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Ireland v. Moyer

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

March 22, 2019

ROBERT LAMONT IRELAND, Plaintiff
v.
STEPHEN T. MOYER, et al., Defendants

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          GEORGE J. HAZEL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         In response to the above-entitled civil rights complaint, Defendants Stephen T. Moyer, Kathleen Green, Dayena Corcoran, Patricia Goins-Johnson, Phillip Morgan, Mark J. Carter, Gregg Hershberger, Walter Holmes, Sergeant Roger Moore, CO II Christopher Richardson, Hearing Officer Scott Rowe, Officer Mark Schoenfelder, Stacy A. Huffman, Patricia A. Vale, and Faye Bergen[1] filed a Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment. ECF No. 14. Plaintiff has responded (ECF No. 18) and Defendants have replied.[2] ECF No. 20. The Court finds a hearing in this matter unnecessary. See Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons that follow, Defendants' motion shall be construed as a Motion for Summary Judgment and shall be granted in part and denied in part.

         I. BACKGROUND[3]

         A. Plaintiff's Allegations of Assault and Retaliation

         Plaintiff Robert Lamont Ireland, a former state inmate, alleges that on October 23, 2014, while confined at the Eastern Correctional Institution (ECI), he was assaulted without justification by Officers Carter, Schoenfelder, and Huffman. ECF No. 1 at. 4.[4] He alleges that Huffman used a chemical agent on him and that he was denied adequate medical care. Id. After he complained about the assault, he alleges he was retaliated against by correctional staff. Id.

         In his verified opposition response, Plaintiff clarifies and explains his claims. He alleges that Officer Schoenfelder came on C-tier stating that he smelled smoke, and that he was tired of smelling smoke on C-tier and in the rec hall. Plaintiff alleges that Officer Schoenfelder then intentionally disbursed two bursts of pepper spray onto the tier and rec hall and began to laugh. ECF 18-1 at 2. Officer Huffman also allegedly dispensed pepper spray on C-tier and then ran off laughing. Id. Richardson then called the control center to have the fans turned on in order to spread the pepper spray around. Id. Plaintiff began to choke, gag, and cough as he was exposed to the spray. Id. He vomited on himself and when he asked Richardson for assistance, Officer Richardson allegedly mocked and laughed at him. Id. When Officer Williams was notified, he arranged for Plaintiff to go to the medical department at 10:10 p.m., but refused to notify supervisors or shift commanders of the incident. Id.

         Plaintiff states that it took 25-30 minutes to be seen by medical, and that he was not properly treated or cared for in the medical department. ECF 18-1 at 2. He claims that he remained in the medical department because his blood pressure was elevated but that he was never treated for pepper-spray exposure because custody staff interfered with his medical treatment by falsely telling medical staff that he had not been exposed to pepper spray and that the pepper spray was only accidentally discharged. ECF 18-1 at 3.

         As a result of the pepper-spray incident, on October 28, 2014, Plaintiff filed an administrative remedy procedure (“ARP”) ECI 1849-14 alleging that Schoenfelder and Huffman intentionally discharged pepper spray on C tier and that he was denied medical care for pepper spray exposure. ECF 18-1 at 3; ECF 18-2 at 2-4. The Warden dismissed the ARP, indicating that there was no documentation that Schoenfelder and Huffman intentionally discharged the pepper spray and, to the contrary, documentation showed Huffman accidently discharged the spray. Id. The dismissal also noted that Plaintiff had been seen and treated by medical for secondary exposure to pepper spray. ECF 18-2 at 2.

         Plaintiff filed an appeal to the Commissioner. ECF No. 18-2 at 5. In the appeal, Plaintiff noted that there were a number of inmate witnesses who had not been interviewed and also indicated that Officer Schoenfelder had lied about his name during the incident. Id. at 6. He also alleged that Lt. Bergen failed to properly investigate his ARP complaint by not notifying the Internal Investigation Unit that a complaint of excessive force had been made against staff, failing to review the rec hall camera, and failing to interview witnesses. Id. On February 18, 2015, the appeal was denied. Id. at 8.

         Prior to receiving the Commissioner's denial of his appeal, Plaintiff filed an appeal, on February 9, 2015, to the Inmate Grievance Office (“IGO”). ECF No. 18-2 at 9. On March 4, 2015, Plaintiff filed a second appeal to the IGO. Id. at 10. On April 7, 2015, the IGO dismissed the grievance, finding it lacking in merit. Id. at 22. On May 15, 2015, the IGO declined to reconsider the dismissal of Plaintiff's grievance. Id. at 23.

         Plaintiff's allegations were ultimately forwarded to the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS)-Intelligence Investigative Division (IID) for investigation. ECF No. 18-3 at 4. IID determined that Plaintiff's allegations did not meet the requirements for investigation by their office. Id. at 6.

         Plaintiff alleges that when staff became aware of the ARP, he was “continuously bombarded with fabricated/false disciplinary/reports/shake-downs/harassed/threatened/retaliated /reprisals by ECI staff officials and supervisory staff until [he was transferred in February or March of 2015].” ECF 18-1 at 3.

