Costley v. The City of Westminster et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge George Levi Russell, III on 1/4/2017. (c/m 1/4/17)(krs, Deputy Clerk)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF MARYLAND
NATHANIEL M. COSTLEY, SR.,
THE CITY OF WESTMINSTER,
Civil Action No. GLR-16-1447
THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendants’, the City of
Westminster, the Westminster City Police Department,1 Lieutenant
Thomas Kowalczyk, and Officer Patricia Parks2 (collectively, the
Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 7).3
See Local Rule 105.6 (D.Md. 2016).
For the reasons
that follow, the Court will grant the Motion.
Local police departments are not legal entities amendable to
civil suit -- the local police department’s parent municipal
corporation is the proper defendant. See Revene v. Charles Cty.
Comm’rs, 882 F.2d 870, 874 (4th Cir. 1989) (concluding the Charles
County Board of Commissioners, as the governing body of Charles
County, Maryland, was the proper defendant, not the Charles County
Sheriff’s Office); Savage v. Mayor of Salisbury, No. CCB-08-3200,
2009 WL 1119087, at *3 (D.Md. Apr. 22, 2009) (concluding the City
of Salisbury, not the Salisbury Police Department, was the proper
Thus, the Court will enter judgment for the
Westminster Police Department on all claims because the City of
Westminster is the proper municipal defendant.
The Court will refer to Lieutenant Thomas Kowalczyk, and
Officer Patricia Parks collectively as the “Officers.”
Christina Steiner is also a Defendant in this case. She does
not join in the Westminster Defendants’ Motion.
She filed an
On November 15, 2015, pro se Plaintiff Nathaniel M. Costley,
Sr. called Defendant Christina Steiner to explain that he “was
tired of fighting over their child and wanted the fighting to end.”
(Compl. ¶ 10, ECF No. 1).
During the conversation, Costley also
told Steiner that “he was thinking about moving from his current
residence and that all the fighting between them would soon be over
because [Costley] could not take it anymore.”
began asking questions about their minor child’s wellbeing and
encouraged Costley to reconsider his decision to relocate.
Following the conversation with Costley, Steiner called the
Westminster Police Department and alerted them that Costley told
Steiner he was going to commit suicide.
(Id. ¶ 11).
Costley drove to a neighbor’s house to collect money Costley had
(Id. ¶ 12).
While at the neighbor’s house, Costley’s
cousin, Justin Carter, arrived and asked Costley to follow him back
to Costley’s house. (Id.).
Westminster Police Department vehicle in front of his house. When
Costley pulled into his driveway, “he was completely caught off
Answer on August 31, 2016. (ECF No. 9).
Unless otherwise noted, the facts outlined in this section
are set forth in Costley’s Complaint (ECF No. 1). To the extent
the Court discusses facts that Costley does not allege in his
Complaint, they are uncontroverted and the Court views them in the
light most favorable to Costley. The Court will address additional
facts in the Discussion section.
guard by three officers.”
(Id. ¶ 13).
One officer “blocked
[Costley’s] vehicle in,” while the other two officers approached
Costley with his wife, Shelvon Costley (“Mrs. Costley”).
Mrs. Costley then explained to her husband that Steiner called the
Westminster Police Department, as well as Mrs. Costley and Carter,
to explain that Costley was going to commit suicide.
(Id. ¶ 14).
Costley “immediately” stated to “everyone” that the allegation that
he was going to commit suicide was “completely false.”
Officers, however, “were not trying to hear [Costley] and told him
that they were going to get him some help.”
Costley attempted to reason with Lieutenant Kowalczyk, Officer
Parks, and “Sgt. Darby”5 and repeatedly stated that Steiner was
lying because he had no intentions of harming himself.
(Id. ¶ 15).
Costley told the Officers he was not going anywhere and demanded
they get off his property.
But the Officers refused to listen.
When Costley proceeded to the back door of his residence,
the Officers followed him and “forced their way” inside.
Costley refers to a “Sgt. Darby” or “Officer Darby”
throughout his Complaint. Costley does not, however, name this
individual as a defendant.
The Court will refer to this
unidentified individual as “Officer Darby” and will refer to
Lieutenant Kowalczyk, Officer Parks, and Officer Darby collectively
as the “Officers.”
The Court also notes that although Costley
mentions Officer Darby in his opposition memorandum, Costley
“cannot, through the use of motion briefs, amend the complaint” to
add Officer Darby as a defendant. Zachair, Ltd. v. Driggs, 965
F.Supp. 741, 748 n.4 (D.Md. 1997) aff’d, 141 F.3d 1162 (4th Cir.
Costley alleges the Officers had neither consent nor a
warrant to enter his home.
(Id. ¶ 16).
Once Costley was inside his home with the Officers, he “felt
threatened and fearful for his safety.”
several more requests for the Officers to leave, but they refused.
