Cooke v. Department of Corrections for the State of Maryland
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Ellen L. Hollander on 3/6/2017. (c/m 3/7/2017)(ko, Deputy Clerk)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF MARYLAND
ERIC SEBASTIAN COOKE
DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS FOR
THE STATE OF MARYLAND
Civil Action No. ELH-16-3552
Plaintiff Eric Cooke filed a supplemental complaint (ECF 5) in the above-entitled case
following my Order (ECF 4) granting him 28 days to correct noted deficiencies in the original
complaint (ECF 1). Cooke’s original complaint did not name a proper party as a defendant and
failed to provide enough detail about the claims raised for proper screening of the complaint.
See ECF 4.
In the supplemental complaint Cooke names as defendants “Division of Corrections
(MRDCC – BCCC), Warden Tina Stump, ‘et al’/ Wexford Medical Staff.” ECF 5 at 1. The
Clerk will be directed to add the named defendants to the docket. Cooke’s pending motions to
proceed in forma pauperis (ECF 2 and ECF 6) shall be granted. But, for the reasons set forth
below, the complaint, as supplemented, must be dismissed.
I. Factual Background
Cooke’s claim, as clarified in his supplemental complaint, is that unnamed medical staff
at Maryland Reception, Diagnostic and Classification Center (“MRDCC”) and Baltimore City
Correctional Center (“BCCC”) directed him to “drink plenty of fluids” to treat symptoms of
ECF 5 at 3.
He states he followed the directive from August 14 through
September 4 at BCCC, and from September 4 through October 13 at MRDCC.1 Cooke asserts
he was also prescribed laxatives, which required his consumption of 64 ounces of water a day.
Id. at 3 – 4. But, he later found out that the water at both institutions is contaminated. Id. He
claims he did not begin feeling better until he was transferred to the Dorsey Run Correctional
Facility (“DRCF”) in Jessup, Maryland. Id. at 4. Cooke alleges he still gets headaches and
suffers other unspecified abnormalities, which he attributes to consumption of the tainted water
at MRDCC and BCCC. Id.
Cooke asserts he filed an administrative complaint with Warden Stump “about the cruel
and unusual punishment of the Wexford Medical staff [and] also about being subjected to
contaminated water.” ECF 5 at 4. Further, he claims that Stump is responsible for conditions at
both MRDCC and BCCC. Id. He adds that he was “not given [his] due process” because he did
not receive a parole hearing from the Maryland Parole Commission, despite becoming eligible
for parole consideration in May 2016. Id.
II. Standard of Review
This Court is obliged by 28 U.S.C. §1915(a)(1) to screen prisoner complaints and dismiss
any complaint that is frivolous, malicious or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be
granted. In deciding whether a complaint is frivolous, “[t]he district court need not look beyond
the complaint's allegations . . . . It must, however, 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); see also Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94
Cooke does not provide the year for the dates provided. ECF 5 at 3.
Under the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), a case shall be dismissed at any time if
the court determines that (A) the allegation of poverty is untrue; or (B) the action or appeal (i) is
frivolous or malicious; (ii) fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or (iii) seeks
monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.
Whether a complaint states a claim for relief is assessed by reference to the pleading
requirements of Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). Rule 8 provides that a complaint must contain a “short
and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief. See Migdal v.
Rowe Price-Fleming Int’l Inc., 248 F.3d 321, 325-26 (4th Cir. 2001); see also Swierkiewicz v.
Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 513 (2002) (stating that a complaint need only satisfy the “simplified
pleading standard” of Rule 8(a)). The purpose of the rule is to provide the defendant with “fair
notice” of the claim and the “grounds” for entitlement to relief. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550
U.S. 544, 555–56 n. 3 (2007); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009).
A plaintiff need not include “detailed factual allegations” in order to satisfy Rule 8(a)(2).
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Moreover, federal pleading rules “do not countenance dismissal of a
complaint for imperfect statement of the legal theory supporting the claim asserted.” Johnson v.
