Pendleton v. State

Citation398 Md. 447,921 A.2d 196
Decision Date13 April 2007
Docket NumberNo. 31 Sept. Term, 2005.,31 Sept. Term, 2005.
PartiesCorey PENDLETON v. STATE of Maryland.
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland

Michael P. Lytle (Byron L. Warnken of Warnken, LLC, on brief), Towson, MD, for Appellant.

Beth Mellen Harrison, Debra Gardner, Baltimore, MD, brief of Appellant Amici Curiae Public Justice Center, Advocates for Children and Youth, and the Juvenile Law, Children's Issues & Legislative Advocacy Clinic of the University of Maryland School of Law.

David E. Beller, Asst. Atty. Gen. (J. Joseph Curran, Jr., Atty. Gen. of MD and Carol Ann Smith, Asst. Atty. Gen., on brief), Baltimore, MD, for Appellees.


BELL, Chief Judge.

This case arises from the granting of a motion to dismiss by the Circuit Court for Baltimore City. On December 12, 2002, Corey Pendleton, the appellant, by and through his next friend and father, Randy Pendleton, filed in that court a complaint against the State of Maryland and the Baltimore City Department of Social Services (DSS), an agency of the State, (collectively the appellees, hereinafter referred to as "the State" or "the State Defendants"), and Barnett and Cecelia Carroll, d/b/a Finding Direction, Inc., alleging their negligence. The complaint also alleged battery with respect to James Wratchford, the appellant's roommate. The appellant subsequently amended his compliant to add Finding Direction, Inc., as a defendant. The gravamen of the complaint was that the appellant was sexually and physically abused and battered by his roommate while he was residing in a group home licensed by the State.

On May 23, 2003, the State filed a motion to dismiss the amended complaint for failure to state a claim.1 That motion was granted as to the State Defendants, the State of Maryland and DSS, but not as to the other defendants. When they failed to answer the complaint, the Circuit Court entered a default judgment against them and subsequently, after an inquisition hearing on damages, assessed damages at $597,000.00. Judgment in that amount was entered in favor of the appellant against the defendants Barnett and Cecelia Carroll, d/b/a Finding Direction, Inc., and Finding Direction, Inc. The appellant appealed the Circuit Court's judgment dismissing the State Defendants from the case. This Court, on its own initiative and before proceedings in the Court of Special Appeals, issued a writ of certiorari, Pendleton v. State, 387 Md. 465, 875 A.2d 769 (2005), to address the single issue posed by the appellant:

"Whether the trial court erred in granting the State Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, finding that the State had only a public duty of care, rather than a special or statutory duty to protect a child removed from the custody of his parents and placed in the custody of a foster group home from the intentional acts of a third party[]"

We shall hold that the trial court did not err in dismissing the appellant's amended complaint, which insufficiently alleged a duty on the part of the State.


In October 1999, the appellant and his mother, Cynthia Mason, being homeless, were placed in a temporary shelter by DSS. Subsequently, in early January 2000, when he was ten years old, the appellant was removed from his mother's custody and placed in foster care. His placement was with Finding Direction, Inc., a licensed residential childcare provider in Baltimore City, operated by Barnett and Cecelia Carroll. The appellant was assigned to share a room in the residential group home with James Wratchford, then sixteen years old, another resident in the group home. The appellant alleges that he was sexually and physically abused and battered by Wratchford while they shared that room.

The appellant did not report the alleged abuse immediately, as he testified at the inquisition hearing on damages. According to the appellant's testimony at that hearing, he first reported the alleged abuse to a friend, who also lived in the group home. He then explained:

"Q When you told your friend and your friend told the foster care folks—

A Yes.

Q -what did they do?

A They took me down stairs and talked to me alone about it.

Q Did you tell them the truth?

A Yes, I told them the truth.

Q And then what did they do?

A Then the police came. They wrote up a report.

Q How much time went by-how much time went by between the start of the sexual assault and the time you told?

A I have to think on that one. I'm not going to truly say I really know, but I'm going to say around like a month or something.

Q Did it seem to you like it was a long time?

A Yes.

Q Did it seem like it was short?

A It seemed like a little long.

Q But you think maybe about a month?

