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Lewis v. Lau

United States District Court, D. Maryland

October 1, 2019

ALFRED LEWIS, #041817, Plaintiff
v.
AUDREY LAU, Law Library Coordinator, [1] Defendant

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          RICHARD D. BENNETT UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         On April 25, 2019, Plaintiff Alfred Lewis, currently held at the Prince George's County Detention Center ("PGCDC"), filed an unverified[2] Complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging deficiencies in, and a lack of access to, the PGCDC law library, for which he seeks injunctive relief requiring greater access to the library and money damages. ECF l.[3] Defendant Audrey Lau filed a Motion to Dismiss the Complaint or in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF 8), opposed by Lewis (ECF 11).[4] Lau then filed a Reply. ECF 11. For reasons set forth herein, Defendant Lau's dispositive motion, construed as a motion for summary judgment, [5] is DENIED. The Complaint is DISMISSED without prejudice for failure to state a claim.

         A. The Parties' Assertions and Arguments

          Lewis asserts that PGCDC has an "insufficient, poor and inadequate law library" often unavailable to him. As a result, Lewis, who states he is unrepresented in his pending criminal case, alleges that he did not have proper resources to research his criminal case or to request copies of case law and law review articles, forcing him to accept research performed by library staff.[6]ECF 1, pp. 2-4.

         Lau asserts an affirmative defense to suit; namely, that Lewis failed to exhaust administrative remedies by filing an internal grievance with the Prince George's County Department of Corrections pursuant to its Inmate Grievance Policy prior to bringing this lawsuit. Lau asserts that because Lewis did not pursue his claim administratively, his civil rights action must be dismissed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1997e. ECF 8, pp. 4-6; ECF 8-1 (Excerpt of Inmate Handbook, § 800, Inmate Grievance Procedure; ECF 8-2, Policy and Procedure Manual for grievance process).

         In an unverified response, Lewis states that "at multiple times [he has] tr[ied] to use the grievance system. In which staff has inform[ed] me...that they will not provide them & law library is not a grievable offense...." ECF 11, p. 2. Lewis then states that staff refuse to provide grievance forms and that "pretrial detainees do not have the time to waste on the inadequate grievance process." Id.

         Defendant counters this statement by providing an affidavit demonstrating that Lewis failed to comply with the known and available grievance procedure available to PGCDC detainees, ECF 12-1, Affidavit of Derrick Garnett.

         B. Standard of Review

         This Court is mindful of its obligation to liberally construe the pleadings of pro se litigants. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). Nonetheless, liberal construction does not mean that this Court can ignore a clear failure in the pleading to allege facts which set forth a cognizable claim, Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387, 391 (4th Cir. 1990), or "conjure up questions never squarely presented." Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985). In making this determination, this Court "must hold the pro se complaint to less stringent standards than pleadings drafted by attorneys and must read the complaint liberally." White v. White, 886 F.2d 721, 722-23 (4th Cir. 1989).

         A motion for summary judgment is appropriate under Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure only if there exists no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). In other words, if there clearly exist factual issues "that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party, " then summary judgment is inappropriate. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250; see also Pulliam Inv. Co. v. Cameo Props., 810 F.2d 1282, 1286 (4th Cir. 1987); Morrison v. Nissan Motor Co., 601 F.2d 139, 141 (4th Cir. 1979); Stevens v. Howard D. Johnson Co., 181 F.2d 390, 394 (4th Cir. 1950). The moving party bears the burden of showing that there is no genuine issue of material fact. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Pulliam, 810 F.2d at 1286 (citing Charbonnages de France v. Smith, 597 F.2d 406, 414 (4th Cir. 1979)).

         When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the Court must draw all reasonable, inferences in favor of and construe the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Tinsley v. First Union Nat'l Bank, 155 F.3d 435, 437 (4th Cir. 1998). Nevertheless, a party who bears the burden of proof on a particular claim must factually support each element of his or her claim. "[A] complete failure of proof concerning an essential element... necessarily renders all other facts immaterial." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. Thus, on those issues on which the non-moving party will have the burden of proof, it is his or her responsibility to confront the motion for summary judgment with an affidavit or other similar evidence. See Anderson, 477U.S. at 256.

         C. Analysis

         The Prisoner Litigation Reform Act provides, in pertinent part, 42 U.S.C. § 1997e:

(a) Applicability of administrative remedies No action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 of this title, or any other Federal law, by a prisoner confined in any j ail, prison, or other correctional facility until ...

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