Costley also “continuously” repeated that Steiner was lying
and that he was not going to harm himself.
however, told Costley he needed to go with them to the hospital for
a psychiatric evaluation.
Costley refused, reiterating
that there was nothing wrong with him, and sat down at his kitchen
While Costley was seated at his kitchen table, Lieutenant
Kowalczyk told him that he had no choice but to obey the Officers
and he could go willingly or “by force.”
point, Costley was “in tears.”
(Id. ¶ 18).
Lieutenant Kowalczyk then
warned Costley that if Costley did not go willingly, Costley’s
home, which was once his grandmother’s, may get destroyed in any
Costley next alleges that as result of Lieutenant Kowalczyk’s
“verbal t[h]reats” and the Officers’ “threats to physically harm”
him, Costley began to suffer an anxiety attack.
(Id. ¶ 19).
Costley took some medication and informed the Officers he needed
and wanted to rest on his sofa.
Lieutenant Kowalczyk and
Officer Parks, however, blocked the doorway leading to Costley’s
Lieutenant Kowalczyk then threatened to use
his taser and handcuffs if Costley did not voluntarily submit to
the Officers’ authority and accompany them to the hospital.
At that point, Officer Parks “started going through [Costley’s]
prescriptions against [Costley’s] will and without a warrant.”
Costley reminded Officer Parks that she did not have a
warrant or consent to search his home, but she responded, “It does
Costley made several phone calls “to get advice and help” with
his situation because it was “clear”
that the Officers were
violating his rights, but no one answered.
(Id. ¶ 20).
these unsuccessful calls, the Officers made more threats to “harm”
Costley and “destroy” his home.
Costley then walked
outside to his back porch, and the Officers followed him.
“Out of fear for his safety,” Costley ran away from the Officers.
As he fled, Costley fell and hit his head, left hand, and
forearm on the concrete.
(Id. ¶ 21).
Costley got back on his feet
and took off again, but after traveling only a few yards, he fell
This time, Costley was unable to get up and he
remained on the ground until paramedics arrived to transport him to
Once Costley arrived at the hospital,
Officer Parks completed a petition for emergency mental health
evaluation in accordance with § 10-622 of the Health-General
Article of the Maryland Code.
(See ECF Nos. 7-3, 7-4).
spending twelve hours in the hospital, a psychiatrist released
Costley after determining the Officers’ complaint that Costley had
threatened to commit suicide was “frivolous.”
(Id. ¶ 22).
On May 13, 2016, Costley sued the Westminster Defendants in
this Court, asserting several federal and state claims arising out
of the November 15, 2015 incident described above.
Costley raises federal claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for (1)
illegal search and seizure, (2) excessive use of force, and (3)
violation of equal protection.
He asserts state common law
claims for (1) assault and battery, (2) defamation, and (3) “Abuse
of Government Power and Authority,” which the Court will construe
as a claim for the tort of abuse of process.
neither states which claims he brings against which Defendants, nor
states whether he sues the Officers in their official or individual
Costley seeks $5 million in compensatory damages and
$750,000 in punitive damages.
Costley alleges that the Officers all work for the
Westminster City Police Department. (Compl. ¶ 15). The exhibits
the Westminster Defendants attach to their Motion confirm that the
Officers are, indeed, Westminster Police Officers. (See ECF No. 73). Official-capacity suits “generally represent only another way
of pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is an
Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165 (1985) (quoting
Monell v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs. of City of N.Y. 436 U.S. 658, 690,
Thus, since Costley also sues the City of
Westminster, to the extent Costley sues the Officers in their
official capacities, the Court enters judgment for the Officers on
all of Costley’s § 1983 claims because they are redundant. See
Love-Lane v. Martin, 355 F.3d 766, 783 (4th Cir. 2004) (concluding
On August 24, 2016, the Westminster Defendants filed their
Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary
Judgment (ECF No. 7); it is fully briefed,7 (see ECF Nos. 7-10, 712).
On October 19, 2016, the Court granted Costley’s Motion to
submit a cellular phone video of the November 15, 2015 incident.
(ECF No. 13).
The Court received the video on October 28, 2016.
(ECF No. 14).
Standard of Review
The Westminster Defendants style their Motion as a motion to
dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) or, in the
alternative, for summary judgment under Rule 56.
A motion styled
in this manner implicates the Court’s discretion under Rule 12(d).
See Kensington Vol. Fire Dept., Inc. v. Montgomery Cty., 788
F.Supp.2d 431, 436–37 (D.Md. 2011), aff’d sub nom., Kensington
Volunteer Fire Dep’t, Inc. v. Montgomery Cty., 684 F.3d 462 (4th
This Rule provides that when “matters outside the
pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the court, the [Rule
12(b)(6)] motion must be treated as one for summary judgment under
The Court “has ‘complete discretion
district court correctly dismissed § 1983 claim against school
board superintendent in his official capacity because the plaintiff
also sued the school board).
