United States District Court, D. Maryland
Richard D. Bennett United States District Judge
these consolidated cases, nine blind or visually impaired
inmates formerly or presently housed in correctional
facilities maintained by the Maryland Department of Public
Safety and Correctional Services have challenged the
conditions of their confinement. (Consolidation Order, ECF
No. 2.) Together, Plaintiffs Steven Brown
(“Brown”), Wilbert M. Delano
(“Delano”), Gregory Hammond
(“Hammond”), Sedric Holley
(“Holley”), Russell Hopkins
(“Hopkins”), Johnny James (“James”),
Tyrell Polley (“Polley”), Maynard Snead
(“Snead”), and Robert Wilson
“Plaintiffs”) allege that Defendants Department
of Public Safety and Correctional Services (the
“Department”), Dayena Corcoran
(“Corcoran”), Richard Miller
(“Miller”), and Stephen Moyer
(“Moyer”) have deprived them of their right to
access the courts, subjected them to cruel and unusual
punishment, and discriminated against them on the basis of
their disabilities. Their Amended Complaint (ECF No. 23)
brings two Counts pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Counts I
and II), a third Count under the Americans with Disabilities
Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101, et
seq. (Count III), and a fourth Count invoking Section
504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794 (Count
pending before this Court are Defendants' Motion to
Dismiss (ECF No. 100); Plaintiffs' Motion for Partial
Summary Judgment (ECF No. 172); Defendants' Motion for
Summary Judgment (ECF No. 178); Plaintiffs' Motion for
Leave to File a Surreply (ECF No. 207); and Plaintiffs'
Motion for Substitution or for Judicial Notice of
Substitution under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 25(d) (ECF
No. 208). On April 24, 2019 this Court conducted a Motions
Hearing and heard argument on the pending motions.
See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2018). For the reasons
stated below, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 100)
is DENIED AS MOOT; Plaintiffs' Motion for Partial Summary
Judgment (ECF No. 172) is DENIED; and Defendants' Motion
for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 178) is GRANTED IN PART AND
DENIED IN PART; Plaintiffs' Motion for Leave to File a
Surreply (ECF No. 207) is GRANTED; and Plaintiffs' Motion
for Substitution or for Judicial Notice of Substitution under
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 25(d) (ECF No. 208) is
GRANTED. Summary Judgment IS ENTERED in favor of all
Defendants on Counts I and II. Counts III and IV will proceed
as to the Department and Robert L. Green in his official
capacity, commencing on Monday, June 17, 2019.
ruling on the pending motions for summary judgment, this
Court reviews the facts and all reasonable inferences in the
light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Scott v.
Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378, 127 S.Ct. 1769 (2007);
see also Hardwick ex rel. Hardwick v. Heyward, 711
F.3d 426, 433 (4th Cir. 2013). Plaintiffs allege that
Defendants have subjected them to constitutional deprivations
and discriminated against them on the basis of their
disabilities. All nine Plaintiffs suffer from varying degrees
of visual impairment. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 13-21;
Ex. 1.) When Plaintiffs commenced this action by filing nine
pro se Complaints in March 2016, all Plaintiffs were
incarcerated at the Roxbury Correctional Institution
(“RCI”). Some Plaintiffs have also been housed at
other institutions like Eastern Correctional Institution
(“ECI”), Patuxent Institution, and the Maryland
Reception, Diagnostic and Classification Center
(“MRDCC”). (ECF Nos. 1, 3.) Since the filing of
this case, five Plaintiffs (Delano, Hammond, Holley, Hopkins,
and Polley) have been released.
Structure of the Department.
Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services is
overseen by the Department Secretary. (PSJ Ex. 16.) Within
the Department, the Commissioner of Correction supervises the
wardens at each prison. (PSJ Ex. B, Corcoran Dep. 46:13-20.)
Roxbury Correctional Institution (“RCI”) and
Eastern Correctional Institution (“ECI”) are
facilities within the Division of Correction, each of which
is managed by a Warden or Acting Warden. (PSJ Ex. C, Campbell
30(b)(6) Dep.; Ex. D, West 30(b)(6) Dep.)
Stephen Moyer was the Secretary of the Department since
January 2015. (DSJ Ex. 11, Moyer Dep. 18:5-16.) In this
position, he managed approximately 10, 000 employees and a
$1.4 billion budget. (Id. at 32:9-33:15.) He was
heavily involved in coordination efforts between his
Department and other Maryland political bodies and had little
involvement in the day-to-day operations at Department
facilities: his work included preparing and participating in
budgetary hearings and meetings with the Governor's
Office and the Department of Legislative Affairs, monitoring
pending bills, and meeting with other cabinet members.
