United States District Court, D. Maryland
GEORGIA GRANT-WALTON, Personal Representative to the Estate of Taylor Walton, Plaintiff,
MONTGOMERY COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION, KAREN PHILBIN and JEFFREY RABBERMAN, Defendants.
THEODORE D. CHUANG, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Georgia Grant-Walton ("Plaintiff), in her capacity as
the personal representative to the estate of her daughter,
Taylor Walton ("Walton"), has brought this action
against the Board of Education of Montgomery County, Maryland
and two physical education teachers at Gaithersburg High
School, Karen Philbin and Jeffrey Rabberman ("the
Individual Defendants"), alleging gross negligence;
negligent selection, hiring, training, and supervision; a
common law survivor action; and a claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 for a violation of Walton's rights under the
Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Presently
pending before the Court is the Individual Defendants'
Motion for Partial Dismissal. Having reviewed the submitted
materials, the Court finds that no hearing is necessary.
See D. Md. Local R. 105.6. For the reasons set forth
below, the Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN
a minor at the time of the relevant events, was a student at
Gaithersburg High School ("GHS") in Gaithersburg,
Maryland. Walton suffered from asthma, an inflammatory
disease of the airway which can be exacerbated by air
pollutants or exercise. Asthma can result in an anaphylactic
reaction causing swelling of the membranes lining the airway
which, if not immediately treated through the use of an
inhaler, can result in death. When Walton was first enrolled
at GHS in August 2015, school officials were informed of
Walton's asthma, and each of her teachers received a copy
of her emergency treatment plan.
October 2015, Walton suffered an anaphylactic reaction, also
known as an asthma attack, while in her physical education
class, in the presence of "her Gym Teacher." Am.
Compl. ¶ 12, ECF No. 12. Walton was able to control the
attack through the use of her inhaler.
November 30, 2015, Walton experienced another asthma attack
in her gym class, taught by Philbin. Walton informed Philbin
that she was having trouble breathing as a result of the
attack and requested permission to leave the class to
retrieve her inhaler from her gym locker. Philbin denied the
request. A short time later, Walton informed Philbin that her
breathing difficulties were continuing and again requested
permission to get her inhaler. Philbin again denied the
request. Finally, in the midst of severe breathing
difficulties, Walton told Philbin that she was leaving class
to get her inhaler. Although both Philbin and Rabberman, who
was also present, observed Walton leave the gymnasium,
neither teacher went with her to get the inhaler or
instructed another student to accompany Walton.
was found unconscious on the floor outside the gymnasium by
an unnamed school employee. That employee notified a school
nurse, who began administering artificial respiration to
Walton and called for emergency medical personnel. All
attempts to revive Walton were unsuccessful. She was
pronounced dead at Shady Grove Hospital later that day.
their Motion to Dismiss, the Individual Defendants argue that
Plaintiff has failed to state plausible claims against
Philbin or Rabberman of (1) gross negligence (Count I); and
(2) a violation of Walton's Fourth Amendment rights
Motion seeks dismissal for failure to state a claim pursuant
to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). To defeat a
motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the 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 facts pleaded allow "the court to
draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable
for the misconduct alleged." Id. Legal
conclusions or conclusory statements do not suffice.
Id. The Court must examine the complaint as a whole,
consider the factual allegations in the complaint as true,
and construe the factual allegations in the light most
favorable to the plaintiff. 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).
asserts a claim against the Individual Defendants for gross
negligence based on their alleged failure to allow Walton to
leave the gymnasium or otherwise assist her during the
medical emergency. Under Maryland law, gross negligence is
"something more than simple negligence, and
likely more akin to reckless conduct." Barbre v.
Pope, 935 A.2d 699, 717 (Md. 2007) (quoting Taylor
v. Harford Cty. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 862 A.2d 1026,
1035 (Md. 2004)). It is "an intentional failure to
perform a manifest duty in reckless disregard of the
consequences as affecting the life or property of another,
and also implies a thoughtless disregard of the consequences
without the exertion of any effort to avoid them."
Barbre, 935 A.2d at 717 (quoting Liscombe v.
Potomac Edison Co., 495 A.2d 838, 846 (Md. 1985)). An
individual acts with gross negligence when that person
"inflicts injury intentionally or is so utterly
indifferent to the rights of others that he acts as if such
rights did not exist." Id. Under this standard,
courts have found gross negligence adequately pleaded in
cases in which a plaintiff has alleged that a defendant has
displayed utter indifference or thoughtless disregard to the
rights of others by failing to take certain actions to
address clear warning signs so as to prevent the harm.
See, e.g., Doe v. Bd. of Educ. of Prince George's
Cty., 888 F.Supp.2d 659, 669-70 (D. Md. 2012) (finding
that allegations that the defendant school district was aware
that a classmate repeatedly engaged in sexual harassment of
the plaintiff, refused to act in response to the plaintiffs
complaints, and assigned the classmate to the plaintiffs
classroom the following school year stated a cognizable claim
for gross negligence).
the allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff,
as is required at this stage, the Court finds that Plaintiff
has sufficiently alleged a claim of gross negligence against
the Individual Defendants. Here, Walton had asthma, a
condition known to lead to severe breathing difficulties that
could result in death, and GHS officials and Walton's
teachers, including Philbin and Rabberman, had been made
aware of her condition to the point that there was an
emergency treatment plan to be implemented in the event of an
asthma attack. She had previously suffered an asthma attack
in the presence of her gym teacher that was controlled by an
inhaler. Despite having this knowledge, Philbin refused two
specific requests by Walton to leave class to get her inhaler
to address breathing difficulties. When Walton then informed
her that she was going to leave to get it, neither Philbin
nor Rabberman took any steps to ensure that she was able to
retrieve it and alleviate her distress. The fact that Walton
was then found unconscious near the gymnasium shortly after
leaving the class supports an inference that her condition
was so severe that her ...