Costley’s opposition memorandum is fifty-seven pages long.
(ECF No. 10). Unless otherwise ordered by the Court, opposition
memoranda shall not exceed thirty-five pages, exclusive of exhibits
and addenda. Local Rule 105.3 (D.Md. 2016). The Court, therefore,
to determine whether or not to accept the submission of any
material beyond the pleadings that is offered in conjunction with a
Rule 12(b)(6) motion and rely on it, thereby converting the motion,
or to reject it or simply not consider it.’”
Wells-Bey v. Kopp,
No. ELH-12-2319, 2013 WL 1700927, at *5 (D.Md. Apr. 16, 2013)
(quoting 5C Wright & Miller, Federal Practice & Procedure § 1366,
at 159 (3d ed. 2004, 2012 Supp.)).
The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has
articulated two requirements for proper conversion of a Rule
12(b)(6) motion to a Rule 56 motion.
The first is notice: the
Court must give the parties some indication that it is treating the
12(b)(6) motion as a motion for summary judgment.
Ctr. for Pregnancy Concerns, Inc. v. Mayor of Balt., 721 F.3d 264,
281 (4th Cir. 2013).
The second is a reasonable opportunity for
alternative” as one for summary judgment and submits matters
outside the pleadings for the court’s consideration, the parties
are deemed to be on notice that conversion under Rule 12(d) may
See Moret v. Harvey, 381 F.Supp.2d 458, 464 (D.Md. 2005).
The nonmovant “cannot complain that summary judgment was granted
without discovery unless that party had made an attempt to oppose
the motion on the grounds that more time was needed for discovery.”
has not considered Costley’s arguments after page 35.
Harrods Ltd. v. Sixty Internet Domain Names, 302 F.3d 214, 244 (4th
Cir. 2002) (quoting Evans v. Techs. Applications & Serv. Co., 80
F.3d 954, 961 (4th Cir. 1996)).
Rule 56(d) provides that the Court
nonmovant shows by affidavit or declaration that, for specified
“[T]he failure to file an affidavit under Rule
56[(d)] is itself sufficient grounds to reject a claim that the
opportunity for discovery was inadequate.”
Nguyen v. CNA Corp., 44
F.3d 234, 242 (4th Cir. 1995) (quoting Paddington Partners v.
Bouchard, 34 F.3d 1132, 1137 (2d Cir. 1994)).
Here, the Westminster Defendants caption their Motion in the
Costley’s Complaint for the Court’s consideration.
his own extra-pleading material and he has not expressed a need for
Westminster Defendants’ Motion as one for summary judgment.
In reviewing a motion for summary judgment, the Court views
the facts in a light most favorable to the nonmovant, drawing all
justifiable inferences in that party’s favor.
Ricci v. DeStefano,
557 U.S. 557, 586 (2009); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S.
242, 255 (1986) (citing Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144,
Summary judgment is proper when the movant
demonstrates, through “particular parts of materials in the record,
admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials,” that “there
is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a),
Significantly, a party must be able to present the
evidence,” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3), and supporting affidavits and
declarations “must be made on personal knowledge” and “set out
facts that would be admissible in evidence,” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(4).
Once a motion for summary judgment is properly made and
supported, the burden shifts to the nonmovant to identify evidence
Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574,
The nonmovant cannot create a genuine dispute of
material fact “through mere speculation or the building of one
inference upon another.”
Beale v. Hardy, 769 F.2d 213, 214 (4th
Cir. 1985) (citation omitted).
A “material fact” is one that might affect the outcome of a
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; see also JKC Holding Co.
v. Wash. Sports Ventures, Inc., 264 F.3d 459, 465 (4th Cir. 2001)
(citing Hooven-Lewis v. Caldera, 249 F.3d 259, 265 (4th Cir.
determined by the substantive law, and “[o]nly disputes over facts
that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law
will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.”
477 U.S. at 248; accord Hooven-Lewis, 249 F.3d at 265.
dispute concerning a “material” fact arises when the evidence is
sufficient to allow a reasonable jury to return a verdict in the
nonmoving party’s favor.
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.
nonmovant has failed to make a sufficient showing on an essential
element of her case where she has the burden of proof, “there can
be ‘no genuine [dispute] as to any material fact,’ since a complete
failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving
party’s case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.”
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322–23 (1986).
City of Westminster
Section 1983 Claims
The Court will enter judgment for the City of Westminster on
supporting a Monell claim.
To prevail on a § 1983 claim, a plaintiff must demonstrate a
deprivation of rights guaranteed by the Constitution or laws of the
United States and that the alleged deprivation was committed by a
“person” acting under color of state law.
42 U.S.C. § 1983; West
Municipalities, such as cities, are “persons” amenable to suit
under § 1983.
Monell v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs. of City of N.Y., 436
municipalities are only liable under § 1983 when a plaintiff proves
a Monell claim.
