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Tarpley v. Zeigler

United States District Court, D. Maryland

March 29, 2019

STEVEN TARPLEY, Plaintiff,
v.
J. MICHAEL ZEIGLER, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          George L. Russell, III United States District Judge

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendants[1] J. Michael Zeigler, Frank B. Bishop, Jr., Jeffrey A. Nines, Joseph Cutter, Jr., Michael O'Haver, [2] Dayena Corcoran, William S. Bohrer, and Joshua Vanskiver's Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment (“Defendants' Motion”) (ECF No. 29), [3] and Plaintiff Steven Tarpley's Motion for Preliminary Injunction (ECF No. 15), Motion for Joinder of Parties (ECF No. 32), [4] and Motion for Leave to Supplement Complaint and Joinder of Additional Parties (“Motion to Supplement”) (ECF No. 35).[5] This action arises from a series of incidents during Tarpley's sentence at the North Branch Correctional Institution (“NBCI”) and the punishments he received related to them. The Motions are ripe for disposition, and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D.Md. 2018). For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant the Defendants' Motion. The Court will deny as moot Tarpley's Motion for Preliminary Injunction and his Motion for Joinder, and grant his Motion to Supplement.

         I.BACKGROUND[6]

         A. February 6, 2016 Incident and Subsequent Discipline

         On February 6, 2016, an NBCI prison officer, later identified as Defendant William L. Thomas, found a document in a dayroom of NBCI's Housing Unit 2 that celebrated the January 29, 2016 assaults on several NBCI correctional officers and encouraged continued assaults on officers. (Am. Compl. ¶ 15, ECF No. 5; id. Ex. 1 at 1, ECF No. 5-1; Suppl. At 3, ECF 35-1). The document also advised inmates that, if they needed help writing complaints about staff, they should see “Steve” in Cell 10. (Defs.' Mot. Dismiss Alter. Summ. J. [Defs.' Mot.”] Ex. 2 [“Feb. 6, 2016 Incident Case File”] at 34-35, ECF No. 29-6). A subsequent search of Tarpley's property produced a drawing of multiple tombstones with “R.I.P.” and staff members' job title numbers on them. (Am. Compl. ¶ 15). The drawing also depicted a mushroom cloud with the words, “How do you spell relief?” and “The North Branch Redemption Project” written inside the cloud. (Feb. 6, 2016 Incident Case File at 14). Tarpley was charged with violating Rule 100 (prohibiting inmates from engaging in a disruptive act) and Rule 104 (prohibiting the use of intimidating, coercive, or threatening language). (Am. Compl. ¶ 15; Feb. 6, 2016 Incident Case File at 2).

         On February 23, 2016, Defendant Hearing Officer David Sipes held a prison disciplinary hearing concerning the charges. (Am. Compl. ¶ 15). At the hearing, Tarpley pleaded not guilty. (Id.). Tarpley argued the infraction should be dismissed because the notice he asked his cellmate to put up in the dayroom did not cause a disturbance and because the drawing was “just art.” (Feb. 6, 2016 Incident Case File at 10).

         Sipes concluded that both the drawing found in Tarpley's cell and the letter Tarpley admitted writing that praised assaults on correctional officers were intimidating and found Tarpley guilty of violating Rule 104. (Am. Compl. ¶ 15; Feb. 6, 2016 Incident Case File at 11). Sipes found Tarpley not guilty of Rule 100 because the text on the “notice” did not encourage a disturbance; rather, the directive was to write letters and file ARPs. (Am. Compl. ¶ 15; Feb. 6, 2016 Incident Case File at 11). Sipes imposed sanctions of ninety days' segregation, revoked 200 good-conduct credits, and suspended Tarpley's visits for 150 days. (Am. Compl. ¶ 15; Feb. 6, 2016 Incident Case File at 11).

         Tarpley appealed Sipes' decision to Warden Bishop, arguing that the decision violated Tarpley's procedural and substantive due process rights, that enforcement of the rule in this case was arbitrary. (Am. Compl. ¶ 16). On March 22, 2016, Bishop affirmed the guilty finding. (Id. Ex. 2 at 1, ECF No. 5-2).

         B. May 21, 2017 Incident and Subsequent Discipline

         On May 21, 2017, Officer O'Haver stopped Tarpley on an NBCI walkway and searched an envelope Tarpley was carrying. (Am. Compl. ¶ 19). The envelope contained another inmate's trial transcripts. (Id.). Tarpley was providing legal assistance to his fellow inmate “free of charge, ” as permitted by Division of Corrections. (Id.). According to the 2015 NBCI Inmate Handbook, “it is the policy of the DPSCS not to interfere with, or in any way hamper an individual's access to the judicial process.” (Id.). Still, O'Haver confiscated the transcript Tarpley was carrying and, after Tarpley asked for O'Haver's name, ordered Tarpley into a holding cell where he was strip-searched. (Id.).

