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Farmer v. Lyons

United States District Court, D. Maryland

July 26, 2019

JEFF FARMER, Plaintiff,
v.
WARDEN KEITH L. LYONS, WARDEN RICKY FOXWELL, OFFICER W. WAYLOR, P. KNIGHT, MIKE MUIR, COMM'R OF CORRECTIONS, INMATE GRIEVANCE OFFICE, LT. HENRY LANDON, OFFICER DANIEL ARNDT, LT. STEPHEN ELLIOT, OFFICER ADRION CHRISTOPHER, OFFICER CHARLES WESTBROOK, LT. ALONZO MURPHY, LT. GREGORY WARD, SHANIKA GUSTUS, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Paul W. Grimm, United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Jeff Farmer, a former inmate at Eastern Correctional Institution ("ECI") in Westover, Maryland, has filed an unverified complaint asserting claims against various state corrections officials and staff members.[1] Defendants have filed a motion for dismissal or, alternatively, for summary judgment. ECF No. 42. The Court advised Farmer of his right to file an opposition to the motion and of the consequences of failing to do so. ECF No. 43. The Court also granted him an extension of time in which to file an opposition response. ECF Nos. 44, 45. Farmer, though, has not filed an opposition to the motion. Instead, he has moved for appointment of counsel and notified the Court of his impending release. ECF No. 46.

         No hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2018). As explained below, Farmer's motion is denied, Defendants' motion is granted, and the case is dismissed.

         BACKGROUND

         In a Memorandum Opinion issued July 26, 2018, 1 summarized Farmer's pending claims as follows:

January 19, 2016

Refusal to assign to bottom bunk

July 13, 2017

Assault by gang members; harassment by Officer Christopher; and refusal to move cellmate out

December 20, 2017

Assault by Officers at ECI

December 20, 2017

"Fraudulent" disciplinary charge and conviction

Dates unknown

Denial of access to administrative remedy procedure

February 13, 2018

Denial of food and showers on segregation

July 2018 Mem. Op. 10, ECF No. 24. All other claims raised were dismissed. Id. Each claim and Defendants' response to it are summarized below.

         A. January 19, 2016 Bottom Bunk Assignment

         1. Farmer's Allegations

         Farmer first complains about an injury he suffered on January 19, 2016, when he fell off the top bunk in his cell and hurt his neck and back. See Am. Compl. 4, ECF No. 10-1. He says that "[f]or weeks" he told Lieutenant Alonzo Murphy that he "still had a valid bottom bunk slip, which had been renewed in October 2015." Id. Farmer alleges he repeatedly explained to Lieutenant Murphy and other officers that he had pinched nerves in his back that caused his leg to go numb and made it difficult for him to climb to the top bunk, especially as there was no chair in the cell to assist him with the climb. Id. Farmer maintains that none of the medical explanations he provided to Lieutenant Murphy and other officers who worked in the housing unit were required of him, but he offered them in the hope that the problem would be resolved more quickly. Id. As a result, Farmer states he suffered worsening injuries "which can only be possibly fixed by having surgery performed." Id.

         2. Defendants' Response

         Lieutenant Murphy, the housing unit manager for the unit where Farmer was housed on January 19, 2016, acknowledges that Farmer told him prior to that date that he had a valid bottom bunk slip that would have allowed for him to be assigned to a lower bunk. Murphy Deck ¶ 3, ECF No. 42-3. In response, Lieutenant Murphy contacted the ECI medical unit to verify whether Farmer had a valid bottom bunk slip. Id. Lieutenant Murphy explains that the medical staff have the sole authority to issue such slips and that, when he asked about Farmer, he was told Farmer did not have one. Id. Lieutenant Murphy explained this to Farmer and advised him that if he had been issued a bottom bunk slip from another prison he would need to get one from the ECI medical unit. Id. ¶ 3. Lieutenant Murphy also advised Farmer that he would not be assigned to a lower bunk without a valid slip from ECI medical staff. Id.

         Verified medical records for Farmer dating from December 2015 to January 18, 2016, show he repeatedly complained of back pain; there is no record, however, of a request for an assessment for a bottom bunk assignment. See ECI Health Rs. 2-16, No. 42-4. The absence of such a record is evidence that Farmer failed to request a bottom bunk assignment slip from ECI. See Fed. R. Evid. 803(7), and 803(10).

