Corporal v. Warden Weber et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Deborah K. Chasanow on 7/14/2021. (mg3, Deputy Clerk)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF MARYLAND
Civil Action No.: DKC-20-2681
ASSISTANT WARDEN BUTLER,
SECURITY CHIEF ARNOLD,
Pending in this civil rights case are motions filed by Plaintiff Jeffrey Corporal for default
judgment (ECF Nos. 15 and 21) and to dismiss Defendants’ motion for summary judgment (ECF
No. 23); and a motion filed by Defendants to dismiss or for summary judgment (ECF No. 16).
Plaintiff has also filed responses in opposition to Defendants’ motion (ECF Nos. 18, 19, and 22),
an amended complaint (ECF No. 20), and motions for partial summary judgment (ECF No. 24)
and for production of documents (ECF No. 25). No hearing is required. See Local Rule 105.6 (D.
Md. 2021). For the reasons that follow, Plaintiff’s motions will be denied and the complaint and
amended complaint shall be dismissed.
In his initial complaint, Plaintiff alleged that he was denied meaningful access to the courts
when receipt of a decision by the Inmate Grievance Office (“IGO”) dismissing his grievance was
delayed because it was delivered by the prison’s private mail delivery service. ECF No. 1 at 3-4.
Plaintiff explains that he had 30 days to appeal the IGO’s dismissal of his claim to the Circuit
Court for Alleghany County, but a 20-day delay in receiving the decision prohibited him from
meeting that deadline. Id. at 3, 4. Plaintiff faults the delay on the use of the private mail delivery
service in lieu of the U.S. Postal Service for delivery of IGO decisions. Id. at 3-4. He states that
the IGO decision dismissing his grievance as meritless was dated June 19, 2020, and was delivered
on July 8, 2020. Id. at 3. To compound the problem, Plaintiff states that he did not know the
address of the Circuit Court and wrote to the prison law library to ask for the address and “for the
Maryland rule book governing judicial review procedures in Maryland court,” but he never
received a response “pursuant to the COVID-19 pandemic policy of Defendant Security Chief
Arnold, Security Chief at WCI; Assistant Warden Butler, Assistant Warden of WCI; Warden
Weber, Warden of WCI; and Commissioner Hill and Secretary Green.” Id. at 5.
Plaintiff adds that “WCI’s law library, its librarian and clerks have been prohibited since
April 2020 from distributing law materials to housing unit 4, and take weeks, sometimes months,
to respond to prisoners’ letters requesting [ ] law information, whereas the pre-covid-19 pandemic
law library policy permitted the [librarian] and its clerks to provide legal materials to housing unit
4 prisoners monthly, and to respond within a few days to prisoners’ letters asking for legal
information.” ECF No. 1 at 5. Plaintiff states that he was prevented from meeting the July 17,
2020, deadline for appealing the dismissal of his grievance and adds that “5-days was inadequate
for him to meet the deadline” because there was not enough time for him to buy supplies at the
commissary, conduct legal research, and draft his appeal. Id. at 6. Plaintiff surmises that he would
have needed “at least 19-days to meet the filing deadline” but adds that even if he had that much
time, he would not have been able to meet the deadline because the librarian was prohibited from
delivering the law book he requested and the librarian never responded to his letter requesting the
State court’s address. Id.
The legal claims Plaintiff asserts are that he was prohibited from raising in a petition for
judicial review to the State court violations of his First Amendment right of access to the courts,
his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment, and his rights under
“Maryland prison policies, WCI ID 110-41 and DCD 110-4.” ECF No. 1 at 6. He explains that
IGO case no. 201-017-78 concerned his claims against Lt. Smith (housing unit 4 manager),
Warden Weber, Commissioner Hill, and Secretary Green’s policy for operating temporary
isolation cells where Plaintiff was improperly confined from December 5 to 11, 2019. Id. at 7. He
adds that his conditions of confinement claim, as stated in IGO case No. 201-914-00 was dismissed
in a decision dated November 7, 2019; and he did not receive the decision until November 27,
2019. Id. at 8. The underlying complaint concerned his confinement to the temporary isolation
cell from July 26, 2019 to August 5, 2019. Id. Plaintiff claims that because he could not appeal
the IGO’s dismissal of his grievances, he lost the opportunity to seek damages for violation of his
rights under State law and prison policies; enforcement of the prison policies; and to seek
suspension without pay for the prison officials who violated the policies. Id. at 9.
Plaintiff adds that he received two additional IGO decisions on July 8, 2020. The two
decisions were IGO case number 202-005-97, which was dated June 25, 2020 and IGO case
number 202-006-13, which was dated June 22, 2020. ECF No. 1 at 9-10. He deduces from the
receipt of three IGO decisions on one day that the Division of Correction’s mail policy for
delivering IGO decisions to prisoners is to only deliver them “a few times monthly.” Id. at 10.
In this action, Plaintiff’s claims are that: (1) the “inadequate mail service or policy” of
Secretary Green, Commissioner Hill, and Executive Director Taylor that results in a 20 day
delivery time of his legal mail from the IGO violated his First Amendment right of access to the
courts; and (2) the “inadequate library policy for WCI” of Chief Arnold, Assistant Warden Butler,
and Warden Weber, along with the mail service policy, also violated his First Amendment right
of access to the courts.1 Id. at 10.