(Id. at 32:2-34:5, 36:2-38:1.) On March 7, 2019,
Moyer announced his departure from state service effective at
the end of that month. (Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. 5, n.4.)
While this case was pending, Robert L. Green
(“Green”) became the Secretary of the Department
of Public Safety and Correctional Services.
Dayena Corcoran was the Commissioner of Correction for the
Department from 2016 until September 2018. (DSJ Ex. 12,
Corcoran Dep. 46:10-12, 48:2-10.) In that role, she was
responsible for implementing and enforcing Division of
Correction policies and managed the wardens. (Id. at
46:10-47:14, 99:3-20.) Defendant Richard Miller was the
Warden of RCI from April 2015 to November 2017. (DSJ Ex. 13,
Miller Dep. 25:10-16.) His job required him to manage the
operations of the entire RCI facility, including over 400
employees and 1, 800 inmates. (Id. at 57:2-58:2.)
Department contracts with the Maryland Department of Labor,
Licensing and Regulation (“Department of Labor”)
to provide educational, vocational shop, and library
programs, services, and activities at RCI and ECI. (PSJ Ex.
17; Ex. E, Reid 30(b)(6) Dep. 172:7-10, 190:4-8, 192:5-11.)
The Department also contracts or otherwise arranges with
third-party entities to provide medical services and other
programs, services, and opportunities to inmates at RCI.
(PSJ. Ex. F, Baucom 30(b)(6) Dep. 37:10- 38:9; Ex. E, Reid
30(b)(6) Dep. 291:4-292:11.)
Services Provided at RCI.
generally complain that Defendants have provided inadequate
aids and services to permit them to conduct their affairs in
prison privately and independently. Because they have been
denied adequate training or other services, they complain
that they have been forced to rely on other inmates to
complete various tasks like filing grievances and court
complaints, reading and writing correspondence, and
navigating prison facilities. They also complain that they
have been forced to share prison cells with other inmates, a
practice the parties refer to as “double-celling”
(as opposed to being celled alone, or
“single-celling”) and that they have been
excluded from various programs on the basis of their visual
impairments, including desirable jobs. The net effect of all
this, Plaintiffs complain, is that they have been rendered
vulnerable to violence and extortion at the hands of sighted
inmates and they have been denied benefits accorded to other
inmates, including additional diminution
credits. In the following pages, these grievances
are discussed in greater detail.
Housing Blind Inmates at RCI and ECI.
admit that RCI, a medium security facility, was and continues
to be the designated Department facility for blind inmates,
regardless of their security classification. (PSJ Ex. E, Reid
30(b)(6) Dep. 37:15-18; Ex. C, Campbell 30(b)(6) Dep.
29:16-17, 194:5-7, 414:18-20; Ex. K, Baker Dep.
103:21-104:14; Ex. M, Gelsinger Dep. 122:5-7; Ex. N,
Hershberger Dep. 19:14-16.) Although some inmates with visual
impairments have been housed at ECI, once an inmate's
visual impairment becomes sufficiently severe, they are sent
to RCI because ECI does not “have the accommodations
that Roxbury Correctional Institution has” for the
blind. (PSJ Ex. D, West 30(b)(6) Dep. 60:7-61:5.) With the
exception of a few days spent at other facilities, all
Plaintiffs have spent all or the majority of their
incarceration at RCI, with some Plaintiffs (Hammond and
Wilson) also housed at ECI for significant periods. (PSJ Ex.
27; Ex. 28; Ex. 29; Ex. 30; Ex. 31; Ex. 32, at 1676; Ex. 33,
at 183; Ex. 12, at 1084-85; Ex. J-78, at POLLEY 420-21; Ex.
14; Ex. 34.3.) Plaintiffs Brown, James, Snead, and Wilson
remain incarcerated at RCI. (See PSJ Ex. 35; Ex. 12,
at 1084-85; Ex. 14; Ex. D, West 30(b)(6) Dep. 44:8-20.)
Communications with Blind Inmates.
Department provides access to many of its programs,
activities, and services through reading and writing but does
not provide documents in alternative formats that blind
inmates can access independently, such as large print, audio,
Braille, or accessible electronic formats that could be
accessed on a computer with the use of a screen reader or
screen magnification software. (PSJ Ex. E, Reid 30(b)(6) Dep.
