Bratton-Bey v. Straughan et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION (c/m to Plaintiff 2/2/15 sat). Signed by Judge Deborah K. Chasanow on 2/2/2015. (sat, Chambers)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF MARYLAND
MOADIAH ELAM BRATTON-BEY
Civil Action No. DKC 13-1964
JASON STRAUGHAN, et al.
Presently pending and ready for resolution in this civil
rights case is a motion filed by pro se Plaintiff Moadiah Elam
(ECF No. 25).
The issues have been fully
Plaintiff’s motion will be denied.
Plaintiff commenced this action in the Circuit Court for
Montgomery County on April 8, 2013, against Officers Casey Diaz
and Jason Straughan (“Defendants”), claiming numerous violations
Plaintiff’s first name is spelled Moadian in the state
court records, however, he spells it Moadiah in his filings with
this court and accordingly, will be addressed as such.
A full factual background describing the dispute between
the parties is provided in the undersigned’s previous opinion.
(ECF No. 23).
arrest, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution.
The case was removed to this court on July 8, 2013.
granted Defendants’ motion to dismiss and dismissed Plaintiff’s
complaint on January 31, 2014, finding his federal and state
constitutional claims, and state common law claims to be barred
(ECF No. 23).
On February 28, 2014, Plaintiff moved for
(ECF No. 25).3
The motion is fully briefed. (ECF Nos. 26 and
Plaintiff submitted the motion to prison officials on
February 28, 2014, the motion was mailed by prison officials on
March 3, 2014, and was received and docketed by this court on
March 6, 2014. Under the “mailbox rule,” a pro se litigant who
is incarcerated is deemed to have filed a pleading or motion
with the court upon delivery of the motion to prison officials.
See Houston v. Lack, 487 U.S. 266 (1988); Lewis v. Richmond City
Police Dep’t., 947 F.2d 733, 734-35 (4th Cir. 1991) (extending
Lack, 487 U.S. to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims); United States v.
Dorsey, 988 F.Supp. 917, 919-20 (D.Md. 1998).
Plaintiff filed his motion on February 28, 2014 (ECF No. 26),
which was exactly 28 days after the undersigned issued judgment
on January 31, 2014 (ECF No. 23).
Motion to Amend
Malicious Prosecution Claim
Plaintiff has moved for reconsideration of the dismissal of
his malicious prosecution claim, citing Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure 59(e) and 60(b).
Plaintiff has also moved under Rule
15 for leave to amend his complaint to add facts in support of
his claim for malicious prosecution.
(ECF No. 25).
In Katyle v. Penn Nat’l. Gaming, Inc., 637 F.3d 462, 470
Cir. 2011), the United States Court of Appeals for the
Fourth Circuit explained that a district court may not grant a
post-judgment motion to amend the complaint unless the court
first vacates its judgment pursuant to Rule 59(e) or 60(b).
also Calvary Christian Ctr. v. City of Fredericksburg, Virginia,
710 F.3d 536, 539 (4th Cir. 2013).
The Fourth Circuit further
stated that “[t]o determine whether vacatur is warranted, [ ]
the court need not concern itself with either of those rules’
legal standards[;]” rather:
[t]he court need only ask whether the
amendment should be granted, just as it
would on a prejudgment motion to amend
pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a).
words, a court should evaluate a post
judgment motion to amend the complaint
“under the same legal standard as a similar
motion filed before judgment was entered—for
prejudice, bad faith, or futility.”
v. Harvey, 438 F.3d 404, 427 (4th Cir.
2006)]; accord Matrix Capital Mgmt. Fund, LP
v. Bearingpoint, Inc., 576 F.3d 172, 193 (4th
Katyle, 637 F.3d at 471; United States v. Shabazz, 509 F.App’x.
265, 266 (4th Cir. 2013) (same).
