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Karn v. PTS of America, LLC

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

September 18, 2017

PTS OF AMERICA, LLC, Defendants.



         Plaintiff William Jeffrey Karn brings this action against Defendants PTS of America, LLC d/b/a Prisoner Transportation of America ("PTS") and John Does #1-6 (collectively, "Defendants") alleging various constitutional violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, violations of Articles 24 and 26 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights, and state common law claims, including negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress, resulting from PTS's transport of Karn, a pre-trial detainee, from Maryland to South Carolina in December 2015. Presently pending before the Court is Defendant PTS's Partial Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim. ECF No. 9.[1] A hearing on the Motion was held on September 13, 2017. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the following reasons, the Partial Motion to Dismiss shall be granted, in part, and denied, in part. The claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress; negligent hiring, training, and supervision; the 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim under the Fourth Amendment; and both claims under the Maryland Declaration of Rights shall be dismissed. The 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim under the Fourteenth Amendment due process clause shall be dismissed against PTS but shall proceed against the John Doe defendants.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background[2]

         William Karn is an adult resident of the State of Maryland. ECF No. 1 ¶ 3. PTS is a Tennessee corporation and private company that provides extradition and detainee transportation services. Id. ¶ 4. PTS employs drivers and guards to transport prisoners and detainees between jurisdictions. Id. ¶ 5. At all times relevant to this action, Plaintiff was a pre-trial detainee in the custody of PTS. See Id. ¶ 7.

         On or about December 9, 2015, Plaintiff was arrested in Montgomery County, Maryland for failure to timely pay child support in Horry County, South Carolina. ECF No. 1 ¶ 8. Plaintiff waived an extradition hearing and was taken to a facility in Montgomery County to await transport to South Carolina. See Id. ¶¶ 9-10. On the night of December 23, 2015, Defendants arrived to retrieve Plaintiff from the facility. Id. ¶¶ 10-11. Defendants handcuffed Plaintiff, strapped ankle cuffs on his legs, and ran a chain link around his midsection. Id. ¶ 12. Plaintiff alleges that the handcuffs were secured so tightly that the pressure on his wrists, nerves, tissue and bones made it difficult for him to open his hands, and that his fingers became numb. Id. ¶ 14. Plaintiff informed Defendants of this problem repeatedly, but Defendants ignored him. Id. ¶ 15. Defendants escorted Plaintiff out to a white van, and when Plaintiff asked how long it would take to get to South Carolina, Defendants told him not to worry about it and to "just get in the fucking van." Id. ¶ 16.

         When Karn entered the van, there were already fourteen other prisoners inside, some of whom had been travelling for fourteen days at that point. ECF No. 1 ¶ 18. Inside the van, the prisoners were seated on eight-inch metal benches, shoulder to shoulder, with their knees pressed up against a central metal divider. Id. ¶¶ 27-28. The prisoners were not secured with seatbelts. Id. ¶ 30. Plaintiff would spend the next ten days in this van, traveling through nine different states including Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, and North Carolina, to get to South Carolina. Id. ¶ 19. According to Plaintiff, Defendants took a circuitous route that passed through multiple states more than once, id. ¶ 20, and involved several side-trips that were "completely unrelated to the transport of the prisoners, " including a stop "at an out-of-the way airport so that PTS could send one guard/driver on vacation." Id. ¶ 21. Over the course of the trip, the van travelled to many different jails, dropping off prisoners and picking up new ones. Id. ¶ 56. The PTS guards alternated eighteen-hour shifts driving, sometimes reaching "speeds up to 95 miles per hour, " and other times apparently "falling asleep at the wheel." Id. ¶¶ 24-25.

         During the trip, Plaintiff and the other prisoners would "be in the back of the van on the road for 36 hours without respite." ECF No. 1 ¶ 22. Because Defendants did not secure Plaintiff or the other prisoners with seat belts, as the van "careened and bounced its way through the route, " the men were thrown around the back of the van, into each other, the metal divider, and the ceiling. Id. ¶ 30. According to Plaintiff, these conditions made sleeping impossible. Id. ¶ 31. His inability to move or stand up for long periods of time also caused him to develop "painful boils, rashes, and abrasions." Id. ¶ 29. Because the windows of the van were blacked out, much of the time was spent in complete darkness. Id. ¶ 32. The temperature was warm, and "there was little air" in the compartment. See Id. ¶ 36.

         Access to food and water varied widely, and was subject to the whim of the guards. ECF No. 1 ¶ 34. Typically, every six to eight hours, the guards would stop at a McDonalds and purchase "a small hamburger from the $1.00 menu" and a twelve-ounce bottle of water for each prisoner. Id. ¶ 33. This meal schedule was largely inconsistent, however, and at least once, the prisoners were allegedly not given food or water for almost twice the six hour period. Id. ¶ 34. Additionally, the guards made minimal effort to control the prisoners, and on more than one occasion, other prisoners stole Plaintiffs food and water, leaving him with nothing to eat or drink. Id. ¶ 35. Plaintiff alleges that he was dehydrated for most of the journey, because the twelve-ounce bottle of water was not sufficient. Id. ¶ 36.

