United States District Court, D. Maryland
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER RE: DISMISSAL MOTIONS
J. Garbis, United States District Judge.
Court has before it Defendants State of Maryland, 's Motion
to Dismiss Or, In the Alternative, Motion for Summary
Judgment [ECF No. 47], Defendant Reginald Heavener's
Motion to Dismiss [ECF No. 50], and the materials submitted
relating thereto. The Court finds that a hearing is
September 13, 2013, inmate Jason Wallace
(“Wallace” or “Decedent”) was beaten
to death by his cellmate, Darnell Thompson
(“Thompson”), in their cell at Western
Correctional Institution. Thompson was later convicted of
second degree murder for the death of Wallace. Wallace's
parents, Veronica Walker and Gilbert Wallace, and his surviving
minor children, V.W. and K.W., (collectively,
“Plaintiffs”), bring the instant suit against the
State of Maryland, the former Secretary of the Maryland
Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services
(“DPSCS”) Gary D. Maynard, the Director of
Corrections Roderick R. Sowers, the former Warden Frank B.
Bishop, Jr., Captain George Sneathen, Correctional Officer
William May, Correctional Officer Reginald Heavener,
Correctional Officer David Stevey, Correctional Officer Drew
Cook, and three “John Doe” Correctional Officers
(collectively, “Defendants”). Plaintiffs present
federal and state constitutional claims and state law damages
instant Motions, Defendants seek dismissal pursuant to Rule
12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, or, in the
alternative, for summary judgment pursuant to Rule
The Court finds the summary judgment motion premature and
disallows it without prejudice.
discussed herein, the Court finds that the
Complaintdoes not adequately state a plausible claim
against the State of Maryland or any individual Defendant.
The State of Maryland is immune from suit in federal court on
the claims at issue by virtue of the Eleventh Amendment. Each
Individual Defendant is entitled to dismissal due to the
absence of factual allegations adequate to present a
plausible claim against him. Because it may be possible for
Plaintiffs to draft an adequate Complaint against some, if
not all, of the Individual Defendants, the Court shall
provide them the opportunity to file an Amended Complaint
asserting such claims, if any, they adequately can present
motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of a
complaint. A complaint need only contain “a short and
plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is
entitled to relief, in order to give the defendant fair
notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which
it rests.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550
U.S. 544, 555 (2007)(citations omitted). When evaluating a
12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a plaintiff's well-pleaded
allegations are accepted as true and the complaint is viewed
in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. However,
conclusory statements or a “formulaic recitation of the
elements of a cause of action” will not suffice.
Id. A complaint must allege sufficient facts to
“cross ‘the line between possibility and
plausibility of entitlement to relief.'”
Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 193 (4th Cir.
2009)(quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).
into whether a complaint states a plausible claim is “a
context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to
draw on its judicial experience and common sense.”
Id. Thus, if the well-pleaded facts contained within
a complaint “do not permit the court to infer more than
the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged
- but it has not shown - that the pleader is entitled to
relief.” Id. (quoting Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009)).
a motion to dismiss filed under Rule 12(b)(6) cannot reach
the merits of an affirmative defense. Goodman v. Praxair,
Inc., 494 F.3d 458, 464 (4th Cir. 2007). However,
affirmative defenses are appropriate to consider at the Rule
12(b)(6) stage “when the face of the complaint clearly
reveals the existence of a meritorious affirmative
defense.” Occupy Columbia v. Haley, 738 F.3d
107, 116 (4th Cir. 2013) (emphasis added) (quoting
Brockington v. Boykins, 637 F.3d 503, 506 (4th Cir.
times relevant hereto, Jason Wallace was incarcerated at the
Maryland Western Correctional Institution
(“WCI”). Prior to September 3, 2013, Wallace was
assigned by someone not identified to a cell occupied by one
Darnell Thompson (“Thompson”) in Housing Unit #3
B-Wing. The Complaint alleges “upon information and
belief” that Wallace was assigned by some unspecified
Defendant to share the cell with Thompson, then serving a
life sentence for murder, intentionally as retaliation for an
“earlier altercation” between Wallace and a WCI
staff member. ¶ 27. Moreover, Thompson had been charged
with and convicted of two crimes committed while he was
incarcerated - reckless endangerment in 2002 and second
degree assault on law enforcement in 2009. ¶¶
32-33. Thompson had a history of violence in prison,
including attacking inmates, and it was well-known that he
suffered from a mental illness. Thompson allegedly “ate
foreign objects, put strange materials in his hair, would
constantly talk to himself, talked about hurting others, and
walked around the prison and pretended like he was shooting
others.” ¶ 34. Despite these behaviors, Thompson
was not assigned to a single cell or put in segregated
reported to an unspecified person at unspecified times
Thompson's “unbalanced behavior” and threats
against Wallace of “impending violence and/or death and
other strange and irrational behavior.” ¶ 31.
September 3, 2013, Wallace wrote a letter to his family
wherein he stated that he was concerned for his safety and
wanted to be transferred into a different cell. ¶ 26.
The Complaint does not allege that Wallace requested a
transfer in the institution.
night of Wallace's murder, September 13, 2013, the video
cameras in Housing Unit #3 B-Wing were broken and not
functioning. ¶ 50.
September 13, 2013, Defendant Captain George Sneathen was the
highest ranking official in charge of B-Wing. Defendant
Officer Drew Cook was the Officer in Charge of B-Wing, and
Defendants Officers Stevey, Heavener, and May were assigned
as officers “responsible for the supervision,
inspection, search, and placement of inmates assigned to
Housing Unit #3 B-Wing.” ¶¶ 40-42.
dinner on September 13, Wallace and Thompson were locked in
their cell. An unidentified officer conducted a head count.
