Skip Maine state header navigation

Agencies | Online Services | Help
Darryl Roberts v. State
Download as PDF
Back to Opinions page

MAINE SUPREME JUDICIAL COURT					Reporter of Decisions
Decision:	1999 ME 89
Docket: 	Cum-98-556
Argued:	June 7, 1999
Decided:	June 21, 1999




	[¶1]	Darryl Roberts appeals from a judgment entered in the Superior
Court (Cumberland County, Cole, J.) in favor of the State and corrections
officer Robert Allenwood on Roberts' claims arising from a personal injury
suffered while he was an inmate at the Maine Correctional Center.  On
appeal, Roberts contends that the court erred in (1) entering summary
judgment for the State and Allenwood on immunity grounds on all but one
claim, and (2) granting judgment for the State after a nonjury trial on the
remaining claim.  We affirm the judgment.
	[¶2]	The facts alleged in the complaint are as follows:  On
September 8, 1994, Roberts was an inmate at the Maine Correctional Center
in Windham.  Allenwood, the guard on duty that evening, after an argument
with Roberts about the use of the telephone, ordered Roberts to return to
his cell and "lock up."  As Roberts entered his cell, he reached behind him
with his left hand to close the door, which did not close smoothly. 
Allenwood then slammed the door shut with a great deal of force, and
Roberts' left index finger was caught between the door jam and the door. 
The tip of Roberts' left index finger was severed as a result.
	[¶3]	Roberts alleged that the State is liable for Allenwood's actions as
his employer and that the State was negligent in failing to (1) establish
procedures to be followed by guards when returning an inmate to his cell
and shutting the door; (2) maintain the door in a safe condition; and
(3) obtain proper prompt medical treatment for Roberts.  The complaint
also sought damages from Allenwood, alleging that he was negligent and
	[¶4]	The State and Allenwood filed a motion for summary judgment.{1}  
They argued that Allenwood, and thereby the State, as Allenwood's
employer, were immune from liability for his actions because Allenwood was
performing a discretionary function in locking Roberts in his cell.  The State
also contended that it was immune from liability under the Maine Tort
Claims Act for not having a policy regarding the lock up of prisoners.  The
State argued that Roberts could not pursue the medical treatment and
negligent maintenance claims because they were not included in the notice
of claim.  See 14 M.R.S.A. § 8107(1)(B), (4) (1980 & Supp. 1998).  Roberts
argued that the State and Allenwood were not immune from liability under
the MTCA.  
	[¶5]	The court granted summary judgment for the State and
Allenwood on all claims except the claim of negligent maintenance of the
door.{2}  The court concluded that Allenwood was exercising the discretionary
function of supervising a prisoner when he locked Roberts into his cell and,
therefore, both Allenwood and the State came within the immunity for
discretionary functions.  See 14 M.R.S.A. §§ 8104-B(3), 8111(1)(C) (Supp.
1998).   Although Roberts argued that Allenwood was operating a public
building when he shut the cell door, see id. § 8104-A(2), the court found
that the focus of Allenwood's action was the supervision of a prisoner and
not the operation of a part of a building.  Following a bench trial on the claim
of negligent maintenance of the door, the court granted judgment for the
	[¶6]	Roberts appeals from the grant of the summary judgment.  A
summary judgment is appropriate when a defendant is immune from tort
liability, and we review a summary judgment de novo for errors of law.  See
Grossman v. Richards, 1999 ME 9, ¶ 3, 722 A.2d 371, 373; Erskine v.
Commissioner of Corrections, 682 A.2d 681, 685 (Me. 1996).
	[¶7]	Section 8111(1) of the MTCA grants immunity from liability to
governmental employees who are performing a discretionary function:
Notwithstanding any liability that may have existed at common
law, employees of governmental entities shall be absolutely
immune from personal civil liability for the following: 

	. . . .
C.  Performing or failing to perform any discretionary
function or duty, whether or not the discretion is abused;
and whether or not any statute, charter, ordinance, order,
resolution, rule or resolve under which the discretionary
function or duty is performed is valid . . . .
	. . . .