Accordingly, a reviewing court
must determine that a Plaintiff’s motion to amend the complaint
should be granted under Rule 15, before considering a motion for
See Shabazz, 509 F.App’x. at 266 (holding that
the failure of the district court to examine whether the amended
complaint would be prejudicial, futile, or in bad faith before
prosecution claim will be considered first.
Rule 15(a) provides that courts “should freely give leave
[to amend a pleading] when justice so requires.”
Circuit has interpreted this rule as requiring courts to grant
leave to amend unless “the amendment would be prejudicial to the
opposing party, there has been bad faith on the part of the
moving party, or the amendment would be futile.”
F.3d at 426-27 (citing Johnson v. Oroweat Foods Co., 785 F.2d
503, 509 (4th Cir. 1986)).
A proposed amendment is futile if it
See United States ex rel. Wilson v.
Kellogg Brown & Root, Inc., 525 F.3d 370, 376 (4th Cir. 2008)
(“[A] district court may deny leave if amending the complaint
would be futile — that is, if the proposed amended complaint
(internal citations and quotation marks omitted).
Plaintiff’s proposed amendments to his complaint are futile
because they fail to cure the defects in his original complaint.
Malicious prosecution claims require a plaintiff to prove:
a criminal proceeding instituted or continued by the defendant
malice, or with a motive other than to bring the offender to
justice; and (4) termination of the proceedings in favor of the
(ECF No. 23, at 17) (quoting Heron v. Strader, 361
Md. 258, 264 (2000)).
Specifically, the undersigned noted that
probable cause existed for his prosecution.
noted that the presumption of probable cause remains, despite
the fact that Plaintiff’s conviction was later reversed by the
Restatement (First) of Torts § 667 (1938)).
Plaintiff contends that he demonstrated fraud, perjury, or
other corrupt means in his original complaint by alleging that
violation to initiate a traffic stop.
(ECF No. 25, at 10).
addition, Plaintiff moves to amend his complaint to add facts
supporting his assertion that Defendants fabricated evidence,
which he believes will plead a plausible claim for malicious
prosecution because the fabrication establishes fraud, perjury,
or corruption undermining the probable cause for his conviction.4
Plaintiff was initially charged with ten counts, but was
convicted of only one count.
A nolle prosequi was entered on
the remaining counts.
Plaintiff makes an additional argument
that the remaining counts were terminated in his favor, and
misconstrues the settled law.
Plaintiff reached an agreement
with the state prosecutor to enter a “not guilty agreed
statement of facts” on a single count of possession of a falsely
made credit card.
(ECF No. 14-2, at 2).
It appears that, in
exchange for Plaintiff’s cooperation, the remaining counts were
dropped by the prosecutor. (ECF No. 14-4, at 25-26, 33).
“A termination of criminal proceedings in favor of the
accused other than by acquittal is not a sufficient termination
to meet the requirements of a cause of action for malicious
prosecution if  the charge is withdrawn or the prosecution
abandoned pursuant to an agreement of compromise with the
Restatement (Second) of Torts § 660(a) (1977).
Fourth Circuit has held that “the plaintiff, by entering into
the compromise and securing the dismissal of the criminal action
thereby, estops himself from contending that it was instituted
without probable cause.”
Leonard v. George, 178 F.2d 312, 314
Because Plaintiff voluntarily agreed to be
(4th Cir. 1949).
sentenced on one count in exchange for the remaining counts
Defendants argue that Plaintiff’s motion is futile because:
fails to allege new facts that were not already in his original
complaint and it fails to allege facts supporting fabrication of
allegations about Defendants’ fabrication.5
Plaintiff’s new evidence includes a photograph of the rearend of a vehicle that is the same make and model as the vehicle
that Plaintiff was driving on the day of the traffic stop.
unfastened in the picture, yet “[y]ou can’t see the ‘buckle’”
from the rear of the car, and argues that this picture proves
that Defendants could not have possibly seen that his seatbelt
was unfastened before pulling him over.
