862 A.2d 33 (Md. 2004), 7, Livesay v. Baltimore County

Docket Nº:7.
Citation:862 A.2d 33, 384 Md. 1
Opinion Judge:[8] The opinion of the court was delivered by: Raker, J.
Party Name:Joseph Kevin LIVESAY v. BALTIMORE COUNTY, Maryland, et al.
Case Date:November 19, 2004
Court:Court of Appeals of Maryland
 
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Page 33

862 A.2d 33 (Md. 2004)

384 Md. 1

Joseph Kevin LIVESAY

v.

BALTIMORE COUNTY, Maryland, et al.

No. 7.

Court of Appeals of Maryland

November 19, 2004.

Page 34

[384 Md. 3] Howard J. Schulman, Joseph S. Kaufman (Schulman & Kaufman, LLC, on brief), Baltimore, for appellant.

Thomas H. Bostwick, Asst. Cty. Atty. (Edward J. Gilliss, Cty. Atty., on brief), for appellees.

[384 Md. 4] Argued before BELL, C.J. RAKER, WILNER, CATHELL, HARRELL, BATTAGLIA and GREENE, JJ.

RAKER, J.

This case is a lawsuit filed pursuant to the Local Government Tort Claims Act, Md.Code (1973, 2002 Repl.Vol., 2004 Cum.Supp.), § 5-301 et seq. of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article. 1 The complaint alleges negligence against Baltimore County, Baltimore County Detention Center Warden Dorothy Williams, Classification Supervisor George Jackson, Corrections Officer Ricky Fore, and nurse Kenya Thomas of Prison Health Services, Inc., in connection with appellant Joseph Kevin Livesay's attempted suicide while he was an inmate at the detention center. 2 The Circuit

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Court for Baltimore County granted summary judgment in favor of Fore and Baltimore County on the grounds of public official immunity and Governmental Immunity, and in favor of Jackson on the grounds that there were no material facts in dispute and he was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. 3 Appellant noted a timely appeal to the Court [384 Md. 5] of Special Appeals and this Court granted certiorari on its own initiative. We consider the following questions: (1) Whether the Local Government Tort Claims Act (LGTCA) eliminates the immunity defenses asserted by the County employees; (2) whether Md.Code (1973, 2002 Repl.Vol., 2004 Cum.Supp.), § 5-507(b)(1) of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article applies to county as well as municipal employees; (3) whether a Corrections Officer is a "public official" entitled to statutory and common law qualified immunity; and (4) whether Officer Fore was acting in a discretionary capacity when he discovered appellant. We shall affirm the judgment of the Circuit Court and hold that Fore and the County were entitled to immunity and that summary judgment was proper as to Jackson.

I.

Appellant was arrested on June 30, 1999, after a traffic stop, and charged with fleeing and eluding a police officer, driving while revoked and suspended, and related traffic offenses. The District Court set bail at $10,000 and appellant was committed and transported to the Detention Center. He received a health evaluation, conducted by Kenya Thomas, a Prison Health Services, Inc., nurse. On the checklist completed during this evaluation, Thomas indicated that Livesay's general appearance and affect were normal, that he had no history of suicide attempt, no current suicidal ideation, and no history or evidence of self-mutilation. 4 Thomas also indicated that Livesay could be assigned to

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the general population. The [384 Md. 6] next day, a classification counselor at the Detention Center found no medical or mental health issues and specifically, no suicide risk. 5 Livesay was assigned a "mid-level" classification.

At approximately 6:50 P.M. on July 5, 1999, an inmate alerted appellee Corrections Officer Ricky Fore that there was an unconscious man in cell twenty. According to Fore's deposition, he immediately ran up a flight of stairs to discover Livesay sitting slumped on the floor of his cell, a bed sheet tied between his neck and the bunk bed. Fore did not render direct assistance to Livesay, but instead radioed a "Code Two" medical alert to summon the facility's Emergency Response Team ("ERT"). Inmates had gathered outside Livesay's cell, and Fore next cleared the area by ordering them to "lock in" to their own cells. Fore did not believe himself to be in any physical danger, but described himself as "just in shock." The ERT arrived approximately five minutes after Fore issued the Code Two. The ERT personnel rendered emergency medical aid until paramedics arrived; appellant was then transported to Greater Baltimore Medical Center and eventually to Shock Trauma for further treatment. Appellant suffered oxygen deprivation, which caused some brain damage. 6

Section 11.3(H) of the Baltimore County Bureau of Corrections Operations Manual ("Operations Manual") states as follows:

" Intervention During Suicide Attempt

1. An officer responding to a suicide attempt will immediately intervene based on the circumstances of the suicide attempt. The officer will respond based on their training. Generally, the officer's response may include:

a. Assessment of the Officer's and others' safety;

b. Securing the area;

c. Notifying the Central Control / Front Desk and summoning additional help if needed;

d. Talk in a non-threatening way;

e. Listening to the inmate;

f. Extricating the victim, if hanging, while protecting the head and neck as much as possible;

g. Administering C.P.R. and/or other First Aid techniques;

h. Utilization of protective safety equipment (i.e. rubber gloves, MADA Mask, etc.)"

