United States District Court, D. Maryland
KATRINA R. BEN, Plaintiff
CHRISTOPHER MOSKAL, SHANE SCOTT, DARREN M. POPKIN, Defendants
DEBORAH K. CHASANOW, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
plaintiff Katrina R. Ben, an inmate presently incarcerated at
the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women in Jessup,
Maryland, filed a verified civil rights complaint pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants Christopher Moskal,
Shane Scott, and Sheriff Darren M. Popkin. ECF No. 1. By
Order dated January 10, 2019, the court granted Ms. Ben leave
to file an amended complaint. ECF No. 33. In the amended
verified complaint, Ms. Ben alleges that Defendants acted
with “malice, gross negligence, deliberate indifference
to her safety and serious medical needs, unnecessary and
wanton infliction of pain, and cruel and unusual punishment,
in violation of her rights guaranteed by the Eighth and
Fourteenth Amendments to the United States
Constitution.” ECF No. 29. She seeks compensatory and
punitive damages. Id. at 13.
subsequently filed a motion to dismiss and/or for summary
judgment, ECF No. 37, which Ms. Ben opposed, ECF No. 42.
Defendants filed a reply on May 9, 2019. ECF No. 44. Having
reviewed the submitted materials, the court finds that no
hearing is necessary. See D. Md. Local Rule 105.6.
For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' dispositive
motion, construed as a motion for summary judgment, will be
Ms. Ben's Allegations
claims that on October 17, 2014, while her criminal trial was
pending in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County, Maryland,
she was transported by Defendants, Deputy Sheriffs Moskal and
Scott (“Deputies”), from the Circuit Court to the
Montgomery County Correctional Facility. ECF No. 29 at 3. Ms.
Ben alleges that the Deputies directed her to sit on a
full-length bench, “immediately next to the back
door” of a transport van that lacked seat belts.
Id. Ms. Ben states that she was handcuffed with both
wrists behind her back and that she was holding a folder full
of loose legal papers. Id. She was the only inmate
being transported in the van at that time. Id.
According to Ms. Ben, Deputy Moskal was the driver of the
transport van and Deputy Scott sat in the front passenger
seat. Id. A steel partition with a window mostly
covered by a solid board separated her from the Deputies.
alleges that they exited the garage of the Circuit Court
shortly after 5:00 p.m. and traveled down Maryland Avenue
towards I-270, in heavy traffic. Id. She claims that
approximately 10 minutes after exiting the garage, Deputy
Moskal “suddenly accelerated for a few seconds and then
suddenly slammed on brakes, ” forcefully jolting her
body. Id. at 4. Ms. Ben states that she slid halfway
down the length of the metal bench and came to a rest in the
center. Id. Approximately two minutes later, Deputy
Moskal “suddenly accelerated in heavy traffic and
abruptly slammed on [the] brakes” again, forcefully
jolting her body “with great speed and force, rapidly
and involuntarily slid[ing] down the remaining length of the
metal bench” before slamming into the steel partition
and landing on the floor of the van. Id. Ms. Ben
claims that she was wedged in between the the steel partition
and the metal bench, with her handcuffed wrists under her
body, causing “excruciating” pain. Id.
According to Ms. Ben, her arms were awkwardly bent behind her
back and her shoulders jammed up into their sockets.
Deputy Scott leaned towards the window of the steel partition
and asked Ms. Ben, “Are you okay back there?, ”
to which she replied, “No. I'm in pain.”
Id. Ms. Ben alleges that the Deputies immediately
resumed their personal conversation while Deputy Moskal
continued to drive “despite passing numerous accessible
side streets and through a residential area.”
Id. Ms. Ben's body rocked from side to side as
Deputy Moskal continued to drive, frequently switching lanes,
causing her worsening pain and a “swimming
feeling” inside her head. Id. Ms. Ben claims
that the Deputies failed to exit the vehicle to assess her
condition, report the incident, or call for emergency or
medical assistance. Id. at 4-5.
to Ms. Ben, Deputy Moskal stopped the transport van at a
traffic light, sat there for minutes, then resumed driving
into I-270, where he increased his speed, frequently switched
lanes, and rapidly hit bumps on the road. Id. at 5.