Plaintiff also points
hearing, where Defendants testified that they observed Plaintiff
Defendants “fabricated evidence” at these hearings because they
being dropped, he cannot now argue that the prosecution lacked
probable cause to institute those counts.
fabrication of evidence, even if true, is not sufficient to
plead a claim for malicious prosecution because Plaintiff has
not alleged facts showing that Defendants, rather than the
prosecutor, proximately caused Plaintiff’s prosecution.
No. 26, at 5-8).
relied on the allegedly fabricated seatbelt violation.6
pleading standards than attorneys, the court is not required to
Fields v. Montgomery Cnty, No. 13-3477, 2014 WL
4231164 (D.Md. Aug. 26, 2014) (quoting Morgan v. Church's Fried
Chicken, 829 F.2d 10, 12 (6th Cir. 1987)).
Even with a liberal
allegations are merely legal conclusions, namely that Defendants
were already present in his original complaint.
(ECF No. 2, at
At Plaintiff’s suppression hearing, the trial judge heard
testimony from Defendants and Plaintiff as to the seatbelt
After hearing all evidence, the judge concluded
[I]f I found it wasn’t a seatbelt violation,
or if I found [Defendants] were lying, then
I would grant the motion to suppress and I
would probably do something further in terms
of calling the chief, but I don’t find that.
I have no reason, whatsoever, based upon the
testimony that I have heard to question the
testimony of the police officers.
(ECF No. 33-16, at 14).
While the Maryland Court of Special
Appeals reversed the Plaintiff’s conviction, it did not disturb
the trial court’s credibility determination favoring the
officers’ testimony. (ECF No. 2-2).
picture of a similar make and model of Plaintiff’s vehicle does
not create a plausible inference of what Plaintiff suggests —
seatbelt unfastened, therefore, Defendants must have fabricated
his seatbelt violation.8
Even if Plaintiff’s allegation that he
Under Maryland law, fraud claims require a plaintiff to
show, inter alia, that the defendant made a false representation
of material fact, with knowledge that it was false and with the
purpose of deceit.
Martens Chevrolet, Inc. v. Seney, 292 Md.
Similarly, perjury requires showing that a person
“willfully and falsely [made] an oath or affirmation as to a
material fact[.]” Md. Code Ann., Crim. Law § 9-101. As noted
in State v. Devers, 260 Md. 360, 372 (1971), overruled on other
grounds by In re Petition for Writ of Prohibition, 312 Md. 280
“The offense of perjury consists of swearing falsely
and corruptly, without probable cause of belief. To be willful,
the false oath must be deliberate and not the result of
surprise, confusion or bona fide mistake.”
The common thread
among fraud, perjury, and corruption, is that the actor is
affirmatively lying or deceiving someone based on facts known to
be untrue. Plaintiff has not supported his allegations with any
facts or evidence that Defendants affirmatively lied, as opposed
to being merely mistaken, about Plaintiff’s seatbelt during the
suppression hearing and motions hearing.
For several reasons, Plaintiff’s photograph does not
provide a credible inference that Defendants lied about what
they saw and fabricated Plaintiff’s seatbelt violation. First,
it is unclear that Defendants viewed Plaintiff’s vehicle from
the same angle represented in the photograph. If Defendants saw
the vehicle from even a slightly different angle it may have
provided them a view of Plaintiff’s seatbelt.
Plaintiff was actually wearing his seatbelt and lied about this
fact in order to initiate a spurious traffic stop and to convict
Plaintiff at his criminal hearings.
It is just as plausible
that Defendants saw Plaintiff’s seatbelt unfastened or believed
they saw Plaintiff’s seatbelt unfastened when in actuality it
Accordingly, Plaintiff has failed to overcome the
presumption that there was probable cause to proceed with the
prosecution, even if that prosecution was later overturned.