According to an internal affairs investigation report, appellee Fore had attended a Bureau of Corrections presentation entitled Suicide Discovery and Response on September 23, 1998, and received a passing score on the examination. Sgt. John Ripley, the Bureau's Training Coordinator, told the internal affairs investigator that Corrections Officers are taught to respond in the following manner to inmate suicide attempts:

"· Immediately intervene.

· Extricate the victim as soon as possible (if hanging).

· Always assume the victim is alive and administer First Aid or CPR if needed.

· Never leave the victim alone."

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Sgt. Ripley stated to the investigation that he does not deviate from his lesson plan (the "Lesson Plan"), which reads as follows:

"Always ASSUME the victim is alive

1. Administer First Aid and/or C.P.R.

[384 Md. 8] 1. REMEMBER ONLY a certified M.D. or Coroner, M.E. can pronounce an individual dead!

2. Protect the head and neck when cutting victim down.

  1. PROCEDURE (Hanging Victim)

A. Start E.M.S. (emergency medical services) notification process

  1. One officer holds victim and stabilizes the head.

  2. Another officer cuts, loosens or removes the noose. ASSUME that the spinal cord is injured.

    CAUTION:

    Some victims are lost because too much time is spent cutting them down!

    * * *

    D. Administer Rescue Breathing or C.P.R. if needed.

  3. DO NOT GIVE THESE ITEMS TO A SUICIDE VICTIM

    E1. Water

    E2. Food

    E3. Medication

  4. Never leave victim alone

  5. If there is DISCOLORATION or SWELLING apply an ice bag to that area."

    Eugene M. Nuth, a former Warden of several Maryland county and state facilities, executed an affidavit (the "Nuth Affidavit") stating as follows:

    "Based on Baltimore County Bureau of Corrections suicide prevention policies and training, it is my opinion that Ricky Fore should have attempted to extricate Joseph Kevin Livesay, freed his airway, and applied CPR and other first-aid techniques in which he was trained.

    Once officer Fore satisfied himself as to his own safety, which he did, it is my opinion that the palliative steps described in the foregoing paragraph were ministerial applications of existing policy. When he withheld these steps, [384 Md. 9] Officer Fore was not making a discretionary decision, but was failing to carry out a ministerial function of his job."

    As we have indicated, the Circuit Court granted summary judgment in favor of Fore, Jackson, and the County. The court held that Fore enjoyed statutory immunity under § 5-507(b)(1) and that Fore was a public official, engaged in discretionary actions within the scope of his official duties, and had acted without malice. The court further found that, because Livesay had not offered any evidence of Jackson's negligence, there were no disputed material facts with respect to the negligence claim against Jackson, and that Jackson was therefore entitled to judgment as a matter of law. It held that, under the LGTCA, the County could be held liable only to the extent that its employees were liable. Because Livesay was not entitled to relief against Fore and Jackson, the court held that the County was entitled to summary judgment.

    Before this Court, Livesay contends that the LGTCA eliminates any immunity that appellees might assert. He also contends that county officials, as opposed to municipal officials, are not entitled to statutory public official immunity. He further contends that Fore was not a public official, and that, even if Fore were a public official, he was not acting in a discretionary capacity.

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    II.

    As indicated previously, this matter was resolved in the Circuit Court on summary judgment. Whether summary judgment was granted properly is a question of law. The standard of review is de novo, and whether the trial court was legally correct. See Walk v. Hartford Casualty, 382 Md. 1, 14, 852 A.2d 98, 105 (2004).

    Maryland Rule 2-501(e) states that a trial court "shall enter judgment in favor of or against the moving party if the motion and response show that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the party in whose favor judgment is entered is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." In reviewing a grant of summary judgment under [384 Md. 10] Rule 2-501(e), we independently review the record to determine whether the parties properly generated a dispute of material fact and, if not, whether the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of...

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