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Ben v. Moskal

United States District Court, D. Maryland

September 12, 2019

KATRINA R. BEN, Plaintiff



         Self-represented 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.

         Defendants 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 granted.


         I. Ms. Ben's Allegations

         Ms. Ben 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. Id.

         Ms. Ben 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. Id.

         Thereafter, 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.

         According 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.

         Eventually, 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.

         Ms. Ben 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.

         Ms. Ben 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.

         Ms. Ben 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.

         II. Defendants' Motion

         Defendants 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.

         Defendants 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.

         Defendants 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)).

         Deputies 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. [1] 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.

         At MCDC, the Deputies examined Ms. Ben, who again only stated that her shoulder was sore, [2] 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, [3] 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.

         The 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[4]

         STANDARD ...

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