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Dixon v. Graham

United States District Court, D. Maryland

March 11, 2019




         Plaintiff brought this civil rights action against Defendant Warden Richard Graham. ECF No. 1. Pending before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment. ECF No. 19. The Court advised Plaintiff of his opportunity to oppose the motion, ECF No. 20, and Plaintiff sought and was granted extensions of time to do so. ECF Nos. 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, & 26. However, Plaintiff has failed to file an opposition. The Court finds a hearing in this matter unnecessary. See Local Rule 105.6. For the following reasons, Defendant's motion, construed as a Motion for Summary Judgment, will be granted.

         I. Background

         In his unverified Complaint, Plaintiff Larnell A. Dixon, a state inmate confined at the Western Correctional Institution (WCI) alleges that on May 30, 2017, Warden Graham ordered the windows in his housing unit, Housing Unit 4, to be sealed shut. ECF No. 1 at 2. Plaintiff remained housed in a cell with a sealed window until June 15, 2017 when he was moved to a cell with a window that opens. Id. at 3. As background, Plaintiff explains that the windows in housing unit 4 were sealed from 2013 until the second week of May 2017 when they were unsealed before an audit team came to inspect the prison. Id. Plaintiff states that from 2013 to 2017, many inmates complained about the sealing of the windows, but nothing was done. Id. Apparently after the audit, the windows were resealed. Plaintiff maintains that having the windows sealed is a fire and health hazard. Id. at 3.

         Plaintiff claims that the guards grew tired of the inmates' complaints about the windows and on May 30, 2017, forced the inmates out of their cells and sprayed some of the inmates, though not Plaintiff, with mace and “pellets.” ECF No. 1 at 3. Plaintiff claims he was affected by the fumes and requested medical treatment but his request was denied. Id.

         Plaintiff admits that he did not file any administrative remedy procedures (ARPs) regarding these matters. Id. at 2. He claims that he failed to do so because the WCI handbook states that inmates cannot file ARPs about the Warden. Id.

         On January 17, 2015, Plaintiff was transferred to Housing Unit 4, cell A-6 where he continued to be housed until June 15, 2017, when he was reassigned to cell A-18. ECF No. 19-2 at 2. Housing Unit 4 is the segregation unit and houses inmates on various levels of segregation status, including disciplinary segregation. ECF No. 19-3 ¶ 3. The windows in cells 1-14 and 25- 38 of Housing Unit 4 are sealed due to safety and security concerns. Id. Those cells face the compound which allows segregation inmates to see the general population inmates during times of movement. Id. When the windows were unsealed, inmates in these cells acted disruptively during mass movement, including using vulgar and threatening language and passing along information regarding the flow of contraband to the general population. Id. This conduct created safety and security risks and as such, the windows were sealed. Id.

         Inmates who had documented medical conditions that required them to have the ability to open their window were not housed in a cell with a sealed window. ECF No. 19-3 ¶ 5. Plaintiff did not have such a documented condition. ECF No. 19-5.

         Although the windows are sealed, the cells are properly ventilated. ECF No. 19-3 ¶ 4. Moreover, the air circulation system at WCI meets Maryland compliance standards, and the cells have ventilation systems that circulate clean and filtered air four times per hour. Id. ¶¶ 4-5.

         As to the events of May 30, 2017, Defendant explains that a cell extraction occurred on Housing Unit 4, A wing, on that date, due to inmates' refusing to comply with correctional officers' orders. ECF No. 19-2 at 6. Officers used pepper spray and a pepper ball gun to gain the compliance of the inmates. Id. Ultimately, seven inmates were extracted from their cells, one of whom was in possession of a homemade weapon. Id. Additionally, officers searched the cells on the wing, including Plaintiff's cell, and a homemade weapon was recovered in a cell near Plaintiff's. Id. All of the inmates involved in the use of force received medical attention and were permitted to shower before returning to their cells. Id. at 7. Plaintiff was not listed among the use of force reports as an inmate involved in the incident. Id. at 4-5.

         During the time Plaintiff was housed on Housing Unit 4, the Warden's office received three letters from Plaintiff, none of which concerned the sealed windows or ventilation. ECF No. 19-4 ¶ 4. Additionally, while housed at WCI, Plaintiff filed two ARPs to the Warden. ECF No. 19-6 ¶ 3. Neither involved Plaintiff's window being sealed or Plaintiff experiencing any health problems due to the window being sealed. Id.

         II. Discussion

         Defendant styles his motion as a Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment. When deciding a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the Court considers only the facts in the complaint or “integral to the complaint.” Sec'y of State for Defense v. Trimble Navigation Ltd., 484 F.3d 700, 705 (4th Cir. 2007). However, Rule 12(d) requires courts to treat a motion to dismiss as a motion for summary judgment when the court considers matter outside the pleadings. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d). Before converting a motion to dismiss to one for summary judgment, courts must give the nonmoving party “a reasonable opportunity to present all the material that is pertinent to the motion.” Id. Consistent with this rule, the nonmoving party must have some indication that the court will treat the motion to dismiss as a motion for summary judgment and “must be afforded a reasonable opportunity for discovery” if it is essential to the nonmoving party's ability to oppose the motion. Gay v. Wall, 761 F.2d 175, 177 (4th Cir. 1985) (citation omitted).

         It is obvious when the moving party styles its motion as a “Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment, ” as is the case here, that the Court may treat the motion as one for summary judgment. See Laughlin v. Metropolitan Wash. Airports Auth., 149 F.2d 253, 260-61 (4th Cir.1998). To show that a reasonable opportunity for discovery has not been afforded, the nonmoving party must file an affidavit or declaration under Rule 56(d) explaining why “for specified reasons, it cannot present facts essential to justify its opposition, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(d), or otherwise put the district court on notice of the reasons why summary judgment is premature, see Harrods Ltd. v. Sixty Internet Domain Names, 302 F.3d 214, 244-45 (4th Cir. 2002). ...

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