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Mowery v. Smith

United States District Court, D. Maryland

July 2, 2019

BARRY SMITH, et al, Defendants.



         This suit arises out of injuries allegedly sustained by Cynthia Mowery and Brian Alexander, (collectively, the “Plaintiffs”), while attending entry-level police officer training at the Eastern Shore Criminal Justice Academy (the “Academy”). The Academy is operated by Wor-Wic Community College (“Wor-Wic”) under its criminal justice department. Defendant John C. Moses (“Mr. Moses”) is head of that department, Donald Rollyson (“Mr. Rollyson”) served as director of the Academy, and Barry Smith (“Mr. Smith”) served as an instructor (collectively, the “Defendants”). Pursuant to Standing Order 2018-4 and 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), this case was assigned directly to a magistrate judge and the parties consented to proceed before that magistrate judge. (ECF No. 19). Plaintiffs advance claims of negligence, negligent hiring, as well as violations of Title IX and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (ECF No. 1). Now pending is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment/Partial Summary Judgment as to all negligence-based claims. (ECF No. 23). The issues are fully briefed, (ECF Nos. 23, 25, and 26), and no hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2018). For the reasons that follow, Defendants' motion will be GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Ms. Mowery's Injuries

         Wor-Wic operates the Academy as part of its criminal justice department to provide training to law enforcement recruits and cadets in Salisbury, Maryland. (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 11). Wor-Wic hired Mr. Smith as a defensive tactics instructor at the Academy after his employment with the Maryland State Police. (Id. at ¶¶ 12-13, 29). In January 2017, Ms. Mowery was accepted into the Elkton State Police Department and was sent for entry-level law enforcement training at the Academy. (Id. at ¶ 31). During sessions taught by Mr. Smith, Ms. Mowery was required to participate in five fight practical scenarios that involved boxing with minimal safety equipment. (Id. at ¶¶ 32-33). In the fight scenarios, she participated despite allegedly sustaining multiple blows to the head. (Id. at ¶ 34). After each fight scenario Ms. Mowery was asked if she was injured, and each time she indicated that she was not. (ECF Nos. 23-7, 23-8, 23-9, 23-10, and 23-11). Mr. Smith, in consultation with Mr. Rollyson and Mr. Moses, determined that Ms. Mowery failed her training due to the number of blows she sustained and would have to wait a week to try again. (ECF No. 1 at ¶¶ 35-38). Defendants did not recommend that Ms. Mowery receive any medical treatment for the blows she received. (Id. at ¶ 40).

         Following her participation in the fight scenarios, Ms. Mowery alleges that she began to experience dizziness, headaches, and difficulty sleeping. (Id. at ¶ 41). In addition to the injuries she sustained during the fight scenarios, Ms. Mowery alleges separate instances where Mr. Smith injured her during her time at the Academy. (Id. at ¶ 49). Specifically, she alleges that Mr. Smith continued to maintain his knee and arm on the back of her neck despite her screams for help and attempts to tap out during the pain compliance portion of the program. (Id.). On May 25, 2017, Ms. Mowery resigned from the Academy. (Id. at ¶¶ 43-44). She is currently employed as a police officer in the Aberdeen Police Department. (ECF No. 23-1 at 4).

         B. Mr. Alexander's Injuries

         Upon graduating from Harrisburg Community College, Mr. Alexander accepted a position with the Ocean City Maryland Police Department and was required to attend the Academy. (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 51). Roughly a month into the Academy, Mr. Alexander was participating in a boxing exercise when Mr. Smith allegedly instructed the participants to use full force. (Id. at ¶ 52). During this exercise, Mr. Alexander was struck in the head and lost consciousness. (Id. at ¶¶ 52-53). Mr. Alexander alleges that the Defendants failed to perform any evaluation of him once he went unconscious. (Id. at ¶ 54). In spite of Defendants' alleged inaction, another trainee called “911” and paramedics arrived approximately ten minutes later. (Id. at ¶ 54). Mr. Alexander suffered a brain bleed which required surgery. He now alleges permanent neurological and cognitive defects rendering him unable to work as a law enforcement officer. (Id. at ¶¶ 55-56).

         C. The Waiver

         Before Plaintiffs were allowed to attend the Academy, they were required to execute a Waiver and Release of Liability Form (“Waiver”) to shield Defendants from claims arising from injuries sustained during Plaintiffs' time at the Academy. Specifically, the Waiver provided that Plaintiffs shall “release and discharge any and all claims for damages for death [or] personal injury . . . as a result of [their] participation” against “Wor-Wic Community College/ Eastern Shore Criminal Justice Academy and their respective directors, agents, employees, representatives, volunteers, and organizers of any activities.” (ECF No. 23-1 at 3). Plaintiffs acknowledge that they read and understood the terms of the Waiver and voluntarily elected to execute the Waiver as a condition of their participation at the Academy. (ECF Nos. 23-1, 23-2, and 23-3). Now Defendants argue that Plaintiffs' suit is barred by these waivers.


         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) requires the Court to “grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” The moving party bears the burden “to demonstrate the absence of any genuine dispute of material fact.” Jones v. Hoffberger Moving Servs. LLC, 92 F.Supp.3d 405, 409 (D. Md. 2015) (internal citations omitted). A dispute as to a material fact “is genuine if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” J.E. Dunn Const. Co. v. S.R.P. Dev. Ltd. P'ship, 115 F.Supp.3d 593, 600 (D. Md. 2015) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)).

         A nonmoving party “opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment ‘may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of [his] pleadings,' but rather must ‘set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Bouchat v. Baltimore Ravens Football Club, Inc., 346 F.3d 514, 522 (4th Cir. 2003). The court is “required to view the facts and draw reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to” the nonmoving party, Iko v. Shreve, 535 F.3d 225, 230 (4th Cir. 2008) (citing Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 377 (2007)), but must also “abide by the ‘affirmative obligation of the trial judge to prevent factually unsupported claims and defenses from proceeding to trial.'” Heckman v. Ryder Truck Rental, Inc., 962 F.Supp.2d 792, 799-800 (D. Md. 2013) (quoting Drewitt v. Pratt, 999 F.2d 774, 778-79 (4th Cir. 1993)).


         Plaintiffs advance a variety of negligence-based claims against the Defendants. As a threshold matter, they contend Wor-Wic was negligent for hiring Mr. Smith as a defensive tactics instructor because he was allegedly unqualified. (ECF No. 1 at ¶¶ 14-15). Plaintiffs further maintain that the Academy's defensive tactics curriculum was negligently designed and unreasonably dangerous for participants. In addition, Plaintiffs claim that Defendants failed to take appropriate action to evaluate and treat ...

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