         B. July 13, 2017 Gang Assault, Harassment, and Cellmate Reassignment

          1. Farmer's Allegations

         Farmer alleges that he was attacked by three gang members, one of whom brandished a knife, and that he was robbed of all his valuables. See Am. Compl. 11. While Farmer was being held in a cell in the Administrative Segregation Observation Area (ASOA), Lieutenant Landon and Officer Arndt questioned him about the assault. Id. Four inmates (Roger Terry, Jonathan Cook, Jose Reyes, and Mr. Hudd) were able to overhear the entire conversation. Id. When asked to name his assailants, Farmer explained he had only been on the tier for slightly more than 24 hours, had never met the men who assaulted him, did not know their names, and only knew they were members of a gang. Id. When Farmer was asked if he could identify the men from photographs, he told Lieutenant Landon[2] and Officer Arndt that it would not be difficult to do so, as there were only six or so inmates on the tier who were members of a gang. Id. Despite Farmer's assurance he could identify his assailants, no one ever presented him with photographs for that purpose. Id.

         After the interview had concluded, the inmate who occupied the cell next to Farmer's repeated the entire conversation for everyone else on the tier to hear, "in case they missed it the first time." Id. Farmer's neighbor also indicated that he was affiliated with the gang responsible for the assault and signaled to Farmer he would make his "comrades" aware that Farmer was "telling on them." Id.

         "[A]fter a few days" Farmer was moved to "lock-up," where he remained because correctional staff accused him of refusing housing. Id. Farmer denies refusing a housing assignment and expresses disbelief that he would be asked to move back to the housing unit where he had been assaulted. Id. Farmer sent written requests to create an enemies list to a person identified only as "P. Knight" and to his supervisors, Muir and Bailey, as well as to the warden, assistant warden, "and others," but he received no responses. Id. Farmer later discovered the gang was offering a $200 bounty to any inmate who injured him because Farmer was by then known as a snitch. Id. He communicated this information to "case management," but no action was taken to protect his safety, and he remained housed among the general population. Id.

         Farmer says he "also realized that they might actually put one of them [gang members] or their comrades in the cell with me," so he filed an Administrative Remedy Procedure (ARP) complaint. Id. He alleges that after he filed the ARP, he was forced to share his cell with members of the Bloods, Murder Incorporated, Black Guerilla Family (BGF), and Dead Men Incorporated (DMI). Id. at 12.

         Farmer describes a November 21, 2017 incident between two inmates who shared a cell in the same housing unit. See Id. at 14. He alleges they had begged correctional officers to move them out of the same cell, otherwise the two of them would fight. Id. According to Farmer, the officers told the inmates they would not be moved unless they fought and, because the inmates were not moved, they "beat the shit out of one another severely." Id. Still, Farmer's repeated complaints about the risk of a fight with his cellmate were ignored. Id.

         Farmer implies that he assaulted his cellmate and that Officers Christopher and Sturgis pretended not to see the "2"-3" gash across his [cellmate's] nose" even as his cellmate left the cell several times each day under escort. Id. Farmer characterizes physical fights between inmates on the tier as "entertainment" for the officers and refers to the practice as "ECI's Fight Club." Id. For example, Farmer reports that on one occasion, when his cellmate, Chris Brown, had left for court, Farmer ate food that Officer Christopher mistakenly had brought to the tier for Brown. Id. at 15. Farmer alleges that the lunch tray was put aside and he ate it because he was starving; when Brown returned from court, Officer Christopher allegedly told him that Farmer had eaten his lunch in an effort to provoke a fight. Id.