A Yeah.

Q And then after you told and the police came, it didn't happen anymore.

A. No."

Once the operators of the group home were notified of the situation, they acted to assure that there was no further contact between the appellant and Wratchford. The appellant was removed from the group home in February 2000 and reunited with his mother.

The appellant's mother, pursuant to the Maryland Tort Claims Act, Maryland Code (1984, 2004 Repl. Vol.), § 12-107 of the State Government Article, timely filed notice of the appellant's claim with the State. It was denied. By this time, the appellant's mother had passed away and Randy Pendleton, the appellant's father, had custody of the appellant. He filed, as next friend and father, a complaint on behalf of the appellant, which he later amended to add Finding Directions, Inc., as a defendant.

The complaint sounded in negligence. As relevant to the State Defendants, it alleged that the State "owed a duty to [the appellant] to keep him safe from harm while he was housed at Finding Direction and to make certain the policies designed to protect him were followed," but that the State Defendants "breached their duties of care" by: (1) placing Wratchford, a sixteen year old, in the same room with the appellant, a ten year old, (2) failing properly to supervise Wratchford, (3) failing to protect the appellant from being sexually and physically assaulted by Wratchford, (4) failing to provide adequate staffing for proper supervision of the appellant, (5) failing properly to train staff persons, and (6) failing to protect the appellant from the foreseeable risk of harm associated with being placed in the group home run by Finding Directions, Inc. As a result of the State Defendants' alleged breach of duty, the appellant claimed that he suffered "humiliation, shame, embarrassment, anger, physical and emotional pain, suffering, inconvenience, mental anguish, loss of emotional enjoyment of life, severe and extreme emotional distress, and incurred medical expense." The State Defendants' breach of duty, he maintained, was the proximate cause of his injuries and damages.

The only allegation of fact the appellant made with regard to the knowledge the State Defendants had of the situation or with which it was charged was:

"Upon information and belief, the State and its Foster Care Program officials as well as Defendants Barnett Carroll and Cecelia Carroll were aware of (or should have been aware of) the sexual tendencies, deviousness and history of sexual assaults of Wratchford, and taken care not to place [appellant] in danger of being sexually assaulted by him."

He did not allege that Wratchford had committed assaults prior to those alleged by the appellant or that the State had knowledge of any sexual tendencies Wratchford may have had or that he had a history of sexual assaults. There was, in short, no factual allegation as to the basis for the knowledge attributed to the State or that related why the State should have been aware of any deviant tendencies that Wratchford may have had, or even that he, in fact, had such tendencies prior to the alleged incidents that occurred with the appellant.

On May 23, 2003, the State filed a motion to dismiss the appellant's amended complaint, arguing that it failed to state a claim. The Circuit Court granted the motion and, therefore, dismissed the negligence claims against the State. His motion for reconsideration of the Circuit Court's judgment having been denied and judgment having been entered against the remaining defendants, the appellant noted this appeal.


The appellant's claim against the State is, as we have seen, a simple negligence claim. Specifically, the appellant argues that the State had a non-delegable duty, imposed both by statute and the special relationship established by the State's placement of him in foster care and the group home, to protect the appellant from sexual and physical abuse and battery by Mr. Wratchford. The State breached that duty, and that the breach was the proximate cause of the appellant's injuries, he concludes. Conversely, the State argues that the appellant's amended complaint does not allege the facts necessary to show that the State had any duty to the appellant. More specifically, the State rejoins that the amended complaint is "devoid of any factual allegation that the State was negligent in licensing or monitoring Finding Direction and contains no facts to support the allegations regarding Wratchford's alleged history," or that the State failed to follow statutory procedures in placing the appellant with Finding Directions. Furthermore, it submits, "the amended complaint contains no allegation that the State received and failed to act upon any report of abuse allegedly inflicted by Wratchford or anyone else against Appellant or any other resident of Finding Direction prior to the injuries alleged in the Complaint, and there is no allegation that the State failed to respond appropriately once the alleged actions of Wratchford were made known."

Maryland's child welfare services—as relevant to this case, what is termed both foster care and out-of-home placement2— are governed by Title 5, Subtitle 5, Part III of the Family Law...

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