City of Shelby, ––– U.S. ––––, 135 S.Ct. 346, 346 (2014) (per curiam). But, the rule demands
more than bald accusations or mere speculation. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; see Painter's Mill
Grille, LLC v. Brown, 716 F.3d 342, 350 (4th Cir. 2013). To satisfy the minimal requirements of
Rule 8(a) (2), the complaint must set forth “enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest” a
cognizable cause of action, “even if ... [the] actual proof of those facts is improbable and ...
recovery is very remote and unlikely.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556. In other words, the complaint
must contain facts sufficient to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. at 570; see
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 684; Simmons v. United Mortg. & Loan Inv., LLC, 634 F.3d 754, 768 (4th Cir.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) governs a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon
which relief may be granted. In construing a motion under Rule 12(b)(6), this court must accept
all well-pleaded allegations of the complaint as true and construe the facts and reasonable
inferences derived therefrom in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Venkatraman v. REI
Sys., Inc., 417 F.3d 418, 420 (4th Cir. 2005) (citing Mylan Labs., Inc. v. Matkari, 7 F.3d 1130,
1134 (4th Cir. 1993)); see E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. v. Kolon Industries, Inc., 637 F.3d
435, 440 (4th Cir. 2011); (citations omitted); see also Kendall v. Balcerzak, 650 F.3d 515, 522
(4th Cir.), cert. denied, 132 S.Ct. 402 (2011); Monroe v. City of Charlottesville, 579 F.3d 380,
385–86 (4th Cir. 2009), cert. denied, 559 U.S. 991 (2010). However, a complaint that provides
no more than “labels and conclusions,” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of
action,” is insufficient. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Moreover, the court is not required to accept
legal conclusions drawn from the facts. See Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986);
Monroe, 579 F.3d at 385–86.
A Rule 12(b)(6) motion will be granted if the “well-pleaded facts do not permit the court
to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (citation omitted).
“A court decides whether [the pleading] standard is met by separating the legal conclusions from
the factual allegations, assuming the truth of only the factual allegations, and then determining
whether those allegations allow the court to reasonably infer” that the plaintiff is entitled to the
legal remedy sought. A Society Without A Name v. Virginia, 655 F.3d 342, 346 (4th Cir.2011),
cert. denied, ––– U.S. ––––, 132 S.Ct. 1960 (2012). “‘Dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) is
appropriate only where the complaint lacks a cognizable legal theory or sufficient facts to
support a cognizable legal theory.’ ” Hartmann v. Calif. Dept. of Corr. & Rehab., 707 F.3d 1114,
1122 (9th Cir. 2013) (citation omitted); accord Commonwealth Prop. Advocates, LLC v. Mortg.
Elec. Reg. Sys., Inc., 680 F.3d 1194, 1201–02 (10th Cir.2011) ( “Dismissal is appropriate if the
law simply affords no relief.”).
The Eighth Amendment prohibits “unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain” by virtue
of its guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment. Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153, 173
(1976); see also Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 102 (1976); Scinto v. Stansberry, 841 F.3d 219,
225 (4th Cir. 2016); King v. Rubenstein, 825 F.3d 206, 218 (4th Cir. 2016). In order to state an
Eighth Amendment claim for denial of medical care, a plaintiff must demonstrate that the actions
of the defendant or her failure to act amounted to deliberate indifference to a serious medical
need. See Estelle, 429 U.S. at 106; Jackson v. Lightsey, 775 F.3d 170, 178 (4th Cir. 2014); Iko v.
Shreve, 535 F.3d 225, 241 (4th Cir. 2008). The Fourth Circuit has characterized the applicable
standard as an “exacting” one. Lightsey, 775 F.3d at 178.
Deliberate indifference to a serious medical need requires proof that, objectively, the
prisoner plaintiff was suffering from a serious medical need and that, subjectively, the prison
staff were aware of the need for medical attention but failed either to provide it or to ensure that
the needed care was available. See Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 837 (1994); King, 825 F.3d
at 219. A “‘serious . . . medical need’” is “‘one that has been diagnosed by a physician as
mandating treatment or one that is so obvious that even a lay person would easily recognize the
necessity for a doctor's attention.’” Iko, 535 F.3d at 241 (quoting Henderson v. Sheahan, 196
F.3d 839, 846 (7th Cir. 1999)); see Scinto, 841 F.3d at 228. And, in a case involving a claim of
deliberate indifference to a serious medical need, the inmate must show a “significant injury.”
Danser v. Stansberry, 772 F.3d 340, 346 n.8 (4th Cir. 2014).
