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Duncan v. Prince George's County

United States District Court, D. Maryland

December 18, 2018

PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY, et al., Defendants.



         Pending before the Court is Defendant Mary Lou McDonough's Motion to Dismiss. ECF No. 10. Plaintiff Adrian Terrell Duncan has responded, and no hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6. For the following reasons, the Court DENIES the motion.

         I. Background[1]

         Duncan has been detained at the Prince George's County Department of Corrections (“PGDOC”) since June 7, 2016. ECF No. 1 ¶ 11. Throughout Duncan's detention, Defendant McDonough has been Director of the PGDOC. Id. ¶ 13. Employees of the PGDOC, including Correctional Officers and Emergency Response Team (“ERT”) Officers, have targeted and attacked Duncan. Id. ¶¶ 46, 51, 56. In February of 2017, Officer Gray threw Duncan onto his bed and punched him, continuing to strike Duncan until the ERT team arrived to transport him for medical treatment. Id. ¶ 48. In April or May of 2017, Officers Jackson and Watkins also beat Duncan inside his cell, which was not equipped with a surveillance camera. Id. ¶¶ 52, 54. On December 22, 2017, Officer Jeter pushed Duncan while he was standing on a stairwell. Id. ¶ 61. Duncan fell, and Jeter dragged him down the stairs, “causing the back of Mr. Duncan's head to hit each step on the way down.” Id. Jeter then punched Duncan in the face and body while Duncan remained handcuffed. Id. ¶ 62. Officer Thompson joined the attack, macing Duncan with oleoresin capsicum foam. Id. During this confrontation, “at least four of Mr. Duncan's dreadlocks were ripped from his scalp.” Id. ¶ 68. Officers also orchestrated other attacks on Duncan by announcing to other detainees that Duncan was gay and a rapist. Id. ¶ 33. Such announcements provoked other detainees to threaten and physically assault Duncan. Id. ¶¶ 36-37. Corrections staff disregarded Duncan's attempts to receive adequate medical treatment and to file formal grievances concerning these attacks. Id. ¶¶ 83-89, 135-43.

         Duncan's experience at the PGDOC is not singular. During the same time period, Officers beat numerous other detainees. Defendant Jeter attacked at least seven other detainees, including Stephon Alexander Robinson, Demetrice Littles, Anthony Davis, and Jovan Anthony Ali. Id. ¶ 78. Officers Reid, Cusseaux, Potter, Parsons, Igwe, Montgomery, and Tolbert each harmed Juan Alex Randolph, Jr., by beating him, macing him, leaving him bound in four-point restraints overnight and alone in his cell, and putting him into recreation with other detainees for whom a separation order had been put in place. Id. ¶¶ 74-77.[2] Officers Horn and Houston also beat and maced Steve Jamal Smith. Id. ¶ 73.

         Despite the protracted pattern of violence initiated at the hands of PGDOC officers, PGDOC failed to discipline the officers adequately or provide sufficient training. Id. ¶¶ 74-78. Rather, as a consequence of these incidents, Defendants placed Duncan and others in solitary confinement for extended periods. Id. ¶¶ 28, 104, 106-08, 110, 112, 114, 118-19. In total, Duncan spent 22 of his 23 months at PGDOC in solitary confinement. Id. ¶ 100.

         Additionally, Defendants, including McDonough, have systematically deprived detainees of any meaningful grievance process to address officer misconduct. Detainees, including Duncan, have been given mis-information or no information about how to file formal grievances, were denied access to forms, and had their efforts to file grievances halted altogether by officers working in concert to upend the grievance process. ECF 1 at && 128-43.

         On May 11, 2018, Duncan filed his Complaint, alleging claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for excessive force, failure to protect, and detention in inhumane conditions against the named Corrections and ERT Officers. Id. Duncan also filed suit against Prince George's County and McDonough, alleging that the above-described violations arose from the facility's unconstitutional policies, practices, and customs. Id. Duncan seeks compensatory and punitive damages, as well as attorneys' fees and costs. Id. On July 6, 2018, McDonough moved to dismiss the Complaint as to her. ECF No. 10.

         II. Standard of Review

         In ruling on a motion to dismiss brought pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the well-pleaded allegations are accepted as true and viewed most favorably to the party pursuing the allegations. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). “Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above a speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. “‘[N]aked assertions' of wrongdoing necessitate some ‘factual enhancement' within the complaint to cross ‘the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.'” Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 193 (4th Cir. 2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). “[C]onclusory statements or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not [suffice].'” EEOC v. Performance Food Grp., Inc., 16 F.Supp.3d 584, 588 (D. Md. 2014) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

         III. Analysis

         A. Failure to State a Claim

         McDonough first argues that the claims brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against her in her official capacity as director of the PGDOC fail as a matter of law. ECF No. 14 at 3. Section 1983 imposes liability upon a state actor who “‘subjects, or causes to be subjected' an individual ‘to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution.'” Randall v. Prince George's Cty., Md., 302 F.3d 188, 202 (4th Cir. 2002) (quoting § 1983). Municipalities may be sued under § 1983. Monell v. New York City Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 690 (1978). “[U]nder Monell, a municipality is liable only for its own illegal acts.” Owens v. Balt. City State's Attorneys Office, 767 F.3d 379, 402 (4th Cir. 2014). Thus, a municipality is liable when its “policy or custom, whether made by its lawmakers or by those whose edicts or acts may fairly be said to represent official policy, inflicts the injury.” Hunter v. Town of Mocksville, N.C. , 897 F.3d 538, 554 (4th Cir. 2018) (quoting Monell, 436 U.S. at 694) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         “[A] policy or custom may possibly be inferred from continued inaction in the face of a known history of widespread constitutional deprivations . . . .” Milligan v. City of Newport News, 743 F.2d 227, 229-30 (4th Cir. 1984). “However, ‘a municipal policy or custom giving rise to § 1983 liability will not be inferred merely from municipal inaction in the face of isolated constitutional deprivations by municipal employees.'” Gar ...

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