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Coombs v. Landry

United States District Court, D. Maine

April 13, 2017

PATRICK COOMBS, Plaintiff
v.
SCOTT LANDRY, et al., Defendants

RECOMMENDED DECISION ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          JOHN C. NIVISON U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         In this action, Plaintiff Patrick Coombs, currently incarcerated at the Maine State Prison, alleges that Defendants - Maine Correctional Center Warden Scott Landry, Captain Shawn Welch, and Unit Manager Luke Monahan - violated his constitutional rights when they denied him due process in connection with certain disciplinary proceedings and related sanctions.

         The matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 33.) Through the motion, Defendants argue that Plaintiff's assertions regarding the need for certain witnesses at the disciplinary hearing are irrelevant to the outcome of the hearing, and that Plaintiff failed to exhaust the available administrative remedies with respect to his claim regarding the removal of personal property from his cell.

         The matter is also before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 35.) Through his motion, Plaintiff argues the record establishes that Defendants violated his due process rights.

         Following a review of the record, and after consideration of the parties' arguments, I recommend the Court grant in part and deny in part Defendants' motion, and deny Plaintiff's motion.

         Factual Record

         Plaintiff's operative pleading is his amended complaint. (ECF No. 26.) In the amended complaint, Plaintiff asserts that Defendant Welch violated Plaintiff's due process rights when Defendant Welch conducted a disciplinary hearing and did not call the witnesses Plaintiff requested; that Defendant Landry violated Plaintiff's due process rights by upholding Defendant Welch's guilty finding on appeal despite the alleged due process violation; and that Defendant Monahan violated Plaintiff's rights by terminating Plaintiff's employment within the prison based on the underlying disciplinary charge.

         At summary judgment, a court ordinarily considers only the facts included in the parties' statements of material facts, which statements must be supported by citations to evidence of record. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) and District of Maine Local Rule 56(b) - (d) require the specific citation to record evidence. In addition, Local Rule 56 establishes the manner by which parties must present their factual statements and the evidence on which the statements depend. A party seeking summary judgment thus must file a supporting statement of material facts setting forth each fact in a separately numbered paragraph, with each factual statement followed by a citation to evidence of record that supports the factual statement. D. Me. Loc. R. 56(b), (f).

         A party seeking to oppose a properly filed and supported motion for summary judgment must file an opposing statement of material facts that admits, denies, or qualifies the factual statements made by the moving party. D. Me. Loc. R. 56(c). Unless a statement is admitted, the opposing party must provide a citation to evidence of record that supports the opposing statement. Id. If a party fails to do so, the moving party's factual statements “shall be deemed admitted.” D. Me. Loc. R. 56(f). Moreover, pursuant to Local Rule 7(b), parties are expected to file an objection to a motion if they contest the motion, and unless they do so are “deemed to have waived objection.”

         A court, however, “may not automatically grant a motion for summary judgment simply because the opposing party failed to comply with a local rule requiring a response within a certain number of days.” NEPSK, Inc. v. Town of Houlton, 283 F.3d 1, 7-8 (1st Cir. 2002). Instead, courts must assess whether the movant has shown “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).

         In support of their motion for summary judgment, Defendants filed a statement of material facts that complies with the Local Rule, in that each statement is supported by a citation to evidence of record. (ECF No. 34.) Plaintiff also filed a statement of fact. (ECF No. 36.) Plaintiff's statement tracks Defendants' statement and, in several instances, states that Plaintiff “concurs” with Defendants' factual assertions. In other instances, Plaintiff offers qualifications, but does not state whether he denies or qualifies Defendants' statements. Plaintiff's statement is not supported by an affidavit, and his pleadings are not sworn.

         At the time of the incidents alleged in the amended complaint, Plaintiff was incarcerated at the Maine Correctional Center (MCC). (Defendants' Statement of Material Facts ¶ 1, ECF No. 34.) Defendant Welch, a correctional captain at MCC, served as the facility's disciplinary hearing officer. (Id. ¶ 2.)

