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Taylor v. Somerset County Commissioners

United States District Court, D. Maryland

July 19, 2016

BONNIE TAYLOR, Plaintiff,
v.
SOMERSET COUNTY COMMISSIONERS, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Richard D. Bennett United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Bonnie Taylor (“Plaintiff” or “Taylor”), brings this action against Defendants Board of County Commissioners for Somerset County, Maryland[1] (“Somerset County”), Louis Hickman (“Hickman”), County Council of Dorchester County (“Dorchester County”), Steve Mills (“Mills”), State of Maryland (“the State”) and Carroll Parrish (“Parrish”), alleging negligence under Maryland law (Counts I-III), a violation of her rights under the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution, U.S. Const. amend. VIII (Count IV), and a violation of her rights under Article 25 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights (Count V). Specifically, Plaintiff claims that Wardens Hickman, Mills, and Parrish deliberately delayed her access to adequate medical treatment for her injured wrist during her periods of incarceration at the Somerset County Detention Center, the Dorchester County Detention Center, and the Maryland Correctional Institute for Women. Furthermore, she alleges that Hickman, Mills and Parrish acted in accordance with and in furtherance of an alleged improper policy or custom to violate inmates’ Eighth Amendment rights.

         Currently pending are Defendants Hickman and Somerset County’s Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 15); Defendants Mills and Dorchester County’s Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 17); Defendants Parrish and the State’s Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 25); and Plaintiff’s Motion to Show Substantial Compliance with the Maryland Tort Claims Act (“MTCA”) and Good Cause to Waive the Notice Requirement of the Local Government Tort Claims Act (“LGTCA”) (ECF No. 31). The parties’ submissions have been reviewed, and a hearing on the pending Motions was held on July 8, 2016.

         For the reasons that follow, Defendants Hickman and Somerset County’s Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 15) is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART; Defendants Mills and Dorchester County’s Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 17) is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART; Defendants Parrish and the State’s Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 25) is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART; and Plaintiff’s Motion to Show Substantial Compliance with the MTCA and Good Cause to Waive the Notice Requirement of the LGTCA (ECF No. 31) is DENIED.[2] Specifically, all claims against the State of Maryland are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE; all state law claims (Counts I, II, and V) against Somerset County, Dorchester County, Hickman, and Mills are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE; the claims against Somerset and Dorchester Counties with respect to an unconstitutional policy or custom[3] are DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE; all claims (Counts III, IV, and V) remain pending against Warden Parrish in his individual capacity; and the Eighth Amendment claim (Count IV) remains pending against Hickman and Mills in their individual capacities.

         BACKGROUND

         This Court accepts as true the facts alleged in the plaintiff’s complaint. See Aziz v. Alcolac, Inc., 658 F.3d 388, 390 (4th Cir. 2011). On July 31, 2012, Taylor was arrested in Ocean City, Maryland for violation of probation for not reporting a change of address. Compl. ¶ 20, ECF No. 2. Subsequently, she was incarcerated at the Somerset County Detention Center, where Hickman served as warden. Id. ¶¶ 21-22. On August 31, 2012 Taylor, while an inmate at Somerset County Detention Center, fell and injured her left wrist. Id. ¶ 23. Following the injury, Taylor was taken to Peninsula Regional Medical Center (PRMC), where she was found to have a comminuted intra-articular distal radius fracture with angulation and dorsal displacement. Id. ¶ 24. Accordingly, PRMC performed a closed reduction of the fracture and told Taylor to follow up with an orthopedic surgeon in five to seven days. Id.

         On September 5, 2012 Taylor saw Dr. Richard Kang at Peninsula Orthopedics. Id. ¶ 25. Dr. Kang concluded that the fracture was in an acceptable position and chose not to perform surgery. Id. He instructed her to return in one week for follow-up. Id. On September 12, 2012 Taylor saw Dr. Kang for another appointment. Id. ¶ 26. At the check up, Dr. Kang concluded that the left distal radius was in an unacceptable position and recommended an open reduction internal fixation surgery. Id. ¶ 26. The prison guard from Somerset Detention Center who had accompanied Taylor told Dr. Kang that surgery could not be performed the next day because she was scheduled to be transferred from Somerset Detention Center to another facility. Id. ¶ 27.