Proof of an objectively serious medical condition does not end the inquiry. The subjective
component requires a determination as to whether the defendant acted with “a sufficiently
culpable state of mind.” Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 298 (1991); see Farmer, 511 U.S. at 83940; Scinto, 841 F.3d at 225. Put another way, “[t]o show an Eighth Amendment violation, it is
not enough that an official should have known of a risk; he or she must have had actual
subjective knowledge of both the inmate’s serious medical condition and the excessive risk
posed by the official’s action or inaction.” Lightsey, 775 F.3d at 178.
The Fourth Circuit has said: “True subjective recklessness requires knowledge both of
the general risk, and also that the conduct is inappropriate in light of that risk.” Rich v. Bruce,
129 F.3d 336, 340 n.2 (4th Cir. 1997); see also Young v. City of Mt. Ranier, 238 F.3d 567, 57576 (4th Cir. 2001). As the Farmer Court explained, 511 U.S. at 837, reckless disregard occurs
when a defendant “knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or safety; the
[defendant] must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a
substantial risk of serious harm exists and he must also draw the inference.” Thus, “[a]ctual
knowledge or awareness on the part of the alleged inflicter . . . becomes essential to proof of
deliberate indifference ‘because prison officials who lacked knowledge of a risk cannot be said
to have inflicted punishment.’” Brice v. Va. Beach Corr. Center, 58 F.3d 101, 105 (4th Cir.
1995) (quoting Farmer, 511 U.S. at 844).
Notably, deliberate indifference “is a higher standard for culpability than mere negligence
or even civil recklessness” and, “as a consequence, many acts or omissions that would constitute
medical malpractice will not rise to the level of deliberate indifference.” Lightsey, 775 F.3d at
178; see also Scinto, 841 F.3d at 225; Russell v. Sheffer, 528 F.2d 318, 319 (4th Cir. 1975);
Donlan v. Smith, 662 F. Supp. 352, 361 (D. Md. 1986). What the Court said in Grayson v. Peed,
195 F.3d 692, 695- 96 (4th Cir. 1999), resonates here: “Deliberate indifference is a very high
standard – a showing of mere negligence will not meet it . . . [T]he Constitution is designed to
deal with deprivations of rights, not errors in judgments, even though such errors may have
unfortunate consequences . . . To lower this threshold would thrust federal courts into the daily
practices of local police departments.”
Although the deliberate indifference standard “‘entails more than mere negligence . . . it
is satisfied by something less than acts or omissions for the very purpose of causing harm or with
knowledge that harm will result.’” King, 825 F.3d at 219 (quoting Farmer, 511 U.S. at 835). A
plaintiff can meet the subjective knowledge requirement through direct evidence of a prison
official’s actual knowledge or through circumstantial evidence tending to establish such
knowledge, including evidence “‘that a prison official knew of a substantial risk from the very
fact that the risk was obvious.’” Makdessi v. Fields, 789 F.3d 126, 133 (4th Cir. 2015) (quoting
Farmer, 511 U.S. at 842).
Moreover, if a risk is obvious, a prison official “cannot hide behind an excuse that he was
unaware of a risk, no matter how obvious.” Brice, 58 F.3d at 105. In Scinto, 841 F.3d at 226, the
Fourth Circuit said:
A plaintiff also makes out a prima facie case of deliberate indifference
when he demonstrates “that a substantial risk of [serious harm] was longstanding,
pervasive, well-documented, or expressly noted by prison officials in the past, and
the circumstances suggest that the defendant-official . . . had been exposed to
information concerning the risk and thus must have known about it . . . .” Parrish
ex rel. Lee v. Cleveland, 372 F.3d 294, 303 (4th Cir. 2004) (first alteration in
original) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Farmer, 511 U.S. at 842).
Similarly, a prison official’s “[f]ailure to respond to an inmate’s known medical
needs raises an inference [of] deliberate indifference to those needs.” Miltier v.
Beorn, 896 F.2d 848, 853 (4th Cir. 1990), overruled in part on other grounds by
Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837.
Even if the requisite subjective knowledge is established, an official may still avoid
liability if he “responded reasonably to the risk, even if the harm was not ultimately averted.”
