Anderson v. Gilpin et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Paul W. Grimm on 2/28/2017. (c/m 2/28/2017 ah4s, Deputy Clerk)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF MARYLAND
CODY GILPIN, et al.
Civil Action No. PWG-15-3967
Pending is Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss, or in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment.
ECF No. 31. Plaintiff was advised of his right to respond to the motion and of the consequences
of failing to do so, ECF No. 32, but has not opposed the motion. The Court finds a hearing in
this matter unnecessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). Because a genuine dispute exists
as to the material facts, Defendants’ motion, construed as a Motion for Summary Judgment, shall
Plaintiff Jonathan Anderson was at all relevant times an inmate committed to the custody
of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (“DPSCS”) and confined
at North Branch Correctional Institution (“NBCI”) in Cumberland, Maryland. 1 At NBCI, the
practice of holding the feed-up slot open on a cell door is a breach in security. See Passman
Decl. 1. Allowing the slot to remain open permits an inmate the opportunity to “throw what is
known as a ‘correctional cocktail,’ which is a [m]ixture of liquid and human excrement.” Id.
Attempts to prevent an officer from closing the slot is a violation of institutional rules. Id.
Anderson has been released from custody. See Notice Change of Address, ECF No. 28.
On October 9, 2015, at approximately 9:30 a.m., Officer Cody Gilpin came to
Anderson’s cell to deliver his lunch tray. See Compl. 3, ECF No. 1. In his verified Complaint,
Anderson alleges that, as he was retrieving the lunch tray from the cell food slot, Officer Gilpin
closed the slot on his right hand. Id. Despite the food slot being partially closed, Anderson was
able to maneuver his hand to release the food tray and his hand. Id. He alleges that Gilpin then
smiled and stated, “I’ll chop your hand off.” Id. at 4. When the events of October 9, 2015 later
were investigated, Anderson reported that Gilpin closed the door on the food tray, but he did not
mention that his hand was in the slot or that Gilpin made any threats. See IID Rept. 9–10. 2
After Anderson ate his lunch, Gilpin returned to his cell to collect the tray, and Anderson
asked to speak with Sergeant Janet Puffenbarger. See IID Rept. 9; Compl. 4; Passman Decl. 1.
Anderson admitted that he “put his right hand in the [food] slot to prohibit the slot from closing.”
IID Rept. 9; see Passman Decl. 1. Officer Gilpin told Anderson that “the Sergeant was not going
to do anything for [him],” and ordered him to remove his hand from the slot, where Anderson
was holding the tray. Compl. 4. Anderson repeated his request to see a supervisor and Gilpin
walked away. Id.
Shortly after, Gilpin returned, accompanied by Officer Nathanial Passman. Compl. 4;
IID Rept. 9. Passman stated that Gilpin had asked him to assist him in collecting Anderson’s
food tray. Passman Decl. 1. According to Anderson, Passman threatened to pepper spray him in
the face if he did not remove his hand from the tray in the slot and, before he could respond to
Exhibit 1 to Defendants’ Memorandum, ECF No. 31-2, includes Passman’s Declaration, an
Information Report Form, the Notice of Inmate Rule Violation, the Notice of Inmate
Disciplinary Hearing, and the Inmate Hearing Record. Exhibit 2 to Defendants’ Memorandum,
ECF No. 31-3, is the IID Report. The page numbers for the IID Report refer to the Bates stamps
at the bottom of the pages.
the command, Officer Passman “shut the slot on [Anderson’s] hand,” causing injury. Compl. 4;
IID Rept. 9.
Passman recalled a different sequence of events. According to Passman, when he arrived
at Anderson’s cell with Gilpin, Anderson had “jammed the rubber tray in the feed slot, using it to
prevent the sliding slot door from closing.” Passman Decl. 2; IID Rept. 10. Anderson was still
demanding to speak with Sergeant Puffenbarger, so Passman informed Anderson he would have
to be handcuffed in order to see the sergeant. Passman Decl. 2. Anderson responded with
obscenities and insisted that Puffenbarger come to his cell to talk to him. Id. Passman then tried
to remove the tray so that the slot could be closed, as it was against institutional rules for an
inmate to keep the slot open; closing the slot would eliminate the potential security threat. See
id. He “dislodge[d] the tray by … forcefully clos[ing] the sliding slot.” Id.; IID Rept. 10.
Passman asserted that Anderson’s hand was not in the slot at that time; however, Anderson then
“abruptly stuck his hand out,” in an attempt “to stop [Passman] from completely securing it,”
causing the sliding slot to hit Anderson’s hand upon closing. Passman Decl. 2; see IID Rept. 10;
Information Report Form. Passman stated that “[he] did not see his hand in time to prevent the
sliding slot from hitting it, nor did [he] do it on purpose.” Passman Decl. 2; see IID Rept. 10.
Officer Gilpin reported that Anderson refused to remove his hand from the food slot, and
therefore, Sergeant Puffenbarger ordered Anderson to be brought to her office. IID Rept. 11.
