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Sundry Claims Board Only Remedy For Maryland Prisoners Injured On Paid Jobs

by Matt Clarke

A Maryland court of appeals has ruled that Maryland state prisoners injured on paid jobs may only seek compensation through the Sundry Claims Board (SCB).

Melvin James Dixon, a former Maryland state prisoner, was on a work detail paying $0.90 a day at the Pre-Release Unit of the Maryland House of Corrections. Prison employees directed him and another prisoner to move a large portable fan in the prison’s ventilation system. Unbeknownst to Dixon, there was an uncovered vertical ventilation shaft underneath the fan so that, when he took his first step forward, he fell into the shaft, breaking several ribs and the ankle, tibia and fibula bones in both legs.

Prison officials directed Dixon to file for compensation with the SCB. His attorney filed such a claim but, before the SCB held a hearing, he also filed a tort action against the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (the state) in state circuit court. Neither Dixon nor his lawyer appeared at the SCB hearing, so the SCB dismissed the claim as abandoned.

The state filed a motion for summary judgment, claiming the SCB claim was the exclusive remedy for prisoners who are injured on paid jobs to seek compensation. There was disagreement about the language in the statute that created the right to file an SBC claim. Dixon argued that the filing of a claim was permissive and thus not the exclusive remedy for injured prisoners to seek compensation. “(a) Right to file. - (1) An injured inmate may file a claim for compensation against the State under this subtitle with the Board.” C.J. § 10-305(a)(1). The state argued that § 10-305 merely gave an injured prisoner permission to file a SCB claim and another provision of the statute made it the exclusive remedy permitted injured prisoners, thus precluding the filing of civil suits. “(c) Exclusive remedy. - The compensation authorized under this subtitled is the exclusive remedy against the State for a claim that falls withing the jurisdiction of the Board....” C.J. § 10-308(c).
The state also claimed that Dixon had failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as required by the Prisoner Litigation Act, C.J. 5-1003(a)(1), because he did not file a complaint with the Inmate Grievance Office (IGO) as required by C.J. 10-206, and abandoned his SCB claim.

The trial court denied both the motion for summary judgment and a reurging of it. However, on the day of trial, the trial court changed its ruling and granted summary judgment for the state. Dixon appealed.

The court of appeals held that the clear statutory language in C.J. § 10-308(c) made it the exclusive remedy and precluded a prisoner from filing a tort claim in circuit court for injuries received while performing a paid prison job. Therefore, the trial court did not err in granting summary judgment. Nor did it err in reversing its earlier ruling denying summary judgment. However, because the SCB is the exclusive remedy an injured prisoner is not required to file a complaint with the IGO to exhaust his administrative remedies.
Nonetheless, Dixon failed to exhaust administrative remedies because he abandoned the SCB claim and that was another reason to uphold the granting of summary judgment. The trial court’s summary judgment was affirmed. See: Dixon v. Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, 927 A.2d 445, 175 Md. App. 384 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 2007).

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Related legal case

Dixon v. Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services