116:19-117:19, 201:11-16; Ex. C, Campbell 30(b)(6) Dep.
128:14-21; Ex. M, Gelsinger Dep. 108:11-109:18; Ex. D, West
30(b)(6) Dep. 51:15-52:15; see Ex. 19, Olivero Rpt.
6, 20-27 (discussing alternative formats for print usable by
inmates want to make a request or register a complaint, they
can use either an informal or formal grievance process, each
of which relies on the submission of a print form. The
informal request process depends on submission of an informal
complaint form or another written document. (PSJ Ex. C,
Campbell 30(b)(6) Dep. 99:21-100:11; Ex. D, West 30(b)(6)
Dep. 50:21-51:14.) That form is not available in any
alternative formats. (PSJ Ex. E, Reid 30(b)(6) Dep.
116:15-117:19; Ex. D, West 30(b)(6) Dep. 51:15-52:15.) The
formal complaint process, known as the administrative remedy
procedure (“ARP”), requires use of a print form
that is not available in large print or any other accessible
format. See Ex. E, Reid 30(b)(6) Dep. at 201:11-16 (stating
that the ARP form is not available in large print and that
“we are not allowed to manipulate forms”).
undisputed that no staff are explicitly assigned to act as
readers and scribes for visually impaired inmates. The RCI
Inmate Handbooks and Department of Public Safety and
Correctional Services and Department of Corrections
Directives make no mention of any staff position or inmate
assignment to provide these services, but the case management
manual does specify that “case managers are to assist
inmates as required or as requested.” (PSJ Ex. C,
Campbell 30(b)(6) Dep. 122:2-8; E-94; Ex. G-102; Ex. D-124;
Ex. I-3.) Former RCI Warden Gregg Hershberger and former
Commissioner Dayena Corcoran described staff assistance to
blind inmates as voluntary. (PSJ Ex. B, Corcoran Dep.
94:9-95:9; see Ex. N, Hershberger Dep. 88:3-9.)
assign sighted inmates as escorts, or “walkers, ”
for blind inmates to help them navigate the prison. (PSJ Ex.
49, The Department's Supp. Answers Delano Interrog. No. 8
(Mar. 13, 2019)). Inmate escort is a “preferred”
job, the criteria for which are that the inmate be housed at
RCI and off disciplinary segregation a certain number of
days. (PSJ Ex. E-94, at S BROWN 140-141; Ex. E, Reid 30(b)(6)
Dep. 214:13-215:17.) Sex offenders were permitted to be
walkers until 2018. (PSJ Ex. E, Reid 30(b)(6) Dep.
214:18-215:3; see Ex. E-5, at BROWN 3101-02; Ex.
E-94, at S BROWN 140-41.) Defendants choose the inmates who
serve as escorts without input from blind inmates. (PSJ Ex.
K, Baker Dep. 147:20-148:3.) The former lieutenant for the
housing unit containing the tier for blind inmates claimed to
instruct his tier officers how to train walkers, and that the
tier officers were tasked with training walkers. (Ex. A,
Franklin Dep. 40:6-41:17.) Nevertheless, there is conflicting
evidence of this topic: the former tier officer for the blind
tier denied any such training existed (Ex. L, Conrad 20:4-6),
as did Defendant's designee (Ex. E, Reid Dep.
223:14-224:12), and a former walker (Ex. U, Willey Dep.
disputed whether inmate walkers are responsible for reading
and writing for blind inmates. Maureen Reid, one of the
Defendants' Rule 30(b)(6) designees,  testified that
reading and writing for blind inmates is part of walker
duties. (PSJ Ex. E, Reid 30(b)(6) Dep. 194:2-7.) Other
evidence suggests that this help was discretionary. (PSJ Ex.
U, Willey Dep. 67:10-70:18) (testimony of former walker for
Russell Hopkins indicating that reading and writing for blind
inmates was in his discretion); (PSJ Ex. 24, Job Duties for
Inmates Assigned as Walkers) (declaring that walkers
“may assist” the visually impaired inmate with
any written correspondence). There is no dispute that inmate
walkers are not required to have a GED or high school
diploma, are not tested on their ability to read and write
for inmates, and are provided no training in being a reader
or scribe. (PSJ Ex. E, Reid 30(b)(6) Dep. 215:18-216:21; Ex.
E-94, at S BROWN 140-41.)
(or “dietary” or “food service”)
assignments allow inmates at RCI to earn 10 credits off their
sentences (“diminution credits”) per month, which
can significantly reduce the length of a sentence. (PSJ Ex.