As relief, Plaintiff seeks twenty-thousand dollars in punitive damages, eight-hundred
thousand in compensatory damages, and a permanent injunction compelling the Division of
Correction and the IGO to use the U.S. Postal Service to deliver legal mail to prisoners in the State
of Maryland. ECF No. 1-1.
Plaintiff’s Pending Motions
On February 9, 2021 and March 9, 2021, the court received Plaintiff’s motions seeking
either default judgment or contempt of court against Defendants. ECF Nos. 15 and 21. Plaintiff
asserts in his first motion that Defendants were granted a thirty-day extension of time to and
including January 19, 2021, to respond to his complaint by order dated December 18, 2020. ECF
No. 15 at 1, see also ECF Nos. 11 and 12. Plaintiff states that Defendants did not file a response
by the deadline and seeks “a total of $6 million” in damages as well as the injunctive relief sought
in his complaint. ECF No. 15 at 2.
In his second motion seeking default judgment, Plaintiff takes issue with this court’s Order
of February 3, 2021, granting Defendants to and including February 23, 2021 to respond to the
complaint. ECF No. 21 at 1. Plaintiff asserts that Defendants failed to respond to the complaint
in a timely manner, entitling him to default judgment. Plaintiff expands further on his assertions
in the context of his motion to dismiss Defendants’ motion for summary judgment where he argues
that counsel’s reliance on “inadvertent error” for missing the deadline to respond to the complaint
on or before January 19, 2021, is insufficient to establish “excusable neglect” pursuant to Fed. R.
Plaintiff lists four claims; however, the third and fourth claims appear to repeat the first
two claims. ECF No. 1 at 11.
Civ. Proc. 6(b)(1)(B). ECF No. 23 at 2. Plaintiff additionally notes that this court’s order granting
Defendants a second extension of time in which to respond to the complaint indicates that the
second motion for extension of time was the second time counsel requested additional time to
respond after the due date. Id., see also ECF No. 14 at 1.
Under Fed. R. Civ. P. 6(b)(1)(B), “[w]hen an act may or must be done within a specified
time, the court may, for good cause, extend the time . . . on motion made after the time has expired
if the party failed to act because of excusable neglect.” “When a party against whom a judgment
for affirmative relief is sought has failed to plead or otherwise defend, and that failure is shown by
affidavit or otherwise, the clerk must enter the party’s default.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 55(a). However,
“[a] defendant’s default does not automatically entitle the plaintiff to entry of a default judgment;
rather, that decision is left to the discretion of the court.” Educ. Credit Mgmt. Corp v. Optimum
Welding, 285 F.R.D. 371, 373 (D. Md. 2012). The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth
Circuit has a “strong policy that cases be decided on the merits.” United States v. Shaffer Equip.
Co., 11 F.3d 450, 453 (4th Cir. 1993).
Since the onset of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic the ordinary course of business in
every arena has been interrupted or delayed. While this court is mindful of the difficulties faced
by counsel, compliance with deadlines set by this court have not been suspended and counsel for
Defendants in this case was reminded of that fact and forewarned that no further extension would
be permitted absent good cause. Defendants then complied with the new deadline and the litigation
of this matter was not unduly delayed. Plaintiff’s motions for default judgment shall be denied.
Motion to Produce Documents
In this motion, Plaintiff simply demands to be given a copy of the IGO decision in IGO
Case No. 20101778 and states that the document will establish he is entitled to partial summary
judgment. ECF No. 25. Discovery has not commenced in this case. See Local Rule 104.4 (D.
To the extent that this motion is intended to invoke Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(d), it is
insufficient to establish Plaintiff’s entitlement to discovery.
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(d) provides that:
If a nonmovant shows by affidavit or declaration that, for specified reasons, it
cannot present facts to justify its opposition, the court may:
(1) Defer considering the motion or deny it;
(2) Allow time to obtain affidavits or declarations or to take discovery; or
(3) Issue any other appropriate order.
A “party opposing summary judgment ‘cannot complain that summary judgment was granted
without discovery unless that party has made an attempt to oppose the motion on the grounds that
more time was needed for discovery.’” Harrods Ltd. v. Sixty Internet Domain Names, 302 F.3d
214, 244 (4th Cir. 2002) (quoting Evans v. Techs. Applications & Serv. Co., 80 F.3d 954, 961 (4th
Cir. 1996)). To raise adequately the issue that discovery is needed, the non-movant typically must
file an affidavit or declaration pursuant to Rule 56(d) (formerly Rule 56(f)), explaining why, “for
specified reasons, it cannot present facts essential to justify its opposition,” without needed
Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(d); see Harrods, 302 F.3d at 244-45 (discussing affidavit
requirement of former Rule 56(f)).
Notably, “‘Rule 56(d) affidavits cannot simply demand discovery for the sake of discovery.’”
