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Estate of Leysath v. State

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

March 6, 2018

STATE OF MARYLAND, et al. Defendants.



         Louis Stanley Leysath, III ("Leysath") was incarcerated at the Jessup Correctional Institution ("JCI") in Jessup, Maryland when, on February 20, 2015, he died from thermal injuries after breaking an exposed radiator steam pipe in his cell. Leysath's wife, Morgan Leysath, father, Louis Leysath, Jr., and mother, Cheryl Leysath. individually and on behalf of Leysath's estate, (collectively, "Plaintiffs") bring claims under Maryland tort law and the U.S. Constitution against the State of Maryland, Stephen T. Moyer, Secretary of Public Safety for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, Officer Marcel Jaff, Officer Betty Knox, Sergeant Gerald Coleman, Sergeant Foluso Fekoya, Lieutenant Boenhflahn Herring, Lieutenant Gena Addison, Major James Harris, Captain Odette Henry- McCarthy, (collectively, "the Correctional Officers"), Dr. Lynda Bonieskie, and Dr. Jacqueline Moore (collectively, "Defendants").[1] ECF No. 1. Presently pending before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, or in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment. ECF No. 30. No hearing is necessary. Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the following reasons. Defendants' Motion is granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The facts of this case, as alleged by Plaintiffs and set forth in Defendants' Motion, are not in dispute. On the morning of February 19, 2015, a JCI officer observed that Leysath was exhibiting odd behavior and brought him to Dr. Moore for evaluation. ECF No. 30-4 ¶ 3. Dr. Moore evaluated Leysath for 20-30 minutes, during which Leysath stated that he "saw spirits." Id. ¶ 6. This was the first time Dr. Moore had evaluated Leysath, but mental health records indicated that Leysath had a prior history of mood swings and hearing voices, and that he had been prescribed psychotropic medications in 2011; however, the medications were discontinued in November 2012 after "he was deemed clinically stable despite medication noncompliance." Id. ¶ 4. Given Leysath's exhibited behavior, as a precaution. Dr. Moore recommended that he be placed on close observation due to "possible delirium." Id. ¶ 7. Dr. Moore also immediately referred Leysath for both a psychiatric and medical evaluation. Id. ¶ 7; ECF No. 30-5. Dr. Moore's supervisor, Dr. Bonieskie, Deputy Director of Mental Health Services, was aware of, and concurred with, Dr. Moore's approach. ECF No. 30-6.

         Per Dr. Moore's direction, Leysath was placed on close observation in an observation cell, containing only a metal sink, toilet, sprinkler head, and wall radiator. ECF No. 30-6 ¶ 5. Observation cells do not contain a bed, bedding, or electrical outlets, and the inmate must wear a specially designed smock designed to prevent self-injury. Id. Close observation is intended for inmates exhibiting suicidal inclinations or odd behavior as a result of changes in mental status. ECF No. 30-4 ¶ 7. While under close observation, an inmate is monitored by correctional officers as well as inmate observation aides positioned outside of an inmate's cell. See ECF No. 30-6 ¶ 6; ECF No. 30-7.

         At approximately 6:50 p.m. on February 19, inmate Luis Aguillar. Leysath's assigned observation aide, informed Officer Knox that Leysath was agitated and had broken the metal cover off of the wall radiator in his cell. ECF No. 30-9. The metal cover spans several feet in length and is secured to the radiator to cover the radiator steam pipes that run horizontally near the floor and provide heat to the cell. ECF Nos. 30-8; 30-11. Officer Knox informed Sergeant Coleman that the cover was detached, and Coleman then responded to Leysath's cell and notified his shift supervisor, Lieutenant Herring, of the situation. ECF No. 30-8 ¶ 6. Lieutenant Herring in turn notified Captain McCarthy, who deemed the detached radiator cover to be a hazard and instructed Lieutenant Herring to remove it prior to returning Leysath to the cell. ECF No. 30-12 ¶ 4. Captain McCarthy then informed the shift commander, Major Harris, who agreed with the response. ECF No. 30-13 ¶ 4.

         Leysath was temporarily removed from his cell while Sergeant Coleman, with Lieutenant Herring and Lieutenant Addison present, removed the detached radiator cover. Leysath was then returned to his cell, and because the radiator cover had been removed, the radiator's steam pipes were exposed. ECF No. 30-8 ¶ 7. While these correctional officers maintain that Leysath was calm throughout this process, Trian Brown, the assigned inmate observation aide that evening, noted that Leysath banged on the door and talked to himself, saying that "they were doing something to his wife downstairs." ECF No. 30-16.