E, Reid 30(b)(6) Dep. 236:15-237:14.) Other jobs, such as
sanitation and laundry, earn only 5 credits a month. (PSJ Ex.
64.) There is evidence that Defendants excluded Plaintiffs
from kitchen jobs because they were concerned about the
safety of blind inmates operating unsupervised in a prison
kitchen. (Defs.' Resp. Ex. 21; Ex. 22, Schenck Dep.
93:16-94:2; 129:17-130:2.) In 2016, Defendants created the
“blind greeter” position within dietary, which is
reserved for a blind inmate. (Id. at 117:18-118:13,
119:4- 120:4.) The blind greeter's sole job is to greet
correctional officers as they enter the officers' dining
room and request that the officers sign a clipboard.
(Id.) After numerous requests from Mr. Delano and
Mr. Hopkins to be reassigned to the kitchen, Defendants
placed Delano in the blind greeter position on February 25,
2016, and Hopkins in the blind greeter job in July 2017. (PSJ
Ex. 68; Ex. 65; Ex. AA-151, at R HOPKINS 332-42; Ex. AA-149,
at W DELANO 65, DELANO 563, W DELANO 67-68, 74.)
all Plaintiffs were placed in double-cells at some point
during their incarcerations. Hammond was double-celled around
March 2016 (PSJ Ex. 53; 54); Delano was double-celled for
various periods beginning in October 2017, February 2018, and
again in March 2018 (PSJ Ex. 8); Brown was briefly
double-celled between December 2014 and January 2015 (PSJ Ex.
7); Wilson was double celled from September 20, 2015 to March
29, 2017 (PSJ Ex. 15); and Polley was double-celled for some
period in 2016. (PSJ Ex. 62.) The Department's own
medical contractor had recommended the assignment of a
single-cell to many of these placements, and plaintiffs have
submitted evidence to show that these recommendations were
not always followed.
March 30, 2016, this Court received ten identical pleadings
filed by an unknown prisoner seeking appointment of counsel
for nine visually impaired inmates. By Order of this Court,
these cases were consolidated on April 4, 2016. (ECF No. 2.)
The Order also granted the Plaintiffs' Motion for
appointment of counsel. On April 5, 2016 Damien Dorsey of the
Prisoner Rights Information System of Maryland
(“PRISM”) entered an appearance on behalf of the
plaintiffs. (ECF No. 4.) Plaintiffs filed an Amended
Complaint on September 7, 2016. (ECF No. 23.)
Court granted Defendants numerous extensions of time to
respond to the Amended Complaint. The deadline was extended
to December 12, 2016 (ECF No. 30); to January 27, 2017 (ECF
No. 32); to March 15, 2017 (ECF No. 34); to May 15, 2017 (ECF
No. 37); to July 17, 2017 (ECF No. 39); to September 15, 2017
(ECF No. 41); to October 16, 2017 (ECF No. 44); and to
December 15, 2017 (ECF No. 48). Defendants neither moved to
dismiss the Complaint nor filed an Answer for over two years.
Finally, on January 10, 2019, Defendants responded to the
Complaint by moving to dismiss. (ECF No. 100.) This motion
was filed in the midst of a tight discovery period set to end
on March 1, 2019 and with trial set for April 22, 2019. In
the Motion, Defendants asserted-for the first time in the
history of this litigation-that they were immune to
Plaintiffs' ADA claims. The Defendants have still not
filed an Answer to the Complaint.
March 18, 2019 Plaintiffs filed a Motion for Partial Summary
Judgment seeking judgment on some of their claims brought
pursuant to Title II of the ADA and Section 504 of the
Rehabilitation Act (Counts III and IV). (ECF No. 172.) On
March 19, 2019, Defendants filed a Motion for Summary
Judgment, seeking Judgment on all of Plaintiffs' claims.
(ECF No. 178.)
light of the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment,
Defendants' Motion to Dismiss is DENIED AS MOOT. Many of
the substantive arguments of the Motion to Dismiss are
incorporated into Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment
and are addressed herein. To the extent that Defendants
contend that Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint lacks
sufficient factual allegations, such arguments are rejected.