Although the previous opinion and the foregoing discussion
focus only on Plaintiff’s failure to plead the probable cause
element of malicious prosecution, Plaintiff’s claim is deficient
in other aspects.9
Accordingly, Plaintiff’s proposed amendment
photograph is not actually of Plaintiff’s vehicle — an
unfastened seatbelt in Plaintiff’s vehicle may have been visible
from this angle. Third, even if the picture were of Plaintiff’s
vehicle, his seatbelt and buckle may have been in a different
position than that in the photograph on the day in question,
such that the photograph is not representative of what
Defendants actually saw.
Namely, Plaintiff’s complaint does not allege facts
supporting that Defendants acted with malice or proximately
caused Plaintiff’s prosecution.
Although malice can sometimes
be inferred from lack of probable cause when instituting
proceedings, the Maryland Court of Appeals has also stated that
malice “consists of a wrongful or improper motive in initiating
legal proceedings against the plaintiff” other than bringing the
offender to justice.
Montgomery Ward v. Wilson, 339 Md. 701,
Plaintiff has not set forth facts supporting
that Defendants acted with an improper purpose or motive.
in support of his malicious prosecution claim is futile as it
fails to state a plausible claim.
Due Process Claim
Plaintiff also moved to amend his complaint to add a claim
that Defendants violated his substantive Due Process rights by
(ECF No. 25, at 4).
First, as explained
by the Fourth Circuit in Evans v. Chalmers, 703 F.3d 636, 646,
646 n.2 (4th Cir. 2012), Plaintiff’s claim is properly rooted in
a § 1983 claim based on an alleged violation of his Fourth
Amendment rights, a claim which has already been dismissed; he
does not have a separate cause of action under the substantive
due process clause:
The Due Process Clause does not constitute a
catch-all provision that provides a remedy
whenever a state actor causes harm. Rather,
[w]here a particular Amendment provides an
explicit textual sources of constitutional
Moreover, as Defendants point out, Plaintiff is required to show
that Defendants were the but-for and proximate causation of his
Evans, 703 F.3d at 647-48.
“acts of independent decision-makers (e.g., prosecutors, grand
juries, and judges) may constitute intervening superseding
causes that break the causal chain between a defendant-officer’s
misconduct and a plaintiff’s unlawful seizure” in a malicious
Police officers can be held to have
caused the seizure and remain liable, if: “they have lied to or
misled the prosecutor[;]” “failed to disclose exculpatory
evidence to the prosecutor[;]” “or unduly pressured the
prosecutor to seek the indictment[.]”
Id. (internal citations
and quotation marks omitted). Plaintiff has not provided facts
supporting that Defendants, rather than the prosecutor, were the
proximate cause of his prosecution.
protection against a particular sort of
government behavior, that Amendment, not the
more generalized notion of substantive due
process, must be the guide for analyzing
Because the Fourth Amendment
provides an explicit textual source for §
Fourteenth Amendment provides no alternative
basis for those claims.
Id. at 646 n.2 (alteration in original) (internal citations and
Second, similar to Plaintiff’s other constitutional claims,
this proposed claim would also be barred by Maryland’s threeyear statute of limitations.
(ECF No. 23, at 16).
As noted in
the previous opinion, the “statute of limitations begins when a
plaintiff knows or has reason to know of his injury.”
23, at 12) (citing Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384, 387 (2007).
Plaintiff’s new Due Process claim relies on the same operative
facts as his previous federal and state constitutional claims —
an alleged fabrication of a seatbelt violation by Defendants
that was used unlawfully to arrest Plaintiff, seize evidence
instances of his liberty.
The statute of limitations began as
soon Plaintiff was aware of this alleged fabrication.
has repeatedly asserted that he was wearing his seatbelt when he
was pulled over by Defendants on June 23, 2009.
Thus, he was
violation and his injury (a deprivation of his rights) on either
illegal seizure of Plaintiff’s property after they pulled him
over for a fabricated seatbelt violation, or on June 24, 2009 —
complaint on April 8, 2013, more than three years after his
As discussed below, Plaintiff’s argument that this
claim should not be barred because the limitations period should
be equitably tolled is unpersuasive.