See Monell, 436 U.S. at 691.
To prove a Monell
claim lodged against a city, a plaintiff must demonstrate that “the
constitutionally offensive acts of city employees [were] taken in
furtherance of some municipal ‘policy or custom.’”
City of Newport News, 743 F.2d 227, 229 (4th Cir.1984) (citing
Monell, 436 U.S. at 694).
Because Costley does not allege, let
alone present any facts, that the Officers violated his federal
constitutional rights in furtherance of a policy or custom of the
City of Westminster, the Court will enter judgment for the City of
Westminster on all of Costley’s § 1983 claims.
Common Law Claims
The Court will enter judgment for the City of Westminster on
Costley’s common law claims because the City of Westminster is
immune from liability.
Under Maryland law, local government entities are immune from
liability for common law torts when their employees commit the
torts while acting in a governmental capacity.
DiPino v. Davis,
governmental capacity when they enforce state criminal law.
Here, the Officers were not enforcing state criminal law, but
rather attempting to involuntarily commit Costley under Maryland’s
statute permitting emergency mental health evaluations, Md. Code
Ann., Health-Gen. § 10-620, et seq. (West 2016).
statute is civil, not criminal, in nature, the Court finds that the
Officers’ actions were sufficiently similar to enforcing state
criminal law to characterize them as governmental.
because the City of Westminster is immune from liability for the
governmental actions of city police officers, the Court will enter
judgment for the City of Westminster on all of Costley’s common law
Officers in their Individual Capacities
Section 1983 Claims
The Court will enter judgment for the Officers in their
individual capacities on Costley’s § 1983 claims because they are
entitled to qualified immunity.
Amendment right to be free from illegal searches and seizures when
without a warrant or consent, they forced their way inside his home
prescription bottles, and prevented him from entering his living
Costley further argues the Officers used excessive force
when they threatened to tase him and destroy his home, including
Costley’s prized family heirlooms, if he did not agree to accompany
the Officers to the hospital for a mental health examination.
The Officers respond that they are protected by qualified
immunity. They argue that they had probable cause to seize Costley
because their observations of Costely’s behavior, coupled with
information they obtained from Steiner and Mrs. Costley, led them
to reasonably believe that Costley posed a danger to himself or
The Officers assert that their warrantless entry into
Costely’s home and search of his cabinets for prescription drugs
was reasonable based on exigent circumstances.
further contend that they did not use excessive force against
Costley because he neither alleges nor demonstrates through the
factual record that the Officers used any force against him.
Officers maintain that to the extent any of their actions could be
construed as “force,” the force was objectively reasonable under
officials “from liability for civil damages insofar as their
constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have
Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982).
Fourth Circuit, courts should apply the qualified immunity doctrine
“with due respect for the perspective of police officers on the
scene and not with the greater leisure and acquired wisdom of
Gooden v. Howard Cty., 954 F.2d 960, 964–65
(4th Cir. 1992).
Qualified immunity “is an immunity from suit rather than a
mere defense to liability.”
Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 526
The United States Supreme Court has “made clear that the
‘driving force’ behind creation of the qualified immunity doctrine
government officials [will] be resolved prior to discovery.’”
Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231–32 (2009) (quoting Anderson
v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 640, n.2 (1987)).
Because the doctrine
seeks to protect government officials from the burden of trial and
questions at the earliest possible stage in litigation.
ex rel. Estate of Cloaninger v. McDevitt, 555 F.3d 324, 330 (4th
Cir. 2009) (citing Hunter v. Bryant, 502 U.S. 224, 227 (1991) (per
There is a two-prong test for determining whether a government
official is protected by qualified immunity: (1) whether the facts
that the plaintiff has alleged or shown make out a violation of a
constitutional right; and (2) whether that right was “clearly
established” at the time of the purported violation.
U.S. at 232 (citing Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201 (2001)).
right is “clearly established” when “it would be clear to a
reasonable officer that his conduct was unlawful in the situation
U.S. at 202).
Cloaninger, 555 F.3d at 331 (quoting Saucier, 533
Courts have discretion to resolve these two prongs
circumstances of the case at hand.
Saucier, 533 U.S. at 236.
answers to both prongs must be in the affirmative for a plaintiff
to defeat a motion for summary judgment on qualified immunity
Batten v. Gomez, 324 F.3d 288, 293–94 (4th Cir. 2003).
The plaintiff bears the burden of proof on the first prong, Bryant
v. Muth, 994 F.2d 1082, 1086 (4th Cir. 1993); the defendant on the
second, Wilson v. Kittoe, 337 F.3d 392, 397 (4th Cir. 2003).
In Cloaninger, the Fourth Circuit outlined the framework for
evaluating qualified immunity claims.
When a defendant raises a
qualified immunity defense, “the court ordinarily assesses whether
the plaintiff’s complaint states sufficient factual allegations
Cloaninger, 555 F.3d at 331.