When Gilpin and Passman arrived at Anderson’s cell, Anderson refused to be handcuffed. Id.
At some point, Passman closed the food slot on Anderson’s hand; however, Gilpin did not
observe how it happened. Id.
In his Complaint, Anderson claims that, as a result of Passman closing the slot on his
hand, he suffered a “severe contusion” to his hand that required immediate medical treatment.
Compl. 4. He states that “there was blood everywhere on the slot” and that he “had to receive
several stitches.” Id. Though he requested immediate medical attention, treatment was not
provided until twenty-five minutes later.
Id. at 5.
During the investigation of the event,
however, Anderson did not say that he immediately requested medical treatment.
Anderson reported that his hand was stuck in the food slot for fifteen to twenty minutes, and it
was not until Officer Jamey Durst arrived at his cell to escort him to see Sergeant Puffenbarger
that the officers noticed his hand was stuck and injured, and he then was taken to the medical
unit and received treatment. IID Rept. 9. He claims that he still suffers with pain in his hand and
that he cannot feel his hand during cold weather. Compl. 4-5. As relief, Anderson seeks
compensatory and punitive damages. 3 Id. at 3.
According to Passman, when he saw that the door had struck Anderson’s hand, he
immediately pulled the slot open. Passman Decl. 2; IID Rept. 10. There was no bleeding at the
time, but medical attention was offered to Anderson, which he declined. Passman Decl. 2; IID
Rept. 10. Shortly after the incident, however, Officer Jamey Durst went to Anderson’s cell and
convinced him to have his hand looked at by medical personnel. Passman Decl. 2; IID Rept. 10.
At this point, Passman “noticed that Mr. Anderson’s hand was bleeding and reported it to Sgt.
Puffenb[a]rger.” Passman Decl. 2.
As a result of the incident, Anderson received a Notice of Inmate Rule Violation and a
Notice of Inmate Disciplinary Hearing. At an adjustment hearing held on October 13, 2015,
On February 22, 2016, Anderson supplemented the complaint and alleged that his hand was
again closed in the feed up slot and that he was being harassed by correctional officers. See
Suppl. Compl. 1, ECF No. 16. Because Anderson did not seek leave to amend the complaint to
include the additional allegations raised, the allegations in the supplemental complaint are not
addressed in this case. In any event, they would not change the outcome of this analysis.
Anderson pled guilty to violating three rules, 4 “was administrative[ly] sanctioned and received
60 days of segregation.” IID Rept. 11.
On October 19, 2015, Anderson submitted a Request for Administrative Remedy
Procedure (“ARP”), claiming that he was assaulted by Officer Gilpin and Officer Passman, and
would like to file formal charges.
See IID Rept. 14.
Based on the assault described in
Anderson’s ARP, Sergeant Chris Burton of the Internal Investigative Division (“IID”) conducted
an investigation into Anderson’s claim. Id. at 8. During the investigation, Burton interviewed
Anderson, Officer Passman, and Officer Gilpin. Id. at 9-12. He also reviewed medical records
surrounding the alleged assault and video recording from Anderson’s cell. Id.
Burton reported that Anderson had “initially submitted a written statement claiming that
no assault occurred.” See id. at 10. Anderson stated that he “wrote the statement because [the
officers] promised him that he could be moved off the tier and placed into a special program.”
Id. However, after a week passed and he was not moved, Anderson submitted the ARP reporting
the assault. Id.
At the conclusion of his investigation, Burton found that “there was no definitive
evidence to indicate that Officer Nathaniel Passman intentionally closed the food slot on the right
hand of Inmate Anderson. Therefore no criminal charges were filed.” IID Rept. 12.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Summary judgment is proper when the moving party demonstrates, through “particular
parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored
information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations . . . , admissions, interrogatory answers, or
Anderson was charged with violating Rule 116 (tampering with security equipment or
property), Rule 312 (interfering with or resisting the performance of staff duties), and Rule 400
(disobeying an order). See IID Rept.
other materials,” that “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a), (c)(1)(A); see Baldwin v. City of
Greensboro, 714 F.3d 828, 833 (4th Cir. 2013).
If the party seeking summary judgment
demonstrates that there is no evidence to support the nonmoving party’s case, the burden shifts to
the nonmoving party to identify evidence that shows that a genuine dispute exists as to material
facts. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 585–87 & n.10
(1986). The existence of only a “scintilla of evidence” is not enough to defeat a motion for
summary judgment. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251–52 (1986). Instead, the
evidentiary materials submitted must show facts from which the finder of fact reasonably could
find for the party opposing summary judgment. Id. On a motion for summary judgment, I
consider the facts in the light most favorable to Plaintiff as the non-moving party, drawing all
justifiable inferences in his favor. Ricci v. DeStefano, 557 U.S. 557, 585–86 (2009); George &
Co., LLC v. Imagination Entm’t Ltd., 575 F.3d 383, 391–92 (4th Cir. 2009); Titan Indem. Co. v.
