Sunday, April 22, 2007

Pendleton v. State (Ct. of Appeals)

Filed April 13, 2007. Opinion by Judge Robert M. Bell.

Issue: Did a pleading asserting a claim for negligence against the State based upon abuse that the plaintiff suffered in a State licensed home sufficiently allege a duty on the part of the State where the complaint alleged that, "upon information and belief," the State "knew or should have known" of the perpetrator's propensity for violence?

Held: No. The Circuit Court's dismissal of the claim against the State defendants is affirmed. For a pleading to be sufficient in the context of a negligence action, it must allege “with certainty and definiteness” facts to show a duty on the part of the defendant to the plaintiff . Whether a legal duty exists is a question of law, to be decided by the court. Stating that, upon information and belief, a party knew or should have known about a third party’s alleged propensity for violence, without more, is not a sufficient factual allegation from which a duty may arise.

Facts: The plaintiff sued the State in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City for negligence in connection with alleged sexual and physical abuse that the plaintiff suffered at the hands of his roommate while he was residing in a group home licensed by the State. The plaintiff alleged that, "upon information and belief," the State knew or should have known of the perpetrator's propensity for violence.

The plaintiff did not allege that the perpetrator had committed assaults prior to those alleged in the complaint, or that the State had knowledge of any sexual tendencies the perpetrator may have had or that he had a history of sexual assaults. The State moved to dismiss, and the trial court granted the motion.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals noted that there was "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 [the perpetrator] may have had, or even that he, in fact, had such tendencies prior to the alleged incidents that occurred with the [plaintiff]. The Court stated that, "in simple situations involving an easily recognized breach of duty, a general averment of negligence following a simple statement of the defendant’s act or omission will be regarded as an ultimate fact; while in more complex situations where the breach of duty is not readily apparent, such an averment will be regarded as a mere legal conclusion.”

Finding that the situation presented by the complaint was not one "where the plaintiff’s right and the defendant’s [corresponding] duty are simple and easily perceived, or involve an easily recognized breach of duty," the Court affirmed the dismissal.

The opinion is available in PDF format.

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