Sometime between 6:00 and 6:30 p.m., Thompson was taken out
of his cell by Defendant Stevey to the Special Housing
Observation Unit for urinalysis testing. ¶ 47.
Defendant Stevey did not observe the cell when he took
Thompson to the Observation Unit. Id.
time after the head count and before the time when Thompson
was summoned out of his cell, Thompson brutally assaulted and
killed Wallace. During the assault, there was a
“prolonged struggle, yelling for help, suspicious
movement and/or noises emanating” from Wallace's
cell. ¶ 46. The Complaint does not allege where Officers
Sneathen, Cook, Heavener, Stevey, and May were located during
this time. Nor is there any factual allegation as to whether
they saw or heard anything regarding the altercation. No
Officer took any action to stop the attack.
Observation Unit, Thompson was strip searched by someone who
observed blood on his clothing and that his shirt was ripped.
“up to an hour” after Thompson had left the cell,
another inmate told Defendants Heavener and May that Wallace
was lying on his cell floor, unresponsive, coughing up blood,
and having trouble breathing. ¶ 48. The Complaint
alleges that Defendants (presumably Heavener and May) at
approximately 8:10 PM discovered Wallace's body in the
floor of his cell. Wallace's head and chest were under
his bunk and blood was around his body. “Decedent's
entire facial area was reduced to mush, his face and forehead
had a noticeable deformity, brain matter was exposed, and his
jaw was broken.” ¶ 43. Wallace died from his
September 12, 2016, Gilbert Wallace and Veronica Walker,
Individually and as Personal Representative of the Estate of
Jason Wallace, filed the instant Complaint [ECF No. 3]. On
June 22, 2017, this Court granted Minor Plaintiffs V.W. and
K.W.'s Motion to Intervene in the case as potential
wrongful death beneficiaries. See Order Re: Intervention [ECF
Complaint, Plaintiffs assert claims in Seven Counts:
Count I Violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Count II Violation of Maryland Declaration of Rights Articles
24 and 26
Count III Wrongful Death Count IV Survival Action Count V
Count VI Gross Negligence
Count VII Funeral Expenses
Compl. [ECF No. 3].
March 6, 2017, Defendant State of Maryland and the Individual
Defendants, other than Reginald Heavener and the “John
Doe” Defendants,  filed the instant Motion to Dismiss,
or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No.
47]. On the same day, Defendant Heavener filed his separate
Motion to Dismiss [ECF No. 50]. All movants seek dismissal of
Sovereign Immunity - the Eleventh Amendment
State of Maryland contends that it is immune from
Plaintiffs' claims in this suit by virtue of the Eleventh
Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. The
Eleventh Amendment provides: “The Judicial power of the
United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in
law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the
United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or
subjects of any Foreign State.” U.S. Const. amend. XI.
Thus, unconsenting states are immune from suit in federal
court, even by their own citizens, absent an exception. See
Lee-Thomas v. Prince George's Cty. Pub. Sch., 666 F.3d
244, 248-49 (4th Cir. 2012). None of the exceptions are
Congress did not abrogate States' Eleventh Amendment
immunity for 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims. See Will v.
Michigan Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 65-66,
109 S.Ct. 2304, 105 L.Ed.2d 45 (1989) (finding that a state
is not a person within the meaning of § 1983 and that
Eleventh Amendment bars § 1983 suits unless the state
has waived its immunity). The second exception is
inapplicable here because Plaintiffs are not seeking any
prospective injunctive relief, but instead only damages.
Finally, the State of Maryland has not waived its Eleventh
Amendment immunity in this case.
Hodge v. Coll. of S. Maryland, 121 F.Supp.3d 486,
495 (D. Md. 2015)(involving Fourteenth Amendment claim
against State of Maryland). “The waiver of sovereign
immunity in the Maryland Torts Claims Act clearly limits the
state's waiver of immunity to actions brought in the
Maryland state courts. A state's waiver of immunity from
suit in state court ‘is not enough to waive the
immunity guaranteed by the Eleventh
Amendment.'” Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. for
City of Baltimore, 901 F.2d 387, 397-98 (4th Cir.
1990)(citations omitted)(quoting Atascadero State Hosp.
v. Scanlon, 473 U.S. 234, 241 (1985)); see also Hyde
v. Maryland State Bd. of Dental Examiners, No.
1:16-CV-02489-ELH, 2017 WL 2908998, at *7 (D. Md. July
7, 2017)(Hollander, J.).
the Eleventh Amendment bars Plaintiffs from pursuing this
suit against the State of Maryland in federal court. All
claims against the State shall be dismissed.
addition, the Eleventh Amendment also precludes suits brought
against state employees in their official capacities because,
in those circumstances, the State is the real, substantial
party in interest. See Brandon v. Holt, 469 U.S.
464, 471-72 (1985).
Thus, “[t]he general rule is that relief sought
nominally against an officer is in fact against the sovereign
if the decree would operate against the latter.” And,
as when the State itself is named as the defendant, a suit
against state officials that is in fact a suit against a
State is barred regardless of whether it seeks damages or
Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465
U.S. 89, 101-02 (1984)(internal citations omitted).
Accordingly, all federal claims against the Individual
Defendants in their official capacities shall be dismissed.
Court will herein discuss all claims against the Individual
Defendants asserted against them in their individual
Count I - Federal Constitutional Claims
assert claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged
violations of the rights provide by the Eighth and Fourteenth