Gaitan Enters., Inc., No. PWG-15-2480, 2016 WL 6680112, at *1 (D. Md. Nov. 14, 2016).
Defendants argue that Anderson “fails to show that excessive force was used.” Defs.’
Mem. 8. Whether force used by prison officials was excessive, in violation of the Eighth
Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, is determined by inquiring if “force
was applied in a good-faith effort to maintain or restore discipline, or maliciously and
sadistically to cause harm.” Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U. S. 1, 6-7 (1992). This Court must
consider “‘the need for application of force; the relationship between th[at] need and the amount
of force’” applied; “‘the extent of the injury inflicted,’ . . . the extent of the threat to the safety of
staff and inmates, as reasonably perceived by the responsible officials on the basis of the facts
known to them, and any efforts made to temper the severity of a forceful response.” Whitley v.
Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 321 (1986) (quoting Johnson v. Glick, 481 F.2d 1028, 1033 (2d Cir.
1973)). The absence of significant injury alone is not dispositive of a claim of excessive force.
Wilkins v. Gaddy, 559 U.S. 34, 34 (2010). The extent of injury incurred is one factor indicative
of whether or not the force used was necessary in a particular situation, but if force is applied
maliciously and sadistically liability is not avoided simply because the prisoner had the good
fortune to escape serious harm. Id. at 38.
Defendants offer evidence that the injury Anderson sustained was the result of an
accident, and not an intentional application of force, as Passman was trying to force closed the
food slot where Anderson had jammed his tray. Certainly, it is undisputed that Passman forced
the slot door closed after Anderson held the slot open, in violation of institutional rules. But,
Anderson asserts in his verified Complaint that Gilpin had threatened to “chop [his] hand off”
and offers evidence that Passman knew his hand was in the slot and did not give him time to
comply with the command to remove his hand before slamming the slot door closed. Thus,
genuine disputes exist regarding whether Anderson’s hand was in the slot when Passman began
to force it closed and, if so, whether Passman knew that it was there and gave him sufficient time
to remove it before forcing the slot closed. Summary judgment is not appropriate on this ground.
See Washington v. Rounds, --- F. Supp. 3d ----, 2016 WL 7015666, at *1, *6 (D. Md. Nov. 30,
2016) (denying summary judgment where the prisoner alleged “he was subject to excessive force
when an officer slammed the cell door metal food slot onto his left hand, fracturing it” and the
officer defendant countered that, “as he closed the slot, Washington stuck his left hand through
the slot and the slot accidentally closed on his left arm”; reasoning that “plainly a material
dispute [existed] as to Washington was interfering with and/or threatening correctional officers”
when Rounds closed the slot on his hand, such that “the factual allegations regarding the need for
force, the extent of force used, and what injuries were sustained by Washington c[ould] not be
resolved on the motions”).
Defendants also argue for summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity. See
Defs.’ Mem. 13.
Qualified immunity shields “government officials performing
discretionary functions ... from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct
does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a
reasonable person would have known.” Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818
(1982). In determining whether defendant government officials are protected by
qualified immunity, the court considers both “whether a constitutional right [was]
violated on the facts alleged” and “whether the right was clearly established” at
the time of the conduct in question. Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 200 (2001),
overruled in part by Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223 (2009).
Scinto v. Stansberry, 841 F.3d 219, 235 (4th Cir. 2016). And, “[f]or a constitutional right to be
clearly established, its contours ‘must be sufficiently clear that a reasonable official would
understand that what he is doing violates that right.’ ” Id. (quoting Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730,
739 (2002) (quoting Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 640 (1987))). Nonetheless, “[t]here is
no requirement that the ‘very action in question [must have] previously been held unlawful’ for a
reasonable official to have notice that his conduct violated that right.” Id. at 236 (quoting Hope,
536 U.S. at 739).
Defendants argue that “Plaintiff cannot establish that he has a clear right to impede an
officer’s duty to secure a cell door.”
Defs.’ Mem. 14.
Although that is true, it is not
determinative, because Plaintiff did have a clear right under the Eighth Amendment to be free
from cruel and unusual punishment. This clear right reasonably put the officers on notice that
they could not slam Anderson’s hand in the food slot unnecessarily. See Scinto, 841 F.3d at
235–36. As discussed, a reasonable jury could find on the record before me that Defendants
violated Anderson’s Eighth Amendment rights by intentionally forcing the food slot closed on
his hand without giving him the opportunity to remove it. “Although a jury may ultimately
decide that Defendants’ version of events is more credible, we are barred from making such a
determination when deciding whether to grant summary judgment based on qualified immunity.”
Scinto, 841 F.3d at 235 (citing Meyers v. Balt. Cnty., 713 F.3d 723, 733 (4th Cir. 2013)).
For this reason, I will deny Defendants’ motion; appoint counsel to represent the
Plaintiff, and issue a scheduling order. A separate Order follows.
Dated: February 28, 2017
Paul W. Grimm
United States District Judge
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