But, when a
defendant moves for summary judgment on qualified immunity, “an
evaluation of the complaint’s sufficiency is unnecessary and may
unduly prolong the defendant[’s] entanglement in litigation if the
court can determine that the plaintiff’s evidence does not support
his allegations. In that circumstance, the familiar standard for
summary judgment under Rule 56 applies.”
Here, the Officers
have moved to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment,
and the Court has already concluded it will construe the Officers’
Motion as one for summary judgment.
Thus, the Court will apply the
Rule 56 standard to resolve whether the Officers are entitled to
The law does not permit “random or baseless” seizures of
citizens for emergency psychological evaluations.
Gooden, 954 F.2d
An officer violates an individual’s Fourth Amendment right
to be free from unreasonable seizures when the Officer seizes the
individual without probable cause.
See Bailey v. Kennedy, 349 F.3d
731, 739 (4th Cir. 2003) (explaining that if officers did not have
probable cause to seize plaintiff for mental health evaluation,
then plaintiff asserted a violation of his Fourth Amendment right
against unreasonable seizure).
Officers possess such probable
cause when “‘the facts and circumstances within their knowledge and
sufficient to warrant a prudent man’ to believe that the person
poses a danger to himself or others.”
Cloaninger, 555 F.3d at 334
(quoting Beck v. Ohio, 379 U.S. 89, 91 (1964)).
As the Fourth Circuit explained in Bailey, “[p]robable cause
is a ‘practical, nontechnical conception’ that addresses the ‘the
factual and practical considerations of everyday life on which
reasonable and prudent men, not legal technicians, act.’”
at 739 (quoting Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 231 (1983)).
Further, probable cause “is a ‘fluid concept’ that cannot be
‘reduced to a neat set of legal rules.’”
Id. (quoting Gates, 462
U.S. at 232).
In the Fourth Circuit, a 9-1-1 or police call from a third
party reporting that an individual threatened suicide or is acting
erratically, is insufficient, “without more,” to establish probable
Bailey, 349 F.3d at 740.
officers pair the information obtained in such a call with the
officers’ own personal observations that the individual reasonably
poses a danger to himself or others, there is probable cause for
See Gooden, 954 F.2d at 966; S.P. v. City of Takoma
Park, 134 F.3d 260, 267 (4th Cir. 1998).
For example, in Gooden, officers received multiple calls from
a resident of an apartment complex that a woman in an upstairs
apartment was screaming.
954 F.2d at 962.
arriving at the apartment complex, the officers heard a “long, loud
The officers determined that the
scream was coming from the plaintiff’s apartment and when they
arrived there, they heard another scream coming from within.
After plaintiff denied she had been screaming, the officers left.
Id. at 963.
But shortly after leaving, the officers heard loud
thuds and more screaming coming from the plaintiff’s apartment.
According to the officers, the plaintiff appeared to be
yelling in male and female voices, which indicated she might be
When the officers returned to the plaintiff’s
apartment, she was unresponsive, nervous, and uncomfortable.
The officers then seized plaintiff, determining she “was a risk to
Id. at 964.
The Fourth Circuit concluded the officers
had probable cause to seize the plaintiff for a psychiatric
evaluation because they acted on the basis of multiple complaints
from “an apartment resident whose veracity they had no reason to
Id. at 966.
The court then emphasized that the officers
did not just act on the complaints of the other apartment resident:
“[i]ndeed, they waited until the substance of that complaint had
In S.P. v. City of Takoma Park, the plaintiff’s husband called
the police following an argument with the plaintiff.
134 F.3d at
The husband was connected with an emergency dispatcher, who,
following a conversation with the husband, relayed to the officers
plaintiff might be suicidal.
When the officers arrived at
plaintiff’s home, they interviewed her before ultimately deciding
plaintiff, “denied having any suicidal thoughts, being depressed,
or being under the care of a physician, she was uncooperative,
hostile, very upset, and irrational.”
Id. at 267.
“admitted that she had had a ‘painful’ argument with her husband
and that if not for her children, she would have considered
Based on their observation, the officers
seized the plaintiff for a mental health evaluation.
Id. at 264.
The Fourth Circuit found that the officers had probable cause to
seize the plaintiff because they did not decide to detain her “in
haste.” Id. at 267.
Instead, the officers “had ample opportunity
to observe and interview [the plaintiff] before making a deliberate
Here, the Officers present a recording of the telephone calls
from Steiner to Carroll County 9-1-1 and from Carroll County 9-1-1
to the Westminster Police Department.
(See ECF No. 7-2).
Steiner’s call to Carroll County 9-1-1 she says, “my son’s father
just called me and told me he is about to commit suicide.”
She then says, “he won’t tell me what he took but it’s gonna [sic]
be in twenty to thirty minutes.”
At the end of the call,
Steiner reiterates that “he said he took something and it’s gonna
[sic] be about twenty to thirty minutes and then he’s gone.”
