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Lanahan v. Patuxent Institution

United States District Court, D. Maryland

April 28, 2017

PATUXENT INSTITUTION, et al., Defendants


          J .Frederick Motz United States District Judge.

         Pending is a Motion to Dismiss, or in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment, filed by Tineeka Amason, Jason Anderson, Warden, Assistant Warden, State of Maryland, and Patuxent Institution.[1] ECF 34. Plaintiff has responded. ECF 44. Upon review of the papers filed, the court finds a hearing in this matter unnecessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the reasons stated below, the dispositive motion will be GRANTED.[2]


         Plaintiff, Daniel Lanahan, currently confined at the Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center. ("Perkins"), filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, seeking money damages and injunctive relief. At the time he filed the case, he was undergoing mental health evaluation and treatment at Perkins. ECF 1. The complaint contained a plethora of claims, all of which were dismissed without prejudice with the exception of his claims that he was subjected to excessive force while housed at the Patuxent Institution and was denied due process during the resultant disciplinary infraction proceedings. ECF 3. State defendants responded to the complaint with a motion to dismiss or in the alternative motion for summary judgment (ECF 23), which plaintiff opposed. ECF 28.

         As a result of the altercation complained of, plaintiff was criminally charged with second degree assault against a Division of Correction employee. See Lanahan v. Maryland, Civil Action No. JFM-15-2030, ECF 29-5, p. 1. The District Court of Maryland for Howard County ordered, on June 22, 2012, plaintiff be evaluated to determine if he was competent to stand trial for the assault charge. Id., ECF 29-7. Plaintiff was evaluated and on August 31, 2012, the District Court of Maryland for Howard County found plaintiff incompetent to stand trial and a danger to himself or others. Id., ECF 29-8. Plaintiff was ordered committed to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Id.

         On September 4, 2014, the District Court of Maryland for Howard County found plaintiff incompetent to stand trial and not likely to regain competence within the foreseeable future. Id., ECF 29-9. Plaintiff was ordered civilly committed and the assault charge was dismissed the following day. Id., ECF 29-5, p. 1. Plaintiff remains civilly committed at Perkins, an administrative law judge having found him a danger to himself or others. Id., ECF 18.

         This court held that before it could examine the issues in this case, the question of plaintiffs current mental competency should be examined. ECF 33. The court noted that by defendants' own admission, plaintiff had previously been found not competent to stand trial and involuntarily committed. His mental health status was not apparent based on the parties' recent submissions. Where, as in this case, "there has been a legal adjudication of incompetence that is brought to the court's attention, [Fed R. Civ P. 17(c)(2)'s] provision is brought in play." Id. As such, defendants' dispositive motion was denied without prejudice subject to renewal and counsel for defendants was directed to provide any information to assist the court in determining whether plaintiffs continued participation as a self-represented litigant in this matter should continue. ECF33, p. 3.

         Defendants have renewed their dispositive motion (ECF 34) and indicate that there is no need to appoint counsel to assist plaintiff in these proceedings. Id., Plaintiff has opposed the renewed motion. ECF 44.

         Fed.R. Civ. P. 17(c)(2) states:

A minor or an incompetent person who does not have a duly appointed representative may sue by a next friend or by a guardian ad litem. The court must appoint a guardian ad litem-or issue another appropriate order-to protect a minor or incompetent person who is unrepresented in an action.

         With respect to Rule 17(c)(2), the Fourth Circuit has observed that "[t]he practical problem presented by a case in which a presumably competent party might be thought to be acting oddly, or foolishly, or selfdestructively in prosecuting or defending a civil lawsuit, with or without counsel, is a real one, " adding that "[p]arties to litigation behave in a great variety of ways that might be thought to suggest some degree of mental instability. Rule 17(c)(2) recognizes the existence of some forms of mental deficiency which may affect a person's practical ability to manage his or her own affairs that goes beyond "something other than mere foolishness or improvidence, garden-variety or even egregious mendacity, or even various forms of the more common personality disorders." Hudnall v. Sellner, 800 F.2d 377, 385 (4th Cir. 1986). While Rule 17(c)(2) allows the court to appoint a guardian ad litem, it does not compel it to do so, but rather grants it considerable discretion to issue an "appropriate order" to protect the interest of an unrepresented incompetent litigant. See Seibels, Bruce & Co. v. Nicke, 168 F.R.D. 542, 543 (M.D. N.C. 1996).

         Valerie Grimes, a Licensed Certified Social Worker employed by Perkins avers that she is familiar with plaintiff. She indicates that plaintiff has not been provided a legal guardian, nor has Perkins sought to have a guardian appointed for him. ECF 34-2, ¶ 6. She further avers that to her knowledge there is no current finding that plaintiff is legally incompetent. ECF 34-2, ¶ 7.

         Fed. R. Civ. P. 17(b)(3) provides, in pertinent part, that a determination regarding the capacity to sue or be sued is controlled by the law of the party's state of domicile. Under Maryland law, plaintiff retains a presumption of competency. See Peaks v. State, 18 A.3d 917, 925 (Md. 2011). Even if plaintiff had been appointed a guardian of the person, such appointment is not evidence, under Maryland law, of incompetency. See Md. Code Ann. Est. & Trusts, §13-706(b)). Similarly, plaintiffs current status as an involuntary patient at Perkins does not serve as an indicator of incompetence as no adjudication of competency is necessary prior to involuntary commitment. See Md. Code Ann. Health-Gen'l §10-607(1).

         Plaintiffs often bizarre and delusional statements also do not serve as a bar to his proceeding in this case. In Hudnall v. Seller,800 F.2d 377, 385 (4th Cir. 1986), Sellner developed a delusional belief that the chief of police's son murdered Hudnall's wife. Sellner published his beliefs regarding the murder, along with his belief that the police chief, the son, other police officers, and Hudnall conspired to covered up the murder and that Hudnall and the son switched identities. Id., at 379. Hudnall successfully sued Sellner for defamation. Id., at 379. Sellner appealed arguing that the trial court should not have permitted him to represent himself. Id., at 381. The court found that Sellner's bizarre conduct did not raise such serious questions regarding his capacity to sue such that the court was required to inquire into the appointment of a guardian ad litem. Id., ...

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