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Williams v. Moyer

United States District Court, D. Maryland

March 6, 2019

SCOTLAND WILLIAMS, #276777, Plaintiff,


          Ellen L. Hollander United States District Judge.

         The self-represented plaintiff, Scotland Williams, an inmate incarcerated at North Branch Correctional Institution (“NBCI”) in Cumberland, Maryland, brings this civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against a host of defendants: Stephen Moyer, Secretary of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (“DPSCS”); Dayena Corcoran, Commissioner of the Division of Correction (“DOC”); Warden Frank Bishop; Correctional Officer Robert Kruise Jr.[1]; Mailroom Staff Doe 1-10; Mailroom Supervisor; M. Rose; and R. Hammons, the librarian.[2] ECF 1. Williams alleges that defendants have violated his First Amendment and due process rights by improperly handling his mail at NBCI. Id. He seeks injunctive relief as well as compensatory and punitive damages. Id. at 29-30.

         On June 4, 2018, defendants Moyer, Corcoran, Bishop, and Kruise moved to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. ECF 12. The motion is supported by a memorandum of law (ECF 12-1) (collectively, the “Motion”) and several exhibits. The Court granted plaintiff's requests for an extension of time in which to respond. ECF 15; ECF 16; ECF 19; ECF 21. In January 2019, Williams filed several responses in opposition. ECF 24-26; ECF 25; ECF 26. No. reply was submitted.

         Upon review of the record, exhibits, and applicable law, the court deems a hearing unnecessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2018). Defendants' Motion, construed as a motion for summary judgment, shall be granted.

         I. Plaintiff's Claims

         Williams complains that while housed at NBCI, defendants have interfered with his legal and personal mail, in violation of his constitutional rights; the NBCI librarian has been negligent in managing her staff; and prison officials have failed to respond to his administrative remedy grievances regarding these issues. ECF 1.[3] Williams lists over 30 separate instances alleged to have taken place between 2010 and 2015 where mail he received from at least 13 different jurisdictions was “opened and inspected outside [his] presence.” Id. at 6-14. Williams' Complaint cites six instances that occurred within three years of the date of filing of this lawsuit, where he claims his legal mail was opened and inspected outside of his presence, in violation of prison directives and State regulations regarding inmate mail. Id. at 5-6, 13.

         In 2013, Williams filed two complaints in this court, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Id. at 17. But, he claims that both were dismissed because the court did not receive his responses in a timely manner. Id. With regard to the first case, Civil Action No. ELH-13-2561, Williams asserts that defendant Kruise confiscated his response to the opposing party's dispositive motion because Williams had written another inmate's name on the envelope instead of his own name. Id. at 17-18. And, according to Williams, this court dismissed the complaint on February 2, 2015, because it did not receive his response. Id. at 18. With regard to the second case, Civil Action No. ELH-13-2931, Williams maintains that defendant Rose returned Williams' response because he had exceeded the seven-letter limit. Id. Williams avers that this court dismissed that complaint because it did not receive his response in a timely manner. Id. at 19.

         According to Williams, since June 19, 2013, NBCI has banned all greeting cards and has returned them to senders, unopened. Id. at 21-22. In addition, he alleges that since the Spring of 2016, defendants have confiscated as contraband any envelopes that contain confidential legal correspondence. Id. at 16. According to Williams, mailroom staff make a photocopy of the envelope, a correctional officer opens the legal mail in the inmate's presence, and the correctional officer delivers the contents and the photocopy but not the original envelope. Id. Williams complains that the photocopy does not show the date the mail was received. Id. at 16-17.

         In addition, Williams alleges that defendant Hammons, the librarian at NBCI, is unable to manage or motivate her staff to respond to inmates' requests for legal information. Id. at 21. Williams claims that the library staff responds to requests sporadically or not at all, and they provide cases with incorrect citations. Id. Williams avers that, as a result, the library staff has severely prejudiced his access to the courts. Id.

         And, Williams claims that he has informed defendants Moyer, Corcoran, and Bishop about these issues by using the Administrative Remedy Procedure (“ARP”). Id. at 19. Williams alleges that Corcoran and Bishop have failed to intervene and have refused to adequately address his grievances. Id. at 23-26.

         II. Background

         With the exception of legal mail, all incoming inmate mail is opened and inspected for prohibited contraband in the prison mail room prior to delivery to inmates. Executive Directive OPS.250.0001.05(C)(1) and (3); ECF 12-2 at 4-5. Except for legal mail, postage stamps, postage meter labels, address labels, or other items affixed to mail are removed before the mail is delivered to inmates. OPS.250.0001.05(C)(7)(1). Id. at 7. Williams was considered “indigent” in March of 2015 and subject to a seven-letter per week limit unless he specifically requested additional postage and legal mail related materials, as required by OPS.250.0001.05(E)(1)-(5). Id. at 8-9; see also ECF 5-1 at 17.