The absolute immunity provided by paragraph C shall be
applicable whenever a discretionary act is reasonably
encompassed by the duties of the governmental employee in
question, regardless of whether the exercise of discretion is
specifically authorized by statute, charter, ordinance, order,
resolution, rule or resolve and shall be available to all
governmental employees, including police officers and
governmental employees involved in child welfare cases, who are
required to exercise judgment or discretion in performing their
official duties.
Governmental entities are likewise immune from liability for discretionary
functions.  See 14 M.R.S.A. § 8104-B(3).
	[¶8]	We have utilized a four-factor test to determine whether
discretionary function immunity applies.  
(1) Does the challenged act, omission, or decision necessarily
involve a basic governmental policy, program or objective?  (2) Is
the questioned act, omission, or decision essential to the
realization or accomplishment of that policy, program, or
objective as opposed to one which would not change the course
or direction of the policy, program, or objective?  (3) Does the
act, omission, or decision require the exercise of basic policy
evaluation, judgment, and expertise on the part of the
governmental agency involved?  (4) Does the governmental
agency involved possess the requisite constitutional, statutory, or
lawful authority and duty to do or make the challenged act,
omission, or decision?
Adriance v. Town of Standish, 687 A.2d 238, 240 (Me. 1996) (quoting
Darling v. Augusta Mental Health Inst., 535 A.2d 421, 426 (Me. 1987)).
	[¶9]	Relying on the four factors, without going through them in
detail, we held, in Erskine v. Commissioner of Corrections, 682 A.2d at 686,
that "[t]he management and care of prisoners is a discretionary function."
The federal district court, interpreting the Maine Tort Claims Act, came to
the same conclusion in Ellis v. Meade, 887 F. Supp. 324 (D. Me. 1995).  In
that case the court concluded that a jail guard was carrying out a
discretionary function when he slapped a restrained prisoner on the
buttocks.  See id. at 331.  
	[¶10]	In applying the four factors to the present case, there can be no
dispute that corrections is a basic governmental program and that the
supervision of inmates is essential to a corrections program.  The
supervision necessarily involves the exercise of judgment by corrections
officers, including the discretionary decision of when to order an inmate to
his cell.  That discretionary decision also includes the shutting of a cell door
when the prisoner has failed to shut it or the door has failed to shut. 
Allenwood had the lawful authority to supervise Roberts.  See 34-A M.R.S.A.
§ 3402(2) (1988) (superintendent of Maine Correctional Center "shall
supervise and control" prisoners).  The four-factor test compels the
conclusion that Allenwood's alleged tortious acts were performed as part of
a discretionary function.{3}  Therefore, both the State and Allenwood are
immune from liability on Roberts' claim that his injury resulted from
Allenwood's action in shutting the cell door.{4}
	[¶11]	The trial court agreed with Roberts that there was a factual issue
that had to be resolved at trial concerning whether the maintenance of the
cell door was negligent.  If the State had negligently maintained Roberts'
cell door and if that negligent maintenance was a significant cause of the
injury to Roberts, then the State would have been liable for the injury.  "A
governmental entity is liable for its negligent acts or omissions in the
construction, operation or maintenance of any public building or the
appurtenances to any public building."  14 M.R.S.A. § 8104-A(2).  At the trial
on the issue of the maintenance of the door, the State presented evidence
that the 230 pound cell door closed in the manner it was designed to close
and that it was no different from any other cell door.  Although Roberts
testified that something was wrong with the door, the fact finder was not
compelled to believe him.{5}
	The entry is:
	Judgment affirmed.

Attorney for plaintiff: Robet E. Sandy Jr., Esq. (orally) Sherman & Sandy 74 Silver St. P.O. Box 499 Waterville, Maine 04903 Attorneys for defendants: Andrew Ketterer, Attorney General Diane Sleek, Asst. Atty. Gen., (orally) 6 State House Station Augusta, Maine 04333
FOOTNOTES******************************** {1} . Their brief statement of material facts accompanying the motion, required by M.R. Civ. P. 7(d)(2), simply recounts that the State did not have insurance covering it or its employees for actions for which there is immunity under the Maine Tort Claims Act (MTCA) and that the notice of claim filed by Roberts pursuant to the MTCA did not mention a claim for failure to maintain the cell door or failure to provide suitable medical treatment. It is apparent from the written submissions of the parties to the Superior Court and the decision of the court that the parties and the court assumed that the factual allegations in the complaint were true for the purposes of the motion. {2} . The court granted summary judgment to the State on the claims for medical treatment and failure to enact a policy for locking a prisoner in the cell on the grounds that the State is immune from such claims under the general grant of immunity in 14 M.R.S.A. § 8103 (1980) and that neither claim comes within any statutory exception to the grant of immunity. Roberts has not pursued his appeal of the summary judgment on these two claims. {3} . Roberts argues that there was a dispute of fact as to whether Allenwood's conduct was so egregious as to exceed the scope of his discretionary function. Roberts, however, neither alleged in his complaint nor submitted any statement of fact indicating that Allenwood's actions were not reasonably encompassed by his discretionary function. {4} . Because we conclude that Allenwood and the State are both immune from liability stemming from Allenwood's closing the door on Roberts' finger due to the discretionary character of such action, we need not reach Roberts' alternative claim that the closing of the door was a function in the nature of operating a governmental building. See 14 M.R.S.A. § 8104-A(2); see also ABT & A Co. v. State, 644 A.2d 460, 460 (Me. 1994). {5} . Because the trial court was not compelled to find for Roberts on the negligent maintenance claim, we need not address the State's argument that it should have been granted summary judgment on that claim because of Roberts' failure to comply with the notice of claim provisions of the MTCA. See 14 M.R.S.A. § 8107(1).