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Howard v. Crumlin

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

November 28, 2018

CAROLYN HOWARD
v.
BEN CRUMLIN, et al.

          Circuit Court for Montgomery County Case No. 404907-V

          Beachley, Shaw Geter, Fader, JJ.

          OPINION

          Fader, J.

         Carolyn Howard, the appellant, presents the question whether a police officer may be held individually liable in tort for failing to make contact with an individual who placed a call for assistance to 911 to which the officer attempted to respond. We hold that Maryland law does not impose individual liability in tort in that circumstance.

         BACKGROUND[1]

         In the early morning hours of February 19, 2014, Nicole Sade Enoch was in her apartment in Silver Spring. A male friend of a woman who was staying with Ms. Enoch may have been there as well. Shortly after 2:00 a.m., Ms. Enoch called 911.[2] In response, Montgomery County Police Officer Ben Crumlin was dispatched to the apartment building, attempted to enter, but found the door locked. He left without making contact with Ms. Enoch.

         At some point, Ms. Enoch went to the roof of her apartment building and either jumped, fell, or was pushed off. Her body was discovered at 8:20 a.m. and she was pronounced dead at the scene.

         Ms. Howard, who is Ms. Enoch's mother, brought suit for herself and on behalf of Ms. Enoch's estate in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County. The operative complaint for our purposes is the Fourth Amended Complaint, in which Ms. Howard brought claims against Officer Crumlin and Montgomery County Chief of Police J. Thomas Manger for negligence and wrongful death.[3] Ms. Howard alleged that Officer Crumlin and Chief Manger owed a duty to Ms. Enoch that they breached by failing to investigate the 911 call, protect Ms. Enoch, enter the building and make contact with Ms. Enoch, maintain proper policies and procedures for responding to 911 calls, provide adequate training for responding to 911 calls, and monitor the response of officers to 911 calls. According to the complaint, these failures were the direct and proximate cause of Ms. Enoch's death.

         The circuit court dismissed the claims against Officer Crumlin and Chief Manger on the ground that those defendants did not owe a duty to Ms. Enoch that was enforceable in tort. We affirm.

         DISCUSSION

         "[T]he standard of review of the grant or denial of a motion to dismiss is whether the trial court was legally correct." Blackstone v. Sharma, 461 Md. 87, 110 (2018).

         This appeal centers on two different legal doctrines that are distinct but too often confused: the public duty doctrine and public official immunity.[4] Each independently requires a ruling in favor of Officer Crumlin and Chief Manger. We discuss them in turn.

         I. Ms. Howard's Allegations Fail to Show that Officer Crumlin or Chief Manger Owed a Duty to Ms. Enoch That Can Be Enforced in Tort.

         The public duty doctrine provides that statutory or common law duties imposed on public officials or entities that are duties "to the public as a whole," and not to any particular group or individual, are unenforceable in tort. Cooper v. Rodriguez, 443 Md. 680, 714 (2015). Where it is applicable, the plaintiff cannot ordinarily establish that the defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff or a group of which the plaintiff ...


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