         On June 14, 2014, Defendant Welch held a disciplinary hearing for Plaintiff, who had been charged with a disciplinary infraction (Alcohol, Class A). (Id. ¶ 3.)[1] The disciplinary charge arose out of a May 18, 2014, incident in which a corrections officer found home brewing equipment, fruit and sugar in a cell occupied by Plaintiff and three other prisoners. Two of the other prisoners, J.B. and J.L., were also charged with the same infraction. (Id. ¶ 4.)[2]

         According to the investigating officer's report of the incident (ECF No. 34-2, PageID # 123), which report was part of the record before Defendant Welch at the disciplinary hearing, J.B. and J.L. tested positive for alcohol. (Id. ¶ 5.) Although Plaintiff did not test positive for alcohol, the officer noted that Plaintiff did not appear to be blowing sufficiently into the testing device, and that Plaintiff smelled of alcohol. (Id.) The officer's incident report also reflects that the equipment and supplies were discovered hidden under Plaintiff's bunk. (Id. ¶ 6.)[3]

         The Department's Prisoner Discipline Policy in effect at the time defined the offense of “Alcohol” as “[t]rafficking, possession or use of any alcoholic beverage or the adulteration of any food or drink for the purpose of making an intoxicating beverage.” (Id. ¶ 7; Discipline Policy, ECF No. 34-3, PageID # 156.) Relevant to a possession charge, the policy stated:

In the case of a charge for which possession is an element, and more than one prisoner exercises control over an area in which an item is found, a finding of possession by one or more prisoners may be based on a determination that there is some evidence that the prisoner or prisoners exercised control over the item.

(DSMF ¶ 7; Discipline Policy, ECF No. 34-3, PageID # 150, ¶ 12.) The policy also included the following definition of possession: “For purposes of any violation which includes possession as an element, possession means to have physical possession or otherwise exercise control over an item on the prisoner's person or in his/her assigned area, e.g., room, cell, work area, locker.” (DSMF ¶ 7; Discipline Policy, ECF No. 34-3, PageID # 163.)[4]

         The policy also defined offenses to include accessory and attempted conduct:

THE AFOREMENTIONED VIOLATIONS INCLUDE THE PLANNING OF, ATTEMPT OF, AND/OR PARTICIPATION AS AN ACCESSORY IN THE VIOLATION. An attempt is an act which constitutes a substantial step in a course of conduct that will end in the commission of a prohibited act. A prisoner is an accessory if he/she knowingly provides assistance to another prisoner committing a violation.

(Id.)

         Defendant Welch conducted disciplinary hearings for all three prisoners. He conducted J.L.'s hearing on June 9, 2014, at which hearing J.L. pleaded “no contest” and stated his drinking was a “relapse.” (DSMF ¶ 8.) Defendant Welch conducted the hearing for J.B. and Plaintiff on June 18, 2014. J.B. pleaded not guilty to the charge and denied drinking. Defendant Welch found J.B. guilty of the infraction based on the incident report and other factors, including a positive breathalyzer test, the report of staff that J.B. smelled of alcohol, and the presence of materials and equipment to make alcohol in a cell occupied by J.B. (Id. ¶ 9.)

         At his hearing, Plaintiff pleaded not guilty to the infraction. He argued that he had passed the breathalyzer test, that he had nothing to do with the activity in the cell, and that he was not able to drink alcohol. (Id. ¶ 10.) Defendant Welch found Plaintiff guilty of the offense based principally on the incident report, which reflected that security staff smelled alcohol on Plaintiff, and that the equipment was discovered beneath his bunk. Defendant Welch concluded that the evidence demonstrated that Plaintiff “planned, attempted[, ] participated or was an accessory in the violation.” (Id. ¶ 11.) Defendant Welch found Plaintiff not guilty of possession. (Id.)[5]

         According to Defendant Welch, he denied Plaintiff's request to call J.B., J.L. and the fourth roommate as witnesses because he felt their testimony would not be relevant. More specifically, Defendant Welch determined that because there was no testimony or evidence to contradict the fact that the equipment was found under Plaintiff's bunk, even if the witnesses claimed ownership of the equipment, he was persuaded that at a minimum, Plaintiff was an accessory to the infraction. (Id. ¶ 12.)

         As sanctions for the violation, Defendant Welch recommended 15 days of disciplinary restriction (suspended), 15 days loss of good time (suspended), 10 days loss of privileges and a $75 monetary sanction.[6] (DSMF ¶ 13.) Plaintiff appealed from Defendant Welch's decision to the warden, who affirmed the decision. (Id.)

         Plaintiff subsequently filed a petition for judicial review of the warden's decision in the Cumberland County Superior Court pursuant to the Maine Administrative Procedures Act, 5 M.R.S. §§ 11001 et seq. On January 22, 2015, the court dismissed the petition for lack of jurisdiction because the petition was filed beyond the period specified in the applicable statute for the filing of a request for judicial review. (Id. ¶ 14.)

         On September 22, 2015, Plaintiff filed a grievance regarding certain personal property that had been confiscated from his cell.[7] (Id. ¶ 19.) The grievance review officer investigated Plaintiff's claim and determined that property was properly confiscated because Plaintiff was found guilty of a Class A disciplinary infraction and, under the applicable policy, the guilty finding required him to dispose of the property. (Id. ΒΆ 20-21.) The grievance review ...


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