As Ms. Ben remained on the floor of the van, the continuous
swaying tightened her handcuffs and increased her pain and
discomfort. Id. Once again, Deputy Scott leaned
towards the window of the partition and asked, “Are you
okay back there?, ” to which Ms. Ben replied,
“No. I'm in pain.” Id. However, the
Deputies continued to drive without stopping the vehicle or
calling for medical assistance. Id.
Deputy Moskal exited the highway, stopped the van, and the
Deputies left the vehicle “for an extended period of
time.” Id. Ms. Ben claims that when they
returned, they opened the back door and Ms. Ben recognized
their location as the Montgomery County Detention Center
(“MCDC”) located at 1307 Seven Locks Road,
Rockville, Maryland 20854. Id. Ms. Ben states that
the Deputies were accompanied by multiple cuffed male inmates
who were being transported from MCDC to MCCF. Id. At
that time, Ms. Ben told the Deputies that she had pain in her
head, just behind her right eye and extending to her right
shoulder. Id. Deputy Scott then entered the van and
lifted Ms. Ben from the floor to the bench, causing
excruciating pain, while leaving Ms. Ben handcuffed with her
wrists behind her back. Id. at 6. After Ms. Ben
reported increased pain to her shoulders, Deputy Scott
repositioned her handcuffs to place her wrists in front.
Id. According to Ms. Ben, her right shoulder quickly
dropped into a lower position, causing her right shoulder
pain to increase. Id.
states that the Deputies informed her that they would drive
her to the hospital, but neither Defendant called for an
ambulance or notified MCDC medical staff of Ms. Ben's
need for medical attention. Id. The Deputies then
secured the back door of the van, with Ms. Ben alone in the
back, and left MCDC. Id.
claims that on October 18, 2014, at 5:30 a.m., she woke up in
a bed at Shady Grove Hospital with no recollection of events
after leaving MCDC. Id. Ms. Ben states that she was
informed by medical staff that she was brought to the
hospital, “seizing on arrival, in the back of a
transport van and had been diagnosed with new onset seizure
disorder due to head trauma.” Id. Ms. Ben
claims that an MRI showed an enlarged vessel on the right
side of her head and that she experienced multiple seizures
while hospitalized. She was discharged on October 19, 2014,
wearing a sling on her right arm. Id.
states that she had no history of seizures prior to her
transport on October 17, 2014. Id. She claims that
she continues to suffer from epilepsy and continues to take
the prescription medicine Keppra, an antiepileptic, to manage
seizure episodes, “which have caused more injuries over
the last nearly three years.” Id. at 6-7. She
also claims that she suffers emotional distress as a result
of the incident. Id. at 7.
have filed a dispositive motion arguing that: (1) Sheriff
Popkin is entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity from suits
against him in his official capacity; (2) all Defendants are
entitled to qualified immunity as to Ms. Ben's claims
based on the lack of seat belts in the transport vehicle; and
(3) Defendants were not deliberately indifferent to Ms.
Ben's medical needs. ECF No. 37-1 at 10-20.
do not dispute that Deputies Moskal and Scott were assigned
to transport Ms. Ben from the Circuit Court to MCCF on
October 17, 2014, while Ms. Ben was on trial for first-degree
murder. Id. at 3. They also do not dispute that the
transport van did not have seat belts, that Ms. Ben was the
only inmate in the van, and that Deputy Moskal was driving
while Deputy Scott was in the front passenger seat.
Id. at 3-4.
note that the Sheriff's policy on “Custody and
Transporting Prisoners” provides that generally,
deputies with custody of prisoners must “maintain a
heightened degree of attentiveness, ” “be
conscious of their surroundings and maintain control of any
prisoner in their custody, ” and “avoid placing
themselves in situations that would increase the potential
for injury to themselves or the escape of a prisoner.”