Farmer, 511 U.S. at 844; see Scinto, 841 F.3d at 226. Reasonableness of the actions taken must
be judged in light of the risk the defendant actually knew at the time. See Brown v. Harris, 240
F. 3d 383, 390 (4th Cir. 2000) (citing Liebe v. Norton, 157 F. 3d 574, 577 (8th Cir. 1998) (focus
must be on precautions actually taken in light of suicide risk, not those that could have been
In essence, the treatment rendered must be so grossly incompetent or inadequate as to
shock the conscience or to be intolerable to fundamental fairness. Miltier v. Beorn, 896 F.2d 848,
851 (4th Cir. 1990) (citation omitted) (overruled in part on other grounds by Farmer, 511 U.S. at
837. But, of significance here, the right to treatment is “limited to that which may be provided
upon a reasonable cost and time basis and the essential test is one of medical necessity and not
simply that which may be considered merely desirable.” Bowring v. Godwin, 551 F.2d 44, 47-48
(4th Cir. 1977) (emphasis added). Thus, inmates do not have a constitutional right to the
treatment of their choice.
Dean v. Coughlin, 804 F.2d 207, 215 (2nd Cir. 1986).
disagreements between an inmate and medical staff as to the need for or the appropriate extent of
medical treatment do not give rise to a constitutional injury. See Estelle, 429 U.S. at 105-06;
Wright v. Collins, 766 F.2d 841, 849 (4th Cir. 1985) (citing Gittlemacker v. Prasse, 428 F.2d 1, 6
(3rd Cir. 1970)); see also Fleming v. LeFevere, 423 F.Supp.2d 1064, 1070-71 (C.D. Cal. 2006).
The narrative provided by Cooke does not state a colorable constitutional claim. His bald
assertion that medical staff subjected him to cruel and unusual punishment is unaccompanied by
any allegation that he suffered from a serious medical condition to which they were deliberately
Indeed, on the face of the supplemental complaint Cooke admits that he received
treatment for a condition (constipation) that ordinarily is not a serious medical need. Notably,
Cooke does not allege that medical staff who directed him to “drink plenty of fluids” knew that
the water he consumed was “contaminated.” Moreover, Cooke himself points to no evidence
that the water was in fact contaminated, other than his own belief and the claim that his
symptoms improved when he was transferred to another region of the state. Given that there is
no allegation that the prescribing doctors knew Cooke was drinking contaminated water or that
the directive to drink fluids somehow constitutes substandard medical care, that claim is also
Cooke’s claim as to Warden Stump is based in part on a theory of respondeat superior. It
is well established that the doctrine of respondeat superior does not apply in § 1983 claims.
Supervisory officials are liable only for their own wrongdoing or for supervisory actions where
they are aware that their subordinates have engaged in pervasive and unconstitutional conduct.
See Monell v. New York Dep’t of Social Serv., 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978); Love-Lane v. Martin,
355 F.3d 766, 782 (4th Cir. 2004) (no respondeat superior liability under § 1983). Liability of
supervisory officials “is not based on ordinary principles of respondeat superior, but rather is
premised on ‘a recognition that supervisory indifference or tacit authorization of subordinates'
misconduct may be a causative factor in the constitutional injuries they inflict on those
committed to their care.’” Baynard v. Malone, 268 F.3d 228, 235 (4th Cir. 2001) (quoting
Slakan v. Porter, 737 F.2d 368, 372 (4th Cir. 1984)).
In Shaw v. Stroud, 13 F.3d 791, 799 (4th Cir. 1994), cert. denied, 513 U.S. 813 (1994),
the Fourth Circuit set forth three elements that a plaintiff must prove to establish supervisory
liability under § 1983:
(1) that the supervisor had actual or constructive knowledge that his subordinate
was engaged in conduct that posed “a pervasive and unreasonable risk” of
constitutional injury to citizens like the plaintiff; (2) that the supervisor's response
to that knowledge was so inadequate as to show “deliberate indifference to or tacit
authorization of the alleged offensive practices,”; and (3) that there was an
“affirmative causal link” between the supervisor's inaction and the particular
constitutional injury suffered by the plaintiff.
See also King, 825 F.3d at 224 (applying the Shaw elements); Armstrong v. City of Greensboro,
___ F. Supp. 3d ___, 2016 WL 3167178, at *11 (M.D.N.C. June 6, 2016) (same); Kitchen v.
Ickes, 116 F. Supp. 3d 613, 629 (D. Md. 2015) (same), aff'd, 644 F. App'x 243 (4th Cir. 2016),
cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 2016 WL 5874521 (Dec. 5, 2016).
