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Smart v. Queens Anne County

United States District Court, D. Maryland

September 16, 2019

SALAHUDDIN F. SMART, Plaintiff,
v.
QUEEN ANNE'S COUNTY, WARDEN LAMONTE E. COOKE and CHIEF OF SECURITY MILTON S. GREENWOOD, JR., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          THEODORE D. CHUANG UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Salahuddin F. Smart was a pre-trial detainee at the Queen Anne's County Detention Center ("QACDC") in Centreville, Maryland when he filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants Queen Anne's County, Maryland ("QAC"); QACDC Warden Lamonte Cooke; and QACDC Chief of Security Milton Greenwood. Pending before the Court are Defendants' unopposed Motion to Dismiss or for Summary Judgment and Defendants' Motion to Strike the Amended Complaint. Having reviewed the submitted materials, the Court finds that no hearing is necessary. See D. Md. Local R. 105.6. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion to Strike the Amended Complaint and the Motion to Dismiss or for Summary Judgment will be GRANTED.

         BACKGROUND

         Smart, who is presently incarcerated at the Camden County Detention Center in New Jersey, was detained at QACDC on a traffic violation. On December 12, 2017, Smart filed a Complaint on his own behalf and for fellow inmate Lamar Burgess, Sr. seeking to pursue a class action alleging that Defendants improperly restricted inmate receipt of incoming mail, specifically, that QACDC barred the receipt of greeting cards, family photographs, and certain other printed materials in violation of the First Amendment right to freedom of association, the Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment, the Fourth Amendment right against unlawful detention and seizure, and the Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection of the law. Burgess did not sign the Complaint.

         On September 5, 2018, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss or for Summary Judgment. Smart filed no memorandum in opposition to the Motion, nor did he request additional time to respond. On December 26, 2018, Smart filed a complaint, without a case number, that was docketed as an amended complaint in this case filed without leave of the Court. After QAC filed a Motion to Strike this filing, the Court concluded that the filing asserted separate claims and thus docketed it as a complaint in a new case. The Court nevertheless granted Smart leave to file an amended complaint by February 15, 2019. On February 25, 2019, ten days after the extended time for filing the Amended Complaint had expired, Smart filed a request for additional time to file an amended complaint. On March 5, 2019, the Court issued an Order extending the time for Smart to file an amended complaint until March 26, 2019. The Court received the Amended Complaint on April 4, 2019. The submission was postmarked March 29, 2019, and Smart had dated the document March 21, 2019.

         DISCUSSION

         As a threshold matter, the Court finds that Smart, who presumably is not an attorney, may not represent the interests of another individual. D. Md. Local R. 101.1(a) (stating that individual parties may represent only themselves, not other parties). Nor may Smart bring a class action on behalf of other detainees or inmates. See Oxendine v. Williams, 509 F.2d 1405, 1407 (4th Cir. 1975) (stating that a. pro se prisoner unassisted by counsel cannot represent fellow inmates in a class action). Thus, the Court construes the Complaint as asserted by Smart only and as an individual claim, not a class action.

         In the Motion to Strike the Amended Complaint, Defendants argue that the Court should strike the Amended Complaint because it was filed outside the March 26, 2019 deadline. Defendants' Motion to Dismiss or for Summary Judgment seeks dismissal or summary judgment on several grounds: (1) QAC is entitled to dismissal because it is not an entity amenable to suit; (2) Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity against Smart's claims; and (3) Smart has failed to state a claim of constitutional violations arising from the QACDC policy of barring inmates from receiving greeting cards, photographs, and certain other printed materials.

