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Germain v. Sheartn

United States District Court, D. Maryland

September 19, 2019

JEAN GERMAIN, Plaintiff,
BOBBY P. SHEARTN, Warden, Defendant.



         Plaintiff Jean Germain, presently confined at North Branch Correctional Institution ("NBCI") in Cumberland, Maryland, filed a civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 9 1983 asserting that in 2013, prison officials failed to provide him with adequate food consistent with the timing and requirements of fasting during Ramadan, in violation of his right under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution to free exercise of religion, his right under the Eighth Amendment to be free from cruel and unusual punishment, and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA",, 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-200ccc-5 (2012). Now pending is a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendant Warden Bobby P. Shearin ("the Warden".. Germain opposes the motion and moves for appointment of counsel. 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 Wardenss Motion for Summary Judgment will be GRANTED, and Germain's Motion for Appointment of Counsel will be DISMISSED AS MOOT.


         This is the second case in which Germain has asserted the same or similar claims. His first case, filed in 2013, was dismissed without prejudice in 2016 by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit based on that court's determination that Germain had failed to exhaust .administraiive remedies. Germain v. Shearin, 653 F.App'x 231, 234-35 (4th Cir. 2016) (Germain I')(affirming as modified the district court's order granting summary judgment for defendants).

         In this second case, filed in July 2016, Germain filed a verified Complaint in which he asserted that he had filed an administrative remedy procedure grievance ("ARP") that was dismissed and that he appealed that decision to the Commissioner of Correction. Then, although he did not receive a receipt for the filing of his appeal, he nevertheless filed a further appeal to the Inmate Grievance Office ("IGO"). Germain stated that the IGO "consistently denies plaintiff relief by, either, ignoring plaintiffs grievances or by dismissing without a hearing on bogus grounds." Compl. 7, ECF No. .. In response to this Complaint, Warden Shearin filed a Motion to Dismiss, or in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment, in which he argued, in part, that Germain had still failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. The Court (Motz, J.), construing the Wardenss motion as a Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), granted the motion after finding that Germain had failed to exhaust administrative remedies. Germain appealed that dismissal to the Fourth Circuit, which vacated the dismissal and remanded the case. Germain v. Shearin, 725 F.App'x 225, 227 (4th Cir. 2019)(Germain IF). The Fourth Circuit held that because the district court had treated the motion as a Motion to Dismiss, it was required to credit Germain's assertion in his verified Complaint that he had completed all three steps of the ARP process. Id. at 227. The court noted that its ruling did "not eliminate the possibility that Germain's claim that he exhausted administrative remedies could ... be defeated in a properly filed motion for summary judgment." Id. at 227 n.2. Upon remand of the case to this Court, the Warden filed a Motion for Summary Judgment in which he again asserts that Germain failed to exhaust administrative remedies.

         The record establishes, and the parties do not dispute, that on July 13, 2013, Germain submitted ARP No. NBCI-1870113, in which he complained about the denial of meals during Ramadan. That ARP was returned to Germain on July 19, 2013, with the stamped notation "Dismissed for procedural reasons: Pending Resubmission per DCD 185-002VL.L.9. Additional information is needed to investigate your request. Please resubmit by 7-31-13 and include the following information." Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 2 at 4, ECF No. 37-3. Below the stamp are the handwritten questions, "Are you properly receiving your Ramadan meals? Do you have the option to accept a lunch meal? Whos[e] decision is it to fast? Provide documentation in regards to how [remainder illegible]." Id. On July 31, 2013, Germain supplemented the ARP by answering that he was not properly receiving Ramadan meals, that he had no option to accept a lunch meal, and that it was his decision to fast. As to documentation, Germain simply stated that the Eighth Amendment and RLUIPA "are my documentation. Go read them." Mat 3. Germain's ARP was then dismissed, with the stamped notation, "Dismissed for procedural reasons Final per DCD 185-003.VI.N.2. Failed to resubmit the request in accordance with the coordinator's instructions"" Id.

         According to the Warden, at that point Germain abandoned the ARP. In support of that assertion, the Warden provides a declaration from a records custodian who asserts that there is no record of Germain filing an appeal of ARP No. NBCI-1870133 with the Commissioner of Correction. The Warden also provides the declaration of Samiyah Hassan, an administrative officer for the IGO, stating that the IGO has no record of any appeal of ARP No. NBCI-1870113 or any other complaint or grievance relating to inadequate Ramadan meals at NBCI in 2013. Hassan further asserts that Germain filed six unrelated appeals with the IGO during 2013.

         In opposing the Motion, Germain, has submitted an affidavit in which he asserts that on August 4, 2013, he mailed his appeal of the ARP to the Commissioner of Correction by first-class mail, but that he never received the "Part-C" receipt from the Commissioner acknowledging receipt of the appeal or any response to his appeal from the Commissioner of Correction. In his declaration, Germain does not assert that he filed a grievance or appeal with the IGO.


         In his Motion for Summary Judgment, the Warden asserts that the record establishes that Germain did not exhaust all administrative remedies, specifically the established process for appealing ARPs. In his memorandum in opposition to the Motion ("Opposition"), Germain argues that this Court cannot simply reject his representations that he filed an appeal with the Commissioner of Correction. Germain also asserts that in Germain I, the Fourth Circuit found that Germain sent an appeal to the Commissioner of Correction on August 4, 2013, such that the Warden is collaterally estopped from arguing otherwise in this Motion.

         I. Legal Standard

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, the Court grants summary judgment if the moving party demonstrates that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact, and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). In assessing the motion, the Court views the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, "with all justifiable inferences" drawn in its favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). The Court may rely only on facts supported in the record, not simply assertions in the pleadings. Bouchat v. BaIt. Ravens Football Club, Inc., 346 F.3d 514, 522 (4th Cir. 2003). A fact is "material" if it "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. A dispute of material fact is only "genuine" if sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party exists for the trier of fact to return a verdict for that party. Mat 248-49.

         Because Germain is self-represented, his submissions are liberally construed. See Erickson, 551 U.S. at 94. Nevertheles,, the court must also abide by the "affirmative obligation of the trial judge to prevent factually unsupported claims and defenses from proceeding to trial." Bouchat, 346 F.3d at 526.

         II. Exhaustion of ...

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