of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that a court
“shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that
there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the
movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). A material fact is one that “might
affect the outcome of the suit under the governing
law.” Libertarian Party of Va. v. Judd, 718
F.3d 308, 313 (4th Cir. 2013) (quoting Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). A
genuine issue over a material fact exists “if the
evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a
verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson,
477 U.S. at 248. When considering a motion for summary
judgment, a judge's function is limited to determining
whether sufficient evidence exists on a claimed factual
dispute to warrant submission of the matter for resolution at
trial. Id. at 249. Trial courts in the Fourth
Circuit have an “affirmative obligation . . . to
prevent factually unsupported claims and defenses from
proceeding to trial.” Bouchat v. Balt. Ravens
Football Club, Inc., 346 F.3d 514, 526 (4th Cir. 2003)
(quoting Drewitt v. Pratt, 999 F.2d 774, 778-79 (4th
undertaking this inquiry, this Court must consider the facts
and all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to
the nonmoving party. Libertarian Party of Va., 718
F.3d at 312; see also Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372,
378 (2007). This Court “must not weigh evidence or make
credibility determinations.” Foster v. University
of Md.-Eastern Shore, 787 F.3d 243, 248 (4th Cir. 2015)
(citing Mercantile Peninsula Bank v. French, 499
F.3d 345, 352 (4th Cir. 2007)); see also Jacobs v. N.C.
Admin. Office of the Courts, 780 F.3d 562, 569 (4th Cir.
2015) (explaining that the trial court may not make
credibility determinations at the summary judgment stage).
Indeed, it is the function of the fact-finder to resolve
factual disputes, including issues of witness credibility.
See Tolan v. Cotton, 572 U.S. 650, 656-59 (2014).
both parties file motions for summary judgment, as here, this
Court applies the same standard of review to both motions,
considering “‘each motion separately on its own
merits to determine whether either of the parties deserves
judgment as a matter of law.'” Defenders of
Wildlife v. North Carolina Dept. of Transp., 762 F.3d
374, 392 (4th Cir. 2014) (quoting Bacon v. City of
Richmond, Va., 475 F.3d 633, 638 (4th Cir. 2007)).
“[B]y the filing of a motion [for summary judgment, ] a
party concedes that no issue of fact exists under the theory
he is advancing, but he does not thereby so concede that no
issues remain in the event his adversary's theory is
adopted.” Brown v. Perez, 835 F.3d 1223, 1230
n.3 (10th Cir. 2016) (citation omitted); see also
Sherwood v. Washington Post, 871 F.2d 1144, 1148 n.4
(D.C. Cir. 1989) (“[N]either party waives the right to
a full trial on the merits by filing its own motion.”).
“However, when cross-motions for summary judgment
demonstrate a basic agreement concerning what legal theories
and material facts are dispositive, they “‘may be
probative of the non-existence of a factual dispute.”
Syncrude Canada Ltd. v. Highland Consulting Group,
Inc., 916 F.Supp.2d 620 (D. Md. 2013) (quoting Shook
v. United States, 713 F.2d 662, 665 (11th Cir. 1983));
Georgia State Conference of NAACP v. Fayette County Bd.
of Comm'rs, 775 F.3d 1336, 1345 (11th Cir. 2015).
Constitutional Claims Brought Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
1983 (Counts I and II).
Counts I and II of the Amended Complaint, Plaintiffs assert
constitutional violations under the auspices of 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983. Under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, “[e]very
person who, under color of any statute, ordinance,
regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory . . .
subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the
United States or other person with the jurisdiction thereof
to the deprivation of any rights, privileges or immunities
secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the
party injured . . . .” § 1983. Section 1983 does
not create “substantive rights”; rather, it
provides “a method for vindicating federal rights
elsewhere conferred.” Thompson v. Dorsey,
ELH-10-1364, 2011 WL 2610704, at *3 (D. Md. June 30, 2011)
(quoting Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 271, 114
S.Ct. 807 (1994)).
Count I, Plaintiffs allege that they have been denied access
to the courts in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment of the
United States Constitution. In Count II, Plaintiffs complain
that they have been subjected to serious harm and a
substantial risk of serious harm in violation of the Eighth
Amendment to the United States Constitution, as applied to
the states through the Fourteenth Amendment. Plaintiffs
assert these claims against Defendants Corcoran, Miller, and
Moyer in their individual and official capacities. They seek
compensatory damages, punitive damages, and injunctive
relief. Defendants move for Summary Judgment on these claims.
Individual and Official Capacity Claims.
advance Counts I and II against Corcoran, Miller, and Moyer
in both their individual (or personal) capacities and their
official capacities. In Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S.
