Haskins v. Hawk

Decision Date29 March 2013
Docket NumberCivil Action No. ELH-11-2000
PartiesRONALD N. HASKINS #285369, Plaintiff, v. CORRECTIONAL OFFICER BRIAN K. HAWK, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Maryland

Plaintiff Ronald N. Haskins, a prison inmate in the custody of the Maryland Division of Correction ("DOC"), filed suit concerning an incident that allegedly occurred during plaintiff's incarceration at the Western Correctional Institute ("WCI") in Cumberland, Maryland.1 Specifically, plaintiff contends that defendant Brian K. Hawk, who was a correctional officer at WCI,2 used unconstitutionally excessive force in restraining and strip-searching him. The Complaint (ECF 1) presents two counts against Officer Hawk.3 In Count I, plaintiff asserts a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of his rights under the Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States. See id. ¶ 18. In Count II, plaintiff asserts state constitutional claims under Article 24 of the Maryland Declaration ofRights. Id. ¶ 20. As to both counts, plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages. Id. ¶¶ 18, 20.4

Defendant responded to the Complaint with a pre-discovery "Motion to Dismiss, or in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment" (ECF 20) (collectively with its supporting memorandum, ECF 20-1, "Motion"), accompanied by exhibits. The Motion has been fully briefed,5 and no hearing is necessary to resolve it. See Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons that follow, I will grant the Motion in part and deny it in part.

Factual and Procedural Background
A. Plaintiff's Allegations6

Mr. Haskins alleges that on August 9, 2008, during his incarceration at WCI, two correctional officers (an "Officer Gilbert" and another officer who plaintiff does not name) "entered [his] cell and attempted to confiscate a cell phone" that was in the possession of his cell mate, Tamall Carroll. Complaint ¶¶ 5-6, 12. Mr. Carroll "threw the cell phone, and it hit one of the Correctional Officers in the head." Id. ¶ 6. The cell phone fell "in the vicinity of Mr. Haskins[,] who picked it up and attempted to throw it to another cell in an attempt to keep it from the officers." Id.

Officer Hawk was not present when the incident involving the cell phone occurred. Id. ¶ 7. However, the other two officers restrained Mr. Haskins until Officer Hawk arrived. Id.After Officer Hawk arrived, Officer Gilbert yelled, "'man, that's assault, that's assault,'" apparently referring to Carroll's throwing of the cell phone. Id. ¶ 8 (quoting Gilbert).

Officer Hawk, allegedly operating under "the erroneous belief" that it was Mr. Haskins who had thrown the cell phone that struck a correctional officer, "maliciously grabbed Mr. Haskins by the head and took him down a set of stairs, away from the area." Id. ¶ 9. Hawk said to Haskins, "'You like assaulting my officers?'" Id. ¶ 10 (quoting Hawk). Officer Hawk then "maliciously and violently grabbed [Mr. Haskins] by the back of his neck and head area and proceeded to pull him along causing Mr. Haskins' head to strike a closed glass door," causing the door to be "thrust open." Id. ¶ 10-11. Hawk took Haskins through the door and into a room, where Haskins fell to the floor. Id. ¶ 11. Officer Hawk "proceeded to strike him and kick him about the head and body" and "ordered Mr. Haskins to take off his clothes." Id. ¶ 11.

Another correctional officer who had been present when Carroll threw the the cell phone entered the room and informed Officer Hawk that Carroll, not Haskins, had thrown the phone. Id. ¶ 12. "When Mr. Haskins attempted to explain what happened Officer Hawk struck him in the mouth and pushed Mr. Haskins['] head into a steel grate that was in the room." Id. ¶ 13. Then, "[t]he Officers pinned [Mr. Haskins] to the grate and ripped off his clothes." Id. ¶ 14. Mr. Haskins fell a second time, at which point Hawk "called him a 'nigger' and slammed his head into the steel grate." Id. (quoting Hawk). Haskins then "blacked out." Id. ¶ 15. When he regained consciousness, Mr. Haskins "heard several officers telling him to stand up straight and squat and spread his butt cheeks." Id. He was unable to do so, instead falling with each attempt. Id.

Plaintiff claims that, "[a]s a result of the assault and beating," he "has suffered and will continue to suffer manifold injuries including neurological problems, orthopaedic problems andemotional distress." Id. ¶ 16.