In the call from Carrol County 9-1-1 to the Westminster
Police Department, the dispatcher who spoke with Steiner relays
that Steiner called and said her “child’s father just texted her or
called her and said he took pills and in about thirty minutes he’ll
The dispatcher identifies the child’s father as
Costley and provides Costley’s address.
police officer speaking with the dispatcher confirms he will send
officers to Costley’s residence.
Costley does not deny that he called Steiner on the morning of
November 15, 2015, but he does deny that he told Steiner that he
ingested pills to commit suicide.
Even assuming Costley has
presented his denial in a form which the Court can credit for the
purposes of summary judgment -- which he has not -- Costley
presents no evidence to dispute that Steiner called 9-1-1 and
conveyed that Costley told her he ingested pills and would be
deceased within the hour.
In her affidavit, Mrs. Costley provides several statements
that might lead a reasonable officer to doubt the veracity, or at
least the credibility, of Steiner’s statements.
(See ECF No. 10-
For instance, Mrs. Costley states that she has “personally
witnessed [Steiner] being so unhappy with her own personal choices
and being so angry and jealous of Mr. Costley’s marriage and
family, that she will stop at nothing to attempt to destroy and
tear-apart his family and personal character.”
(Id. ¶ 14).
is uncontroverted that the Westminster Police Department did not
possess this information on November 15, 2015 when Carroll County
9-1-1 relayed the substance of Steiner’s call.
As a result, the
Officers, like the officers in Gooden, had no reason to doubt the
veracity of Steiner’s statements.
In addition to the phone recordings discussed above, the
observations during the incident with Costley.
(See ECF No. 7-3).
Officer Parks discusses information she received from Mrs. Costley
shortly after arriving at Costley’s residence. Mrs. Costley shared
that she was “afraid for” her husband and that less than an hour
before, when the Costley’s were driving home after a late night
out, Costley sent Mrs. Costley a text message stating, “Too crazy
for you what will you do.”
(Id. at 2).
During the car ride,
Costley was “acting strange” and “making ‘final arrangements,’”
including the manner of his burial.
Mrs. Costley then
stated that Costley “had not been the same since the death of his
discovered Costley lying across his grandmother’s grave while
(Id. at 2–3).
She also asserted that Costley had
recently lost his job and a local election and was experiencing
severe physical pain from two herniated disks in his back.
Additionally, Costley was taking strong pain medication for
In her affidavit, Mrs. Costley denies that she told Officer
Parks that she found her husband lying across his grandmother’s
(ECF No. 10-1 ¶ 12).
She also states that she and her
husband simply discussed final arrangements “in general” -- Costley
did not “mak[e]” any final arrangements.
(Id. ¶ 11).
Mrs. Costley does not dispute that she told Officer Parks she was
her husband or that Costley’s
mental state was
deteriorating and he was taking an antidepressant.
In the Offense Report, Officer Parks goes on to discuss her
Officer Parks spoke with Mrs. Costley.
(ECF No. 7-3 at 3).
Officer Parks describes
Costley also appeared
emotionally unstable: he “was at one moment angry and the next
What is more, Costley “made statements
that he had destroyed his life and it was over.”
narrative supplement to the Offense Report, Lieutenant Kowalczyk
confirms that Costley was mentally and emotionally unhinged: “At
times Mr. Costley would sit with tears going down his face then he
would become angry again and start making threats that he was not
going with us[,] that he was going to sue us[,] and that we would
have to fight with him.”
(Id. at 5).
Costley presents no evidence to dispute that he was behaving
in the manner that the Officer described in the Offense Report or
that he made statements that his life was over.
Other than the
affidavit from his wife -- which does not dispute Officer Parks’s
description of Costley’s mental or emotional state during the
interaction with the Officers -- Costley only presents a cell phone
recording of his interaction with the Officers and what appears to
be a print-out of the Westminster Police Department’s webpage that
discusses the qualifications for police officers.
Costley does not assert that the cell phone recordings capture the
entire exchange between Costley and the Officers.
And the Court’s
review of the recordings confirms that they, in fact, do not
encompass the entire interaction because they do not include the
part when Costley allegedly went out to his back porch and then ran
from the Officers.
(See Compl. ¶¶ 20–21).
During the portion of
the incident which the recordings do cover, Costley was, indeed,
verbally uncooperative with the Officers.
The Court, however, need
not evaluate whether Costley’s conduct rises to the level of
hostility or emotional instability because by not capturing the
entire exchange, the recordings do not dispute Officer Parks’s
observations that Costley behaved in that manner.
In sum, it is uncontroverted that the Westminster Police
Department received information that Steiner called 9-1-1 to alert
the dispatcher that Costley said he ingested pills and would be
“gone” within the hour.
There is no evidence to suggest that the
Westminster Police Department should have questioned the veracity
or credibility of Steiner’s statements.