         For incoming legal mail, a photocopy of the envelope is made, which is provided to the inmate, along with the contents, once the legal mail has been properly inspected and processed. OPS.250.0001.05(C)(6)(a)-(d); ECF 12-2 at 6-7. The Code of Maryland Regulations (“COMAR”) provides, in relevant part, at (4):

“Legal mail” means mail either addressed by an inmate to, or received on official stationery from, any of the following individuals or agencies:
(a) A court;
(b) A judge;
(c) A clerk of court;
(d) An attorney;
(e) The American Civil Liberties Union;
(f) The Legal Aid Bureau;
(g) The Secretary of Public Safety and Correctional Services;
(h) The Commissioner of Correction;
(i) Director, Patuxent Institution; and
(j) Elected or appointed public officials.

         All incoming legal mail is recorded in the Legal Mail Logbook kept in the prison mailroom. NBCI.250.0001.05(C)(4); see ECF 12-2 at 35. From February to April and October of 2015, the months relevant to Williams' lawsuit, Williams had a total of 33 pieces of incoming legal mail that was recorded in the NBCI Legal Mail Logbook, and for which he signed. Id. at 48-73; see ECF 12-1 at 5-6.

         Once any legal mail and the photocopy of its envelope are delivered to an inmate, the original envelope is destroyed. OPS.250.0001.05(C)(6)(d); ECF 12-2 at 7. Defendants maintain that because legal mail is opened and inspected in the presence of the inmate and, as a result, is not subject to the same rigorous inspection process as regular mail, there is a greater potential for illegal contraband to enter the institution through legal mail. ECF 12-1 at 6.

         Defendant Kruise declares that he has no recollection of receiving an envelope of legal documents from Williams in September of 2014 to be placed in the mailbox. See ECF 12-3, ¶ 3. When Kruise was assigned to the segregation tier where Williams was housed at that time, Kruise would pick up any outgoing mail from inmates at their cells; his duty assignment did not require him to inspect any inmate mail. Id. Therefore, Kruise denies that he confiscated Williams' mail and also denies that he told Williams he was confiscating the mail because Williams used another inmate's name on the envelope. Id.

         Warden Bishop expects the NBCI staff to comply with the Executive Directives and NBCI Facility Directives regarding inmate mail and inmate grievances. See ECF 12-5, ¶ 3. When responding to an inmate's grievance, Warden Bishop relies on staff to review and prepare a response for his signature. Id. at ¶ 4.

         While at NBCI from 2008 to 2018, Williams filed a total of 106 ARP complaints, which were all reviewed and responded to by NBCI staff. ECF 12-2 at 75-79. A search of the available records did not produce any record of the Inmate Grievance Office (“IGO”) having received any relevant ARP appeal from Williams during the relevant time period. See ECF 12-4, ¶ 3.

         III. Standard of Review

         Defendant's Motion (ECF 12) is styled as a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) or, in the alternative, for summary judgment under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56.[4] A motion styled in this manner implicates the court's discretion under Rule 12(d) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Kensington Vol. Fire Dept., Inc. v. Montgomery Cty., 788 F.Supp.2d 431, 436-37 (D. Md. 2011).

         Ordinarily, a court “is not to consider matters outside the pleadings or resolve factual disputes when ruling on a motion to dismiss.” Bosiger v. U.S. Airways, Inc., 510 F.3d 442, 450 (4th Cir. 2007). However, under Rule 12(b)(6), a court, in its discretion, may consider matters outside of the pleadings, pursuant to Rule 12(d). If the court does so, “the motion must be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56, ” and “[a]ll parties must be given a reasonable opportunity to present all the material that is pertinent to the motion.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d); see Adams Hous., LLC v. The City of Salisbury, Maryland, 672 Fed.Appx. 220, 222 (4th Cir. 2016) (per curiam). But, when the movant expressly captions its motion “in the alternative, ” as one for summary judgment, and submits matters outside the pleadings for the court's consideration, the parties are deemed to be on notice that conversion under Rule 12(d) may occur; the court “does not have an obligation to notify parties of the obvious.” Laughlin v. Metro. Wash. Airports Auth., 149 F.3d 253, 261 (4th Cir. 1998).

         A district judge has “complete discretion to determine whether or not to accept the submission of any material beyond the pleadings that is offered in conjunction with a Rule 12(b)(6) motion and rely on it, thereby converting the motion, or to reject it or simply not consider it.” 5C Wright & Miller, Federal Practice & Procedure § 1366, at 159 (3d ed. 2004, 2011 Supp.). This discretion “should be exercised with great caution and attention to the parties' procedural rights.” Id. at 149. In general, courts are guided by whether consideration of extraneous material “is likely to facilitate ...

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