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Maryland Inmate’s Abuse Claims Face Review

WASHINGTON (CN) - The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review whether a Maryland inmate exhausted his administrative remedies while suing a prison guard for excessive force.

Shaidon Blake was convicted of a gang-related murder in April 2007, according to the Baltimore Sun.

Blake claims he was without cause physically assaulted by prison guards Michael Ross and James Madigan while being moved to a different cell block on June 21, 2007. Blake reported the incident and after a year-long investigation, the Internal Investigative Unit (IIU) of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, found that Madigan had used excessive force against Blake by punching him in the face while he was handcuffed.

Blake filed a pro se complaint against Madigan, Ross, two supervisors and three government entities. The government entities were dismissed and Ross and the supervisors filed for summary judgment. The supervisors were granted summary judgment, but not Ross finding that Blake had presented genuine issues of material fact that Ross committed a Constitutional violation.

On Jan. 9, 2012, Ross again moved for summary judgment claiming that Blake had failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. On May 10, 2012, the district court denied Blake's motion to strike and granted summary judgment to Ross and Madigan.

Blake filed a motion for reconsideration. The court responded by reinstating Blake's claim against Madigan, who had not joined Ross's motion, but refused to reinstate his claim against Ross. Blake ultimately prevailed against Madigan at trial.

On Aug. 9, 2013, Blake timely appealed the dismissal of his claim against Ross to the 4th Circuit, which revived the case in a split decision by the three-judge panel on May 21, 2015.

"Ross argues that the lack of information in the Handbook, Regulations, and Directives should be read to mean Blake had no reason to believe he could not file an ARP [Administrative Remedy Procedure] request once the IIU had initiated its investigation," Judge Roger L. Gregory wrote in the majority decision. "But construing the ambiguities against Blake improperly relieves Ross of his burden of proving his affirmative defense."

Chief Judge William B. Traxler joined Gregory in the majority opinion, while Judge G. Steven Agee wrote the dissent.

"Blake mistakenly maintains that he was precluded from seeking relief through the ARP simply because a separate unit of the Department of Corrections conducted an internal investigation into another officer involved in the incident that led to this suit," Agee wrote in the dissent. "Blake did not initiate that investigation himself. Nor did he believe that he was entitled to learn the investigation's results. Even so, Blake somehow decided that the investigation and the ARP were effectively one and the same. He never hints that prison officials actively misled him into this understanding. Instead, he came to his conclusion all on his own, having never read the directives explaining the ARP."

Per its custom, the U.S. Supreme Court did not issue any comment in granting Ross a writ of certiorari late Friday.

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