Motion for Reconsideration
Plaintiff also moved for reconsideration under Rules 59(e)
and 60(b) of his state and federal constitutional claims (ECF
No. 33, at 14), arguing that they should not be barred by the
statute of limitations because they are subject to equitable
Because Plaintiff’s motion was filed within 28 days of the
court entering judgment it is governed by Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e)
rather than Rule 60(b), which governs motion for reconsideration
filed more than 28 days after judgment.
See MLC Auto, LLC v.
Town of S. Pines, 532 F.3d 269, 280 (4th Cir. 2008); Classen
F.Supp.2d 415, 419 (D.Md. Oct. 31, 2013).
Under Rule 59(e), a
motion to alter or amend a final judgment may be granted only:
“(1) to accommodate an intervening change in controlling law;
(2) to account for new evidence not available at trial; or (3)
to correct a clear error of law or prevent manifest injustice.”
Pac. Ins. Co. v. Am. Nat’l Fire Ins. Co., 148 F.3d 396, 403 (4th
This court previously ruled that Plaintiff failed to offer
any reason to justify tolling of the limitations period.
No. 23, at 15).
Plaintiff attempts to provide new facts in
support of why the limitations period should be tolled, however,
Plaintiff argues the court erred and that equitable
currently incarcerated, and (4) does not have regular access to
computers and research materials.
(ECF No. 25, at 3).
In Rouse v. Lee, 339 F.3d 238, 246 (4th Cir. 2003), the
Fourth Circuit noted the limited application of the equitable
Equitable tolling “is appropriate when, but
beyond [the petitioner’s] control prevented
him from complying with the statutory time
Spencer v. Sutton, 239 F.3d 626,
Hutchinson], 209 F.3d [325,] 330 [(4
Accordingly, under our existing
petitioner] is only entitled to equitable
tolling if he presents (1) extraordinary
circumstances, (2) beyond his control or
external to his own conduct, (3) that
prevented him from filing on time.
Id. (en banc), cert. denied, 541 U.S. 905 (2004).
Plaintiff argues that his pro se status and his lack of
knowledge of the law qualify as “extraordinary circumstances” to
toll the statute of limitations.
He argues that he diligently
pursued his rights and attempted to exhaust all of his judicial
(ECF No. 33, at 14).
status and lack of knowledge of the law, however, are not the
See Rouse, 339 F.3d at 248–249 (holding that a party’s
Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) statute of limitations did not present
extraordinary circumstances to warrant equitable tolling); Smith
v. McGinnis, 208 F.3d 13, 18 (2d Cir. 2000) (pro se status does
not establish sufficient ground for equitable tolling); Felder
v. Johnson, 204 F.3d 168, 171–173 (5th Cir. 2000) (lack of notice
of AEDPA amendments and ignorance of the law are not rare and
(ignorance of the law and legal procedure is not so exceptional
as to merit equitable tolling).
Plaintiff also appears to argue
that circumstances outside of his control — lack of access to
legal resources while he was incarcerated — prevented him from
filing on time.
This argument is unpersuasive, however, as the
first complaint Plaintiff filed was filed within the three-year
statute of limitations.
Plaintiff filed a complaint in the
Circuit Court for Montgomery County on October 4, 2011, which
was well within the three-year limitations period.
case was dismissed on February 13, 2012, Plaintiff could have
timely refiled with an amended or new complaint, but instead
waited until April 8, 2013 to refile.
(ECF No. 33-1, at 1).
The equitable tolling doctrine is not meant to allow plaintiffs
to correct the insufficiencies in their timely filed complaints.
See Shailendra Kumar, P.A. v. Dhanda, 426 Md. 185, 207 (2012)
limitations] for an indefinite period of time.’” (quoting Walko
Corp. v. Burger Chef Systems, Inc., 281 Md. 207 (1977)).
constitutional claims is denied.
reconsideration and leave to submit an amended complaint are
A separate order will follow.
DEBORAH K. CHASANOW
United States District Judge
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