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Chen v. Baker

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

December 2, 2014

MAY CHEN, Plaintiff,


PAUL W. GRIMM, District Judge.

May Chen challenges her involuntary detention at Springfield Hospital Center ("Springfield"), a Maryland psychiatric facility, in a petition for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2241 and a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, [1] naming as defendants Paula Langmead, in her official capacity as Chief Executive Officer of Springfield and in her individual capacity; Joshua M. Sharfstein, Secretary of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene ("DHMH"); and Brian Hepburn, Executive Director of the Mental Hygiene Administration ("MHA")[2] (collectively, the "Individual Defendants"); Springfield (collectively with the Individual Defendants, the "State Defendants"); and Rushern L. Baker, III, County Executive for Prince George's County (the "County"). I now must determine whether to dismiss Ms. Chen's Amended Complaint.[3] Because Ms. Chen has failed to state a claim against any of the Defendants, I will grant Defendants' motions and dismiss this case.


Following a criminal trial for second degree assault in the District Court for Prince George's County, Maryland on April 4, 2013, at which Ms. Chen was found incompetent to stand trial "by reason of... a mental disorder, " the state court committed Ms. Chen to Springfield. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 13-14; State Ct. Order, Supp. to Pet., ECF No. 14-2. While there, Ms. Chen was "administered medication against her will and without her consent in nonemergency situations" on three occasions. Id. ¶¶ 45, 46, 49, 52. Ms. Chen challenged her detention and the administration of medication through Springfield's grievance procedure, without success. Id. ¶¶ 15-22, 48, 51, 54. Initially, she "administratively appealed the unfavorable decisions with regard to her grievances about her confinement, " but "she declined to continue the administrative appeal process" because she felt that "pursuing further administrative remedies would have been futile." Id. ¶ 23.

Ms. Chen filed suit in this Court on September 3, 2013, seeking habeas relief in the form of "immediate release" from Springfield, as well as damages for unlawful detention and forced administration of medication, in violation of § 1983. Pet., ECF No. 1; Compl., ECF No. 1 in PWG-13-2565; see Am. Compl. Thereafter, at a competency review hearing in state court on April 3, 2014, "[t]he only expert testimony... provided that, while she may suffer from a mental illness, Petitioner was not a danger to herself or others, " and "[n]o testimony was given... with regard to Petitioner's inability to care for herself in the community." Am. Compl. ¶¶ 25-26. Nonetheless, the state court "refused to release Petitioner from her confinement at Springfield Hospital Center." Id. ¶ 27. Ms. Chen has amended her complaint to add challenges to her continued detention and the administration of medication since she originally filed suit, and Defendants have moved to dismiss her Amended Complaint in its entirety.


Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for "the dismissal of a complaint if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Velencia v. Drezhlo, No. RDB-12-237, 2012 WL 6562764, at *4 (D. Md. Dec. 13, 2012). This rule's purpose "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.'" Id. (quoting Presley v. City of Charlottesville, 464 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Cir. 2006)). To that end, the Court bears in mind the requirements of Fed.R.Civ.P. 8, Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), when considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). Specifically, a complaint must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, " Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), and must state "a plausible claim for relief, " as "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice, " Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79. See Velencia, 2012 WL 6562764, at *4 (discussing standard from Iqbal and Twombly ). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 663.


A. Habeas Relief

This Court may grant habeas relief for an individual who is "in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court, " if the individual is "in custody in violation of the Constitution" or a federal law. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). In her first count, Ms. Chen seeks habeas relief, claiming that her "continued confinement violates her Constitutional Rights, as well as other judicially recognized civil liberties, " and she seeks "immediate release from Springfield Hospital Center." Am. Compl. ¶¶ 28-29.

The County argues that it "is not a proper party in this action, because it does not have custody over Ms. Chen, " and "[i]n a habeas corpus action, the proper respondent is the person holding the petitioner in custody." Cnty. Mot. ¶ 9. Likewise, the State Defendants insist that Langmead, as Springfield's CEO, is the only proper defendant because she is "the individual with custody of the person and the authority to produce that person before the court." State Defs.' Mem. 8. On that basis, they ask that the Court dismiss Count I as to the other State Defendants. Id. Ms. Chen "admits that the appropriate respondent for a Writ of Habeas Corpus is the individual who has immediate custody of the detained party, " and notes that Langmead "is the individual who holds this authority." Pl.'s Opp'n to Cnty. Mot. 2. She does not object to the dismissal of the other defendants. Id. Therefore, Ms. Chen's Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus is dismissed as to all defendants but Langmead in her official capacity. See Rumsfield v. Padilla, 542 U.S. 426, 434-35 (2004) ("The federal habeas statute straightforwardly provides that the proper respondent to a habeas petition is the person who has custody over [the petitioner].' The consistent use of the definite article in reference to the custodian indicates that there is generally only one proper respondent to a given prisoner's habeas petition. This custodian, moreover, is the person' with the ability to produce the prisoner's body before the habeas court." (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2242; other citations omitted)).

The State Defendants contend that, even though Langmead is a proper defendant, Ms. Chen's habeas petition must be dismissed because she has not exhausted her state remedies. Defs.' Mem. 10-11. They assert that "it does not appear from the docket entries that Ms. Chen has appealed the court order finding her incompetent and committing her to the Department" or "filed a habeas petition in State court." Id. It is true that an individual must exhaust her remedies in state court before seeking habeas relief. Sifrit v. Nero, No. RDB-12-910, 2014 WL 5140329, at *7 (D. Md. Oct. 10, 2014). In Maryland, this means "seeking review of the claim in the highest state court with jurisdiction to consider the claim, " through direct appeal or postconviction proceedings, as appropriate. Id. (citing 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b), (c); O'Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838 (1999)). Ms. Chen does not dispute that she did not file an appeal in state court. See Pl.'s Opp'n to State Defs.' Mot. ¶ 8.

It is undisputed that the time for Ms. Chen to appeal the April 4, 2013 incompetency determination had passed when Ms. Chen filed suit on September 3, 2013, and the time for Ms. Chen to appeal the April 3, 2014 incompetency determination had passed when she filed her Amended Complaint on May 9, 2014. Pl.'s Opp'n to State Defs.' Mot. ¶ 8; Pet.; Am. Compl.; see Md. R. 8-202 (party has thirty days to appeal an order or judgment). When, as here, an individual seeking federal habeas relief fails to note a timely appeal in state court, such that "no avenue of relief in the state court system remains open to petitioner, " then "the Court cannot say that he [or she] has failed to exhaust his [or her] state remedies." Bradley v. Davis, 551 F.Supp. 479, 481 (D. Md. 1982). This does not mean that a petitioner can obtain federal habeas relief simply by waiting for the state filing deadline to pass. Rather, such a "deliberate bypass" of state court review amounts to a procedural default that bars federal habeas relief "absent a showing of cause for the noncompliance and some showing of actual prejudice resulting from the alleged constitutional violation." Id .; see Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 750-51 (1991) (cause and prejudice standard applies when petitioner fails to note timely appeal in state court).

Ms. Chen insists that she could not file a timely appeal "due to her confinement at Springfield Hospital Center, which has resulted in delayed communication with her attorneys and the courts." Pl.'s Opp'n to State Defs.' Mot. ¶ ...

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