Dixon v. Dept. of Corrections

Decision Date05 July 2007
Docket NumberNo. 1107, September Term, 2006.,1107, September Term, 2006.
Citation175 Md. App. 384,927 A.2d 445
PartiesMelvin James DIXON v. DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY AND CORRECTIONAL SERVICES.
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland

James G. Beach, III, Towson, for appellant.

Steven G. Hildenbrand (Douglas F. Gansler, Atty. Gen., on brief), for appellee.

Panel HOLLANDER, BARBERA and CHARLES E. MOYLAN, JR. (Retired, Specially Assigned), JJ.

HOLLANDER, J.

Melvin James Dixon, appellant, was seriously injured on May 4, 2004, when he fell into a ventilation shaft while on a prison work detail at the Maryland House of Correction in Jessup, a Division of Correction ("DOC") facility operated by the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (the "Department"), appellee. To recover for the injuries he suffered, Dixon filed a tort suit in October 2004 against the Department and M & M Welding and Fabricators, Inc. ("M & M"), a company doing work under contract with the Department.1

The Department and M & M filed motions for summary judgment. On August 29, 2005, the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County dismissed the suit as to M & M, with prejudice. However, the court denied appellee's motion. Then, in an order entered on June 29, 2006, the court granted the Department's motion in limine to exclude all evidence in support of appellant's claim, and also granted its renewed motion for summary judgment. The court determined that, under Maryland Code (1999, 2006 Supp.), § 10-308(c) of the Correctional Services Article ("C.S."), appellant was only entitled to pursue his claim for compensation against the Sundry Claims Board (the "Sundry Board" or "Board").

Appellant poses two questions on appeal, which we quote:

1. Is the Sundry Claims Board the exclusive remedy by which a prison inmate can seek compensation for serious personal injuries caused by the negligence of the prison staff and of a private contractor employed by the prison?[2]

2. Did the Trial Court err when it granted the Defendant's Motion in Limine on the morning of trial, thereby overruling two prior decisions of the same Court, both of which denied the Defendant the exact relief it sought in its Motion in Limine?

For the reasons that follow, we shall affirm.

I. STATUTORY SCHEME

To understand the facts and issues, we begin with a review of the relevant statutory schemes.

Title 10 ("State Correctional Facilities"), Subtitle 3 ("Sundry Claims Board") of the Correctional Services Article governs the procedure for the filing of a claim by a DOC inmate to recover for work-related injuries sustained while incarcerated. Article 10, Subtitle 3 provides, in part:

§ 10-301. Definitions.

(a) In general.—In this subtitle the following words have the meanings indicated.
(b) Board."Board" means the Sundry Claims Board.
(c) Permanent partial disability."Permanent partial disability" has the same meaning given under Title 9, Subtitle 6, Part IV of the Labor and Employment Article.
(d) Permanent total disability."Permanent total disability" has the same meaning given under Title 9, Subtitle 6, Part V of the Labor and Employment Article.

§ 10-302. Established.

There is a Sundry Claims Board in the Department.

§ 10-304. Administration of benefits.

The Board shall administer benefits as provided under this subtitle to an individual who, while an inmate in the Patuxent Institution, the Baltimore City Detention Center, or a correctional facility in the Division of Correction:

(1) was engaged in work for which wages or a stipulated sum of money was paid by a correctional facility; and (2) sustained a permanent partial disability or permanent total disability:

(i) as a result of a personal injury arising out of and in the course of work for which wages or a stipulated sum of money was paid by a correctional facility; and

(ii) that incapacitated the individual or materially reduced the individual's earning power in that type of work.

(Emphasis added.)

§ 10-305. Filing a claim.

(a) Right to file.—(1) An injured inmate may file a claim for compensation against the State under this subtitle with the Board.

(2) The Board may receive original papers representing a claim even if the State has not appropriated money to pay the claim.

(b) Time to file.—An injured inmate shall file a claim with the Board by the later of:

(1) 12 months after being released from the correctional facility; or

(2) 24 months after the date of injury.

(c) Record keeping.—The Board shall file and properly designate each claim by number, short title, or both.

(Emphasis added.)3

§ 10-308. Claim payments.

(a) Determination of compensation.—In determining what compensation, if any, to allow a claimant, the Board shall consider:

(1) the good faith of the claimant;

(2) the possibility that the alleged injury was self-inflicted or not accidental;

(3) the extent and nature of the injury;

(4) the degree of disability;

(5) the period of disability or incapacity for other work; and

(6) the ordinary earning power of the claimant.