         O'Haver then issued Tarpley a Notice of Rule Violation, charging him with violating Rule 309 (prohibiting stealing or possessing the property of another person identified as stolen) and Rule 405 (prohibiting demonstration of disrespect or use of vulgar language). (Id.; Defs.' Mot. Ex. 5 [“May 21, 2017 Incident Case File”] at 1, ECF No. 29-10). Tarpley told O'Haver the transcript was not stolen; O'Haver said Tarpley should not have asked for his name. (Am. Compl. ¶ 19). Tarpley was distressed because he thought he could lose as many as 900 days of good-conduct credit. (Id.). Further, his confinement to segregation deprived him of “some very important recreation time” required to “stave off serious and protracted back trouble caused by the ‘inactive lifestyle' forced upon him as a result of his incarceration at NBCI.” (Id.).

         Ahead of the hearing on those charges, Tarpley's unit manager tried to convince him to accept a guilty finding in exchange for five days' cell restriction and threatened that if Tarpley put up a fight he would lose all good-conduct credit. (Id. ¶ 19). On June 15, 2017, Hearing Officer Anthony Bryant presided over a hearing concerning O'Haver's Notice of Rule Violation, and Tarpley lost no good-conduct credits. (Id. ¶ 19).

         C. July 17 & July 19, 2017 Incidents and Subsequent Discipline

         On July 17, 2017, an anonymous note was found hanging in the recreation hall for Housing Unit 3 calling for inmates to unite against Holly Pierce, a nurse at NBCI. (Defs.' Mot. Ex. 8 [“July 2017 Incident Case File”] at 2-3, ECF No. 29-13). The note referred to Pierce as an “evil minded power tripping bitch, ” a “disreputable slut, ” and a “malevolent slut, ” and accused her of prescribing unauthorized medications without regard to preexisting conditions. (Id. at 3-4). The note encourages inmates to contact the Executive Director of the Maryland Board of Nursing to complain about her actions and to ask “Steve in cell B-1” “if you need help pushing that pen.” (Id. at 4). Shift Commander Cutter's investigation included comparing the handwriting in the note found with known handwriting by Tarpley. (Cutter Decl. at 2, ECF No. 29-14).

         On July 19, 2017, prison authorities summoned Tarpley via the public-address system from the South Yard of NBCI to the gate to be handcuffed. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 20- 21). Officers escorted Tarpley to a holding cell while they inventoried his property. (Id. ¶ 21). Cutter then charged Tarpley with violating Rule 100 (disruptive act), Rule 104 (use of intimidating, coercive, or threatening language), and Rule 405 (demonstrate or use vulgar language). (Id. ¶ 20; Cutter Decl. at 2). Tarpley states he never saw the documents that apparently formed the basis of the charges. (Id. ¶ 22). While other inmates who arrived after Tarpley received hearings and were released from segregation, Tarpley sat in disciplinary segregation for thirty-two days before receiving a hearing. (Id. ¶¶ 20, 22).

         On August 22, 2017, Sipes presided over a hearing concerning the charges. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 22). Tarpley argued that the charges should be dismissed due to Cutter's lack of personal knowledge of the allegations. (Id.). Sipes concluded that “rules No. 100 and 104 were not supported by the record.” (Id.). When Tarpley denied being the author of the document upon which the disrespect charge was based, Sipes shook a copy of “some other paper, ” and described it as “documentation at the highest level, ” explaining that Zeigler emailed it to him for purposes of the hearing. (Id.). Sipes did not allow Tarpley to read the documents but insisted one was a letter that constituted a threat. (Id.). Sipes then stated that if Tarpley did not agree to an informal resolution and plead guilty to Rule 405 for disrespecting Holly Pierce, Sipes would convict him of the use of coercive, intimidating, or threatening language charge and revoke all of his good-conduct credit. (Id.). Tarpley accepted an informal resolution and received a thirty-day cell restriction; he was released from segregation the following day and lost no good-conduct credits. (Id.; Defs.' Mot. Ex. 10 [“Aug. 22, 2017 Hearing Records”] at 6, ECF No. 29-15).

         D. August 23, 2017 Incident and Subsequent Discipline

         On August 23, 2017, Officer Joshua VanSkiver escorted Tarpley to cell 3-A-25 following “some sort of mass disturbance” requiring a security lockdown of the housing unit. (Am. Compl. ¶ 24). Tarpley entered the cell and sat down, but VanSkiver ordered Tarpley to stand up so that his handcuffs could be removed and an inmate worker could put Tarpley's property in the cell. (Id. ¶ 25). VanSkiver removed the chair from Tarpley's cell, telling him it was broken and “did not belong there anyway, ” and promised Tarpley he would get another one to replace it. (Id.) VanSkiver knew Tarpley had back problems but did not replace Tarpley's chair. (Id.).

