and that the sanction she imposed deprived him of a liberty interest. (Id.). Harris seeks compensatory and punitive damages. (Id. at 6).

         On August 20, 2018, Maddox filed a Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 21). Harris filed an Opposition on September 17, 2018. (ECF No. 23). To ...


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