159, 105 S.Ct. 3099 (1985), the Supreme Court articulated the
distinction between these two suits, explaining that
“personal capacity suits seek to impose personal
liability upon a government official for actions he takes
under color of state law. Official capacity suits, in
contrast, ‘generally represent only another way of
pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is
an agent.'” 473 U.S. at 165, 105 S.Ct. 3099 (1985)
(citations omitted). By suing Corcoran, Miller, and Moyer in
their official capacities, Plaintiffs seek to hold the
Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional
Services, and by extension the State of Maryland, liable for
violations of Section 1983. See Clark v. Maryland
Dep't of Pub. Safety & Corr. Servs., 316
Fed.Appx. 279, 282 (4th Cir. 2009) (“[T]he Maryland
Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services in
undoubtedly an arm of the state for purposes of § 1983.)
1983 only authorizes suits against “person[s].”
42 U.S.C. § 1983. In Will v. Michigan
Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 109 S.Ct. 2304
(1989), the United States Supreme Court held that neither a
State nor its officials acting in their official capacities
are “persons” who are subject to suit for money
damages under Section 1983. 491 U.S. at 71. Judge Hollander
of this Court has recently aptly noted that “[i]ndeed,
§ 1983 claims are not cognizable against states, state
agencies, or state agents acting in their official
capacities.” Graham v. Cox, ELH-18-221, 2019
WL 1427860, at *10 (D. Md. March 29, 2019). Section 1983
“creates no remedy against a state, ” such that
even a state's express waiver of sovereign immunity
cannot render it amenable to suit under Section
1983. Arizonans for Official English v.
Arizona, 520 U.S. 43, 69, 117 S.Ct. 1055, 1070 (1997);
see also Machete Prods., LLC v. Page, 809 F.3d 281,
288 (5th Cir. 2015) (explaining that state cannot be sued
under § 1983 for monetary relief even if it waives its
sovereign immunity). Accordingly, Plaintiffs may not pursue
money damages against Corcoran, Miller and Moyer in their
may pursue injunctive relief against Defendants under Section
1983, however. In Will, the Supreme Court explained
that “a state official in his or her official capacity,
when sued for injunctive relief, would be a person under
§ 1983 because ‘official-capacity actions for
prospective relief are not treated as actions against the
state.'” 491 U.S. at 58, 71 n.10, 109 S.Ct. 2304
(quoting Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 167 n.14,
105 S.Ct. 3099 (1985); see also Van Story v. Washington
Cty. Health Dep't, ELH-17-3590, 2018 WL 5830740, at
*6 (D. Md. Nov. 7, 2018) (recognizing this “exception
to the general law.”). While this case was pending,
Robert L. Green became the Secretary of the Department of
Public Safety and Correctional Services; therefore,
Plaintiffs pursue injunctive relief against Green in his
official capacity. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 25(d). In
sum, the plaintiffs are pursuing § 1983 official
capacity claims against Green for injunctive relief, and
§ 1983 individual capacity claims against Corcoran,
Miller, and Moyer for monetary relief.
Defendants are entitled to Judgment on Plaintiffs' access
to courts claims.
Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 97 S.Ct. 1491 (1977),
the Supreme Court declared that prisoners have a
constitutionally protected right to access the courts. 430
U.S. at 821, 97 S.Ct. 1491. To preserve this right, the
Supreme Court directed prison authorities to “assist
inmates in the preparation and filing of meaningful legal
papers by providing prisoners with adequate law libraries or
adequate assistance from persons trained in the law.”
Id. at 829, 97 S.Ct. 1491. The Court subsequently
clarified that Bounds did not establish a
freestanding right to a law library or legal assistance.
Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 350, 116 S.Ct. 2174
(1996). As this Court recently noted, Bounds does
not grant prisoners the “wherewithal to transform
themselves into litigating engines” pursuing any
conceivable legal claim. Moise v. Howard Cty Det.
Ctr., RDB-18-1355, 2019 WL 454101, at *5 (D. Md. Feb. 4,
2019) (quoting Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 355,
116 S.Ct. 2174 (1996)). Rather, prisoners' constitutional
rights are protected so long as they are afforded a
“reasonably adequate opportunity to file nonfrivolous
legal claims challenging their convictions or conditions of
confinement.” Lewis, 518 U.S. at 355, 116
S.Ct. 2174 (citations omitted).
prevail on access to courts claims, Plaintiffs must
demonstrate that they have suffered an “actual
injury” hindering their ability to bring legal
challenges. O'Dell v. Netherland, 112 F.3d 773,
776 (4th Cir. 1997) (quoting Lewis, 518 U.S. at 356,
116 S.Ct. 2174). Because prisoners do not possess an
“abstract, free-standing right to a law library or
legal assistance, ” this Court has previously held that
they cannot prevail by identifying a
“theoretical” defect in the prison's library
or legal assistance program. Pearson v. Simms, 345
F.Supp.2d 515, 519 (D. Md. 2003) (quoting Lewis, 518
U.S. at 351, 116 S.Ct. 2174). Simply proving that “an
institution's library is inadequate or access to that
library is restricted” will not suffice. Strickler
v. Waters, 989 F.2d 1375, 1385 (4th Cir. 1993). Rather,
Plaintiffs must demonstrate that their
“nonfrivolous” legal claims have been
“frustrated” or “impeded.”
