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Harris v. McKenzie

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

June 27, 2019

TRESTON HARRIS
v.
CHRISTOPHER MCKENZIE

          Circuit Court for Alleghany County Case No. 01-C-17-045000

          Fader, C.J. Reed, Sharer, J. Frederick (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned), JJ.

          OPINION

          Reed, J.

         Appellant Treston Harris, pro se, appeals from the grant of a motion to dismiss his complaint entered by the Circuit Court for Allegany County in favor of Appellee Christopher McKenzie. In his timely appeal, Appellant asks us to consider whether the circuit court erred in dismissing his complaint without a hearing when "undisputed facts" allegedly support his claims.[1] Perceiving no error in the grant of the motion to dismiss, we shall affirm the order of the circuit court.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Treston Harris ("Appellant") is an inmate at the North Branch Correctional Institution ("NBCI"), a Maryland Division of Correction ("DOC") facility located in Allegany County. On March 14, 2015, a fight broke out among inmates in the NBCI cafeteria. Christopher McKenzie ("Appellee"), one of the correctional officers then present in the cafeteria, searched the area for a weapon and reportedly located an AC adaptor and electrical cord in a sock near Appellant.

         As a result, Appellee prepared a written Notice of Inmate Rule Violation against Appellant, in which he stated, under penalties of perjury, that he had "observed [Appellant] attempting to pick up the remains of an AC adaptor that was used to assault [another inmate]" and "confiscated the cord and broken adaptor from [Appellant] along with the rest of the pieces of the adaptor and the sock." Appellant was placed on administrative segregation pending a formal hearing and charged with violating DOC Rules 105 (possession, use, or manufacture of a weapon), 406 (possession or passing of contraband), and 312 (interfering with or resisting the performance of staff duties to include a search of a person, item, area, or location). Following a disciplinary hearing on March 31, 2015, Appellant was determined to have committed all three charged offenses, receiving sanctions of 90 days of segregation, 45 days of cell restriction, and loss of 30 diminution credits.

         Appellant appealed to the Inmate Grievance Office ("IGO"), Case No. IGO 2015-0753, alleging insufficient evidence to support his convictions. The IGO referred Appellant's grievance to the Office of Administrative Hearings ("OAH"), which scheduled a hearing on August 5, 2015 to assess the merits of the grievance.

         Also in relation to his convictions, Appellant pursued the DOC's administrative remedy procedure ("ARP") and filed a separate Request for Administrative Remedy with the warden of NBCI, alleging that Appellee had falsified the Notice of Inmate Rule Violation that resulted in Appellant's convictions. The warden dismissed that request on March 17, 2015, on the ground that inmates are not permitted to challenge disciplinary procedures or decisions through the ARP.

         Appellant appealed the dismissal of his Request for Administrative Remedy to the Commissioner of Correction, arguing that the warden had not addressed Appellant's complaint in his rationale for dismissal. On April 23, 2015, the Commissioner dismissed Appellant's claim for the same reason set forth by the warden: that inmates are not permitted to challenge disciplinary procedures or decisions through the ARP.

         On May 18, 2015, Appellant filed another grievance with the IGO, Case No. IGO 2015-1068, repeating his allegation that Appellee had falsified the Notice of Inmate Rule Violation that resulted in Appellant's convictions. On June 29, 2015, the IGO "administratively dismissed" that grievance, without prejudice, stating it was "wholly lacking in merit" because Appellant had been convicted of rule violations at his March 31, 2015 disciplinary hearing. Appellee's credibility, the IGO reasoned, necessarily would have been assessed then, and Appellant's challenges to the officer's credibility "should not be countenanced in this separate, distinct, and collateral proceeding."[2] The IGO concluded that the findings of Appellant's guilt were the subject of his other grievance filed with the IGO, Case No. IGO 2015-0753, still pending before the OAH.[3]

         On August 4, 2015, Patricia Goins-Johnson, the Executive Director of Field Support Services for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services ("DPSCS"), ordered the warden to reverse Appellant's convictions and vacate the sanctions imposed upon him because the video recording of the altercation in the NBCI cafeteria did not show Appellee recovering the weapon or confronting Appellant. In light of Appellee's statement in the Notice of Inmate Rule Violation that he had confiscated the cord and broken adaptor from Appellant, Goins-Johnson found that "these discrepancies were not sufficiently resolved by the hearing officer."

         At the scheduled OAH hearing the next day, the DOC moved to dismiss Appellant's grievance in Case No. IGO 2015-0753 as moot based on Goins-Johnson's ruling reversing and vacating Appellant's convictions and sanctions. The Administrative Law Judge granted the motion on August 27, 2015.

         On August 19, 2015, Appellant requested that the IGO re-open his case against Appellee in Case No. IGO 2015-1068 on the ground that his convictions in Case Number IGO 2015-0753 had been reversed and vacated. On December 4, 2015, the IGO declined to re-open the matter and determined that Appellant had failed to "provide a compelling basis for disturbing that dismissal" because "[t]he analysis of your complaint and its administrative dismissal were entirely correct."

         Appellant filed a petition for judicial review of the IGO's decision in Case No. IGO 2015-1068 with the Circuit Court for Allegany County on July 17, 2015. After the circuit court affirmed the IGO's decision on May 31, 2016, Appellant filed a notice of appeal with this Court. On November 2, 2016, we closed the file and returned the record to the circuit court because Appellant had failed to file an application for ...


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