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Holland v. Graham

United States District Court, D. Maryland

February 26, 2019

RICHARD J. GRAHAM, Warden, Defendant.



         Plaintiff William Holland, Jr., an inmate at Western Correctional Institution ("WCI") in Cumberland, Maryland, has filed a civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C.§1983 alleging that the conditions of his confinement are unconstitutional and that he was denied medical treatment. Holland seeks monetary damages and injunctive relief. Pending before the Court is Defendant Warden Richard Graham's Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment. Although Holland was advised of his right to oppose the Motion, he has not filed a memorandum in opposition to the Motion. Having reviewed the submitted materials, the Court finds that no hearing necessary. See D. Md. Local R. 105.6. For the reasons set forth below, the Warden's Motion, construed as a Motion for Summary Judgment, will be GRANTED.


         During the time relevant to the Complaint, Holland was housed in Housing Unit 4 at WCI. The cells numbered 1-14 and 25-38 in Housing Unit 4 ("the Cells") house inmates on disciplinary segregation and have windows that overlook the prison compound. At some unspecified time in the past, the windows in these cells could be opened and inmates in the cells would "frequently maintain loud and disruptive dialogue" with general population inmates who passed through the compound. Graham Decl. ¶ 3, Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 7, ECF No. 14-10. The Warden reports that this dialogue often involved "vulgar, insolent, and threatening language" and included discussion relating to "the flow of contraband to the general population." Id. Because of these problems, the windows in the Cells were sealed shut.

         On May 11, 2017, on the Warden's order, the windows in the Cells were unsealed so that they could be opened. According to the Warden, he decided to unseal the windows "[d]ue to the summer months approaching" and based on conversations with the inmates in which they agreed that they would not yell out of the windows. Id. ¶ 4. For approximately two weeks, the windows were unsealed. On May 30, 2017, however, the Warden ordered that they be resealed. The Warden asserts that he made this decision because having the windows open resulted in "loud and disruptive behavior" and a rise in violence. Id. Holland contends that the Warden only opened the windows because an audit team was coming to WCI, with the implication that he ordered them resealed after the audit team had completed its visit.

         According to the Warden, the resealing of the windows did not have a detrimental effect on air circulation because all cells at WCI have "a ventilation system that circulates clean, filtered air at regular intervals of four times per hour." M ¶ 5. He asserts that cell temperatures are closely monitored and has submitted temperature logs showing that temperature readings in Holland's wing between April and July 2017 ranged from 69 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit.

         Also on May 30, 2017, correctional officers deployed chemical agents against inmates in Housing Unit 4. According to Holland, after he and other inmates asked to speak with the Warden about his decision to reseal the cell windows, officers in riot gear officers attacked and "shot pellets out of rifles and shotguns that produce chemical agents that burns the human skin and causes you to choke and gag." Compl. 3, ECF NO.1. Holland states that he was temporarily traumatized, that the fumes caused him chest pains and shortness of breath, and that he was denied medical treatment.

         According to Correctional Officer Curran McKenzie, the May 30, 2017 incident began because certain inmates in Housing Unit 4 were noncompliant and had to be extracted from their cells. Holland was not one of the inmates and was not housed in a cell from which an extraction took place. McKenzie states that after the extractions occurred, Holland did not complain about pepper spray exposure or request medical care. Prison records show that on May 30, 2017, extractions were performed on Cells 4-A-4, 5, 8, and 9 because of weapons possession, while Holland was housed in Cell 4-A-6 that day.

         Holland's medical records reveal no request for medical care in connection with the May 30 incident and that Holland did not receive treatment for any respiratory problems for several months following that date. Although Holland was evaluated on June 15, 2017 for back pain from an old football injury, Holland did not report any respiratory problems during that visit. On August 9, 2017, Holland had a chronic care appointment for asthma, a condition dating back to at least 2010. During that visit, Holland did not mention the May 30 incident.

         Holland filed his Complaint on August 21, 2017. Construed liberally, the Complaint alleges that the Warden violated the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution in that the sealing of the windows, the pepper spray attack, and the denial of medical care each constituted cruel and unusual punishment.


         In his Motion, Graham seeks dismissal under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) or summary judgment under Rule 56 based on several grounds, including that (1) Holland has failed to allege sufficient facts to state a plausible claim for relief; (2) the Warden is not liable because there is no vicarious liability for a §1983 claim; and (3) the Warden is entitled to qualified immunity.

         I. Legal Standards

         When deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 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 the Complaint if it 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 ...

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