Lewis, 518 U.S. at 353, 116 S.Ct. 2174.
establish liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, plaintiffs
must show that the defendants “acted personally”
to cause the alleged violation. See Vinnedge v.
Gibbs, 550 F.2d 926, 928 (4th Cir. 1977) (citation
omitted). Under Shaw v. Stroud, 13 F.3d 791 (4th
Cir. 1994) supervisory liability may attach under § 1983
if a plaintiff can establish three elements: (1) the
supervisor had actual or constructive knowledge that his
subordinate was engaged in conduct that posed “a
pervasive and unreasonable risk” of constitutional
injury to citizens like the plaintiff; (2) the
supervisor's response to that knowledge was so inadequate
as to show “deliberate indifference to or tacit
authorization of the alleged offensive practices”; and
(3) an “affirmative causal link” between the
supervisor's inaction and the particular constitutional
injury suffered by the plaintiff. 13 F.3d at 799 (citations
omitted). Plaintiffs may meet their “heavy burden of
proof” to show that Defendants acted with deliberate
indifference by “demonstrating a supervisor's
continued inaction in the face of documented widespread
abuses.'” Shaw, 13 F.3d at 799 (quoting
Slakan v. Porter, 737 F.2d 368, 373 (4th Cir. 1984).
Plaintiffs cannot rely on “pointing to a single
incident or isolated incidents.” Slakan, 737
F.2d at 373.
Plaintiffs have not adduced sufficient evidence to raise a
genuine dispute of material fact as to Defendants'
cannot show that Corcoran, Miller, and Moyer are liable for
any purported denial of court access. In this case, nearly
all the alleged incidents Plaintiffs invoke to support their
access-to-courts claim occurred before the Defendants were on
the job. Moyer became Secretary in 2015; Corcoran was
Commissioner from 2016 until 2018; and Miller was the Warden
at RCI from April 2015 until November 2017. No. jury may
conclude that these Defendants were “personally
involved” in actions which took place before they had
any supervisory authority over RCI. Instead, Plaintiffs are
tasked with holding these Defendants liable for the very few
purported constitutional violations occurring during their
argue that Defendants “bur[ied] their heads in the
sand” while overseeing RCI and ignored clear
indications that Plaintiffs were being deprived of their
access to the courts. Makdessi v. Fields, 789 F.3d
126, 133 (4th Cir. 2015). For this proposition, they rely in
part on Defendants' “knowledge of the present
lawsuit” and a civil Complaint Wilson filed in May
2016, alleging that he was “partially blind and
crippled, and has no help from the Institution to access the
law books.” (Pl.'s Resp. 37, ECF No. 182; Ex. 34,
WILSON 403-11.) Plaintiffs do not cite authority holding that
knowledge may be imputed from the allegations in a Complaint.
Moreover, this Court is mindful that both the Amended
Complaint in this suit and Wilson's filing neglects to
cite even a single specific instance in which Plaintiffs were
denied access to the courts. Cf. Voutour v. Vitale,
761 F.2d 812, 820 (1st Cir. 1985) (finding no supervisory
liability despite police chief's knowledge of complaints
of police brutality). Defendants cannot be charged with the
knowledge of constitutional violations merely because
Plaintiffs filed lawsuits containing vague allegations. As
Plaintiffs wholly rely on the existence of this lawsuit to
impute knowledge to Secretary Moyer, he cannot be held liable
for these claims.
Plaintiffs cite a handful of purported red flags which they
conclude put Defendants Corcoran and Miller on notice of
their claims. They note that soon after Miller became the
warden of RCI, Holley sent him a 2012 decision issued by the
Inmate Grievance Office (“IGO”) which found that
“RCI was not providing . . . library services for the
sight impaired.” (Pl.'s Resp. Ex. 1, Miller Dep.
