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Bryant-EL v. Rose

United States District Court, D. Maryland

March 27, 2019

CORTNEY BRYANT-EL Plaintiff
v.
MARY JANE ROSE, DONALD BENNETT, KD, Defendants

          MEMORANDUM

          CATHERINE C. BLAKE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Cortney Bryant-El is an inmate at the North Branch Correctional Institution (NBCI) in Cumberland, Maryland, who is proceeding as a self-represented plaintiff in this civil rights action filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He alleges that defendants violated his rights under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and under unspecified Maryland state law. Complaint, ECF 1. Defendants Mary Jane Rose and Donald Bennett, [1] via their counsel, filed a Motion to Dismiss or Motion for Summary Judgment. ECF 15. Bryant-El filed an opposition supported by his declaration. ECF 19, 19-3. Defendants filed a Reply with a declaration. ECF 20, 20-1. The case is ripe for disposition, and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2018). For reasons discussed below, defendants' Motion to Dismiss or for Summary Judgment will be granted.

         BACKGROUND

         In his complaint, Bryant-El alleges that his rights under the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution were violated because his mail has been delayed or dented to him on several occasions. ECF 2 at pp. 2-3. Specifically, he states that he paid $150.00 to Ms. Carolyn Flores, the owner of ConPals.com, to create an internet webpage profile for him. Id. at p. 3. On February 23, 2017 and March 6, 2017, Flores sent two pictures to him at NBCI through the United States Postal Service by first class mail. Id. Bryant-El states that he never received the pictures. Id. Flores then mailed the pictures a third time, this time posting them by certified mail, and Bryant-EI received them on April 28, 2017. Id; see also Flores email, ECF 15-2 at p. 3.

         Bryant-EI also alleges that two photos sent by his cousin Javon Beasley were being withheld because they contained nudity. Id. at p. 6. Bryant-El states he received notice about two explicit photographs from someone who works in the mailroom who identified him or herself as "KD." Id. Bryant-El also alleges in the Complaint that Captain Werner informed him that there were sixteen other photos and one letter, all from Javon Beasley, that had been withheld for approximately one month and eighteen days. Id. Bryant-El states that he received no explanation for the delay in giving him the letter and sixteen photographs. Id. Werner denies telling Bryant-El about the additional sixteen pictures and one letter withheld from him. ECF 20-1 at 1. ECF 20- 1 at ¶5.

         Bryant-El argues there was no penological reason for not forwarding him the mail with the two pictures sent to him by Flores. On May 13, 2017, he filed an administrative remedy procedure (ARP) request, asserting that he was not receiving his mail and that he believed some of his mail was returned without his knowledge. ARP NBCI-1093-17, ECF 15-2 at p. 1. Captain Werner[2]investigated the complaint and interviewed Bryant-El. ECF 15-2 at p. 5. Bryant-El claims that it was during this interview that Werner told him that Mary Jane Rose and Donald Bennett were primarily responsible for handling the mail. ECF 1 at pp. 5-6.

         Bryant-El is suing defendants in their individual and official capacities.: Id. at p. 7. He claims Rose and Bennett violated his First Amendment rights by not forwarding his mail to him. Id. at p. 4. He claims that Rose, the mail room supervisor and Bennett, a mail room employee, violated his right sunder the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by failing to follow departmental regulations. Id. at 4-5, 7. As relief, he seeks "defendant Bennett. Five Thousand Dollars punitive damages and Five Thousand Dollars Compensatory damages against Defendant KD." Id. at p. 7.[3] Bryant-El's complaint is unverified.

         In response to Bryant-El's complaint, the defendants filed their motion to dismiss or for summary judgment. ECF 15. They attached documents related to Werner's investigation of Bryant-El's ARP complaint, including documentation of Werner interviewing Bryant-El, contacting mailroom staff, and reviewing the ConPals correspondence. ECF 15-2 at pp. 5-6. After completing the inquiry, Werner recommended dismissing the ARP. ECF 15-1 at p. 3. Werner concluded that Bryant-El could provide no tangible evidence to substantiate his claim beyond correspondence from ConPals. ECF 15-2 at p. 6. Werner determined that the letter did not provide any "factual physical evidence beyond the author making the alleged claim." Id. He noted that the facility had "two pieces of tangible evidence" in the form of "Notices to Withhold Mail" that corroborated mailroom compliance with institutional mail policy. Id. Werner also contacted the mailroom to confirm there were no other records of holds for Bryant-El on file. ECF 15-2 at pp. 6, 7; see also Werner Aff. ECF 20-1 at ¶ 5.

         Based on these findings, the institutional ARP Coordinator determined that Bryant-El's ARP was without merit, and dismissed it on June 2, 2017 in accordance with DCD-185-001, ECF 15-2 at p. 1, and informed him:

[Y]ou claim that your incoming mail was returned or withheld without your knowledge and/or permission. While you offer a letter from CONPALS Inmate Connections. com as proof, no tangible evidence exists beyond that letter of allegation to substantiate your claim. Mail is handled in accordance with OPS.250.0'001 and NBCI.250.0001 with the facility having two (2) pieces of tangible documented evidence, dated 2/3/17 and 5/22/17, to support that existing policy is being followed.

ECF 15-2 at p. 6.

         The Division of Correction's inmate mail policy is to "permit an inmate to correspond with family, friends, officials, and other significant community contacts with a minimum of interference and consistent with the legitimate security needs of a correctional or detention facility.". Executive Directive OPS.250.0001.03(A) ECF 15-3 at p. 1. The record shows Bryant-El received two notices that his mail had been withheld. The first, dated February 3, 2017, reflects that two sexually explicit photos were withheld pursuant to OPS.250.0001, 05(C)(3)(b)(vi), ECF 15-2 at p. 8, which states that "[m]ail room staff shall inspect all incoming inmate mail, regardless of form to ensure the mail... [d]oes not.'.. [d]epict or contain sexually explicit material, nudity, or obscenities[, ]" ECF 15-3 at p. 4. A second notice, dated May 22, 2017, shows that a page written in magic marker was withheld pursuant to OPS.250.0001.05(C)(3)(b)(ii), ECF 15-2 at p. 9, which states that "[m]ail room staff shall inspect all incoming inmate mail, regardless of form to ensure the mail. .. [d]oes not. .. [h]ave after market alterations, such as paint, crayon, marker ink, glitter, cloth, or string[, ]" ECF 15-3 at p. 4.

         In the declaration attached to his opposition, Bryant-El asks for discovery to obtain testimony from Captain Werner about the letter and 16 pictures purportedly withheld for one month and eighteen days, procedural information about mail collection at NBCI, and similar complaints written by other prisoners to show a systematic ongoing failure by defendants to comply with the Constitution. ECF 19-3 at p. 2. In this district, discovery may not commence unless ordered by the Court, the parties agree, or a Scheduling Order has been issued. See ...


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