Hamilton v. Mayor & City Council of Baltimore, 807 F. Supp. 2d 331, 342 (D. Md. 2011) (quoting
Young v. UPS, No. DKC-08-2586, 2011 WL 665321, at *20, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14266, at *62
(D. Md. Feb. 14, 2011)). “Rather, to justify a denial of summary judgment on the grounds that
additional discovery is necessary, the facts identified in a Rule 56 affidavit must be ‘essential to
[the] opposition.’” Scott v. Nuvell Fin. Servs., LLC, 789 F. Supp. 2d 637, 641 (D. Md. 2011), rvs’d
“[D]iscovery shall not commence and disclosures need not be made until a scheduling
order is entered.”
on other grounds, (alteration in original) (citation omitted). A non-moving party’s Rule 56(d)
request for additional discovery is properly denied “where the additional evidence sought for
discovery would not have by itself created a genuine issue of material fact sufficient to defeat
summary judgment.” Strag v. Bd. of Trs., Craven Cmty. Coll., 55 F.3d 943, 954 (4th Cir. 1995);
see Amirmokri v. Abraham, 437 F. Supp. 2d 414, 420 (D. Md. 2006), aff’d, 266 F. App’x. 274 (4th
Because Plaintiff has not explained why he is entitled to engage in discovery for purposes
of opposing Defendants’ motion, the pending motion for production of documents is denied to the
extent it invokes Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(d). Further, as set-forth below, the subject matter of the IGO
decision Plaintiff seeks by this motion is already a part of this record. See ECF No. 1 at 6-7.
Plaintiff’s amended complaint was received by the court on March 9, 2021, fourteen days
after Defendants filed their motion to dismiss or for summary judgment and on the same date his
response in opposition (ECF No. 18) was received. ECF No. 20. Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a),
“[a] party may amend its pleading once as a matter of course within 21 days after serving it, or if
the pleading is one to which a responsive pleading is required, 21 days after service of a responsive
pleading or 21 days after service of a motion under Rule 12(b), (e), or (f), whichever is earlier.”
Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(1). “In all other cases, a party may amend its pleading only with the opposing
party’s written consent or the court’s leave.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(2).
Plaintiff’s amended complaint changes his requested relief to one-million dollars in
compensatory damages and ten-thousand dollars in punitive damages and “adds facts supporting
his claim.” ECF No. 20 at 1. He states that he filed an administrative remedy procedure complaint
(“ARP”) complaining that prison staff had illegally censored his books and “ultimately appealed”
the matter to the IGO. Id. at 2. He states that he received a letter dated December 14, 2020,
instructing him to provide the IGO with documentation within 30 days but was unable to comply
because he did not receive the letter until January 19, 2021, five days beyond the IGO deadline.
Id. at 2-3. He cites this as an additional example of how the private mail delivery service utilized
by the DOC prevented him from pursuing his administrative remedies. Id.
To the extent that Plaintiff is adding facts that are supportive of his original claim, the
amended complaint is construed as a supplemental pleading pursuant to Rule 15(d).3 The
additional facts asserted shall be considered in the context of Defendants’ dispositive motion.
Defendants assert that the complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief should be
granted because the allegations are vague, Defendants are entitled to qualified and absolute
immunity,4 and Plaintiff has failed to exhaust administrative remedies. ECF No. 16. In support
of their motion, Defendants provide the declaration of Liam Kennedy, the librarian at WCI. ECF
Mr. Kennedy explains that the library at WCI is not “a true law library” because it does not
contain a complete set of law reporters and other legal treatises. ECF No. 16-3 at 1, ¶ 2. Rather,
the library “provides access to legal information, including case law.” Id. In March 2020, access
to the library was restricted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Id. at ¶ 3. The restriction was
communicated to the inmate population. Id.
Rule 15(d) provides: “On motion and reasonable notice, the court may, on just terms,
permit a party to serve a supplemental pleading setting out any transaction, occurrence, or event
that happened after the date of the pleading to be supplemented. The court may permit
supplementation even though the original pleading is defective in stating a claim or defense. The
court may order that the opposing party plead to the supplemental pleading within a specified
Because this court concludes that the complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may
be granted, Defendants’ immunity claims will not be addressed.
Mr. Kennedy was working remotely in March of 2020 and continued to do so until late
August of 2020 when he was directed to return to the WCI library full time. ECF No. 16-3 at ¶¶
4-5. He was again directed to begin teleworking in October 2020 and, at that time, access to the
library was again restricted. Id. at ¶ 5. He states this restriction was again communicated to all
inmates. Id. In February 2021, Mr. Kennedy began working on-site at the library two days per
week; a schedule he maintained at the time his declaration was written. Id. at ¶ 6. He concludes
that the restricted access to the library was done for the safety of the inmate population and not for
the purpose of harming any inmate. Id. at 2, ¶ 7.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
The purpose of a motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) is to test the
sufficiency of the Plaintiff’s complaint. See Edwards v. Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir.