95:8-96:1, 157:5-158:5; PSJ Ex. I-17, at S HOLLEY 10.) Miller
considered taking remedial action by purchasing Dragon
transcription software, but ultimately did not see the
purchase through before leaving RCI. (Pl.'s Resp. Ex. 1,
49:7-53:17.) In December 2017, Corcoran participated in
discussions and a demonstration of auxiliary aids. (Pls.'
Resp. Ex. 13, Corcoran Dep. 63:1-64:6; Ex. 39, Stanford Dep.
14:6-15:10.) Defendants also cite ARPs filed in 2016 by
Snead. In one ARP appeal, he complained that blind inmates
could not obtain staff assistance with filing ARPs. (PSJ Ex.
G-110, at SNEAD 1196-99, 1202-05, 1207-09.) In another, Snead
claimed that he had sent several letters to the Warden
complaining that his case manager would not arrange private
telephone calls with his attorneys and that he could not
communicate with them in writing, fearing that recruiting the
help of other inmates to do so would jeopardize his
attorney-client privilege. (Pls.' Resp. Ex. 40, SNEAD
81-82.) Miller and Corcoran dismissed the first ARP appeal.
Plaintiffs argue that a jury may infer that the latter was
also brought to their attention based on the deposition
testimony of a corporate designee, Maureen Reid, who
indicated that staff members would know to advance
disability-related requests to their supervisors. (PSJ Ex. E,
Reid 30(b)(6) Dep. 85:18-21.)
finding and two ARPs submitted over the course of two years
are not sufficient to infer that Miller and Corcoran had
actual knowledge that their subordinates were placing
plaintiffs in a pervasive and unreasonable risk of
constitutional injury. This evidence falls far short of the
“longstanding, pervasive, well-documented, or expressly
noted” rights violations contemplated by the Fourth
Circuit. Furthermore, neither the IGO nor the ARPs cited by
Plaintiffs conclude or allege that blind inmates were unable
to file lawsuits. Cf. Hall v. Stouffer, 2018 WL
4599646, at *14-15 (finding genuine dispute of fact as to
supervisory liability where plaintiff wrote correspondence to
Defendant complaining that he was being “totally
deprived” of his access to the courts and had no
relevant legal materials and legal assistance at his
disposal). At best, Miller and Corcoran knew that the library
lacked certain auxiliary aids and that one inmate, Snead,
complained of trouble pursuing grievances and consulting with
his attorney. There is no evidence that Miller and Corcoran
buried their heads in the sand while plaintiffs were shut out
of court. Accordingly, Defendants Corcoran, Miller, and Moyer
may not be held liable. They are entitled to Judgment as a
matter of law.
Plaintiffs have not adduced evidence of actual
Defendants could be held liable, they would be entitled to
Judgment in their favor because there is no evidence that
Plaintiffs suffered an actual injury. To adequately
demonstrate an “actual injury” for purposes of
summary judgment, plaintiffs must show that the underlying
claim is “nonfrivolous, ” that is, at least
“arguable” and based on “more than
hope.” Christopher v. Harbury, 536 U.S. 403,
416, 122 S.Ct. 2179 (2002). To meet this burden Plaintiffs
must at least identify the nature of the underlying claim and
produce competent evidence of its existence. See James v.
Cotter, CV9:14-4518-TLW-BM, 2017 WL 7054157, at *6
(D.S.C. Sept. 19, 2017), report and recommendation
adopted, 9:14-CV-4518-TLW, 2018 WL 573157 (D.S.C. Jan.
26, 2018) (granting summary judgment because plaintiff failed
to adduce docketing information or any probative evidence to
show that he was prejudiced by the loss of legal papers).
Holley, Hammond, and Polley have conceded that they cannot
identify a single instance in which they were denied access
to the courts. In response to an interrogatory asking them to
“identify each occasion on which you claim that because
of your blindness you were denied access to court, ”
these plaintiffs either admitted that their claims were
baseless or did not answer the question. Wilson answered that
he made “no such allegations” at the time. (DSJ
Ex. 17, Wilson Supp. Answers to Interrog. No. 7.) Holley
complained that he lacked accommodations “allowing him
to perform his own legal research” but that “[h]e
was able to retain an attorney.” (DSJ Ex. 18, Holley
Supp. Answers to Interrog. No. 7) Hammond explained that he
paid another inmate to assist him with motions for
post-conviction relief and that he “prevailed in his
request for relief.” (DSJ Ex. 19, Hammond Supp. Answers
to Interrog. No. 7.) Polley answered that, aside from being
able to use an accessible computer at ...