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McMahon v. County Commissioners of Kent County

United States District Court, Fourth Circuit

May 21, 2013

DAREK McMAHON,
v.
COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF KENT COUNTY, et al.

MEMORANDUM

J. FREDERICK MOTZ, District Judge.

Plaintiff Darek McMahon brings this suit for damages related to a physical and sexual assault allegedly perpetrated by other inmates while McMahon was incarcerated at the Kent County Detention Center in January 2010. He has named as defendants the five alleged perpetrators of the assault[1] as well as the County Commissioners of Kent County, the Kent County Sheriff's Office, the Kent County Detention Center, Warden Ronald Howell, Sergeant Thomas Hutchins, and Officer J. Crossley (the "official defendants"). The official defendants have moved to dismiss certain defendants from certain counts or, in the alternative, for summary judgment on those counts. The motion is fully briefed, and no hearing is necessary. See Local R. 105.6. For the reasons set forth below, the motion to dismiss will be granted.

BACKGROUND

According to the complaint, McMahon was incarcerated at the Kent County Detention Center in late 2009 and early 2010.[2] During at least part of that time, he worked alongside other inmates, without supervision, as a member of the Male Work Release Unit. In November 2009, however, McMahon was removed from the Male Work Release Unit due to concerns about his safety. McMahon alleges that some of those concerns were attributable to defendant Charles Hawkins, another inmate on the Male Work Release Unit. Similar safety concerns apparently arose in December 2009.

Despite these concerns, McMahon allegedly was assigned to the Male Work Release Unit in January 2010. In the middle of that month, McMahon alleges that he was physically and sexually assaulted by defendants Charles Hawkins, Mallory Winstead Jr., Daniel Manley, Fred List III, and Robert Susi. The complaint alleges that McMahon was initially assaulted near the recreational area of the Male Work Release Unit before being carried to the Male Work Release Unit bathroom. In the bathroom, Hawkins allegedly inserted a foreign object into McMahon's anus. Neither the recreational area nor the bathroom was adequately supervised, according to McMahon, and the Male Work Release Unit's surveillance system did not function on the date of the assault. McMahon was taken to the Chester River Hospital, where a physical examination revealed anal and rectal trauma with multiple anal and perianal tears. McMahon allegedly has experienced numerous seizures as a result of the assault.

The detention center's records purportedly confirm that defendants Howell, Hutchins, and Crossley knew in November and December 2009 that McMahon "needed to be separated from the general population." (Compl. § 29, ECF No. 2.) The complaint alleges that Warden Howell personally executed McMahon's reclassification records and was aware of the potential danger that McMahon faced. McMahon had previously warned Sergeant Hutchins, the immediate supervisor of the Male Work Release Unit on the date of the assault, that McMahon was in danger, yet Hutchins was "deliberately indifferent to the Plaintiff's health, safety, welfare, protection, care and secure confinement." (Compl. § 37.)

The complaint, which McMahon originally filed in state court, includes four counts. In count one, McMahon seeks damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged violations of the constitutional rights guaranteed in the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. In count two, McMahon requests damages for alleged violations of Articles 24, 25, and 27 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights. Count three alleges assault and battery, and count four alleges intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The official defendants subsequently removed the case to this court[3] and, one week later, filed the pending motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. The motion raises four arguments. First, the Kent County Detention Center argues that it must be dismissed from the action because it is not an entity capable of being sued. The Kent County Sheriff's Office also seeks to be dismissed from the case because it does not operate the Kent County Detention Center. Second, the County Commissioners of Kent County seek to be dismissed from count one because "[t]he Complaint is utterly devoid of any factual allegations of an unlawful or unconstitutional custom, pattern[, ] or practice that proximately caused the incident at issue, " (Mot. Dismiss at 5, ECF No. 6-1), as required by Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978). Third, the County Commissioners of Kent County claim that governmental immunity shields them from tort liability under counts three and four. Finally, defendants Howell and Crossley argue that they are immune from liability under counts two, three, and four because McMahon did not plausibly allege that they acted with actual malice.

STANDARD

Defendants have moved to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. A court deciding a motion to dismiss "may consider documents attached to the complaint, as well as those attached to the motion to dismiss, so long as they are integral to the complaint and authentic." Sec'y of State for Def. v. Trimble Navigation Ltd., 484 F.3d 700, 705 (4th Cir. 2007) (internal citations omitted). The official defendants attached to their complaint two affidavits describing the relationship between Kent County, the Kent County Detention Center, and the Kent County Sheriff's Office. The court has no reason to question the authenticity or reliability of the affidavits, and the municipal structure described therein is integral to McMahon's claims against the various defendants. The court therefore may consider those documents without treating McMahon's motion as a motion for summary judgment.

"[T]he purpose of Rule 12(b)(6) is to test the sufficiency of a complaint and not to resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses." Presley v. City of Charlottesville, 464 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Cir. 2006) (internal quotation marks and alterations omitted). When ruling on such a motion, the court must "accept the well-pled allegations of the complaint as true" and "construe the facts and reasonable inferences derived therefrom in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Ibarra v. United States, 120 F.3d 472, 474 (4th Cir. 1997). To survive a motion to dismiss, the factual allegations of a complaint "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level... on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact)." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal citations and alterations omitted). The plaintiff's obligation thus is to set forth sufficiently the "grounds of his entitlement to relief, " offering "more than labels and conclusions." Id. (internal quotation marks and alterations omitted). It is not sufficient that the well-pled facts create "the mere possibility of misconduct." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009). Rather, to withstand a motion to dismiss, "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face, " meaning the court could draw "the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. at 678.

ANALYSIS

I. Dismissal of County Agencies

The Kent County Sheriff's Office and Kent County Detention Center must be dismissed from the case because they are not governmental entities capable of being sued. "County police departments are agents of the State and should not be viewed as separate legal entities." Hines v. French, 852 A.2d 1047, 1068 (Md.App. 2004); see also Revene v. Charles Cnty. Comm'rs, 882 F.2d 870, 874 (4th Cir. 1989) ("The separate claim against the Office of Sheriff' was rightly dismissed on the basis that this office' is not a cognizable legal entity separate from the Sheriff in his official capacity and the county government of which this office' is simply an agency."). The Kent County Detention Center is an agency under the control of Kent County, moreover, and claims against the detention center are duplicative of ...


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