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Collins v. Gang

United States District Court, D. Maryland

October 21, 2019

DeJESUS COLLINS, #366-774, #1746-140, Plaintiff


          James K. Bredar, Chief Judge.

         Self-represented Plaintiff DeJesus Collins, a State prisoner incarcerated at Jessup Correctional Institution ("JCI") in Jessup, Maryland, filed an unverified[2] complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging he has been denied adequate medical care after falling while navigating through a metal detector on September 12, 2018. Collins alleges generally that he was subjected to "guard brutality and harassment" and asks for appointment of counsel.[3] ECF 1, pp. 2-3.[4] Now pending is an unopposed[5] Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment filed by JCI Warden Allen Gang, the only named defendant served in this case.[6] ECF 16.[7] For the reasons stated below, defendant's dispositive motion, construed as a motion for summary judgment, [8] will be granted.


         Collins states that around 11:15 a.m. on September 12, 2018, while using his walker to return from the Medical Department, he was told by Lt. Fills to "get on the met[t]al detector I told them I can't do it, because I have a walker and cannot walk without it....They said to do it, and I did and I fell." ECF 1, pp. 2-3. Collins asks "for an injunctions [sic] relief because of the inadequate medical care and guard brutality and harassment." ECF 1, p. 3.

         Counsel for Warden Gang provides exhibits demonstrating that Collins did not file an administrative grievance relating to this slip-and-fall incident, but nonetheless received medical attention for his claimed injury caused by this alleged incident. ECF 16-1, pp. 11-12. Counsel further argues that Gang is entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity for any claim against him in his official capacity and that Gang cannot be held liable under the doctrine of respondeat superior. ECF 16-1, pp. 13-16.

         Applicable Legal Standards

         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 either ignore a clear failure in the pleading to allege facts that 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 "[t]he district 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 Puttiam 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 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, 477 U.S. at 256.


         Collins did not exhaust administrative remedies concerning the incident prior to filing suit as required under the Prisoner Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), 42 U.S.C. § 1997e. Administrative exhaustion under § 1997e(a) is not a jurisdictional requirement and does not impose a heightened pleading requirement on the prisoner; rather, the failure to exhaust administrative remedies is an affirmative defense to be pleaded and proven by defendants. See Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 215-16 (2007); Anderson v. XYZ Corr. Health Servs., Inc., 407 F.2d 674, 682 (4th Cir. 2005). A claim that has not been exhausted may not be considered by this Court. See Bock, 549 U.S. at 220. In other words, exhaustion is mandatory, Ross v. Blake, ___ U.S. ___, 136 S.Ct. 1850, 1857 (2016), and a court ordinarily may not excuse a failure to exhaust. Ross, 136 S.Ct. at 1856 (citing Miller v. French, 530 U.S. 327, 337 (2000) (explaining "[t]he mandatory 'shall'... normally creates an obligation impervious to judicial discretion")).

         The grievance process for Maryland prisoners is set forth at Md. Code Ann. (2008 Repl. Vol.), Corr. Servs. ("C.S."), §§ 10-201 et seq.; Md. Code Regs. ("COMAR") (defining ARP). The grievance process begins with the filing of an Administrative Remedy Procedure ("ARP") complaint filed with the Warden within 30 days of an incident. COMAR If the Warden or managing official denies a prisoner's initial ARP or fails to respond to the ARP within the established time frame, an appeal may be filed with the Commissioner of Correction. While Collins filed seven ARP grievances concerning his medical care following the September 12, 2018, incident (see ECF 16-3, Decl. of Erika Fitch, with attached records), he did not appeal the denial of those grievances.

         Even if exhaustion had occurred prior to the filing of this lawsuit, the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution would prohibit any claim for damages against Warden Gang in his official capacity. See Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 99-101 (1984); Will v. Michigan Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989) (internal citation omitted). Warden Gang is a State official, see Md. Code Ann., State Gov't § 12-101(a) (2015) (defining "state personnel"), and is entitled to assert a defense of Eleventh Amendment immunity. See Md. Code Ann., State Gov't § 12-104(a); Dyer v. Maryland St. Bd. of Edu., 187 F.Supp.3d 599, 611 (D. Md 2016).

         Further, the record does not support any claim for denial of medical care in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Collins complained to health care personnel on September 12, 2018, that he fell by the x-ray machine, hitting his knee on the floor and his back on the wall. ECF 16-7, p. 11. Officers who brought Collins to the health department denied he ...

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