1999). The Supreme Court articulated the proper framework for analysis:
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires only “a short and plain
statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,” in order to
“give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon
which it rests.” Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957) (abrogated on other
grounds). While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does
not need detailed factual allegations, ibid.; Sanjuan v. American Board of
Psychiatry and Neurology, Inc., 40 F.3d 247, 251 (7th Cir. 1994), a plaintiff’s
obligation to provide the “grounds” of his “entitle[ment] to relief” requires more
than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause
of action will not do, see Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986) (on a
motion to dismiss, courts “are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion
couched as a factual allegation”). Factual allegations must be enough to raise a
right to relief above the speculative level, see 5 C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal
Practice and Procedure § 1216, pp. 235-236 (3d ed. 2004) (hereinafter Wright
& Miller) (“[T]he pleading must contain something more . . . than . . . a statement
of facts that merely creates a suspicion [of] a legally cognizable right of action”),
on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if
doubtful in fact), see, e.g., Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 508, n.1
(2002); Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327(1989) (“Rule 12(b)(6) does not
countenance . . . dismissals based on a judge’s disbelief of a complaint’s factual
allegations”); Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974) (a well-pleaded
complaint may proceed even if it appears “that a recovery is very remote and
Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (footnotes omitted).
This standard does not require defendant to establish “beyond doubt” that plaintiff can
prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief. Id. at 561. Once a
claim has been stated adequately, it may be supported by showing any set of facts consistent with
the allegations in the complaint. Id. at 562. The court need not, however, accept unsupported
legal allegations, see Revene v. Charles Cty Comm’rs, 882 F.2d 870, 873 (4th Cir. 1989), legal
conclusions couched as factual allegations, see Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986), or
conclusory factual allegations devoid of any reference to actual events, see United Black
Firefighters v. Hirst, 604 F.2d 844, 847 (4th Cir. 1979).
Defendants assert that the complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted
because the complaint does not satisfy the basic pleading requirements set forth in Rule 8 as he
makes no specific allegations against the named Defendants. ECF No. 16-1 at 2. The complaint
states that Defendants Taylor, Hill, and Green have instituted a prison policy to utilize a private
mail delivery service for delivery of “legal mail” pertaining to IGO complaints and appeals of
ARPs to the Commissioner of Correction. ECF No. 1 at 3. Plaintiff further alleges that Defendants
Arnold, Butler, Weber, Hill and Green instituted a COVID-19 pandemic policy prohibiting the
delivery of legal materials to housing unit 4 at WCI and that when requests are answered there is
an inordinate delay, preventing Plaintiff from litigating his claims. Id. at 5. While the complaint
does raise allegations against the Defendants named, it is nevertheless subject to dismissal on the
merits of the claims asserted.
Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies
Defendants assert that they are entitled to dismissal of the complaint because Plaintiff filed
the instant lawsuit before enough time passed for the administrative remedy process to be
exhausted. ECF No. 16 at 12. They note that Plaintiff submitted an ARP on July 18, 2020
regarding the delay in receiving his IGO decision but filed this complaint on September 7, 2020.
Id. They state that given the time frames established in Md. Code Ann., Corr. Servs. §§ 10-206,
10-210 as well as COMAR 12.02.28.18, it takes “at least a total of 60 days” to exhaust
administrative remedies and Plaintiff filed his complaint 51 days after filing his initial ARP. Id.
Failure to exhaust administrative remedies is an affirmative defense to be pleaded and
proven by defendants. See Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 215-216 (2007); Anderson v. XYZ
Correctional Health Services, Inc., 407 F.3d 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). Therefore, 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”)).
Ordinarily, an inmate must follow the required procedural steps in order to exhaust his
administrative remedies. Moore v. Bennette, 517 F.3d 717, 725, 729; see Langford v. Couch, 50
F.Supp. 2d 544, 548 (E.D. Va. 1999) (“[T]he . . . PLRA amendment made clear that exhaustion is
now mandatory.”). Exhaustion requires completion of “the administrative review process in
accordance with the applicable procedural rules, including deadlines.” Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S.
81, 88, 93 (2006).5 This requirement is one of “proper exhaustion of administrative remedies,
which ‘means using all steps that the agency holds out, and doing so properly (so that the agency
addresses the issues on the merits).’” Woodford 548 U.S. at 93 (quoting Pozo v. McCaughtry, 286
F.3d 1022, 1024 (7th Cir. 2002) (emphasis in original). 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 Kaba v. Stepp,
458 F.3d 678, 684 (7th Cir. 2006).
The Supreme Court stated in Ross that an administrative remedy is available if it is
“‘capable of use’ to obtain ‘some relief for the action complained of.’” 136 S.Ct. at 1859 (quoting
Booth v. Churner, 532 U.S. 731, 738 (2001)). Thus, an inmate must complete the prison’s internal
appeals process, if possible, before bringing suit. See Chase, 286 F. Supp. 2d at 529-30. As a
prisoner, plaintiff is subject to the strict requirements of the exhaustion provisions. See Porter v.
Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 528 (2002) (no distinction is made with respect to the exhaustion
requirement between suits alleging unconstitutional conditions and suits alleging unconstitutional
conduct). Exhaustion is also required even though the relief sought is not attainable through resort
to the administrative remedy procedure. See Booth, 532 U.S. at 741.
The Ross court outlined three circumstances when an administrative remedy is unavailable
and an inmate’s duty to exhaust available remedies “does not come into play.” 136 S. Ct. at 1859.