         The Somerset County Detention Center did not schedule Taylor for surgery. Id. ¶ 28. Instead, on September 13, 2012, Hickman transferred her to the Dorchester County Detention Center, where Mills served as Warden. Id. ¶¶ 27, 29, 30. The Dorchester County Detention Center did not schedule Taylor for an appointment with any orthopedic surgeon. Id. ¶ 31. Accordingly, she did not have surgery to mend her injured wrist while incarcerated at Dorchester Detention Center. Id. ¶ 31.

         At some point between September 18, 2012 and September 21, 2012, the Dorchester County Detention Center transferred Taylor to the Maryland Correctional Institute for Women (“MCI-W”) in Jessup, Maryland. Id. ¶ 32. Carroll Parrish served as the Warden at MCI-W. Id. ¶ 33. On September 21, 2012 Taylor had an intake exam at the facility. Id. ¶ 35. The intake revealed that she had a left wrist fracture and that orthopedic follow-up was requested. Id. Finally, on October 9, 2012 Dr. Lawrence Manning saw Taylor for her first follow-up since Dr. Kang recommended surgery. Id. ¶ 36. Dr. Manning noted that Taylor’s wrist had become deformed and that her fracture had healed improperly, causing a shortening of the radius. Id. ¶ 37. He recommended physical therapy, but not surgery. Id.

         On April 19, 2013 Taylor saw Dr. Ashok Krishnaswamy, her first visit with an orthopedic surgeon since her visit with Dr. Manning in October. Id. ¶ 38. Dr. Krishnaswamy recommended reconstructive surgery on Taylor’s left wrist. Id. On October 10, 2013-more than one year after Taylor’s initial injury-he performed that surgery at Bon Secours Hospital. Id.

         Taylor subsequently filed suit in the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County bringing five counts against all defendants: negligence under Maryland law (Counts I-III); a violation of her Eighth Amendment rights pursuant to 41 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count IV); and a violation of her rights protected by Article 25 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights (Count V). Defendants timely removed the action to this Court on February 5, 2016. Joint Notice of Removal, ECF No. 1. All Defendants then moved to dismiss the Complaint (ECF Nos. 15, 17, 25). In partial response to the Defendant’s Motions, Taylor has filed a Motion to Show Substantial Compliance with the MTCA and Good Cause to Waive the Notice Requirement of the LGTCA (ECF No. 31). This Court held a hearing on the pending Motions on July 8, 2016.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, 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). Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure authorizes the dismissal of a complaint if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The 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).

         The Supreme Court’s recent opinions in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), “require that complaints in civil actions be alleged with greater specificity than previously was required.” Walters v. McMahen, 684 F.3d 435, 439 (4th Cir. 2012) (citation omitted). In Twombly, the Supreme Court articulated “[t]wo working principles” that courts must employ when ruling on Rule 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. First, while a court must accept as true all the factual allegations contained in the complaint, legal conclusions drawn from those facts are not afforded such deference. Id. (stating that “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice” to plead a claim); see also Wag More Dogs, LLC v. Cozart, 680 F.3d 359, 365 (4th Cir. 2012) (“Although we are constrained to take the facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, we need not accept legal conclusions couched as facts or unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments.” (internal quotation marks omitted)).

         Second, a complaint must be dismissed if it does not allege “a plausible claim for relief.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. While the plausibility requirement does not impose a “probability requirement, ” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556, “[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 678; see also Robertson v. Sea Pines Real Estate Cos., 679 F.3d 278, 291 (4th Cir. 2012) (“A complaint need not make a case against a defendant or forecast evidence sufficient to prove an element of the claim. It need only allege facts sufficient to state elements of the claim.” (emphasis in original) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted)). In making this assessment, a court must “draw on its judicial experience and common sense” to determine whether the pleader has stated a plausible claim for relief. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. “At bottom, a plaintiff must nudge [its] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible to resist dismissal.” Wag More Dogs, LLC, 680 F.3d at 365 (internal quotation marks omitted).

