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Lanahan v. Clifton T. Pirkins Hospital Center

United States District Court, D. Maryland

August 23, 2017

DANIEL THOMAS LANAHAN, Plaintiff
v.
CLIFTON T. PIRKINS HOSPITAL CENTER, et al, Defendants

          MEMORANDUM

          J. Frederick Motz, United States District Judge.

         Pending is a Supplemental Motion to Dismiss, or in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment, filed by Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center ("Perkins"), Susan Lightman, Rebecca Ruchames, Sadiq Al-Samarrai, M.D., Khalid El-Sayed, M.D., and David Helsel, M.D.[1] ECF 13. Plaintiff has responded. ECF 22.[2] 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.

         Background

         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. Plaintiff alleged that "on or about 2012-2013" his mail was stopped. He further claimed that an unidentified woman told the librarian not to print his legal work. Id., p. 3. He also alleged "Dr. Al-Summuria was in charge" and that "Dr. El-Sayed took over" and stopped plaintiff no matter what he tried to do to get released. Id. State defendants responded to the complaint with a motion to dismiss or in the alternative motion for summary judgment (ECF 9), which plaintiff opposed, ECF 11.

         The reason for plaintiffs placement at Perkins is well documented. As a result of an altercation while plaintiff was committed to the Division of Correction, 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.

         In this case, I held that before I could examine the issues presented, the question of plaintiffs current mental competency should be examined. ECF 12. I 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. ECF 12.

         Defendants have renewed their dispositive motion (ECF 13) and indicate that there is no need to appoint counsel to assist plaintiff in these proceedings. Id. Plaintiff has opposed the renewed motion. ECF 22.

         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 self-destructively 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. Niche, 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 13-10, ¶ 6. She further avers that to her knowledge there is no current finding that plaintiff is legally incompetent. Id., ¶ 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., p. 386-87. In the instant case, plaintiffs delusional beliefs, like those in Hundnall, while bizarre, do not negate his capacity to proceed with his complaint. As such, I find no need for the appointment of a guardian ad litem.

         Standard of Review

         A. Motion to Dismiss

         The purpose of a Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) is to test the sufficiency of the plaintiffs Complaint. See Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999). The dismissal for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted does not require Defendant to establish "beyond doubt" that plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief. See Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly,550 U.S. 544, 561 (2007). Once a claim has been stated adequately, it may be supported by showing any set of facts consistent with the allegations in the complaint. Id. at 563. The court need not, however, accept unsupported legal allegations, see Revene v. Charles County Comm'rs,882 F.2d 870, 873 (4th Cir. 1989), legal conclusions couched as factual ...


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