“In Maryland, filing a request for administrative remedy with the Warden of the prison in
which one is incarcerated is the first of three steps in the Administrative Remedy Procedure
(‘ARP’) process provided by the Division of Correction to its prisoners. If this request is denied,
the prisoner has thirty calendar days to file an appeal with the Commissioner of Correction. If this
appeal is denied, the prisoner has thirty days in which to file an appeal to the Executive Director
of the Inmate Grievance Office (‘IGO’). See Md. Code Ann., Corr. Serv. §§ 10–206, 10–210 and
Code of Maryland Regulations (‘COMAR’), Title 12 § 07.01.05; see also Division of Corrections
Directive (‘DCD’) 185–002, § VI.N I.” Minton v. Childers, 113 F. Supp. 3d 796, 801 (D. Md.
First, “an administrative procedure is unavailable when (despite what regulations or guidance
materials may promise) it operates as a simple dead end—with officers unable or consistently
unwilling to provide any relief to aggrieved inmates.” Id. at 1859. Second, “an administrative
scheme might be so opaque that it becomes, practically speaking, incapable of use. In this
situation, some mechanism exists to provide relief, but no ordinary prisoner can discern or navigate
it.” Id. The third circumstance arises when “prison administrators thwart inmates from taking
advantage of a grievance process through machination, misrepresentation, or intimidation.” Id. at
Defendants’ supposition that “there is no credible way that Plaintiff exhausted his
administrative remedies in the 51 days from when he filed his ARP to when he prematurely filed
the instant matter” provides no refutation of the gravamen of Plaintiff’s complaint which is that
his efforts to exhaust administrative remedies are thwarted by failures to process his claims
properly and to deliver notices and decisions from the IGO in a timely manner. Plaintiff asserts
that his ARP was dismissed pending resubmission, but he was never provided with notice of that
decision and was unable to resubmit the ARP in accordance with that directive. ECF No. 22 at 2.
The entirety of Plaintiff’s claim is that his efforts to access a resolution to his complaints through
the administrative remedy process has been thwarted by Defendants, therefore the non-exhaustion
defense is inapplicable under the circumstances of this case. Defendants have failed properly to
support this affirmative defense.
Access to Courts
Prisoners have a constitutionally protected right of access to the courts. See Bounds v.
Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 821 (1977). However,
Bounds does not guarantee inmates the wherewithal to transform themselves into
litigating engines capable of filing everything from shareholder derivative actions
to slip-and-fall claims. The tools it requires to be provided are those that the
inmates need in order to attack their sentences, directly or collaterally, and in order
to challenge the conditions of their confinement. Impairment of any other litigating
capacity is simply one of the incidental (and perfectly constitutional) consequences
of conviction and incarceration.
Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 355 (1996). Mr. Corporal complains about the delay in receiving
decisions of the Inmate Grievance Office which adversely affected his ability to appeal those
decisions to state court. As will be discussed, his allegations do not state a viable claim under 42
U.S.C. § 1983 both because he has not articulated a legitimate claim that was lost due to the delay,
and more broadly because appeal of IGO decisions to state court is not part of the administrative
exhaustion process that a prisoner must complete preliminary to bringing a claim under the PLRA
and because any impairment of the ability to bring state law claims in state court, not directed at a
prisoner’s sentence or conditions of confinement on constitutional grounds, is not within the
protection articulated in Bounds.
“Ultimately, a prisoner wishing to establish an unconstitutional burden on his right of
access to the courts must show ‘actual injury’ to ‘the capability of bringing contemplated
challenges to sentences or conditions of confinement before the courts.’” O’Dell v. Netherland,
112 F.3d 773, 776 (4th Cir. 1997) (quoting Lewis, 518 U.S. at 355). “The requirement that an
inmate alleging a violation of Bounds must show actual injury derives ultimately from the doctrine
of standing, a constitutional principle that prevents courts of law from undertaking tasks assigned
to the political branches.” Lewis, 518 U.S. at 349. Actual injury occurs when a prisoner
demonstrates that a “nonfrivolous” and “arguable” claim was lost because of the denial of access
to the courts. Id. at 399.
In Christopher v. Harbury, 536 U.S. 403, 403 (2002), the court characterized access-to-the
courts claims as being in one of two categories. Id. at 413-14. The first, termed “forward looking
claims,” are cases where official action frustrates a plaintiff’s ability to bring a suit at the present
time. Jennings v. City of Stillwater, 383 F.3d 1199, 1208-09 (10th Cir. 2004). The second class,
termed “backward looking claims,” arise when a Plaintiff alleges that a specific claim “cannot be
tried (or tried with all the evidence) [because past official action] caused the loss or inadequate
settlement of a meritorious case.” Id. at 1208. In this way, the official action is said to have
“‘rendered hollow [the plaintiff’s] right to seek redress’” in the courts. Id. (quoting Christopher,
536 U.S. at 415 (brackets in original) (internal citations omitted)).
Whether the claim is forward or backward looking, a prisoner claiming that he was denied
access to the courts must ultimately prove that he suffered an actual injury by showing that the
defendant’s acts hindered his ability to pursue a nonfrivolous legal claim. Conclusory allegations
are not sufficient in this regard. See Wardell v. Duncan, 470 F.3d 954, 959 (10th Cir. 2006)
(denying access to court claim based on allegation that petition for a writ of certiorari had, for
unspecified reasons, been dismissed and where plaintiff did not even mention the point on appeal).
