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Cottman v. State

United States District Court, D. Maryland

August 29, 2017

NICHOLAS COTTMAN, Plaintiff
v.
STATE OF MARYLAND, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          RICHARD D. BENNETT UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Nicholas Cottman (“Plaintiff” or “Cottman”), a former[1] inmate at the Maryland Reception, Diagnostic & Classification Center (“MRDCC”), has brought this action against the State of Maryland, current Secretary of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (“DPSCS”) Stephen T. Moyer (“Secretary Moyer”), in his official capacity[2], and former MRDCC Warden Tyrone Crowder (“Crowder”), individually and in his official capacity[3] (collectively the “State Defendants”); MRDCC “supervising correctional officer” Lieutenant Neil Dupree (“Dupree”), individually and in his official capacity; MRDCC “corrections officer[s]” Kwasi Ramsey (“Ramsey”), Richard Hanna (“Hanna”), Jemiah Green (“Green”), and additional “Unknown Corrections Officer(s), ” individually and in their official capacities; and “Unknown Nurses, ” individually and in their official capacities. Compl., ¶¶ 10-22, ECF No. 1. Cottman alleges Excessive Force, in violation of Article 24 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights (Count One); Cruel and Unusual Punishment, in violation of Articles 16 and 25 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights (Count Two); Violations of his Right to Free Speech under Article 40 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights (Count Three); Battery (Count Four); Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (Count Five); Conspiracy (Count Six); Negligent Hiring, Training, Retention, and Supervision (Count Seven); Gross Negligence (Count Eight); Respondeat Superior (Count Nine); Deliberately Indifferent Policies, Practices, Customs, Training, and Supervision, in violation of Articles 16, 24, 25, and 40 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights (Count Ten)[4]; Cruel and Unusual Punishment, in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count Eleven); Violations of his Due Process Rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count Twelve); Violations of his Right to Free Speech under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count Thirteen); and a Monell liability claim[5], pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count Fourteen); in connection with his alleged assault by corrections officers Ramsey, Hanna, and Green on September 30, 2013. Id. ¶¶ 87-260.[6]

         Currently pending before this Court are the State Defendants' Motion to Dismiss or, in the alternative, for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 24) and Defendant Dupree's Motion to Dismiss or, in the alternative, for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 41).[7] This Court has reviewed the parties' submissions, and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the reasons stated herein, the State Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 24) is GRANTED as to all claims against the State of Maryland, all claims against Secretary Moyer, and Cottman's claims against former Warden Crowder in his official capacity, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, but is DENIED as to Cottman's claims against Crowder in his individual capacity.[8] Dupree's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 41) is also GRANTED as to Cottman's claims against Dupree in his official capacity, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, but is DENIED as to Cottman's claims against Dupree in his individual capacity. Additionally, the State Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 24) and Defendant Dupree's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 41) are both DENIED as to Cottman's Conspiracy claim (Count Six). Therefore, Defendants State of Maryland and Secretary Moyer are DISMISSED from this action, and all claims against Crowder and Dupree in their official capacities are also DISMISSED. Accordingly, Counts Seven, Nine, Ten, and Fourteen, which named the State of Maryland, Secretary Moyer, and Defendants Crowder and Dupree in their official capacities only, are also DISMISSED in their entirety. All other claims, including those against Crowder and Dupree in their individual capacities in Counts One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Eight, Eleven, Twelve, and Thirteen of the Complaint, shall remain.[9]

         BACKGROUND

         At the motion to dismiss stage, 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 September 29, 2013, Plaintiff Nicholas Cottman (“Plaintiff” or “Cottman”) was an inmate at the Maryland Reception, Diagnostic & Classification Center (“MRDCC”). Compl., ¶ 23, ECF No. 1. That evening, “he witnessed a fight between two inmates and a correction officer” in a “large dormitory style room, ” where he was housed. Id. ¶¶ 23-24. “Immediately after the conclusion of the fight, the inmates who were involved in the altercation were removed from the dorm where the fight occurred and placed in various cells in the MRDCC.” Id. ¶ 27. Although Cottman “was not involved in this fight, ” he “and at least two other inmates” were also removed “and placed in other cells at the MRDCC.” Id. ¶¶ 26-28. Cottman “was placed in a cell by himself.” Id. ¶ 30.

         On the morning of September 30, 2013, former MRDCC Warden Tyrone Crowder (“Crowder”) and “supervising correctional officer” Lieutenant Neil Dupree (“Dupree”) both appeared at “ ‘roll calls, ' during which corrections officers starting their shift met and were briefed.” Id. ¶ 31. Cottman alleges that Crowder and Dupree “held up the pictures of all of the five inmates that had been removed from the dorm room after the fight” the previous evening, including Cottman, “effectively putting a ‘hit' out on the[m].” Id. ¶¶ 32-35. He claims that Crowder and Dupree specifically “identified the five inmates as being responsible for the fight” and stated that they were “looking for” them, “[d]espite official documents reflecting that there was no time when [their] location was unknown.” Id. ¶¶ 32-33.

         Corrections officers Kwasi Ramsey (“Ramsey”), Richard Hanna (“Hanna”), and Jemiah Green (“Green”) “attended at least one of the roll calls” that morning. Id. ¶ 36. Cottman alleges that they were “well known to the inmates, staff and administration as violent enforcers of jail policies and procedures, ” and that Crowder and Dupree “had knowledge of each of [their] histories of violence.” Id. ¶¶ 37, 80. Cottman claims that Ramsey, Hanna, and Green “believed that [the five] inmates, including [himself], had fought with a corrections officer on the previous evening” and “sought to exact revenge on [them].” Id. ¶ 38. Accordingly, they “moved systematically from one cell . . . to the next, brutally assaulting each of the five inmates, including [Cottman], ” with the assistance of “unknown correctional officer[s] who had the keys for [their] respective cell[s].” Id. ¶¶ 40-41.

