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Johnson v. Bankard

United States District Court, D. Maryland

November 13, 2019

JEREMY JOHNSON, # 437-631, SID # 4099672, Plaintiff



         Plaintiff Jeremy Johnson, a Maryland prisoner, filed an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 seeking money damages against Eastern Correctional Institution ("ECI") Correctional Officers Bankard and Tyler for an assault alleged to have occurred on the afternoon of August 4, 2018. (ECF 1, pp. 3-4)[2] Defendants Bankard and Tyler move to dismiss or alternatively for summary judgment in their favor, arguing that Johnson failed to exhaust administrative remedies and that Johnson cannot factually support his claims.[3] (ECF 15). The pending motion may be decided without a hearing. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2018). For reasons that follow, the Motion to Dismiss or for Summary Judgment is GRANTED and the Complaint is DISMISSED without prejudice for failure to exhaust administrative remedies.


         The record evidence, construed in the light most favorable to Johnson, chronicles. the following events. On January 15, 2019, Johnson filed a complaint against Tyler, Bankard, and Ward, alleging an assault committed while Johnson was incarcerated at ECI. The allegations were investigated by Detective Sergeant Justice of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services ("DPSCS") Intelligence and Investigative Division ("IID"). (ECF 15-2, ITJD Report and Declaration of Nicole Miraglia). The report reiterates Johnson's allegation that he was escorted by Tyler and Bankard into a hallway on HU #4. (Id., p. 6). While under escort, the officers beat Johnson without reason and repeatedly rammed his head against a wall. (Id.). The investigator noted that at the time of the interview Johnson showed no visible sign of injury. (Id.). The "view-only" video camera in the hallway was aimed toward the back door and did not show the alleged incident. (Id.).

         On August 4, 2018, medical documentation by Nurse Sarah Johnson indicated Johnson showed no visible signs of injury. (Id., p. 7). On August 5, 2018, Nurse Elizabeth Miller noted that Johnson was admitted to the Administrative Segregation Observation Area overnight, where she observed him. (Id.). Nurse Miller observed that Johnson did not cooperate with the officers and repeatedly pulled away. (Id.). The only signs of injury were bilateral bruising and a circular abrasion on the left wrist and some swelling of the right knee. (Id.). Johnson claims his initial grievance concerning the event was dismissed. (ECF 1, p. 3).

         Standard of Review

         In addressing the pending motion, the court will consider documents beyond those intrinsic to Johnson's Complaint. Consequently, the defendants' Motion is treated as one for summary judgment. Pursuant to Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment shall be granted if the movant demonstrates that no genuine issue of disputed material fact exists, rendering the movant entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(d). "By its very terms, this standard provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986) (emphases in original). "The party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of [his] pleadings, but rather must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." See Bouchat v. Baltimore Ravens Football Club, Inc., 346 F.3d 514, 525 (4th Cir. 2003) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)) (alteration in original). The court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant and draw all inferences in his favor, without weighing the evidence or assessing witness credibility. See Dennis v. Columbia Colleton Med. Ctr., Inc., 290 F.3d 639, 644-45 (4th Cir. 2002). It is the court's obligation to prevent factually unsupported claims and defenses from proceeding to trial. Bouchat, 346 F.3d at 526.

         The defendants have attached to their motion records, declarations, and verified correctional records. Because the Complaint is not verified, the court cannot consider the factual allegations raised by Johnson in determining the propriety of summary judgment. See Williams v. Griffin, 952 F.2d 820, 823 (4th Cir. 1991); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A); see also Abdelnaby v. Durham D & M, LLC, No. GLR-14-3905, 2017 WL 3725500, at *4 (D. Md. Aug. 29, 2017) (awarding summary judgment for the defendants, because the plaintiff could not "create a genuine dispute of material fact 'through mere speculation, '" and "[t]hus, the Court [wa]s left with a record that [wa]s bereft of evidence supporting any of Abdelnaby's arguments") (quoting Beale v. Hardy, 769 F.2d 213, 214 (4th Cir. 1985)).[4]


         The defendants raise the affirmative defense that Johnson has failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. They correctly state that if Johnson's claims have not been properly presented through the administrative remedy procedure, the claims must be dismissed pursuant to the Prisoner Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), 42U.S.C. § 1997e. The PLRA provides in pertinent part that:

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 jail, prison, or other correctional facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted.

42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a).[5] 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); Custis v. Davis, 851 F.3d 358, 361 (4th Cir. 2017). A claim that has not been exhausted may not be considered by this Court. See Bock, 549 U.S. at 219-20. In other words, exhaustion is mandatory, and a court ordinarily may not excuse a failure to exhaust. Ross v. Blake, 136 S.Ct. 1850, 1856-57 (2016) (citing Miller v. French, 530 U.S. 327, 337 (2000) (explaining "[t]he mandatory 'shall'. . . normally creates an obligation impervious to judicial discretion")).

         Ordinarily, a prisoner must follow the required procedural steps in order to exhaust his administrative remedies. Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 88, 93 (2006); Moore v. Bennette, 517 F.3d 717, 725 (4th Cir. 2008). But the Court is "obligated to ensure that any defects in [administrative] exhaustion were not procured from the action or inaction of prison officials." Aquilar-Avellaveda v. Terrell, 478 F.3d 1223, 1225 (10th Cir. 2007); see Moore, 517 F.3d at 725 (citing Aquilar-Avellweda, 478 F.3d at 1225); Kaba v. Stepp, 458 F.3d 678, 684 (7th Cir. 2006).

         DPSCS's grievance system for "inmate complaint resolution" is set forth at Md. Code Ann, (2008 Repl. Vol.), Corr. Servs. ("C.S."), §§ 10-201 et seq.; Md. Code Regs. ("COMAR") 12, 02.28.02(1) (defining ARP). The grievance procedure applies to the submission of "grievance[s] against. . . officials] or employee[s] of the Division of Correction[.]" C.S. ยง 10-206(a). Regulations promulgated by DPSCS concerning the administrative remedy procedure define a "grievance" to include a "complaint of any individual in the custody of the [DOC] against any officials or employees of the [DOC] arising from the circumstances of custody or confinement." COMAR "A court may not consider an individual's grievance that is within the jurisdiction of the [Inmate Grievance] ...

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