         2. Defendants' Response

         Lieutenant Landon interviewed Farmer on July 13, 2017, concerning his report that he was robbed by three gang members. See Landon Decl. ¶ 3, ECF No. 42-6; Corrections R. 2-9, ECF No. 42-5. In an August 10, 2017 memorandum, Lieutenant Landon said he arranged the interview after Farmer, while being escorted through "East Medical," told Officer Morton that he feared for his life. See Corrections R. 9. Lieutenant Landon went to ASOA Cell 10 where he and Defendant Officer Daniel Arndt interviewed Farmer. Id.; see also Arndt Decl. ¶ 3, ECF No. 42-7. Farmer told Lieutenant Landon that "three white inmates rushed into his cell and robbed him at knife point." Corrections R. 9. When Lieutenant Landon asked if Farmer could "identify these individuals by their identification E-cards," Farmer refused to identify them or to provide a written statement. Id. Officer Arndt confirms Lieutenant Landon's account, adding that Farmer was interviewed in a cell away from other inmates. See Arndt Decl. ¶ 3. Lieutenant Landon reported that he made "every effort to keep [his] voice down so other inmate[s] could not hear what was said" but that Farmer was "agitated and raised his voice on occasion" during the interview. Corrections R. 9. Based on Farmer's refusal to identify his assailants, or to assist in identifying them, Lieutenant Landon concluded that "Farmer could not prove a credible threat" to his safety and he was therefore ordered to return to his unit. Id. When Farmer refused to do so, he was given a notice of infraction for refusing housing. Id. The officer assigned to Housing Unit 6, C tier, where Farmer was housed on July 13, 2017, and where the alleged assault occurred, also prepared a report on August 21, 2017, indicating that Farmer had never approached him to report a threat to his safety. See id. at 10.

         In response to Farmer's ARPs (ECI 2763-17 and ECI 2008-17) stating that his report of a threat to his life was not properly investigated, the warden found the complaint to be without merit. See Id. at 5, 14. The identical response to both ARPs, dated November 16, 2017, states that an investigation was conducted into Farmer's allegations but that Farmer could not provide a written statement or positively identify the individuals who posed a threat to him or committed the robbery. Id.

         Farmer's ARP (ECI 0328-18) concerning his claim that Officer Adrion Christopher was disrespectful and threatening to him was also dismissed after investigation. See Id. at 18-23. Farmer had complained in part that Officer Christopher took "being cussed out personally," engaged in retaliation in response to that behavior, denied food to Farmer as punishment, threatened Farmer's safety, and ignored Farmer's warnings that his cellmate was trying to collect the $200 bounty from BGF and DMI by assaulting Farmer. Id. at 19-20. Officer Christopher denied the allegations against him, [3] and Farmer refused to cooperate with the ARP investigation. Mat 21-23.

         Officer Christopher provided a declaration under oath attesting that he never denied Farmer any meals, never arranged to have rival gang members or Fanner's enemies housed with him, and did not tell other inmates that Farmer was an informant in an effort to have him killed. See Christopher Decl. ¶¶ 3-5, ECF No. 42-8. He further explains that his post assignment in disciplinary segregation did not include the authority to assign inmates to particular cells. Id. ¶ 4.

         Farmer filed another ARP (ECF 327-18) on February 4, 2018, in which he alleged that he and his cellmate would be involved in a fight if they continued to be housed together. See Corrections R. 24. When the ARP was investigated, Farmer again refused to cooperate. See Id. at 26. Although Farmer claimed to have submitted multiple written requests to be reassigned to another cell and that there had been physical fights with his cellmate, no evidence could be located to support either contention. See Id. at 27-28.

         According to Lieutenant Stephen Elliott, inmates can request to be moved to another cell if they provide "a verifiable legitimate basis" for the request, such as the threat of harm from a cellmate, but corrections staff cannot accommodate requests motivated by personal preference. Elliott Decl. ¶ 7, ECF No. 42-9. In Farmer's case, Lieutenant Elliott states he never received any information from Farmer indicating that he was facing an imminent threat of harm from his cellmate. Id.

         Case Management Manager Mike Muir, meanwhile, attests he has no recollection of ever receiving any written requests from Farmer, nor of hearing Farmer say his safety was endangered by other inmates or staff. See Muir Decl. ¶ 4, ECF No. 42-12. Mr. Muir said his duties did not include "day to day inmate base file management," and any requests such as a change in cell assignment due to a threat to safety would have been forwarded either to custody staff or to the assigned case manager for investigation, as appropriate, or would have received a response from Mr. Muir. Id. ¶¶ 3-4. No such written request was received from Farmer. Id. ¶ 4.

         C. December 20, 2017 Assault by Officers

          1. Farmer&#3 ...


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