The right of access to the courts is “ancillary to the underlying claim, without which a plaintiff
cannot have suffered injury by being shut out of court.” Christopher, 536 U.S. at 415. “[T]he
predicate claim [must] be described well enough to apply the ‘nonfrivolous’ test and to show that
the ‘arguable’ nature of the underlying claim is more than hope.” Id. at 416 (footnote omitted).
“It follows that the underlying cause of action, whether anticipated or lost, is an element that must
be described in the complaint, just as much as allegations must describe the official acts frustrating
the litigation.” Id. at 415.
Defendants do not address the sufficiency of the claims underlying Plaintiff’s access to
courts claim. Rather, they limit their response to the operation of the WCI library and the necessity
to change the normal operations of the library during the pandemic. See ECF No. 16-2. Further,
they do not explain how IGO decisions are delivered to WCI inmates but simply ask this court to
take judicial notice of the fact that mail sent through the United States Postal Service has been
delayed across the entire country. There is nothing in Defendants’ motion denying the use of a
private delivery service or denying Plaintiff’s claim that documents related to appeals of ARPs to
the Commissioner or to the IGO are delivered only twice per month. This court will assume
Plaintiff’s allegations in this regard are true and analyzes his access to courts claim below.
IGO No. 201-017-78
Plaintiff asserts that this IGO complaint concerned his claim that Lt. Smith, the manager
for housing unit 4 at WCI, improperly confined him to an isolation cell for six days (December 5
through 11, 2019). ECF No. 1 at 6-7. He states that his Eighth Amendment rights were violated
during his stay in the isolation cell because the bright light inside the cell stayed on continuously
and could not be turned off. Id. at 7. He further claims that he was denied access to any of his
property and was provided only a pair of socks, a jumpsuit, and boxer shorts to wear. Id. He states
that he was also denied a blanket as well as health and hygiene products, legal documents, the
ability to send and receive mail, and out-of-cell activity including a shower. Id. As a result,
Plaintiff suffered stress and anxiety, sore feet, knees and ankles, headaches, sleep deprivation,
itchy skin from not taking a shower, and a sore throat due to the cold temperatures. Id. at 8. He
does not make a connection between his ability to litigate this claim and the failure to deliver legal
mail to him in a timely manner. It therefore does not state a claim and must be dismissed.
IGO No. 201-914-00
This complaint concerned Plaintiff’s confinement to the same temporary isolation cell from
July 26, 2019 to August 5, 2019. ECF No. 1 at 8. His claim in this complaint mirrors the claim
he raised in IGO No. 201-017-78, but here he asserts that he was denied the opportunity to appeal
the IGO’s dismissal of his complaint to the State circuit court because the IGO decision dated
November 7, 2019 was delivered to him on November 27, 2019. Id. As a result, he claims that he
was prevented from seeking damages for violation of his rights under Maryland State law, damages
for violations of applicable prison policies, enforcement of his rights under State law and
applicable prison policies; and removal or suspension of the State employees who violated prison
regulations. Id. at 9. Because he lost the right to appeal the dismissal of his IGO complaint,
Plaintiff asserts he was limited to seeking “only damages” as to this claim.
Plaintiff filed a complaint in this court concerning the allegation that he was improperly
confined to an isolation cell from July 26, 2019 to August 5, 2019. See Corporal v. Security Chief
Butler, Civ. Action No. DKC-19-3490 (D. Md. 2020).6 This court granted summary judgment in
favor of Defendants in a Memorandum Opinion dated December 7, 2020. Id. at ECF Nos. 26 &
27. The complaint was not dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies; rather the
undisputed facts on the record of that case did not support a finding that Plaintiff’s Eighth
Amendment rights were violated. Id. ECF No. 26 at 12. Additionally, this court found that
Plaintiff failed to allege adequately that he was denied the opportunity to litigate an ongoing,
nonfrivolous, and arguable claim by virtue of the fact that he was denied access to his mail for ten
days. Id. at 14-15. Plaintiff’s access to the courts claim was therefore dismissed as conclusory.
Id. at 15.
With regard to Plaintiff’s exhaustion of administrative remedies in that case, Defendants
provided verified records demonstrating that Plaintiff filed an ARP on August 5, 2019, concerning
his allegation that he was placed in a temporary isolation cell without the Warden’s approval for
ten days. Id. at ECF No. 19-16, p. 8. His allegations included claims that the assignment violated
applicable prison regulations and that the conditions under which he was confined violated the
The court may properly take judicial notice of its own records and other matters of public
record when considering a motion to dismiss. Reference to such matters does not convert the
motion to one for summary judgment. Burley v. Baltimore Police Department, 422 F.Supp.3d
986, 1011-12 (D.Md. 2019).
Eighth Amendment. Id. at 8-9. The ARP was investigated, and Assistant Warden Butler provided
the following response on August 28, 2019:
Your request for administrative remedy is dismissed. You were on staff alert
status from 7/26/19 through 8/5/19. During this time you were continuously
asked to comply with a new housing assignment which you refused. You
received basic clothing and food needs while housed in this cell. Staff did not
receive any complaints of medical or psychological issues. At no time was staff
unprofessional or act outside the scope of their authority. No further actions will
be taken in the matter.
