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Watkins v. Cullen

United States District Court, D. Maryland

July 20, 2018

ELIA T. WATKINS, Plaintiff,
JOHN CULLEN, et al., Defendants.



         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendants John Cullen, Sherri Passerell, Lauren Lyons, Lee Cashdollar, Dan Brown, Richard Mihailovich, Laura Robinson, Terri Emerson, Janet Hendershot, Mary-Lou Perkins, Sharon Pence, Joseph Lyden, and Gary Leasure's Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 27) and Motion to Consolidate Nos. 1:16-cv-01033-GLR and 1:17-cv-00277-GLR (“Motion to Consolidate”)[1] (ECF No. 26).[2] The Motions are ripe for disposition, and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D.Md. 2016). For the reasons outlined below, the Court will deny the Motion to Consolidate and grant the Motion for Summary Judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND [3]

         A. The Complaint and Supplements to the Complaint

         Plaintiff Elia T. Watkins, who currently resides at the Spring Grove Hospital Center in Catonsville, Maryland, filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (2018).[4] (ECF No. 1). Watkins' initial Complaint was a lengthy list of grievances against a variety of employees of the Thomas B. Finan Center (the “Finan Center”)[5] in Cumberland, Maryland and a state court judge. (See Compl., ECF No. 1). The specific nature of Watkins' Complaint, as well as how each of the named Defendants was responsible for the facts alleged, was unclear from Watkins' filing. The Court, therefore, granted Watkins twenty-eight days to supplement his Complaint to cure the deficiencies noted. (June 2, 2016 Order, ECF No. 5). In response to the Order, Watkins filed two Supplements to the Complaint. (ECF Nos. 6, 8). Neither of Watkins' Supplements is a model of clarity. At bottom, Watkins alleges that Finan Center employees treated him improperly, breached his confidentiality, and failed to protect him from assaults by a fellow Finan Center patient.[6]

         With regard to Watkins' specific allegations, he states that John Cullen, Director of the Finan Center, “did not do anything to reprimand any of his employees.” (2d Suppl. Compl. at 4, ECF No. 8).[7] As to the Finan Center employees, Watkins alleges that Dr. Passerell placed unlawful restrictions on him and had a prejudicial attitude towards him. (Compl. at 10; 1st Suppl. Compl. at 2, ECF No. 6). He states that at times Dr. Passerell would not speak to him, (Compl. at 11), and that she and members of her treatment team, including Defendants Dr. Lyons, Cashdollar, Brown, Emerson, and Robinson, were unprofessional and used “levels of precautions as a punitive measure, instead of a safety measure, ” (id. at 12; 1st Suppl. Compl. at 2).

         Watkins then alleges that it was “inappropriate legally” for Dr. Hendershot and Perkins to submit a letter to an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) after a hearing on his conditional release was closed. (Compl. at 7; 1st Suppl. Compl. at 3). Watkins also avers that, during the hearing, Dr. Hendershot falsely testified that Watkins inappropriately touched a fellow patient. (Compl. at 7-8). Additionally, Watkins alleges that Mihailovich and Shaw failed to return art work to him. (Id. at 19; 1st Suppl. Compl. at 5).

         Next, Watkins states that Dr. Hendershot breached patient confidentiality by allowing student nurses and other non-employees to sit in on his treatment plan meetings without his consent. (1st Suppl. Compl. at 2). He alleges that this caused some of the female students to have a negative attitude toward him. (Id.). He further alleges that some of the unspecified negative attitudes appeared to have racial overtones. (Id. at 4).

         Finally, Watkins asserts that Pence made several false reports regarding Watkins assaulting fellow patients. (Compl. at 17; 1st Suppl. Compl. at 5). He also alleges that Lyden made false reports regarding Watkins threatening him, failed to stop an assault on Watkins, and then participated in the assault on Watkins. (Compl. at 18; 1st Suppl. Compl. at 6).

         B. Record Evidence

         In 1993, Watkins was found Not Criminally Responsible for child abuse and a third-degree sex offense and was admitted to Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center. (Defs.' Mot. Dismiss Mot. Summ J. [“Defs.' Mot.”] Ex. 10 at 1, ECF No. 30-12).[8] In November 2012, Watkins was transferred to the Finan Center, (id.), where he remained a patient until October 2016, (Defs.' Mot. at 2; Pl.'s Resp. at 4, ECF No. 36).

         On May 8, 2015, a hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) regarding Watkins' request for conditional release. (Defs.' Mot. Ex. 10 at 1). At the hearing, Dr. Hendershot testified in support of Watkins' request. (Id. at 2). Following the hearing, Watkins engaged in assaultive behavior, refused medication, and declined to participate in various groups. (Defs.' Mot. Ex. 4, ECF No. 30-5). As a result, Dr. Hendershot felt that she and the treatment team could no longer support Watkins' conditional release. (Defs.' Mot. Ex. 9, ECF No. 30-11). Therefore, on May 11, 2015, Dr. Hendershot notified the ALJ and Watkins' attorney, through a letter, that Finan Center staff no longer recommended Watkins' conditional release. (Id.). Subsequently, the ALJ denied Watkins' request for conditional release. (Defs.' Mot. Ex. 10 at 5). In denying the request, the ALJ stated that he was not persuaded by the joint recommendation for conditional release presented during the hearing. (Id. at 5). His decision did not rely on, or even reference, the letter withdrawing the recommendation for release. (See id. at 1-6). The ALJ did, however, forward the letter to the Circuit Court for Baltimore County, Maryland to consider in conjunction with the ALJ's recommendation. (Defs.' Mot. Ex. 11, ECF 30-13).