         I. Motion to Strike the Amended Complaint

         In this Motion, Defendants argue that Smart's Amended Complaint should be stricken as untimely. Where the Amended Complaint was postmarked on March 29, 2019 and received on April 4, 2019, it appears to have been filed after the March 26, 2019 deadline. Under the "prison mailbox rule," a pleading is deemed filed as of the date that it was placed in the prison mail system. See Houston v. Lack, 487 U.S. 266, 270 (1988). Although Smart listed, on the Amended Complaint, a date of March 21, 2019, he does not actually assert, and provides no evidence, that he placed the Amended Complaint in the prison mail system on or before March 26, 2019. For example, he provides no proof of a mailing date, prison trust fund records, receipt for postage, or his own declaration. See Roberts v. McKenzie, Civ. No. AW-12-2474, 2013 WL 3179102, at *4 (D. Md. June 20, 2013) ("When a court does not receive a pleading within a reasonable time after the date upon which an inmate claims to have mailed it, it is appropriate to require independent proof of the mailing date such as mail logs ... or receipts for postage before giving the inmate the benefit of the prison mailbox rule."), aff'd, 566 Fed.Appx. 226 (4th Cir. 2014). Thus, the Court finds he is not entitled to the benefit of this rule. Accordingly, on the current record, the Court may strike the Amended Complaint as untimely.

         Although the Court could allow Smart an opportunity to come forward with proof of the date of mailing, it need not do so because the Court finds that the Amended Complaint is properly stricken for other reasons. First, a review of the allegations reveals that Counts 4-6 largely restate the allegations in the original Complaint about the prison's policy of not permitting inmates to receive certain kinds of mail and do not add any material facts. The new allegations, which assert claims of First Amendment retaliation for the filing of prison grievances in the form of a transfer to another detention facility, and an Eighth Amendment claim relating to allegedly inadequate medical care, track the claims made in ECF No. 23, which was docketed as the original complaint in a new case, No. TDC-18-4023, that has since been dismissed. Where the Court had already concluded that these claims constituted a separate case that has been separately resolved, see ECF No. 33, it was not proper to seek to assert them again in this case.

         Finally, the Court finds that the Amended Complaint fails to provide sufficient facts to state a plausible claim for relief on these new causes of action. Although courts "should freely give leave" to amend, an amendment should not be accepted if it would be futile, such as when the amendment would be subject to dismissal for failure to state a claim. See Laber v. Harvey, 438 F.3d 404, 426 (4th Cir. 2006); Oliver v. Dep 't of Pub. Safety & Corr. Servs., 350 F.Supp.3d 340, 346 (D. Md. 2018). On the First Amendment claim, "the First Amendment right to free speech includes not only the affirmative right to speak, but also the right to be free from retaliation by a public official for the exercise of that right." Suarez Corp. Indus, v. McGrow, 202 F.3d 676, 685 (4th Cir. 2000). To state a claim of retaliation for exercising First Amendment rights, a plaintiff must show that: (1) the plaintiff engaged in protected First Amendment activity; (2) the defendant took some action that adversely affected the First Amendment rights; and (3) there was a causal relationship between the protected activity and the defendant's conduct. See Constantine v. Rectors & Visitors of George Mason Univ., 411 F.3d 474, 499 (4th Cir. 2005). An inmate's "right to file a prison grievance free from retaliation" is protected by the First Amendment. Booker v. S. Carolina Dep't of Corrections, 855 F.3d 533, 545 (4th Cir. 2017).

         In the Amended Complaint, although Smart claims that he was transferred to another prison in retaliation for filing a prison grievance, he does not identify the grievance to which he is referring. Where he claims that he was transferred in November 2017, he cannot be referring to his Complaint filed in this case, which was first filed on December 12, 2017. Since Smart has not identified the specific prison grievance he filed, and he has not provided the date or time frame when he filed it to allow for an assessment of whether it was proximate in time to the alleged retaliatory action, he has not stated sufficient facts to support a plausible claim that his transfer was causally connected to the grievance. See Constantine, 411 F.3d at 499.

         Likewise, Smart has not alleged sufficient facts to support his Eighth Amendment claim for deliberate indifference to a serious medical need. See Estelle v. Gamble,429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976). This standard requires proof that, objectively, the prisoner plaintiff was suffering from a serious medical need and that, subjectively, the prison staff was aware of the need for medical attention but failed to either provide it or ensure the needed care was available. See Iko v. Shreve,535 F.3d 225, 241 (4th Cir. 2008). A medical condition is serious when it is "so obvious that even a lay person would easily recognize the necessity for a doctor's attention." Id. (internal citation omitted). As for the subjective component, "[a]n official is deliberately indifferent to an inmate's serious medical needs only when he or she subjectively knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or safety." Jackson v. Lightsey,775 F.3d 170, 178 (4th Cir. 2014) (quoting Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 837 (1994)). Thus, "[deliberate ...


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