         At approximately 3:20 a.m. the following morning, Leysath became agitated, claimed that he was going to kill someone for killing his wife, and flooded his cell. ECF No. 30-10. Officer Jaff notified Sergeant Fekoya, who observed that Leysath had removed his smock and appeared to be clogging the sink with it. ECF No. 30-17 ¶ 4. Although Leysath's cell was flooding, the water was not hot, and Sergeant Fekoya did not consider the flooding to be an emergency warranting Leysath's removal from the cell. Id. ¶¶ 4, 6 (noting that because Leysath was on close observation, Fekoya could not remove him from the cell unless there was an emergency or upon approval from his supervisors). Sergeant Fekoya noted that Leysath was "laughing and running around in the cell naked" but moved to a different cell while Officer Jaff and Brown remained nearby. ECF No. 30-17 ¶ 7.

         At approximately 4:00 a.m., Sergeant Fekoya heard a loud sound from Leysath's cell and an inmate saying "Oh, we think he has bust the steam. He has bust the steam." Id. ¶ 8. Sergeant Fekoya observed steam through the window into Leysath's cell and made three separate radio transmissions to his supervisors. Id. ¶ 9-10. At some point, Sergeant Fekoya opened the feed slot in the cell door and observed Leysath lying on the ground, unresponsive. Id. ¶ 11 • At approximately 4:12 a.m., prior to the arrival of his supervisors, Sergeant Fekoya deemed the situation to be a medical emergency and, with the assistance of Officer Jaff, removed Leysath from his cell. Id. ¶ 12. Shortly thereafter a nurse arrived to administer CPR, but Leysath was pronounced dead at 4:58 a.m. due to thermal injuries sustained from the detached steam pipes. Id; ECF No. 30-19 (Autopsy Report).

         Plaintiffs filed suit in this Court on May 18, 2017, asserting the following claims against the State of Maryland, Secretary Moyer in his official capacity, and the remaining Defendants in their individual and official capacities: Negligence against Moore and Bonieskie (Count I); Negligence against the Correctional Officers (Count II); Negligence against the State (Count III); Wrongful Death (Count IV); Survival Action (Count V); Violation of Leysath's Civil Rights by Moore and Bonieskie (Count VI); Violation of Leysath's Civil Rights by the Correctional Officers (Count VII). ECF No. 1.[2]


         Defendants move to dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Prccedure 12(b)(6) or, in the alterative, for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56. ECF No. 30. Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), a court may dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. When deciding a motion to dismiss, a court "must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint, " and "draw all reasonable inferences [from those facts] in favor of the plaintiff." E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. v. Kolon Indus.. Inc., 637 F.3d 435, 440 (4th Cir. 2011) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). Pursuant to 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). To survive a motion to dismiss invoking Rule 12(b)(6), "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, 'to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544. 570 (2007)).

         Defendants' motion is styled as a motion to dismiss, or in the alternative, for sunmary judgment. A court considers only the pleadings when deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. Where the parties present matters outside of the pleadings, and the Court considers those matters, the court will treat the motion as one for summary judgment. See Gadsby v. Grasmick, 109 F.3d 940, 949 (4th Cir. 1997); Mansfield v. Kerry, No. DKC-15-3693, 2016 WL 7383873, at *2 (D. Md. Dec. 21, 2016). All parties must be given some indication by the Court that it is treating a motion to dismiss as one for summary judgment, "with the consequent right in the opposing party to file counter affidavits or pursue reasonable discovery." Gay v. Wall, 761 F.2d 175, 177 (4th Cir. 1985).

         When the moving party styles its motion as a "Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment, " as in the case here, and attaches additional materials to its Motion, the non-moving party is, of course, aware that materials outside the pleadings are before the Court, and the Court can treat the motion as one for summary judgment. See Laughlin v. Metropolitan Wash. Airports Auth, 149 F.3d 253, 260-61 (4th Cir. 1998). A court may grant a motion for summary judgment only if there exists no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). A material fact is one that constitutes an element that is essential to a party's case. Celotex Corp. v, Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., AH U.S. 242, 248 (1986) ("the substantive law will identify which facts are material").

         A genuine issue as to a material fact exists if the evidence that the parties present to tie court is sufficient to indicate the existence of a factual dispute that could be resolved in the non-moving party's favor through trial. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248-49. While it is the movant's burden to show the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, Pulliam Inv. Co., Inc. v. Cameo Properties, 810 F.2d 1282, 1286 (4th Cir. 1987), it is the non-moving party's burden to establish its existence, see Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 585-87 (1986), and "[t]he evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255.

         III. ...

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