         After the hearing, Watkins' patient record notes dated May 10, 2015, indicate that Watkins' level of “supervision/precautions” was increased from “unescorted” to Aggressive Assault Precaution, Level 1 (“AAP1”) due to him being involved in a physical altercation with another patient. (Defs.' Mot. Ex. 4 at 1, 3, ECF 30-5). Later that day, Watkins got in another fight with a different patient. (Id.). On May 12, 2015, he acted aggressively toward staff. (Id. at 5). On May 14, 2015, a female patient accused Watkins of touching her breast. (Id. at 10). Finan Center staff observed Watkins shouting angrily at staff and other patients on May 18, 2015. (Id. at 15). On May 20, 2015, Watkins was removed from AAPI precautions and placed on unit restrictions, which required him to keep a ten-foot distance from female patients at all times. (Id. at 18). The patient notes indicate that Watkins had demonstrated “no assaultive or aggressive behaviors” over the last couple of days and would be monitored on unit restrictions instead of fifteen-minute checks. (Id.).

         The following month, Watkins again exhibited aggressive behavior. On June 12, 2015, Watkins threatened staff, stating, “You don't know who I am and what I can do. I will get you one day, be careful going home.” (Defs.' Mot. Ex. 13 at 1, ECF 30-15). On June 18, 2015, Dr. Passerell entered a progress note confirming that Watkins was on restricted status due to his behavior. (Defs.' Mot. Ex. 5a at 1, ECF 30-6; Defs.' Mot. Ex. 5b at 1, ECF 30-7). She noted that Watkins requested his level be changed from “escorted status” to “unescorted status.” (Defs.' Mot. Ex. 5a at 1). Dr. Passerell reported that the treatment team considered Watkins' request but ultimately denied it. (Id.). The treatment team advised Watkins that his level would not change as requested “due to his threats towards staff [and] refusal to ask vulnerable females to keep a [ten-foot] distance from him.” (Id.). Watkins responded that he would not keep a ten-foot distance from vulnerable females because that was “the staff's job.” (Id.). Watkins also became “very loud and hostile.” (Id.).

         In July 2015, Watkins' level of supervision was raised back to AAPI precautions. Patient record notes dated July 19, 2015 indicate that Watkins' level of supervision was raised from “staff escort” to AAPI precautions due to Watkins pacing angrily around the day room and then pushing another patient out of the way instead of going around him. (Defs.' Mot. Ex. 12, ECF No. 30-14). Then, on July 23, 2015, Watkins was involved in an altercation with another patient. (Defs.' Mot. Ex. 13, ECF No. 30-15; id. Ex. 14, ECF No. 30-16). The following day, Lyden wrote an account of the incident and identified Watkins as the aggressor. (Defs.' Mot. Ex. 14 at 1-3). Lyden restrained Watkins in an attempt to break up the fight between Watkins and the other patient. (Id. at 2).

         On July 24, 2015, Dr. Passerell entered a physician's note that details almost daily incidents of aggressive behavior and verbal threats made by Watkins against staff from June 2, 2015 through July 23, 2015. (Defs.' Mot. Ex. 13). In the note, Dr. Passerell documents that Watkins continued to be argumentative and refused to take responsibility for his actions. (Id. at 1). At various times during the documented time period, Watkins refused to take prescribed medications. (Id. at 1-4). He threatened staff physically, threatened to initiate litigation and grievances, and indicated that the rules did not apply to him. (Id. at 1-2, 4). He also engaged in numerous confrontations with other patients and staff. (Id. at 2-4).

         With regard to Watkins' artwork, Mihailovich, the nursing supervisor of Cottage 2 at the Finan Center, avers that he never possessed one of Watkins' drawings or paintings. (Mihailovich Aff. ¶ 4, ECF No. 30-8). Shaw, an Occupational Therapist Assistant at the Finan Center, avers that she did receive a gift of a drawing from Watkins but water damage destroyed the picture and she threw it away. (Shaw Aff. ¶¶ 4-5, ECF No. 30-9).

         As to Watkins' concerns that his confidentiality was breached, Defendants aver that student nurses, contractual staff, and volunteers, are all subject to per the Finan Center's confidentiality policy. (Defs.' Mot. Ex. 8 § 1(a)(5) (contractors); § 1(b)(4) (students); § 5 (volunteers)). The Finan Center shares confidential health information with these individuals for treatment purposes, and they are bound to maintain the patient's confidentiality. (Id. at § 7).


         A. Motion to Consolidate

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 42(a), the Court may consolidate cases that “involve a common question of law or fact.” Defendants seek to consolidate this case with Watkins v. Cullen, et al. (Watkins II), No. GLR-17-277 (D.Md. filed Jan. 31, 2017). Watkins opposes the Motion, arguing that the cases are against “two different treatment teams” and involve “different rights ...

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