Bansal et al v. Montgomery County, Maryland et al
MEMORANDUM. Signed by Judge J. Frederick Motz on 7/12/13. (apls, Deputy Clerk)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF MARYLAND
AMAR BANSAL, ET AL.
MONTGOMERY COUNTY MARYLAND,
SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT, ET AL.
Civil No. – JFM-12-519
Amar Bansal and his wife, Bina Bansal, have instituted this action against Montgomery
County, Maryland, Montgomery County Police Officer Thomas Berry, and Montgomery County
Deputy Sheriffs Steve Austin, Frank D. Pruitt, and Shane R. Scott. Presently pending before the
court are a motion to dismiss or for summary judgment filed by Montgomery County and Officer
Berry and a motion for more definite statement filed by Deputy Sheriffs Austin, Pruitt, and Scott.
The motion filed by Montgomery County and Officer Berry will be treated as one to dismiss and,
as such, will be granted. The motion for more definite statement filed by Deputy Sheriffs
Austin, Pruitt, and Scott will be denied but plaintiff will be directed to show cause within 17
days of the date of this memorandum why this action should not be dismissed as to those
Amar Bansal was arrested on August 31, 2010 by Deputy Sheriffs Austin, Pruitt, and
Scott pursuant to an arrest warrant issued by a State Commissioner charging Mr. Bansal with
violation of a Peace Order. The Peace Order had been issued preventing Mr. Bansal from having
contact with a former business partner, Baljit Kochhar. The dispute between Mr. Bansal and
Kochhar allegedly was the result of Kochhar’s failure to pay a promissory note issued in favor of
Mr. Bansal to repay a loan in the amount of $150,000. According to Kochhar, Mr. Bansal
threatened to kill her and her family.
Officer Berry is named as a defendant because he met with Kochhar and, despite the fact
that he had learned that the Peace Order had not been served upon Mr. Bansal, advised Kochhar
to contact the Commissioner to apply for charges against Mr. Bansal.
Although, as plaintiffs allege, the events may have unfolded as they did because of
Officer Berry’s advice to Kochhar that she contact the Commissioner, nothing that he did gives
rise to liability under 42 U.S.C. §1983. His alleged unlawful conduct is that he told Kochhar to
contact the Commissioner even though he knew at the time that the Peace Order had not been
served upon Mr. Bansal.1 That was not sufficient to give rise to Section 1983 liability. There is
no allegation that Officer Berry advised Kochhar to conceal from the Commissioner the fact that
the Peace Order had not been served. Indeed, according to the affidavit signed by Kochhar in
support of the statement of charges, Mr. Bansal, whether or not he had been formally served with
a warrant, was personally aware that the Peace Order had been issued. Moreover, nothing
prevented the Commissioner herself from inquiring of the Sheriff’s Office as to whether the
Peace Order had been served. She signed the warrant on the basis of the affidavit that had been
submitted. Finally, Mr. Bansal’s alleged threats to kill Kochhar and her family arguably
constituted a commission of a crime under Maryland law, whether or not a Peace Order had been
Officer Berry has submitted an affidavit stating that he told Kochhar that he had learned that
the Peace Order had not been served. If that fact were material, however, plaintiffs would be
entitled to ask Kochhar on deposition whether Officer Berry had advised her of that fact.
issued and served. Officer Berry is not a lawyer, and it was not at all unreasonable for him to tell
Kochhar to contact the Commissioner who could make an independent judgment as to whether
or not an arrest warrant should be issued.
To the extent that plaintiffs’ claims against Montgomery County arise from the alleged
conduct of Officer Berry, the claims fail for several reasons. First, as just stated, Officer Berry
committed no actionable wrong. Second, respondeat superior liability does not exist under
Section 1983, and plaintiffs have made no credible allegations that Officer Berry’s conduct was
the result of any policy or practice or lack of training given by the Montgomery County Police
Department. Third, Ms. Bansal’s claim is barred by the fact that she did not provide notice to the
County of her claims as required by Maryland law. See Md. Code Ann., Cts. & Jud. Proc. §5304(b).
To the extent that plaintiffs’ claims against Montgomery County are based upon the
wrongful actions of the Deputy Sheriffs, the claims fail because Deputy Sheriffs are State, not
County, officials, at least to the extent that they are performing a law enforcement role (such as
arresting a defendant). See Kronk v. Carroll Cnty., No. 11-277, 2012 WL 245059, at *6-7 (D.
Md. Jan. 25, 2012); Rucker v. Harford Cnty., 558 A.2d 399, 402 (Md. 1989); Penhollow v.
Board of Comm’rs, 695 A.2d 1268, 1282 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 1997).2
Montgomery County and Officer Berry, and the Deputy Sheriff defendants may also have
viable defenses to plaintiffs’ state law claims. However, I have not discussed these possible
defenses because in light of the dismissal of plaintiff’s federal claims, I would not exercise
subject matter jurisdiction over the state law claims themselves. See 28 U.S.C. 1367.
The Deputy Sheriff defendants’ primary contention in support of their motion for more
definite statement is that plaintiffs did not properly comply with Local Rule 103.6.c in filing
their amended complaint. I am satisfied that plaintiffs did, to the extent practical, comply with
Local Rule 103.6.c and that the amended complaint properly puts defendants on notice of the
claims being asserted against them. However, the only allegation against the Deputy Sheriffs
appears to be that they arrested Mr. Bansal. They did so pursuant to a warrant, and it seems to
me that an arrest based upon a warrant that has been signed by a Commissioner does not give
rise to any liability. Therefore, if plaintiffs argue to the contrary, they must file a memorandum
within 17 days of the date of this memorandum stating why they believe that they have viable
claims against the Deputy Sheriffs. If plaintiffs file such a memorandum, the Deputy Sheriffs
may file an opposition within 17 days of the filing of plaintiffs’ memorandum.
A separate order effecting the rulings made in this memorandum is being entered
Date: July 12, 2013
J. Frederick Motz
United States District Judge
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