B. State Administrative and Judicial Proceedings7

Maryland makes available to state prisoners an administrative process for the redress of a prisoner's "grievance against an official or employee of the Division of Corrections." Md. Code (2008 Repl. Vol., 2012 Supp.), § 10-206 of the Correctional Services Article ("C.S."). Under this process, an inmate must first file his grievance pursuant to any administrative remedy procedure ("ARP") that is maintained by the institution in which he is confined. See C.S. § 10-206(b); see also Code of Maryland Regulations ("COMAR") Within thirty days after the completion of the ARP process, the inmate may request further review by submitting a complaint to the statewide Inmate Grievance Office ("IGO"). See COMAR; see also C.S. § 10 206. Complaints are reviewed preliminarily by the IGO. See C.S. § 10-207; COMAR If the IGO determines that the complaint is not "wholly lacking in merit on its face," C.S. § 10-208(c), it refers the matter to the Maryland Office of Administrative Hearings ("OAH"), for a hearing to be conducted by an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). See C.S. § 10-208; COMAR

A decision of an ALJ that dismisses an inmate's grievance in its entirety is considered a final agency determination. See C.S. § 10-209(b)(1). On the other hand, an ALJ's decision concluding that the inmate's complaint is wholly or partly meritorious constitutes a recommendation to the Secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services ("DPSCS"), who is entitled to adopt or reject the ALJ's recommendation, in whole or in part.See C.S. § 10-209(b)(2), (c).8

In any event, a prisoner is "entitled" to judicial review of the final agency determination in a Maryland circuit court. C.S. § 10-210(b)(1). The review is not a de novo proceeding, however. Instead, it is based on the administrative record. See C.S. § 10-210(b)(3). A party (the inmate or DPSCS) "aggrieved" by the circuit court's decision may apply to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals for leave to appeal. C.S. § 10-210(c)(2). Following a decision of the Court of Special Appeals, a party may petition the Maryland Court of Appeals for a writ of certiorari. See Md. Code (2006 Repl. Vol., 2012 Supp.), §§ 12-201 & 12-202(3) of the Courts & Judicial Proceedings Article ("C.J."); see also Stachowski v. State, 416 Md. 276, 6 A.3d 907 (2010) (discussing scope of limitations on certiorari jurisdiction in cases subject to C.J. § 12-202, where review by the Court of Special Appeals is conditioned on leave to appeal).

On June 23, 2009, over ten months after the alleged assault by Officer Hawk, Mr. Haskins filed a request for an ARP with the Warden of WCI concerning the alleged assault by Officer Hawk. See Ex. F to Motion ("ARP") (ECF 20-7) (Haskins' ARP request). Haskins asserted that, as a result of the incident on August 9, 2008, he was seriously injured by Officer Hawk's use of "excessive," "sadistic," and "deadly" force. Id. He also complained that "false promises" were made to him by "investigative D.O.C. personnel," and that criminal charges were never pursued against Officer Hawk concerning the incident. On August 6, 2009, the Warden referred the matter to the DOC's Internal Investigative Unit and dismissed the ARP. See ARP at 1. Mr. Haskins filed an appeal of the dismissal of the ARP to the Commissioner ofCorrection. The appeal was dismissed on August 24, 2009, because the matter was under investigation by the Internal Investigation Unit. See Ex. G to Motion (ECF 20-8) (determination of Commissioner).

On October 6, 2009, Mr. Haskins filed a grievance with the IGO concerning the alleged assault. See Ex. H to Motion (ECF 20-9) (Haskins' IGO grievance). He renewed his claim of "excessive force and assault & battery" by Hawk. Id. The IGO referred the grievance to OAH for a hearing to be conducted by an administrative law judge.

The ALJ held a hearing on March 24, 2010, concerning the grievance. At the hearing, Mr. Haskins was represented by the same attorney who represents him in this case. The ALJ received copious documentary evidence, including medical records of Mr. Haskins' treatment, prepared after the incident and maintained by medical providers under contract to the DOC.9 The ALJ also heard the testimony of Mr. Haskins, as well as argument of plaintiff's counsel and a representative of DOC. See Ex.D to Motion (ECF 20-5) (transcript of ALJ hearing).

On June 21, 2010, the ALJ issued a written Decision and Order, see Ex. E to Motion (ECF 20-6), in which he found that plaintiff "failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that he was physically assaulted and injured by WCI staff on August 9, 2008." Id. at 12. The ALJ based his decision primarily on what the ALJ perceived as inconsistencies between Mr. Haskins' account of the event and the medical records that were received in evidence.10 The ALJ also observed that Mr. Haskins did not present any witnesses other than himself tocorroborate his version of events, such as his cell mate, Officer Hawk, the other correctional officers, or medical providers or other expert witnesses. See id. at 11. Accordingly, the ALJ dismissed plaintiff's grievance. As noted, because the ALJ dismissed plaintiff's grievance in its entirety, the ALJ's decision constituted a final agency decision. See C.S. § 10-209(b)(1)(ii).

Plaintiff filed a timely petition for judicial review in the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County, Maryland. The matter was briefed by pla...

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