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Hill v. Sturgis

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

September 23, 2019

RONALD HILL, JR., Plaintiff,
C.O. STURGIS, ET AL., Defendants.



         Plaintiff Ronald Hill, Jr. has filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claiming that correctional officers failed to protect him from violent attacks perpetrated by two inmates while he was incarcerated at Eastern Correctional Institution (“ECI”).[1] ECF No. 1. Pending before the Court is a Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendants Correctional Officers (“C.O.”) Jermaine Sturgis, Vernon Collins, and Matthew Parsons, Captain Daniel Barnes, Warden Ricky Foxwell, and Commissioner Dayena Corcoran. ECF No. 11. Hill opposes the motion. ECF No. 13. No hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2018). For the following reasons, Defendants’ motion, construed as a Motion for Summary Judgment, is granted.

         I. BACKGROUND[2]

         A. July 3, 2018 Incident

         Hill alleges that on July 3, 2018, at approximately 5:45 a.m., inmate Mark Summerville, a member of the prison gang known as Dead Men, Inc. (“DMI”), yanked Hill out of his bed while he was sleeping and repeatedly punched and kicked him until he lost consciousness. ECF No. 1 at 2.[3] When Hill awoke, he heard Summerville yelling out to inmate Anthony Johnson that he had beaten Hill and explaining how he had done so. Id. According to Hill, Johnson responded that Summerville should “do it again and he would pay him again.” Id. Hill states that he told Defendants C.O. Jermaine Sturgis and C.O. Vernon Collins, but they left him without help. Id. Hill does not specify when or what he told Sturgis and Collins. Id.

         In declarations signed under oath, Officers Sturgis and Collins deny any knowledge of the alleged assault against Hill on July 3, 2018, and they deny that Hill ever reported to either of them that he had issues with inmates Summerville or Johnson. ECF No. 11-3; ECF No. 11-4. Sturgis states that if an inmate reports he is having a problem or being threatened by another inmate, the normal practice is to report the information to the Officer in Charge of the Housing Unit as neither he nor Collins are authorized to reassign inmates to different cells. ECF 11-3. Collins states further that on July 3, 2018, he was not at work and therefore could not have been involved in any manner with the alleged incident. ECF No. 11-4. Post Assignment Worksheets confirm that Collins did not work that day. ECF No. 11-5.

         Defendant Captain Daniel Barnes states in a signed declaration that he has no recollection of “being a part of the investigation concerning Inmate Hill.” ECF No. 11-6. Barnes does not specify which incident he cannot recall, nor does he address whether he was otherwise aware of the issues noted by Hill in his Complaint. Id. Similarly, Lt. Stephen Elliott, [4] the Housing Unit Manager, states Hill never complained to him about Summerville and he was never advised that Hill had been threatened or assaulted by inmate Mark Summerville. ECF No. 11-13 at 1.

         Hill’s verified medical records, dated from July 1, 2018 through December 26, 2018, do not contain any documented complaints regarding an assault taking place on July 3, 2018. ECF 11-8.[5] The medical records do indicate, however, that Hill was injured in a fight with another inmate on August 30, 2018. ECF No. 11-8 at 26–27, 30. Defendants do not address the August 30, 2018 incident.

         B. September 13, 2018 Incident

         Hill alleges further that on September 13, 2018, he and cellmate David Gillis notified Defendant C.O. Matthew Parsons that if Hill was not removed from the cell, Gillis would harm Hill. He maintains that Parsons “walked away” in response to those statements. Hill claims that Parsons’ failure to act provided Gillis with the “time and opportunity” to beat him “with a segregation tray.” Id.

         This incident was investigated and summarized in a Memorandum prepared by Acting Security Chief Walter Holmes for purposes of a Serious Incident Report. ECF No. 11-9 at 1. Officer Daric Evans was in the Housing Unit at approximately 7:55 p.m., when he heard “several inmates banging and kicking their cell doors” on B-tier. Id. Upon investigation, Evans discovered Hill and Gillis engaged in a fight, notified other officers via radio call “10-10” of the situation, and ordered both inmates to approach the slot in the cell door in order to be handcuffed. Id. Both inmates complied, and both were escorted to the medical unit for evaluation. Id.