According to the Shaw Court, to satisfy the first element, a plaintiff must show “(1) the
supervisor's knowledge of (2) conduct engaged in by a subordinate (3) where the conduct poses a
pervasive and unreasonable risk of constitutional injury to the plaintiff.” 13 F.3d at 799 (citing
Slakan v. Porter, 737 F.2d 368, 373 (4th Cir. 1984)). And, establishing a “pervasive” and
“unreasonable” risk of harm “requires evidence that the conduct is widespread, or at least has
been used on several different occasions and that the conduct engaged in by the subordinate
poses an unreasonable risk of harm of constitutional injury.” Shaw, 13 F.3d at 799.
Here there is no evidence that Cooke was denied medical care for a serious medical need,
vitiating any theory of liability against Warden Stump based on the care provided.
To the extent Cooke’s complaint can be read to include an Eighth Amendment claim
regarding conditions of confinement, that claim also fails. Conditions which "deprive inmates of
the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities" may amount to cruel and unusual punishment.
Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347 (1981).
However, conditions which are merely
restrictive or even harsh, "are part of the penalty that criminal offenders pay for their offenses
against society." Id.
In order to establish the imposition of cruel and unusual punishment, a prisoner
must prove two elements - that 'the deprivation of [a] basic human need was
objectively sufficiently serious,' and that 'subjectively the officials acted with a
sufficiently culpable state of mind.'
Shakka v. Smith, 71 F.3d 162, 166 (4th Cir. 1995) (emphasis in original) (citation omitted).
“These requirements spring from the text of the amendment itself; absent intentionality, a
condition imposed on an inmate cannot properly be called “punishment,” and absent severity,
such punishment cannot be called “cruel and unusual.” Iko v. Shreve, 535 F.3d 225, 238 (4th
Cir. 2008) (citing Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 298-300 (1991)).
To establish a sufficiently culpable state of mind, there must be evidence that a known
excessive risk of harm to the inmate’s health or safety was disregarded. See Wilson, 501 U.S. at
298-99. In other words, “the test is whether the guards know the plaintiff inmate faces a serious
danger to his safety and they could avert the danger easily yet they fail to do so.” Brown v. N.C.
Dep’t of Corr., 612 F.3d 720, 723 (4th Cir. 2010) (quoting Case v. Ahitow, 301 F.3d 605, 607
(7th Cir. 2002)). Conduct is not actionable under the Eighth Amendment unless it transgresses
bright lines of clearly-established pre-existing law. See Maciariello v. Sumner, 973 F.2d 295,
298 (4th Cir. 1992).
The vague claims put forth by Cooke that the water was contaminated, and that he still
gets headaches and suffers other abnormalities, simply fall short of a viable Eighth Amendment
claim regarding conditions. “Only extreme deprivations are adequate to satisfy the objective
component of an Eighth Amendment claim regarding conditions of confinement.” De'Lonta v.
Angelone, 330 F.3d 630, 634 (4th Cir. 2003).
Demonstration of an extreme deprivation
proscribed by the Eighth Amendment requires proof of “a serious or significant physical or
emotional injury resulting from the challenged conditions.” See Odom v. S.C. Dep’t of Corr.,
349 F.3d 765, 770 (4th Cir. 2003) (quoting De’Lonta, 330 F.3d at 770).
With regard to Cooke’s claim that he was not given a parole hearing in a timely manner,
it does not state a due process claim. “There is no constitutional or inherent right of a convicted
person to be conditionally released before the expiration of a valid sentence.” Greenholtz v.
Inmates of Nebraska Penal & Corr. Complex, 442 U.S. 1, 7 (1979). “It is therefore axiomatic
that because . . . prisoners have no protected liberty interest in parole they cannot mount a
challenge against a state parole review procedure on procedural (or substantive) Due Process
grounds.” Johnson v. Rodriguez, 110 F.3d 299, 308 (5th Cir. 1997).
To the extent that state law requires that Cooke be provided a parole consideration
hearing after serving a portion of his sentence, his claim may be raised in an appropriate state
forum in an action for mandamus seeking an order requiring the Maryland Parole Commission to
provide the hearing. See Md. Rule 15-701. This court does not have jurisdiction to issue a writ
of mandamus requiring state employees to act. Gurley v. Superior Court of Mecklenburg Cty.,
411 F.2d 586, 587 (4th Cir. 1969).
An Order granting plaintiff’s pending motions to proceed in forma pauperis and
dismissing the complaint follows.
_March 6, 2017
Ellen L. Hollander
United States District Judge
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