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Howell v. Springfield Hospital Center

United States District Court, D. Maryland

April 7, 2014



J. FREDERICK MOTZ, District Judge.


On March 14, 2013, Lakeshia Howell ("Howell"), a Maryland resident then undergoing evaluation and treatment at Springfield Hospital Center in Sykesville ("Springfield"), filed a letter complaint construed as a civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The complaint contained a plethora of claims surrounding Howell's alleged wrongful eviction from her apartment and her arrest during the eviction. She sought money damages and injunctive relief ordering her release and mandating she and her children be left alone. Most of these issues were dismissed by this court on initial review without prejudice to refiling. ECF No. 3.

Maryland electronic case information reveals that Howell was arrested on December 3, 2012, and charged in the District Court for Anne Arundel County, Case No. 0A00266070 with failing to obey the law and resisting arrest.[1] It appears the arrest resulted after she attempted to delay her eviction, and that the district court committed her to Springfield for evaluation in connection with the pending criminal charges. Howell was released from Springfield on April 24, 2013. On July 3, 2013, Howell, who was represented by a state public defender, was found guilty of failing to obey the law and fined $35 plus court costs. The resisting arrest charge was nolle prossed.

On October 23, 2013, the undersigned ordered counsel for Springfield to supplement its dispositive motion to discuss Howell's current mental competency as required under Fed.R.Civ.P. 17(c)(2).[2] ECF No. 12. While indicating it has no current knowledge as to Howell's mental status, defendant notes that Howell was found competent and ordered released from commitment at Springfield on April 24, 2013. ECF No. 13. Based on this fact, a guardian is not needed and the dispositive motion (ECF No. 5), construed as a motion for summary judgment, is now ripe for review. Howell's opposition responses to the dispositive motion (ECF Nos. 7-9) have been read and considered.[3] A hearing is not needed to resolve the case. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2011).

Standard of Review

Defendant has filed a dispositive motion styled as a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) or, in the alternative, for summary judgment under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. A motion styled in this manner implicates the court's discretion under Rule 12(d) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Kensington Vol. Fire Dept., Inc. v. Montgomery County, 788 F.Supp.2d 431, 436-37 (D. Md. 2011). Ordinarily, a court "is not to consider matters outside the pleadings or resolve factual disputes when ruling on a motion to dismiss." Bosiger, 510 F.3d at 450. However, under Rule 12(b)(6), a court, in its discretion, may consider matters outside of the pleadings, pursuant to Rule 12(d). If the court does so, "the motion must be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56, " and "[a]ll parties must be given a reasonable opportunity to present all the material that is pertinent to the motion." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d). When the movant expressly captions its motion "in the alternative" as one for summary judgment, and submits matters outside the pleadings for the court's consideration, the parties are deemed to be on notice that conversion under Rule 12(d) may occur; the court "does not have an obligation to notify parties of the obvious." Laughlin v. Metro. Wash. Airports Auth., 149 F.3d 253, 261 (4th Cir. 1998).[4]

A district judge has "complete discretion to determine whether or not to accept the submission of any material beyond the pleadings that is offered in conjunction with a Rule 12(b)(6) motion and rely on it, thereby converting the motion, or to reject it or simply not consider it." 5C WRIGHT & MILLER, FEDERAL PRACTICE & PROCEDURE § 1366, at 159 (3d ed. 2004, 2011 Supp.). This discretion "should be exercised with great caution and attention to the parties' procedural rights." Id. at 149. In general, courts are guided by whether consideration of extraneous material "is likely to facilitate the disposition of the action, " and "whether discovery prior to the utilization of the summary judgment procedure" is necessary. Id. at 165-67.

Ordinarily, summary judgment is inappropriate "where the parties have not had an opportunity for reasonable discovery." E.I. du Pont, supra, 637 F.3d at 448-49. However, "the 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 discovery. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(d); see Harrods, 302 F.3d at 244-45 (discussing affidavit requirement of former Rule 56(f)). Plaintiff has not filed an affidavit under Rule 56(d). Moreover, I am satisfied that it is appropriate to address the defendant's motion as one for summary judgment.

Summary judgment is governed by Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a) which provides that:

The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

The Supreme Court has clarified that this does not mean that any factual dispute will defeat the motion:

By its very terms, this standard provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement ...

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