ECF No. 37-3 at 2 (Montgomery County Sheriff General
Operational Procedures 3.02(I)(A)). With regard to
transporting prisoners and use of seat belts, the policy
states that “[w]hen seat belts are available, they must
be used during prisoner transports.” Id. at 3
(Section 3.02(IV)(C)). This section of the policy is not
inconsistent with the Federal Department of
Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety
Standards, which exempt prisoner transport vehicles from the
requirement of having seat belts. See ECF No. 37-4
(Fed. Reg. Vol. 78 No. 227, at 70437 §5. (Nov. 25,
2013)). The policy also addresses “Transporting Sick or
Injured Prisoners, ” and provides that generally,
“Deputies must seek medical attention for their
prisoners as soon as possible after learning of an illness or
injury requiring treatment.” ECF No. 37-3 at 4 (Section
3.02(IV)(J)(1)). Deputies are only mandated to provide
immediate treatment for “life-threatening conditions
(i.e. cardiac or respiratory arrest, profuse
bleeding).” Id. (Section 3.02(IV)(J)(2)).
Moskal and Scott affirm that they are aware of the
Sheriff's policy for transporting prisoners. See
ECF No. 37-5, ¶ 8 (Affidavit of C. Moskal); ECF No.
37-6, ¶ 7 (Affidavit of S. Scott). The Deputies state
that their actions during Ms. Ben's transport on October
17, 2014, were based on balancing Ms. Ben's need for
medical attention for what appeared to be a non-serious
shoulder injury with the security risks associated with
transporting prisoners accused of violent crimes.
See ECF No. 37-5, ¶ 13; ECF No. 37-6, ¶
12. Both deputies state that Deputy Moskal had to brake hard
on Maryland Avenue to avoid a collision because the vehicle
directly in front of their van abruptly stopped to make a
left turn from the travel lane instead of using the left turn
lane. See ECF No. 37-5, ¶ 6; ECF No. 37-6,
¶ 5. According to the Deputies, Ms. Ben struck the
partition wall of the van and was asked by Deputy Scott if
she was injured. See ECF No. 37-5, ¶ 7; ECF No.
37-6, ¶ 6. Ms. Ben responded that her shoulder hurt, but
did not complain of any head trauma, cardiac or respiratory
distress, profuse bleeding, or anything else that might be a
life-threatening condition. Id.  With concerns of
security and escape, and because Ms. Ben was not complaining
of any life-threatening condition, the Deputies decided to
drive to MCDC, which was only five minutes away, to assess
Ms. Ben's condition in a controlled, secure environment.
See ECF No. 37-5, ¶ 9; ECF No. 37-6, ¶ 8.
MCDC, the Deputies examined Ms. Ben, who again only stated
that her shoulder was sore,  and determined that she did not
appear to have any life-threatening injury. See ECF
No. 37-5, ¶ 11; ECF No. 37-6, ¶ 10. Despite Ms.
Ben's request to return to MCCF without medical
attention,  the Deputies decided to take her to Shady
Grove Hospital and left after only spending five minutes at
MCDC. Id. Within 35 minutes of the incident on
Maryland Avenue, the Deputies arrived at Shady Grove Hospital
and Ms. Ben was receiving care from hospital staff.
See ECF No. 37-5, ¶ 13; ECF No. 37-6, ¶
12. During that time, Deputy Scott was keeping his supervisor
informed of the situation. See ECF No. 37-5,
¶¶ 9, 11; ECF No. 37-6, ¶¶ 8, 10.
deputies' supervisor generated an incident report.
See ECF No. 37-7 (Incident Report dated Oct. 17,
2014). The incident report documented the deputies'
accounts of the events, including Ms. Ben's request to go
back to MCCF instead of the hospital. Id. at 3. The
report also indicated that after Ms. Ben's medical
evaluation at the hospital, the “doctors advised the
deputies there were no injuries, but that she would be
admitted and kept overnight for observation as a
precautionary measure.” Id. Ms. Ben was
subsequently released, and she returned to the Circuit Court
on Monday, October 20, 2014, for her trial, which commenced
at 9:34 a.m. See No. 123240C (Cir. Ct. for
Montgomery Cty.), available at