Like the officers in S.P.,
the Officers did not seize Costley “in haste,” but rather they “had
ample opportunity to observe and interview [Costley] before making
a deliberate decision.”
134 F.3d at 267.
Even Mrs. Costley
asserts that the Officers’ interaction with Costley lasted over
(See ECF No. 10-1 ¶ 6).
And, like the
officers in both Gooden and S.P., the Officers did not rely on
Steiner’s call alone.
Rather, they coupled the information from
the call with their own observations gleaned from an interview with
Mrs. Costley and a protracted verbal exchange with Costley himself.
It is undisputed that Mrs. Costley was afraid for her husband
because his mental state was deteriorating after the death of his
grandmother, he was acting strange the morning of the incident, he
recently lost his job, and he was taking strong pain medications
and an antidepressant.
It is further undisputed that the Officers
observed that Costley was hostile, verbally uncooperative, and
emotional unstable, and that he said his life was over.
Considering all the uncontroverted evidence in this case, the
Court concludes the Officers had probable cause to seize Costley
for a psychiatric evaluation.
While the Officers had probable cause to seize Costley, it is
a separate question whether the Officers had probable cause to
seize him inside his home.
Officers are only permitted to seize a
person inside his home if they have a warrant or there are exigent
Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 590 (1980).
“Exigent circumstances exist when there is ‘a risk of danger to the
police or to other persons inside or outside the dwelling . . . .’”
Cloaninger, 555 F.3d at 334 (quoting United States v. Moses, 540
F.3d 263, 270 (4th Cir. 2008)).
In Cloaninger, the Fourth Circuit
concluded there were exigent circumstances to justify a warrantless
seizure of the plaintiff inside his home because knowledge of prior
suicide threats and possession of firearms established to an
objectively reasonable officer that the plaintiff was a danger to
Here, though there is no evidence that Costley kept
firearms in his home, it is undisputed that Steiner reported
Costley had threatened suicide, Mrs. Costley stated she was afraid
for her husband, and Costley remarked that he had destroyed his
life and it was over.
Under these circumstances, an objectively
reasonable officer could conclude Costley was a danger to himself.
circumstances and the Officers did not violate Costley’s Fourth
Accordingly, the Court finds as a matter of law that the Officers
are entitled to qualified immunity for the seizure.
Amendment right to be free from unreasonable, warrantless searches
when they searched through his cabinets to look for prescription
The Officers argue they are protected by qualified immunity
because the right to be free from unreasonable searches performed
in relation to a seizure for mental health evaluation was not
clearly defined when the Officers performed their search.
Costley cites no case, and this Court finds none, in which the
Fourth Circuit has defined the contours of the right to be free
from a warrantless search of one’s cabinets when officers have
reason to believe a resident may have ingested a lethal dose of
In fact, the Court finds no case in which the
Fourth Circuit has even dealt with a warrantless search of a home
conducted in relation to a seizure for a psychological evaluation.
In the absence of case law clearly establishing the right that the
Officers allegedly violated, the Court finds that no reasonable
officer would have understood whether searching Costley’s cabinets
violated Costley’s constitutional rights.
The Court, therefore,
concludes that the Officers are entitled to qualified immunity on
Costley’s claim for an unlawful search.
iii. Excessive Use of Force
Costley further maintains that the Officers used excessive
force when they seized him.
Costley’s claim is subject to the
defense of qualified immunity, Slattery v. Rizzo, 939 F.2d 213, 216
(4th Cir. 1991), and it is analyzed under the Fourth Amendment, see
Elliott v. Leavitt, 99 F.3d 640, 642 (4th Cir. 1996) (quoting
Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 395 (1989)).
To determine whether
the Officers used excessive force against Costley, the Court will
reasonable’ in light of the facts and circumstances confronting
them, without regard to their underlying intent or motivation.”
Graham, 490 U.S. at 397.
These “facts and circumstances” include
“the severity of the crime at issue, whether the suspect poses an
immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, and
whether he is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade
arrest by flight.”
Id. at 396.
The Court may also consider the
extent of the plaintiff’s injuries.
See Jones v. Buchanan, 325
F.3d 520, 527 (4th Cir. 2003).
Under the facts and circumstances of this case, the Officers
are entitled to qualified immunity because they did not use
excessive force when seizing Costley.
While Costley had not
committed any crimes, all other factors weigh in favor of finding a
The Officers possessed
information from Steiner’s call that Costley posed an immediate
threat to himself because he may have already ingested a fatal dose
of prescription drugs.
The Officers’ written descriptions of their
interaction with Costley and his own cell phone recordings show
attempts to have Costley peacefully accompany them to the hospital
for an evaluation.
The record is also undisputed that Costley fled
after the Officers permitted him to leave the house to smoke a
cigarette and make some phone calls.
As for injuries, Costley
merely alleges that while he was fleeing from the Officers he “fell
hitting his head, left hand[,] and forearm on the concrete.”
