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Swartz v. Singh

United States District Court, D. Maryland

September 12, 2019

KIMBERLEE SWARTZ, Plaintiff,
v.
OFFICER HARMANPREET SINGH, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Theodore D. Chuang United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Kimberlee Swartz, an inmate at the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women ("MCIW") in Jessup, Maryland, has filed a Complaint alleging that Defendant Correctional Officer Harmanpreet Singh engaged in improper sexual contact with her, sprayed her with mace, and forcefully pushed her in the shower. Before the Court is Singh's Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment. Also pending are Singh's Motion to Strike Exhibits, Swartz's Motion for Appointment Counsel, and Swartz's Motion for Case Management Action. Having reviewed the submitted materials, the Court finds no hearing necessary. See D. Md. Local R. 105.6. For the reasons set forth below, Singh's Motion to Strike Exhibits will be granted in part and denied in part; Singh's Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment, construed as a Motion for Summary Judgment, will be denied; Swartz's Motion for Appointment of Counsel will be granted; and Swartz's Motion for Case Management Action will be denied.

         BACKGROUND

         Swartz, an inmate residing in the Mental Health Unit at MCIW, alleges that on October 27, 2017, between approximately 12:45 p.m. and 2:00 p.m., Singh took her into the shower in the Mental Health Unit, opened her clothing, and touched her breast. When she screamed for help, he sprayed mace in her face, called her a "fuckin[g] bitch," and pushed her into the shower, causing her to hit her head against the wall. Swartz Decl. ¶ 2, Opp'n Mot. Summ. J. ("Opp'n") Ex. 4, ECF No. 21-2. According to Swartz, Correctional Officer II Veronica Taylor and Lt. David Sieracki were present and witnessed the assault.

         On October 30, 2017, Swartz reported the incident, pursuant to the Prison Rape Elimination Act ("PREA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 15601-15609 (2012), to Mayowa Ogundiyun, a mental health professional at MCIW. Swartz told Ogundiyun that prior to the incident, she had rubbed feces on the window of her cell because she was upset that nursing staff had not provided her with diapers in time. According to Sabrina Shank, an inmate whose job was to assist with clean up, Taylor directed her to provide cleaning supplies to Swartz to clean her cell. Taylor then directed Singh to take Swartz to the shower while Shank cleaned the cell. It was at that point that, according to Swartz, the assault occurred. In a declaration, Shank has corroborated Swartz's account by stating that after Singh took Swartz to the shower area, she heard Swartz scream and tell Singh, "Why are you touching me, leave me alone, get away from me," and she smelled mace. Shank Decl. ¶ 5, Opp'n Ex. 2, ECF No. 21-2. According to Swartz, on October 31, 2017, she reported the incident to Warden Chippendale and asked her to review the video coverage.

         Swartz asserts that Singh received a reprimand for the incident. According to the declarations of six other inmates, Singh has assaulted or threatened other female inmates in the past, and these six inmates have collectively described three specific incidents.

         For his part, Singh denies Swartz's allegations. According to Singh, he has never assaulted Swartz or any other inmate physically or sexually. He also denies that he was reprimanded for the incident. Other correctional officers corroborate Singh's account. Taylor denies Swartz's allegation that she asked Singh to escort Swartz to the shower on October 27, 2017 and states that she has never asked a male officer to escort an inmate to the shower. Likewise, Sieracki asserts that he did not witness an assault by Singh on Swartz in the shower area of the Mental Health Unit that day. Correctional Officer Tameka Johnson, who was working in the Mental Health Unit on October 27, 2017, asserts in a declaration that she did not allow male officers on the Mental Health Unit at MCIW that day or on any other date. According to Singh, Taylor, Sieracki, and Johnson, prison policy prohibits male correctional officers from working in the Mental Health Unit at MCIW or escorting female inmates to the shower. However, Swartz has submitted declarations from five different inmates stating that they have seen male correctional officers, including Singh, working in or visiting the Mental Health Unit on multiple occasions.

         In June 2018, Swartz sent a letter to the United States Marshals Service stating that she had been sexually assault by MCIW correctional staff. As a result of that letter, the Intelligence and Investigation Division ("IID") of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services opened an investigation into her allegations. The investigator, Detective Paul Owens, interviewed Swartz on June 29, 2018. Swartz described the October 27, 2017 incident and a different alleged assault. According to Owens, during a follow-up interview on November 7, 2018, Swartz admitted that she was not actually assaulted. Swartz denies making such a statement to Owens.

         Although Swartz informed Owens of another inmate, Sherry Knott, who was a possible witness, that inmate had already been released from imprisonment and could not be located. Owens interviewed Sieracki, but he did not interview Singh because he invoked his Miranda rights. Owens also reviewed Swartz's infraction history. Owens could not locate any video recordings of the incident. In February 2019, Owens requested that the investigation be closed.

         On October 18, 2018, Swartz filed her Complaint against Singh in this Court. With her Complaint, Swartz attached an Application for Statement of Charges, dated July 2, 2018, which she completed in order to file a criminal complaint against Singh in the District Court of Maryland for Anne Arundel County, but which appears not to have been filed. In the Complaint, Swartz does not identify any specific statutory or constitutional claim, but she states that as relief, she wants to press charges for sexual assault against the "other 2 officers involved and against Warden Chippendale [of] MCIW for covering the assault up." Compl. at 3, ECF No. 1. Swartz also asks that she be transferred to another prison. Because self-represented complaints are to be construed liberally, and because a civil plaintiff may not obtain, as relief, a criminal prosecution against another individual, Linda R.S. v. Richard D., 410 U.S. 614, 619 (1973), the Court construes the Complaint as a civil rights claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging excessive force in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

         DISCUSSION

         In his Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment, Singh seeks dismissal under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) or summary judgment under Rule 56 on the grounds that the Complaint fails to state a plausible claim for relief and that there is no genuine issue of material fact such that he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Although Singh argues that violations of state policies, procedures, and regulations do not establish a constitutional claim, the Court does not read the Complaint as seeking such relief and thus does not address this issue. The Court also declines to address Singh's argument regarding the unavailability of injunctive relief as premature.

         I. Legal Standards

         To defeat a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the complaint must allege enough facts to state a plausible claim for relief. Ashcroft v. Iqbal,556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). A claim is plausible when the facts pleaded allow "the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. Although courts should construe pleadings of self-represented litigants liberally, Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007), legal conclusions or conclusory statements do not suffice, Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. The Court must examine the complaint as a whole, consider the factual allegations in the complaint as true, and construe the factual allegations in ...


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