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Houck v. Western Correctional Institution

United States District Court, D. Maryland

February 28, 2019




         James Houck is incarcerated at Western Correctional Institution (WCI).[1] Civil Action No. GJH-17-2801 is Houck's third complaint alleging that he is in danger from inmate Joey Poindexter. Civil Action No. GJH-17-3182 is one of nine cases, including Civil Action No. GJH-17-2801, alleging Houck cannot be safely housed unless he is celled by himself.[2]

         Houck is proceeding in forma pauperis in both cases. The in forma pauperis statute permits an indigent litigant to initiate an action in federal court without paying the filing fee. 28 U.S.C. §1915(a). To guard against potential abuse of this privilege, the statute requires a court to dismiss any claim by an indigent litigant which fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. 28 U.S.C.§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii). The above cases will be dismissed under this standard.

         I. Background

         The Court incorporates by reference, its Memorandum Opinions, the parties' pleadings, and exhibits filed in Houck's previously adjudicated cases.

         A. Houck v. Western Correctional Institution, GJH-16-2123

         In this case, Houck alleged that Joey Poindexter asked him for sex on June 2, 2016. Houck claimed there was a “hit” on him, and he feared for his life. Houck's only specific allegation was that Poindexter allegedly called him “hot” and asked for sex. Houck stated he had filed a Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA)[3] claim about the incident but provided no further details to establish that he suffered physical injury or was in danger of physical injury. GJH-16-2123, Memorandum Opinion, ECF 16 at 2, 5. As relief, Houck sought transfer to another correctional institution, placement in protective custody, assignment to a cell by himself, and damages. Id., Complaint, ECF No. 1 at 1-2; ECF No. 16 at 2.[4]

         Considering Houck's assertion of danger, the Court ordered an expedited response from the State. The State's Response included a declaration from Correctional Case Manager James Wilson dated July 15, 2015, in which he stated prior to Houck's arrival at WCI, Houck had been housed by himself pending sentencing. Since his arrival at WCI, Houck had been sharing a cell with Poindexter without incident. Id. ECF No. 5-1 at 1-2. Wilson stated that before Houck and Poindexter were housed together, each inmate's “enemy list” was reviewed to ensure they were not documented enemies. Id. ECF No. 5-1 ¶3. Wilson declared that Houck had not filed an Administrative Remedy Procedure (ARP) alleging that Poindexter was threatening to kill him or that he was sexually harassing Houck, nor had he filed a PREA complaint. Id. The State also provided verified records showing that Houck was housed in protective custody, single cell placement had been considered for him and determined unnecessary, he had been housed with Poindexter without incident, and his safety continued to be monitored by prison staff. Id.; ECF No. 5 at 5.

         On February 2, 2017, the Court granted Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment and denied with prejudice Houck's Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order (to keep him on protective custody and to cell him by himself) and denied Houck's Motion for Summary Judgment. Id. ECF No. 16, 17 at 7-8.

         B. Houck v. Warden, WCI, Civil Action No. GJH-18-83

         Houck claimed that he was unsafe in the general prison population at WCI due to an August 17, 2017 physical and sexual assault by his cellmate Poindexter[5] and claimed that the Bloods, a prison gang, had ordered a hit on his life. Houck claimed that at sentencing the judge had ordered him placed on protective custody for his safety because he had testified in a separate criminal action against other defendants. Complaint, ECF No. 1 at 3. Houck asked to be transferred to a different prison or celled alone and awarded damages. Houck requested in the alternative that he be housed on Unit 1 or 4 so that he could obtain a prison job. Id.

         Defendants filed a copy of Houck's sentencing transcript with their dispositive motion which showed that the sentencing judge had recommended “that the Department of Corrections take whatever steps are necessary to house [Houck] in a secure and safe environment.” ECF No. 10-2 at 40-41; ECF No. 33 at 2-3.

         Upon review of the transcript, it was clear that the judge had recommended, but did not, contrary to Houck's assertions, order his placement on protective custody. Importantly, the State's response also provided records indicating that none of the individuals on Houck's enemy list were housed near him. ECF No. 33 at 3. The Court also observed that Houck changed his description of the August 17, 2017 incident several times. Initially, he told WCI's Correctional Case Management Supervisor, Corey Walker, that he had an argument with Poindexter. Later Houck said that he had a physical altercation with Poindexter. On still another occasion, he alleged he was sexually assaulted. GJH-18-83 Memorandum Opinion, ECF No. 33 at 3; see also Decl. of Corey Walker, ECF No. 10-1 ¶ 4.

         The Court determined that following the altercation with Poindexter, Houck was escorted to the medical room for evaluation and placed on administrative segregation pending investigation by the Internal Investigation Division (IID). Poindexter denied sexually assaulting Houck. Poindexter told the IID investigator that Houck had been threatening to use PREA to get out of WCI and that Houck's attack on him was a way to “get a single cell.” ECF No. 33 at 5-6. Poindexter told the investigator that “Houck has been acting crazy for several days by making threats and calling him vulgar names.Id. at 5. Poindexter said earlier on the day of the incident, Houck had accused him of getting into his locker and threatened to kill him. Poindexter claimed Houck had two weapons, one of which was an ink pen. Poindexter described how Houck had backed him against the wall, and then stabbed him in the right arm with the pen. Id. Poindexter claimed he was defending himself during the altercation, and that Houck had been threatening to use PREA to get out of WCI for weeks. Id. The IID investigator determined that Poindexter's medical record was consistent with his reported injury. Id. at 6. After the IID investigator interviewed Houck and Poindexter and reviewed their medical records after the incident, he concluded Houck's claims were unsubstantiated. Id. Indeed, Houck's own statements to the investigator show he was unsure whether a sexual assault had occurred. ECF No. 33 at 5.

         Poindexter's written statement about the incident, written on August 17, 2017, reads:

[Houck's] transfer request to a medium security prison was denied on Friday, and since this past weekend, he has been getting in my face several times a day, looking for a fight. He started this past Saturday by blaming me for his transfer request being denied. I know it makes no sense, but in his mind, it was apparently my fault. His exact words to me were “they want to keep me here so I can kill your faggot ass.”

Id. at 6.

         Houck declined to provide a statement after the incident. The state's verified records showed that Houck was not housed at the same facility (WCI) as his verified enemies and, since the August 17, 2017 incident he was housed away from Poindexter. Id. at 5, 10. As to the alleged hit ordered on him, Houck admitted to the IID investigator that he had received no verbal or written threats. Id. at 7, 10.

         On November 15, 2017, Houck's case manager informed him that he would be moved from protective custody to general population housing at WCI. Houck lived in the general prison population at WCI without incident between December 1, 2017 and February 6, 2018. Id. at 6. On February 8, 2018, Houck was moved to administrative segregation ...

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