(Compl. ¶ 21).
He also alleges that when he arose from the first
fall, he started to run again, but he only made it a few yards
before he “fell again landing directly on his left side” and “was
unable to get up from this fall.”
But Costley presents no
interaction with the Officers.
What is more, Costley neither alleges nor offers any evidence
that the Officers made any physical contact with him.
affidavit, Mrs. Costley affirms her husband’s allegations that the
Officers threatened to destroy family heirlooms in Costley’s home
and tase him if he did not follow their orders.
(ECF No. 10-1 ¶
But she does not maintain that the Officers actually destroyed
any of Costley’s property or that they made physical contact with
See Robertson v. City of Beckley, 963 F. Supp. 570, 575
(S.D.W.Va. 1997) (concluding defendants were entitled to summary
judgment on their claim for excessive use of force because it was
undisputed that defendants neither made physical contact with
plaintiff nor broke or damaged any personal property); see also
Jackson v. City of N.Y., 939 F. Supp. 2d 219, 231 (E.D.N.Y. 2013)
(granting summary judgment for defendants on plaintiffs’ claim for
excessive use of force because it was undisputed that defendants
did not make physical contact with plaintiffs).
Because the Officers are entitled to qualified immunity, the
Court will enter judgment for the Officers on Costley’s claim for
excessive use of force.
In Costley’s fourth and final § 1983 claim, he asserts the
Officers violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal
protection under the law.
The Equal Protection Clause “does not
take from the States all power of classification,” but “keeps
governmental decisionmakers from treating differently persons who
are in all relevant respects alike.”
Veney v. Wyche, 293 F.3d 726,
730 (4th Cir. 2002) (internal citation omitted) (quoting Nordlinger
505 U.S. 1, 10 (1992)).
To succeed on his
protection claim, Costley “must first demonstrate that he has been
treated differently from others with whom he is similarly situated
and that the unequal treatment was the result of intentional or
Id. at 730–31 (quoting Morrison v.
Garraghty, 239 F.3d 648, 654 (4th Cir. 2001). “If he makes this
showing, ‘the court proceeds to determine whether the disparity in
treatment can be justified under the requisite level of scrutiny.’”
Id. at 731 (quoting Morrison, 239 F.3d at 654).
fails to allege, let alone present evidence, that the Officers
treated him differently from others with whom he is similarly
Thus, Costley’s equal protection claim fails and the
Officers are entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
Common Law Claims
The Court will enter judgment for the Officers on all of
Costley’s common law claims because the Officers are immune from
Costley asserts that the Officers committed three common law
torts: (1) defamation; (2) abuse of process; and (3) assault and
The Officers argue they are immune from liability because
it is undisputed that they complied with § 10-622 of the Health
General Article (“HG”) of the Maryland Code, Maryland’s statute
The Court agrees.
Under HG § 10-622, a petition for emergency evaluation may be
made if the petitioner has reason to believe that an individual
“[h]as a mental disorder” and “presents a danger to the life or
safety of the individual or others.”
HG § 10-622(a) (West 2016).
A petitioner may base the petition on “examination or observation”
or “[o]ther information obtained that is pertinent to the factors
giving rise to the petition.”
Id. § 10-622(b)(2).
officers are defined as “peace officers” within this statutory
scheme, see id. § 10-620(f), and they are expressly permitted to
submit petitions, see id. § 10-622(b)(1)(ii).
peace officer who acts as a custodian of an emergency evaluee shall
have the immunity from liability described under § 5-624(c) of the
Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article [“CJP”].”
Id. § 10-629(b).
That section of the Court and Judicial Proceedings Article provides
that, “[a]ny peace officer who, in good faith and with reasonable
grounds, acts as a custodian of an emergency evaluee is not civilly
or criminally liable for acting as a custodian.”
CJP § 5-624(c)
The Fourth Circuit has recognized that while CJP § 5-
624(c) “appears, at a minimum, to protect an officer from claims
such as false imprisonment based on the act of taking the evaluee
into custody, it does not appear to offer an officer blanket
immunity for anything and everything that might occur after the
evaluee is taken into custody.
Young v. City of Mount Ranier, 238
F.3d 567, 578 (4th Cir. 2001) (emphasis added).
Considering the undisputed evidence in this case that the
Court discussed at length above, the Court finds that the Officers
acted in good faith and with reasonable grounds when they concluded
based on their observations and the call from Steiner that Costley
had a mental disorder and was a danger to his own life.
Costley alleges that the Officers committed defamation, abuse of
process, and assault and battery during -- not after -- the
seizure, the Court concludes as a matter of law that the Officers
are immune from Costley’s common law claims.
See Young, 238 F.3d
Accordingly, the Court will enter judgment for the
Officers on those claims.
Westminster Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative,
Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 7).
A separate Order follows.
Entered this 4th day of January, 2017
George L. Russell, III
United States District Judge
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?