(b) Governor to include money in the State budget.(1) The Governor shall include money to pay a claim that is approved by the Board in the State budget for the fiscal year that follows the fiscal year in which the Board approves the claim.

(2) The Board shall pay to the claimant or the claimant's representative any compensation approved by the Board and included in the State budget.

(c) Exclusive remedy.—The compensation authorized under this subtitle is the exclusive remedy against the State for a claim that falls within the jurisdiction of the Board. . . .

(Emphasis added.)

§ 10-309. Judicial review.

(a) Right to judicial review by claimant.(1) A claimant aggrieved by a final determination of the Board may file a petition for judicial review in the circuit court of the county where the injury occurred or where the claimant resides.

(2) The Board may be a party to the action.

(b) Decision by circuit court.—The circuit court may:

(1) affirm the Board's determination;

(2) reverse or modify a determination it finds to be arbitrary or unreasonable; or

(3) remand the case and direct the Board to consider the matter further or make additional findings of fact.

(c) Appeal to Court of Special Appeals.—The claimant or the Board may

appeal a decision of the circuit court to the Court of Special Appeals.

The Prisoner Litigation Act ("PLA") is codified in Title 5, Subtitle 10 of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article ("C.J.") of the Maryland Code (2006 Repl. Vol.). It governs the filing of civil actions by prisoners. C.J. § 5-1001 provides, in part:

§ 5-1001. Definitions.

* * *

(b) Administrative remedy.(1) "Administrative remedy" means any procedure for review of a prisoner's complaint or grievance, including judicial review, if available, that is provided by the Department, the Division of Correction, or any county or other municipality or political subdivision, and results in a written determination or disposition.

(2) "Administrative remedy" includes a proceeding under Title 10, Subtitle 2 of the State Government Article or Title 10, Subtitle 2 of the Correctional Services Article.

* * *

(d) Conditions of confinement."Conditions of confinement" means any circumstance, situation or event that involves a prisoner's custody, transportation, incarceration, or supervision.

C.J. § 5-1003 states:

§ 5-1003. Exhaustion of administrative remedies.

(a) In general.(1) A prisoner may not maintain a civil action until the prisoner has fully exhausted all administrative remedies for resolving the complaint or grievance.

(2) Except as provided in paragraph (3) of this subsection, an administrative remedy is exhausted when the prisoner has pursued to completion all appropriate proceedings for appeal of the administrative disposition, including any available proceedings for judicial review.

(3) Judicial review following administrative consideration shall be the exclusive judicial remedy for any grievance or complaint within the scope of the administrative process, unless the prisoner's complaint or grievance was found to be meritorious and monetary damages were not available through the administrative remedy available to the prisoner.

(b) Proof.(1) When a prisoner files a civil action, the prisoner shall attach to the initial complaint proof that administrative remedies have been exhausted.

(2) The attachment shall include proof:

(i) That the prisoner has filed a complaint or grievance with the appropriate agency;

(ii) Of the administrative disposition of the complaint or grievance; and

(iii) That the prisoner has appealed the administrative disposition to the appropriate authority, including proof of judicial review, if available.

(3) On receipt of a prisoner's initial complaint that does not have attached to it proof that the prisoner has fully exhausted the administrative remedies available, the court shall dismiss the case without prejudice and grant the prisoner reasonable leave to amend the complaint and to provide the proof necessary to demonstrate that the prisoner has fully exhausted the administrative remedies.

(c) Dismissal.—A court shall dismiss a civil action if the prisoner filing the action has not completely exhausted the administrative remedies.

In turn, C.S. Title 10, Subtitle 2, referred to in the PLA, pertains to the "Inmate Grievance Office" ("IGO"). C.S. § 10-206 provides:

§ 10-206. Submission of complaint to Inmate Grievance Office.

(a) Authorized. — Subject to subsection (b) of this section, if an individual confined in a correctional facility in the Division of Correction, otherwise in the custody of the Commissioner of Correction, or confined in the Patuxent Institution has a grievance against an official or employee of the Division of Correction or the Patuxent Institution, the individual may submit a complaint to the Office within the time and in the manner required by regulations adopted by the Office.

(b) Exhaustion of remedies. ...

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