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Judge denies motion to dismiss lawsuit against state for assault by prison guards

A lawsuit alleging supervisory negligence in a 2013 assault by guards in a Baltimore prison can proceed against the state after a judge denied Wednesday a motion to dismiss.

Baltimore City Circuit Judge Barry Williams ruled the lawsuit was timely filed in state court after the state was dismissed from a federal lawsuit due to sovereign immunity.

Kevin Younger alleges several correctional officers at the Maryland Reception, Diagnostic & Classification Center in Baltimore assaulted him in September 2013 after he witnessed a fight between other inmates and an officer. Three officers were criminally indicted in September 2014 following an investigation.

Younger sued the state, warden and correctional officers in U.S. District Court in September 2016 but the state and Stephen T. Moyer, secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, were dismissed last August for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. A lawsuit against the state was filed less than a month later in state court.

Ari Kodeck, an attorney with the Maryland Office of the Attorney General, argued Wednesday that Younger failed to exhaust his remedies under the Prison Litigation Act, did not comply with the notice requirements of the Maryland Tort Claims Act and failed to file within the statute of limitations.

Williams rejected the state’s arguments, finding the lawsuit was timely.

Younger’s attorneys, Allen Honick and David Daneman, said they were pleased Williams agreed with their arguments opposing the state’s motion.

“This is an important first step in Mr. Younger obtaining appropriate compensation for the injuries he suffered, and continues to sustain, as a result of the admitted unauthorized use of excessive force,” said Honick, an associate at Whiteford, Taylor & Preston LLP in Baltimore,  in a statement.

Williams determined the Prison Litigation Act applies to individuals in state custody and when Younger filed his lawsuit in September 2016, his address was a federal corrections institution.

The MTCA requires a claim be filed within one year of the injury and a lawsuit be filed within three years but an exception applies if the state had actual or constructive notice of the injury within one year. Honick said it was “inconceivable” that the state could argue it was not on notice of the claim.

Kodeck argued the provision allowing for constructive notice was not in the law in 2013 when the injury occurred but Williams found it was at least in the law by October 2015 and in effect when the 2016 federal suit was filed. The state was on notice of the injuries that occurred in a state facility and resulted in an almost immediate investigation.

Kodeck also argued that MTCA was a condition precedent and not a statute of limitations rule which creates a three-year period in which the state waives its immunity.

He also argued that the statute of limitations had run by the time the state action was filed notwithstanding a provision in the Maryland Rules that allows a federal action dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction to be filed in state court within 30 days, which the plaintiff did in this case.

“We have a state player here,” he said. “That changes the game, changes the rules.”

Honick said the rule contains no exceptions for the state as a defendants and applies.

Williams ruled that the statute of limitations had not run because the federal case was timely and after the state was dismissed, the state action was filed within 30 days.

The federal case is still pending and on hold for the motion to dismiss in the state action.

The case is Kevin Younger v. State of Maryland, 24C17004752.

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