         As an example of the retaliation, Plaintiff explains that on December 12, 2014, Schoenfelder wrote a false disciplinary report against him and on January 8, 2015, after a hearing before Hearing Officer Rowe, he was placed on disciplinary segregation for 180 days. Id. at 3-4. He also lost diminution of confinement credits as well as telephone and visitation privileges. Id. Plaintiff's appeal of the disciplinary decision was denied by the Warden. Id. at 4. Plaintiff was scheduled for a parole hearing on May 4, 2015 but was denied parole due to the number of inmate rule infractions he had recently received. ECF 18-1 at 5; ECF 18-4 at 6.

         Ultimately, on May 21, 2015, Patricia Goins-Johnson, Executive Director of Field Support for DPSCS, sent a Memorandum to Warden Phillip Morgan at the Maryland Correctional Training Center (MCTC), where Plaintiff was then housed. ECF 18-4 at 2. The memo vacated Plaintiff's conviction and sanctions and ordered a new hearing in front of a new Hearing Officer. Id. The memo explained that on December 12, 2014, Plaintiff was charged by Schoenfelder with violating rules 100 (engage in disruptive act), 104 (use intimidating, coercive, or threatening language), and 405 (disrespect or vulgar language). Id. A hearing was held before Hearing Officer Rowe on January 8, 2015, and Plaintiff was found guilty of violating rules 104 and 405. Id. At the hearing, Plaintiff submitted evidence that he contacted the Somerset County State's Attorney's Office regarding his claim that Schoenfelder had used excessive force against him on October 23, 2014, in the pepper spray incident which was forwarded to IID and then to the Warden at ECI. Id. Plaintiff alleged that when Schoenfelder became aware of these complaints, he engaged in a course of harassment toward Plaintiff. Id. Rowe advised Plaintiff that he would only consider evidence regarding the date of the alleged rule infraction. Id. Additionally, Plaintiff timely requested inmate Anthony Webb and Lt. Bergen appear as witnesses as they were aware of instances of retaliation and harassment by Schoenfelder. Id. Hearing Officer Rowe did not allow the witnesses to testify because they were not witnesses to the events giving rise to the rule infraction. Id. In concluding the vacatur of the conviction and sanctions was proper, the memo concluded that Plaintiff's proposed defense and witness testimony should have been considered. ECF No. 18-4 at 3.

         On June 22, 2015, Plaintiff's remand hearing was held before Hearing Officer Sipes and he was found not guilty of all rule violations. ECF 18-1 at 5. The written explanation of the finding stated:

The HO finds the testimony of Ireland persuasive. HO reviewed the letter written to the states attorney a month prior to the infraction being written. There was supervisory staff that was aware of the harassment taking place. HO finds it likely there was retaliation and harassment taking place by the reporting CO. HO finds inmate not guilty of rules charged.

ECF 18-4 at 4.

         Plaintiff filed ARP MCTC-0687-15 on June 22, 2015, detailing alleged misconduct by Schoenfelder. ECF 18-1 at 5; ECF 18-4 at 8. The ARP was dismissed with an indication that the matters alleged were being investigated by the IID. ECF 18-4 at 8.

         B. Defendants' Response

         Defendants dispute Plaintiff's account of the pepper spray incident and the subsequent allegations of retaliation. On October 23, 2014, Kathleen Green was the Warden of ECI and Officers Huffman, Richardson, Schoenfelder, and Williams were assigned to Housing Unit 3 at ECI. ECF No. 14-3, ¶ 1 (Huffman Decl.); ECF No. 14-4, ¶ 1 (Richardson Decl.); ECF No. 14-5, ¶ 1 (Schoenfelder Decl.); ECF No. 14-6, ¶ 1 (Williams Decl.); ECF No. 14-8. ¶ 1. Defendants claim that at approximately 9:50 p.m., as Huffman approached the bathroom door in Housing Unit 3 to unlock the door, she dropped her keys. ECF 14-3, ¶ 3. As she bent down to pick up the key her arm pushed the trigger of her “MK-9 pepper spray unit and dispersed approximately 1-2 seconds of spray.” Id. The unit was missing its pin which prevented accidental discharges. Id. She had been previously instructed not to replace the pin with a makeshift pin. ECF 14-3 at 3 (Huffman Matter of Record prepared in response to Plaintiff's ARP). Huffman reported the incident and she and Schoenfelder cleaned up the spray. ECF 14-3, ¶ 3; ECF 14-5 at 3 (Schoenfelder Matter of Record prepared in response to Plaintiff's ARP); ECF 14-6 at 3 (Williams Matter of Record prepared in response to Plaintiff's ARP).

         As part of the cleaning process, the front door was opened, and the fan turned on to clear the spray. ECF 14-6 at 3. Huffman then made rounds on the tier to make sure none of the inmates were affected by the smell of the pepper spray. ECF 14-3, ¶ 3. Williams also reported to C-tier and called the medical department to report that there had been an accidental discharge of pepper spray and two inmates needed to be seen. ECF 14-6, p. 3. Inmates who reported they smelled the spray were sent ...


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