         Gillis sustained small, superficial scratches to his neck. Id. Hill’s medical records show that he was treated for head trauma as a result of being struck multiple times with the heavy plastic tray and suffered “bilateral facial contusions, marked swelling around the left eye, chest and neck abrasions.” ECF No. 11-8 at 34. Hill was sent out to a hospital for a CT scan. Id. Later that day, nursing comments indicate that Hill had bruising to both eyes and a laceration above his left eyebrow. Id. at 36. The nurse, Melinda L. Diercks, reported that Hill told her that “when he woke up his cell buddy was standing over him” and that he began to yell for help and correctional officers arrived to assist. Id. Upon his return to the prison, Hill was admitted to the ECI Infirmary for observation. ECF No. 11-8 at 42–48, 97–99.

         After the incident, both Hill and Gillis were charged with violation of the institutional rule prohibiting assault or battery on another inmate. ECF No. 11-9 at 9, 12. Gillis was additionally charged with possessing, using, or manufacturing a weapon. Id. at 12.

         Hill provided the following statement regarding the incident with Gillis:

My room-mate was screaming out the back window to someone on C-Tier about checking on me (rumors of me being gay)[.] He (David Gillis) described me to him and he said that it’s me and he (David Gillis) threatened my health, safety and life – if I didn’t kick and bang on door to alert officers to move me. I kicked and alerted officers to get me out of the cell and no officer took me out of cell. My room-mate struck me with a food tray and I woke up to him hitting me again with [the] tray and threw bleach on me.

ECF No. 11-9 at 21. Gillis refused to provide a statement. Id. at 22. An investigation conducted by the Internal Investigation Division (“IID”) resulted in criminal charges of second-degree assault against Gillis. ECF No. 11-10 at 7–8, 39–43.

         Contrary to Hill’s assertions, Officer Parsons denies being told by either Gillis or Hill on September 13, 2018, that Gillis would harm Hill if Hill was not removed from the cell, and he denies that he simply walked away. ECF No. 11-12 at 1. Parsons also denies ever being asked by either inmate to remove Hill from the cell at any other time. Id. Parsons explains that had either of them informed him of the need for separation, he would have reported it to the Officer in Charge of the Housing Unit because he does not have the authority to move inmates from their assigned cells. Id. Lt. Elliott also states that he never received any reports that Gills made Hill fear for his safety. ECF No. 11-13 at 1.

         C. Internal Complaints

         Hill’s internal “Enemy Alert” list indicates that on January 16, 2018, he named inmates Freddie Parker and Anton James as threats to his safety. ECF No. 11-14. On August 31, 2018, Hill indicated that inmate James Tayman was a threat to his safety because he had stabbed Hill. Id. Gillis was named an enemy on September 14, 2018, following his assault on Hill. Id. Summerville is not listed as an enemy. Id.

         On September 21, 2018, Hill filed a Request for Administrative Remedy (“ARP”) about the September 13, 2018 incident. ECF No. 11-15. It was dismissed for procedural reasons on September 22, 2018 because the incident was already being investigated by IID. Id. Notably, Hill does not claim he told Parsons about Gillis’s threat in this ARP; rather, he states that he “asked the tier worker to let any officer know that [he was] in need of emergency assistance” and that “no officer came to help.” Id. at 1. Hill does, however, claim that Gillis informed Parsons of his intent to do Hill harm if Parsons did not remove Hill from the cell. Id. at 2.

         Hill filed a second ARP on October 1, 2018 in which he complained about his move to C-Tier, which is known to house gang members, after the disciplinary charges against him related to the September 13, 2018 incident were dropped. ECF No. 11-16. This ARP was dismissed that same day because inmates may not seek to address complaints related to case management recommendations and decisions through the ARP process. Id.

         On October 16, 2018, Hill filed a grievance complaint with the Inmate Grievance Office complaining that he was physically assaulted by different inmates on various dates between the months of June 2018 and September 2018. ECF No. 11-17. This ...

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