Id. at 2. On August 29, 2019, Plaintiff appealed the Warden’s response to the Commissioner of
Correction. Id. at 11. In a response dated September 16, 2019, Plaintiff’s appeal was dismissed
by the Commissioner. Id. at 13. Plaintiff filed an appeal to the IGO which was received in that
office on October 8, 2019. Id. ECF No. 19-17 at 3. Plaintiff contacted the IGO by letter dated
November 7, 2019, inquiring about the status of his appeal. Id. at 2. In response, Deputy Director
of the IGO, Robin Woolford, sent Plaintiff a letter stating that his appeal was being dismissed after
a preliminary review of his complaint. Id. at 3. Plaintiff’s complaint filed with this court was
dated November 30, 2019. Id. at ECF No. 1. Review of the docket in that case, and others filed
by Plaintiff near that time, establishes that he was able to file appropriate motions, oppose
Defendants’ dispositive motion, filed a motion to alter or amend, and, after the latter was denied,
appealed the decision to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals where it remains pending.7 See
Corporal v. Security Chief Butler, No. 20-7894 (4th Cir. 2020).
Plaintiff’s asserted loss of other remedies that he may have been able to pursue in the
context of an appeal of a summary dismissal by an administrative agency is tenuous at best, given
the evidence produced by Defendants in Civil Action No. DKC-19-3490. That evidence supported
Defendants’ allegations that:
Review of the Fourth Circuit docket establishes that Plaintiff has complied with all
requirements to pursue his appeal.
On July 26, 2019, Mr. Corporal received an infraction for violating Rules 316
(disobeying an order) and 402 (being in an unauthorized location) in connection
with his refusal to accept a new cell assignment. ECF No. 19-5 at 1 (Notice of
Inmate Rule Violation). The infraction notice was written by Sgt. J. Bennett
who was assigned to Housing Unit 4 (HU 4) as the Officer in Charge (“OIC”).
Id. Sgt. Bennett wrote in the infraction that when Mr. Corporal was told to pack
all of his belongings because he was being moved to HU 5, Mr. Corporal stated
that he was refusing to move. Id. After warning Mr. Corporal that his refusal
would result in an infraction and giving Mr. Corporal a direct order to pack his
belongings, Sgt. Bennett removed Mr. Corporal from his cell and escorted him
to cell 4A-25A. Mr. Corporal refused to move into that cell. Id. Sgt. Bennett
then escorted Mr. Corporal to cell 4B-2 “for monitoring of behavior and
compliance with staff.” Id. Mr. Corporal refused to move to another cell
because he did not want to be housed with another inmate. ECF No. 19-7 at 2.
On July 29, 2019, Mr. Corporal was assessed by Karen Brown, RN, for “seg
placement suicide risk.” ECF No. 19-14 at 2-3. Ms. Brown noted that Mr.
Corporal had refused to be assessed and refused to sign a Release of
Responsibility (“ROR”) form. Id. at 3. She educated Mr. Corporal on weekly
mental health rounds in the segregation unit, as well as other matters such as
how to access mental health by sick call slip and suicide prevention. Id.
On July 31, 2019, Lt. J. Smith who was the Special Confinement Unit Manager,
sent a notice to the Chief of Security indicating that he had attempted to remove
Mr. Corporal from “Staff Alert Status” but Mr. Corporal was “still noncompliant with accepting a housing assignment with anybody.” ECF No. 19-7
at 1. Lt. Smith noted that Mr. Corporal had refused a shower and “a vitals check”
and that he redesignated Mr. Corporal to “Staff Alert” until he complied with
staff to accept housing. Id. Chief of Security Lt. Butler approved the assignment
to Staff Alert. Id.
The Staff Alert designation is “a temporary designation to alert staff of inmates
who pose a substantial threat to the security and order of the institution, or who
threaten harm to staff or other inmates and are in need of special handling
practices.” ECF No. 19-8 at 1-2 (Directive No. WCI.110.0006.1.04.B(2)). Once
an inmate is placed on Staff Alert, if an officer “believes the inmate’s behavior
during the past 24-hour period justifies it, the Officer may recommend, in
writing to the Supervisor at any time, that the inmate’s Staff/Behavioral Alert
Designation be evaluated for removal or for the inmate to remain on staff alert.”
Id. at 7. Inmates placed on Staff Alert are to “remain on Staff/Behavioral Alert
Designation only for the amount of time necessary to modify their behavior.”
Id. There are specific requirements for receiving showers, recreation time, and
Showers are provided in accordance with HU 4 policy. ECF No. 19-8 at 9.
Additionally, inmates are escorted to the shower in restraints and must be recuffed in front of their bodies during the shower. Id. After the shower is
completed, the inmate is provided with the jumpsuit worn during the escort to
the shower and, after he puts on the jumpsuit, he is restrained behind his back
once again. Id.
Recreation is provided when the inmate’s behavior warrants it. ECF No. 19-8 at
9. Staff Alert inmates are escorted to the “recreation cage” in full restraints and
must remain restrained during recreation. Id. The inmate’s handcuffs may be
moved to the front for recreation, but the leg irons must remain in place. Id.