         ANALYSIS

         I. State of Maryland

         a. Counts III and V

         In Counts III and V, Taylor asserts two claims against the State of Maryland: negligence (Count III), and a violation of Articles 25 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights (Count V). In Maryland, the common law doctrine of sovereign immunity prohibits plaintiffs from bringing tort actions against the State absent specific legislative consent to suit. Dep’t of Natural Res. v. Welsh, 521 A.2d 313, 315 (Md. 1986). A plaintiff may assert a common law or state constitutional tort claim against the State of Maryland or one of its agencies only if he first complies with the notice requirements of the Maryland Tort Claims Act (“MTCA”), Md. Code Ann., State Gov't §§ 12-101, et seq., which provides a limited waiver of state sovereign immunity. As the Maryland Court of Appeals has explained, “notice under the MTCA plays an integral part . . . in the invocation of waiver of the State's sovereign immunity.” Barbre v. Pope, 935 A.2d 699, 710 (Md. 2007). The MTCA thus commands a plaintiff to provide written notice to the State Treasurer or its designees within one year of the alleged injury. Id. Such notice is designed to “afford[ ] the State the opportunity to investigate the claims while the facts are fresh and memories vivid, and, where appropriate, settle them at the earliest possible time.” Haupt v. State, 667 A.2d 179, 183 (Md. 1995). As such, the notice requirement is “strictly enforced.” McDaniel v. Maryland, Civ. A. No. RDB-10-0189, 2010 WL 3260007, at *3 (D. Md. Aug. 18, 2010).

         As a preliminary matter, Taylor concedes that she “did not strictly comply with the notice requirements” of the MTCA. Pl.’s Mot. to Show Substantial Compliance 4, ECF No. 31. Instead, she argues that she substantially complied with these requirements by (1) sending a Request for Administrative Remedy form to Parrish; and (2) outlining her claim in a letter to the Inmate Grievance Office. She argues that these actions satisfied the purposes of the MTCA by alerting the State of her allegations and thereby allowing a timely investigation of her claims.

         While Maryland courts recognize a substantial compliance exception to the MTCA, the doctrine is “narrowly construed.” Royster v. Gahler, Civ. A. No. ELH-15-1843, 2015 WL 9582977, at *11 (D. Md. Dec. 31, 2015) (quoting McDaniel, 2010 WL 3260007, at *4). Indeed, “the doctrine of substantial compliance . . . is not license to ignore the clear mandate of the MTCA." Chinwuba v. Larsen, 790 A.2d 83, 98 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 2002), rev’d on other grounds, 832 A.2d 193 (Md. 2003). A plaintiff may substantially comply with the notice requirements of the MTCA by providing notice that, although technically deficient, nevertheless serves the purpose of the statute. Conaway v. State, 600 A.2d 1133, 1137-38 (Md. 1992). In Conaway, the Court of Appeals explained that the purposes of the MTCA notice provisions are satisfied “when the State has requisite and timely notice of the facts and circumstances of the incident giving rise to the claim.” Id. at 246. (quoting Radtke v. City of Milwaukee, 342 N.W.2d 435, 438 (Wis. 1984). The doctrine of substantial compliance, however, “has no application to an outright failure to comply.” Royster v. Gahler, 2015 WL 9582977, at *9 (quoting Simpson v. Moore, 592 A.2d 1090, 1096 (Md. 1989)).

         Taylor relies on Conaway and Paulone v. City of Frederick, 718 F.Supp.2d 626 (D. Md. 2010), to support her argument that her correspondence with Parrish and the Inmate Grievance Office constitute substantial compliance with the MTCA. Yet, neither case counsels such a conclusion. Rather, Conaway and Paulone stand only for the proposition that minor infirmities within the content of timely notice sent to the State Treasurer will not vitiate a claim against the State. In Conaway, a plaintiff injured at the Maryland Division of Correction Brockbridge facility in Jessup sent written notice of his injury to the State Treasurer within the MTCA’s notice period, but omitted a demand for specific damages. Conaway, 600 A.2d at 1134. The Court of Appeals held that, although the content of the plaintiff’s notice to the Treasurer did not literally comply with the notice requirements of the MTCA, it nevertheless substantially complied with the requirements because it “provided the State with sufficient written notice of the circumstances of the underlying incident to enable it to investigate the claim and respond either by settlement or defense.” Id. at 1140 (internal quotation marks omitted). Likewise, this Court in Paulone concluded that a plaintiff who had sent a letter to the State Treasurer within the statutory notice period, but without explicitly stating claims against the State for negligent training and supervision, substantially complied with the MTCA. Paulone, 718 F.Supp.2d at 637. This Court reasoned that her letter’s lengthy explanation of her allegations against the State ...


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