         Four days later, when Tarpley reminded Vanskiver about the chair, Vanskiver said he forgot and asked Tarpley to keep reminding him. (Id. ¶ 26). Concluding Vanskiver did not intend to replace the chair, Tarpley drafted an Administrative Remedy Procedure (“ARP”) complaint and placed it in his cell door for pick-up. (Id.). VanSkiver became irate and began “shrieking” that his name was “Officer VanSkiver, not Joshua VanSkiver.” (Id.). According to VanSkiver, Tarpley yelled vulgarities and threatening statements at him. (VanSkiver Decl. at 2, ECF No. 29-18). Shortly thereafter, two officers escorted Tarpley to segregation. (Am. Compl. ¶ 26). VanSkiver then wrote a Notice of Infraction charging Tarpley with violating Rule 104 (intimidating, coercive, or threatening language) and Rule 312 (interfering with or resisting the performance of staff duties). (Defs. Mot. Ex. 19 [Aug. 26, 2017 Hearing Record”] at 4, ECF 29-19).

         Tarpley requested Sipes recuse himself from hearing the charges regarding VanSkiver, based on the “threats” he made at the August 22, 2017 hearing, but Sipes denied the motion. (Am. Compl. ¶ 27). Sipes also denied Tarpley's request for a continuance. (Id.). At the hearing Tarpley argued in part that if he said, “fuck you, I will kill you if I want, ” it was not a threat. (Aug. 26, 2017 Hearing Record at 10). After reviewing the housing unit video and listening to testimony, Sipes found Tarpley guilty of the Rule 104 violation. (Id.). Sipes found Tarpley not guilty of the Rule 312 violation. (Id.). As a penalty, Sipes imposed 270 days of segregation and revoked 120 days of good conduct credit. (Id. at 11).

         According to Tarpley, Sipes “obfuscated the absence of the evidence” Tarpley requested by considering a later ARP rather than the one Tarpley wrote on the day of the VanSkiver incident. (Am. Compl. ¶ 27). Tarpley tried to appeal Sipes's decision, but Security Chief Bohrer said that the appeal had not been received. (Id.).

         E. Lawsuit

         In his seven-count Amended Complaint, as supplemented, Tarpley alleges: “denial of due process, denial of adequate, timely, and effective remedy for wrongful conviction and deprivation of 200 good conduct credits” against Sipes and Thomas (Count I); denial of due process and “refusal of impartial hearing officer” against Sipes (Count II); “retaliation/harassment, denial of due process/willful knowing and malicious filing of false report; false disciplinary charges” against Cutter, O'Haver, Sipes, Mellott, and Thomas (Count III); “conspiracy to retaliate, retaliation, denial of due process, denial of timely, meaningful, and adequate appellate review” against VanSkiver, Cutter, Bohrer, Nines, and Bishop (Count IV); “failure to supervise, govern, and discipline custody staff at [NBCI]” against Mellott, Cutter, Bohrer, Nines, and Bishop (Count V); “failure to supervise, govern, and discipline the operation of the Department of Correction and its staff, denial of due process” against Zeigler and Corcoran (Count VI); “intentional infliction of emotional distress, denial of due process, Eighth Amend, cruel and unusual punishment” against VanSkiver, O'Haver, Cutter, Sipes, and Thomas (Count VII). (Am. Compl. at 16-17). Tarpley brings all of his federal constitutional claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (2018). (Id. ¶ 1). Tarpley brings claims under the Maryland Declaration of Rights against Thomas. (Pl.'s Mot. Suppl. 3-4, ECF No. 35). Tarpley seeks compensatory and punitive damages. (Am. Compl. at 17-20).

         On July 26, 2018, Defendants filed their Motion to Dismiss or, in the alternative, for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 29). To date, the Court has no record Tarpley filed an Opposition. On August 16, 2018, Tarpley filed a “Line, ” (ECF No. 31), asking whether his Motion for Exten[s]ion of Time to Obtain Discovery” had been received. That same day, he filed a Motion for Joinder of Parties, (ECF No. 32). On October 1, 2018, Tarpley filed a “Line Request, ” in part, asking whether the Court received a “Rule 56(d) motion mailed August 2, 2018.” (ECF No. 34). On October 9, 2018, Tarpley filed a Motion for Leave to Supplement Complaint and Joinder of Additional Parties. (ECF No. 35). On October 22, 2018, Tarpley requested a case summary and informed the Court that he is no longer incarcerated. (ECF No. 36).

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Motion for ...


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