When an inmate is assigned to Staff Alert, all of his property is removed,
inventoried, and stored in the HU 4 Property Room. ECF No. 19-8 at 9.
Property is then given back to the inmate “according to the inmate’s behavior.”
Id. Hygiene items are “provided as needed” and the inmate “will be placed in a
jumpsuit and issued a mattress, unless those items are deemed to be a threat to
the security of the inmate’s housing area.” Id.
Mr. Corporal’s Staff Alert status was reviewed every day from July 27 through
August 5, 2019. ECF No. 19-9. Each day until August 5th, it was noted that
Mr. Corporal continued to refuse to share a cell with anyone. Id. at 2-10. On
August 5, 2019, it was recommended that Mr. Corporal be removed from Staff
Alert Status because he was then compliant with accepting a housing
assignment. ECF No. 19-9 at 1. This is also the date of Mr. Corporal’s
adjustment hearing for his July 27, 2019 infraction. Mr. Corporal refused to
attend the adjustment hearing and instead entered a guilty plea to the charges.
ECF No. 19-5 at 4, 7-8. As a penalty, Mr. Corporal was given 15 days of
segregation. Id. He was then escorted to an assigned cell in segregation with
his allowable property. ECF No. 19-9 at 1.
Civil Action No. DKC-19-3490, ECF No. 26 at 3-5. His loss of the opportunity to allege unnamed
violations of State law and/or prison regulations in connection with this case does not state a First
Amendment claim and must be dismissed.
IGO Case Nos. 202-005-97 and 202-006-13
Although Plaintiff asserts that the IGO decisions in these cases were received by him on
the same date, proving, in his view, that delivery of legal mail to WCI only occurs “a few times
monthly”, he does not state what these complaints concerned. ECF No. 1 at 10. To the extent that
this claim concerns the generalized claim that use of a private mail delivery service has an adverse
impact on Plaintiff’s ability to litigate his administrative agency appeals, the claim fails.
Use of Private Delivery Services
Plaintiff claims that Defendants’ use of a private delivery service to deliver legal mail from
the IGO to prisoners violates his First Amendment right of access to courts. As stated by
Defendants, delays in mail delivery by the United States Postal Service are well established. See
e.g., https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/21/us/politics/postal-service-mail-delivery.html (delivery
times falling short of postal service standards); https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2021/
02/26/usps-delays-bills-medications/ (delays in deliveries of paychecks and bills resulting in
additional fees to consumers); https://baltimore.cbslocal.com/2021/01/13/usps-delays-createproblems-for-residents-paying-bills-through-mail-receiving-packages/ (USPS delays) (last visited
April 5, 2021). The use of a private delivery service cannot be characterized as an attempt to
foreclose the ability of prisoners to litigate matters related to the conditions of their confinement
given the current delays in mail service provided by the United States Postal Service. Moreover,
delays in delivering IGO decisions, thus affecting the ability to appeal those decisions to state
circuit court, does not implicate the First Amendment right of access.
Further, delays in answering requests from inmates seeking copies of cases and addresses
by the prison library when the COVID-19 pandemic greatly impacted the ability of prison staff to
be on-site to timely respond to inmate requests sent to the library are understandable in light of the
global pandemic. As noted, while Bounds established that prisoners have a right to meaningful
access to the courts, there is no established right to peruse legal materials for the purpose of
formulating an unspecified claim. Plaintiff’s assertion that he was not provided with the address
of the Allegany County Circuit Court in a timely fashion because the library was not fully
operational is specious. Plaintiff does not indicate that he sent that request elsewhere, such as to
his Case Management Specialist, and was refused the information, nor does he describe the nature
of the action he was seeking to file in the Allegany County Circuit Court.8 Additionally, Plaintiff
admits that he knew the library was not fully functional due to the pandemic, but seemingly
continued to rely solely on the prison library for delivery of materials and information he required
for time-sensitive pleadings. Plaintiff cannot create a claim in his favor by ignoring advisories
given to the inmate population that normal services such as delivery of requested material from
the prison library have been disrupted beyond anyone’s control. Defendants are entitled to
dismissal of this claim.
Motion for Partial Summary Judgment
Plaintiff’s failure to state a claim essentially moots his own motion for partial summary
judgment. Plaintiff recounts in this motion the occasions where he received copies of the Inmate
Grievance Office decisions issued in his case with five days left to file a Notice of Appeal to the
State Circuit Court. ECF No. 24. The motion is essentially a recapitulation of the claims raised
in his complaint; he does not include allegations or evidence that establish he lost the opportunity
to litigate meritorious claims. Plaintiff has not demonstrated by this motion his entitlement to
summary judgment in his favor. The motion shall be denied.
By separate Order which follows, Defendants’ motion shall be granted, and Plaintiff’s
amended complaint shall be dismissed. All remaining motions shall be denied.
July 14, 2021
DEBORAH K. CHASANOW
United States District Judge
To the extent Plaintiff’s intent was to appeal the dismissal of his IGO cases described supra,
the appeals are without any discernible merit.
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