         Cottman alleges that Ramsey, Hanna, and Green entered his cell, told him to “get up” and proceeded to “kick” and “strike” his face, shoulder, and arm.” Id. ¶¶ 44-47. “Ramsey struck Mr. Cottman with [ ] handcuffs wrapped around his hands, . . . at least one officer employed mixed martial arts style punches and kicks, which were designed to inflict maximum pain, . . . [and] [a]fter the assault, the officers left Mr. Cottman in his cell, bleeding and drenched in his own blood.” Id. ¶¶ 48-52. “Within two hours of when Mr. Cottman was assaulted, each of the other four inmates were assaulted . . . in the same brutal manner, ” and “[b]y approximately 8:30 a.m. ‘medical alerts' began to come in for each of the five inmates that former Warden Crowder and Lieutenant Dupree had identified in roll call just two hours before.” Id. ¶¶ 7, 60. Ramsey, Hanna, and Green “proceeded to take each inmate down individually to the medical wing, ” although they “threaten[ed] Mr. Cottman that if he did not tell the medical staff at MRDCC that [he] had fallen off his bunk, they would beat him again.” Id. ¶¶ 55, 61. Cottman “complied with the request to concoct a story about falling out of his bunk, ” and “[u]nknown nurses informed [ ] Hanna that they would not complete a triage report on the injured inmates.” Id. ¶¶ 56, 61. Cottman alleges that Lieutenant Dupree was responsible “as supervisor to respond to medical alerts” and that he “accepted the inmates' assertion that they had ‘fell off a bunk' or ‘hit their head on their cell' . . . despite [their] injuries being inconsistent with [that explanation] even to the medically untrained eye.” Id. ¶¶ 62-64. “Lieutenant Dupree failed to seek emergency medical attention for these inmates or launch an investigation into their injuries despite, by his own account, one inmate's ‘head wrapped up like a mummy, ' another ‘moaning and wheezing' and another offering that ‘officers beat me up.' ” Id. ¶ 64.

         Cottman contends that the “assaults of the five inmates . . . as a form of discipline . . . was consistent with culture of the MRDCC under former Warden Crowder's leadership” and that Crowder and Dupree encouraged Ramsey, Hanna, and Green “to use vigilante justice and violence to control inmates and detainees.” Id. ¶¶ 65-66. He further claims that Crowder “failed to adequately supervise MRDCC corrections officers in proper methods for disciplining of inmates” and that the Secretary of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services “had knowledge of Former Warden Crowder and Lieutenant Dupree's reputation, tactics, and implementation of policy concerning vigilante justice and violence as a means of inmate and detainee control.” Id. ¶¶ 69, 86. “An internal affairs investigation was initiated regarding . . . [the] assault of the five inmates, ” and Green, Ramsey, and Hanna were all criminally indicted in connection with the events alleged herein. Id. ¶ 76. “Green was tried and found guilty of assault against Mr. Cottman by a jury” and “Hanna pled guilty to the charges related to the assault on Mr. Cottman on May 6, 2015.” Id. ¶¶ 77-78. “Crowder is no longer the warden of MRDCC following the . . . assault of the five inmates.” Id. ¶ 75. Cottman has now brought this civil action against the State of Maryland, Secretary Moyer, and former Warden Crowder (collectively the “State Defendants”); Lieutenant Dupree; “corrections officers” Ramsey, Hanna, and Green, and additional “Unknown Corrections Officer(s);” and “Unknown Nurses, ” alleging violations of his rights under the United States Constitution and the Maryland Declaration of Rights, Maryland tort law claims, and a single claim of Monell liability against the State of Maryland.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         I. Motion to Dismiss Under Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure

         A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for lack of subject matter jurisdiction challenges a court's authority to hear the matter brought by a complaint. See Davis v. Thompson, 367 F.Supp.2d 792, 799 (D. Md. 2005). This challenge under Rule 12(b)(1) may proceed either as a facial challenge, asserting that the allegations in the complaint are insufficient to establish subject matter jurisdiction, or a factual challenge, asserting “that the jurisdictional allegations of the complaint [are] not true.” Kerns v. United States, 585 F.3d 187, 192 (4th Cir. 2009) (citation omitted). With respect to a facial challenge, a court will grant a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction “where a claim fails to allege facts upon which the court may base jurisdiction.” Davis, 367 F.Supp.2d at 799. Where the challenge is factual, “the district court is entitled to decide disputed issues of fact with respect to subject matter jurisdiction.” Kerns, 585 F.3d at 192. As this Court has explained in Dennard v. Towson Univ., 62 F.Supp.3d 446, 449 (D. Md. 2014), “[a]n assertion of governmental immunity is properly addressed under Rule 12(b)(1).” (citing Smith v. WMATA, 290 F.3d 201, 205 (4th Cir. 2002)). A plaintiff carries the burden of establishing subject matter jurisdiction. Lovern v. Edwards, 190 F.3d 648, 654 (4th Cir. 1999).

         II. Motion to Dismiss Under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure

         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 United States 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.

         ANALYSIS

         I. The State Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 24)

         A. The ...


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