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Mitchell v. Bishop

United States District Court, D. Maryland

August 28, 2019

SHAKIR MITCHELL, #450-764, Plaintiff



         Pro se Plaintiff, Shakir Mitchell, an inmate at North Branch Correctional Institution (“NBCI”) in Cumberland, Maryland, brings this action alleging that he has been subjected to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution arising from his confinement in a “contingency” cell for several days. Mitchell also alleges that Defendants retaliated against him for filing civil suits against corrections officers. ECF No. 1, pp. 2-3. As relief, he seeks an order prohibiting the use of contingency cells as well as compensatory damages. Id. p. 4.

         Defendants Warden Frank B. Bishop, Jr., former Corrections Commissioner Dayena Corcoran, and NBCI Correctional Officer Matthew Hill (“Defendants”) move to dismiss the Complaint or alternatively for summary judgment to be granted in their favor. ECF No. 14. Mitchell opposes the motion. ECF No. 17. The court has carefully reviewed the pleadings and finds no hearing is necessary. See Loc. Rule 105.6. As to Defendants Bishop and Corcoran, the Court GRANTS summary judgment in their favor. As to Defendant Hill, the Court DISMISSES the Complaint without prejudice for failure to exhaust administrative remedies.

         I. Background

         The record evidence, construed most favorably to Mitchell, chronicles the following events. On September 13, 2017, Officer Michael Turner responded to the cell of inmate James Young. See ECF .No 14-4, p. 4. En route to Young's cell, Turner passed Mitchell's cell, at which time Mitchell told Turner to “not be harassing his brother.” Id.

         Early the next day, as Officer Hill opened the security slot of Mitchell's cell to collect food trays, Mitchell threw a liquid substance from his cell. See ECF 14-4, p. 4. At the time, Turner was on the lower level of the tier discussing an issue with the food tray involving another inmate. Id., ECF 14-4, p. 4. Turner heard someone yet “now!” coming from the direction of Mitchell's cell; immediately thereafter Turner was struck with a liquid substance. Id., p. 4. Mitchell admits that he threw trash out of his cell onto the tier and that some of the contents may have splashed on a correction officer's uniform. ECF No. 17-1, pp. 8-9; ECF No. 14-4, p. 8. Corrections officers searched Mitchell and his cell but found nothing incriminating or of evidentiary value. ECF No. 14-6, Hill Decl., ¶ 5.

         Corrections officer Hill, as an eye witness, charged Mitchell with a prison infraction for throwing a “correctional cocktail” consisting of spoiled milk, urine and feces on Officer Michael Turner. ECF No. 1, p. 3; ECF No. 14-6, Hill Decl., ¶4. As part of the internal investigation (IID No. 17-35-01835), investigators obtained and observed prison video surveillance. Id., pp. 4, 9. Mitchell was placed in Administrative Segregation in a single cell and on Staff Alert status pending an adjustment hearing. ECF No. 1, pp. 4-7; ECF No. 14-6, Hill Decl., ¶ 7; ECF No. 14-7, p. 1, Daily Events Log; ECF No. 14-8, p. 1; ECF No. 14-9.

         While in Administrative Segregation, prison staff assessed Mitchell after 24 hours and again after five days for whether he could be returned to general population. ECF No. 14-7, p.2; ECF No. 14-8, p. 2. On September 20, 2017, Mitchell left segregation. ECF No. 14-11, p. 1. Although the cells used for Administrative Segregation are certainly not pleasant, the Defendants submit documentation explaining the penological and safety reasons for not equipping the interior of the cells with switches, intercom speaks, mirrors, and fire suppression sprinkler heads. ECF No. 14-16, Iser Decl., ¶ 5.

         On September 25, 2017, Mitchell filed an Administrative Remedy Procedure (ARP), asserting that he had been falsely accused of throwing a milk carton “with contents” on staff, wrongly subjected to a strip and cell search, and moved to a “contingency cell” where he was denied food, medication and showers. He further averred that while he was in a “contingency cell, ” staff threw his food on the floor, the cell was dirty and bug-infested, and he was forced to use his hands and socks to clean himself when he used the toilet. ECF No. 14-22, pp. 2-3.

         On September 29, 2017, the ARP was accepted for filing and assigned a case number. ECF No. 14-22, p. 2. Although the ARP initially was deemed “withdrawn” five days later, Mitchel successfully challenged the withdrawal on the grounds that his signature had been forged. ECF No. 14-22, p. 1; ECF No. 17-1, p. 8. Yet inexplicably, Mitchell failed to pursue his grievance by resubmitting his ARP or appealing the matter to the Commissioner of Correction and the Inmate Grievance Office (“IGO”). ECF 14-23, Hassan Decl., ¶ 3. Instead, Mitchell next filed suit in this Court.

         II. Standard of Review

         Because the parties have submitted evidence outside the four corners of the Complaint and have been given reasonable opportunity to present all pertinent material, the Court will treat the motion as one for summary judgment. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d). Pursuant to Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment shall be granted if the movant demonstrates that no genuine issue of disputed material fact exists, rendering the movant entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(d). “By its very terms, this standard provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). “The party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of [his] pleadings, but rather must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” See Bouchat v. Baltimore Ravens Football Club, Inc., 346 F.3d 514, 525 (4th Cir. 2003) (alteration in original) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)). The Court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant and draw all inferences in his favor without weighing the evidence or assessing witness credibility. See Dennis v. Columbia Colleton Med. Ctr., Inc., 290 F.3d 639, 644-45 (4th Cir. 2002). Factually unsupported claims and defenses cannot proceed to trial. Bouchat, 346 F.3d at 526.

         III. Analysis

         A. Administrative ...

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