         Some of the men also fought with each other by head-butting and biting one another. ECF No. 1 ¶ 58. To quell this behavior, Defendants would "indiscriminately pepper spray the entire rear compartment" of the van, including Plaintiff, even though he had not been fighting. Id. ¶ 59. "Shackled and bound at the waist, " Plaintiff was unable to rub his eyes or splash water to rinse his eyes of the pepper spray. Id. ¶¶ 40, 59. At the end of one of the thirty-six hour stretches in the van, Plaintiff alleges that he became numb in the legs, which diminished his ability to stand up and exit the van. Id. ¶ 41. In response, Defendants pushed Plaintiff out of the van, causing Plaintiff to fall onto his side and injure his shoulder. Id. ¶¶ 42-44. Plaintiff was unable to brace his fall because of the shackles and handcuffs. Id. ¶ 43. Plaintiff alleges that he made no complaints about this because the guards stood over him "with hands on their weapons, " and he was never treated for this injury. Id. ¶ 44.

         When it came time for the prisoners to urinate or have a bowel movement, Defendants expected the prisoners to urinate "into their empty water bottles." ECF No. 1 ¶ 45-46. However, because the men were shackled, many of them ended up urinating on the van's floor and on themselves. Id. ¶ 47. On multiple occasions, Plaintiff and other prisoners also defecated on themselves, because they could not contain their bowel movements any longer. Id. ¶¶ 48-49. One particular prisoner seated next to Plaintiff suffered from a form of irritable bowel syndrome, and had "to beg the guards to be permitted to move his bowels." Id. ¶ 50. Eventually, Defendants threw a plastic garbage bag in the back of the van and told the prisoner to use it. Id. Plaintiff attempted to help the man pull his pants down and use the bag in the crowded space, but these efforts were unsuccessful, and the prisoner defecated everywhere, including on Plaintiffs "leg, arms, clothing, and the floor." Id. ¶ 52. Defendants would not allow Plaintiff to bathe or change clothing. Id. ¶53.

         Plaintiff alleges that the combination of urine, open feces, vomit, and other body odors in the van "was horrific." ECF No. 1 ¶ 54. The van had allegedly transported "other prisoners in the same circumstances" before Plaintiff, and Defendants did not clean it between prisoners, or for the duration of Plaintiff s journey. Id. ¶¶ 53-56. Throughout Plaintiffs transport, Defendants also did not allow him to use a phone to contact his family or friends. Id. ¶ 60. Plaintiff alleges that he still suffers from the physical pain, harm, and emotional distress of this experience, and "will require treatment into the foreseeable future." Id. ¶¶ 65-66. He states that he continues to "relive[] the pain and torment, " id. ¶ 66, and to date, still experiences "numbness and pain in the fingers of his left hand, " id. ¶ 39, and pain in his shoulder. Id. ¶¶ 44.

         B. Procedural History

         Plaintiff filed the instant Complaint against PTS, and six unnamed employees, asserting eight causes of action: Count I: Negligence; Count II: Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress ("IIED"); Count III: Negligent Hiring, Training, and Supervision; Count IV: False Imprisonment; Count V: Violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 Unlawful Arrest, Seizure, and Detention; Count VI: Violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 Mistreatment in Custody; Count VII: Violations of Article 24 and 26 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights Excessive Force; and Count VIII: Violations of Article 24 and 26 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights Loss of Liberty. ECF No. 1 at 9-19. Plaintiff seeks judgment against Defendant in "an amount in excess of $75, 000.00, plus interest and costs, and punitive damages, plus attorneys' fees, interest and costs." See id.

         Defendant PTS filed an Answer to Count I, negligence, and a Partial Motion to Dismiss with respect to the remaining counts. In Plaintiffs Opposition, Plaintiff withdrew Count IV, false imprisonment, and Count VI, the Section 1983 claim for mistreatment in custody. See ECF No. 14-1 at 1. Therefore, this Memorandum Opinion will address only Counts II (intentional infliction of emotional distress), III (negligent hiring, training and supervision); V (the Section 1983 claim for unlawful arrest, seizure and detention); VII (Maryland Declaration of Rights - Excessive Force); and VIII (Maryland Declaration of Rights Loss of Liberty).


         Defendants may "test the adequacy of a complaint by way of a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6)." Prelich v. Med. Res., Inc., 813 F.Supp.2d 654, 660 (D. Md. 2011) (citing German v. Fox, 267 F.App'x 231, 233 (4th Cir. 2008)). Motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim do "not resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses." Prelich, 813 F.Supp.2d at 660 (citing Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999)). To overcome a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a complaint must allege enough facts to state a plausible claim for relief. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). A claim is plausible when "the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the Court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id.

         In evaluating the sufficiency of the Plaintiffs claims, the Court accepts factual allegations in the complaint as true and construes the factual allegations in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff See Albright v. Oliver,510 U.S. 266, 268 (1994); Lambeth v. Bd. of Comm 'rs of Davidson Cty.,407 F.3d 266, 268 (4th Cir. 2005). However, the complaint must contain more than "legal conclusions, elements of a cause of action, and bare assertions devoid of further factual enhancement." Nemet Chevrolet, Ltd v., Inc.,591 F.3d 250, 255 (4th Cir. 2009). The court should not grant a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim for relief unless "it is clear that no relief could be granted under any set of facts that could be proved consistent with the ...

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