Cuellar v. Prince George's County, Maryland et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Theodore D. Chuang on 4/27/2017. (ah4s, Deputy Clerk)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF MARYLAND
ROXANA MARIA CUELLAR,
Civil Action No. TDC-16-2487
PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY,
In her Amended Complaint, Plaintiff Roxana Maria Cuellar alleges seven causes of
action against Defendants Prince George's County, Maryland ("the County") and Police Officer
Lamm ("P.O. Lamm") of the Prince George's County Police Department stemming from her
arrest and prosecution for Second Degree Assault: five common law, non-constitutional torts; a
state constitutional tort claim pursuant to Article 24 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights; and a
federal civil rights claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
S 1983 ("S
1983"). Cuellar failed timely to serve
P.O. Lamm, who has accordingly been dismissed from this action.
partial dismissal of Cuellar's claims.
Specifically, the County seeks dismissal of Cuellar's
1983 claim and her five non-constitutional
constitutional tort claim.
The County now seeks
It mounts no challenge to her state
Having reviewed the Amended Complaint and the briefs, the Court
finds no hearing necessary. See D. Md. Local R. 105.6 (2016). For the reasons set forth below,
the Motion is GRANTED and, because Cuellar's only remaining claim is a state constitutional
tort, the case is REMANDED to state court.
On May 19, 2013, Cuellar was arrested without a warrant by P.O. Lamm based on her
alleged assault of Genner Guerra. Upon her arrest, Cuellar was handcuffed, searched, and taken
into police custody for an unspecified period of time.
Cuellar was subsequently charged with
Second Degree Assault, Md. Code Ann., Crim. Law 93-203 (West 2002), and proceeded to trial.
When called to testify, Guerra stated that he had not been assaulted by Cuellar.
Attorney presented no other witnesses and no other evidence.
On June 27, 2013, Cuellar was
found not guilty.
On May 19,2016, Cuellar filed suit against P.O. Lamm, the County, the Prince George's
County Police Department ("the Department"), and 10 unnamed police officers ("Does 1-10").
She asserted eight causes of action against all Defendants:
(I) malicious prosecution,
intentional infliction of emotional distress, (III) false arrest and false imprisonment, (IV) assault,
(V) battery, (VI) gross negligence, (VII) a violation of Cuellar's state constitutional rights under
Articles 24 and 47 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights, and (VIII) a violation of Cuellar's
federal constitutional rights under the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United
States Constitution, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 9 1983. On June 6, 2016, the Complaint was served
on the County and on the Department.
The case was removed to this Court on July 5, 2016 on
the basis of federal question jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. 9 1331 (2012).
On July 14, 2016, pursuant to this Court's Case Management Order, the County filed a
Notice that it intended to move for dismissal of all of Cuellar's claims.
On July 28, 2016, the
Court held a Case Management Conference to discuss the County's proposed Motion. Based on
that Conference, and with the mutual consent of the parties, the Court granted Cuellar leave to
amend her Complaint to cure pleading deficiencies asserted by the County, and the parties
agreed that any counts in the Amended Complaint that failed to state a plausible claim for relief
would be dismissed with prejudice.
On August 22, 2016, Cuellar filed an Amended
Department as a Defendant and asserted the following seven causes of action against P.O. Lamm
and the County:
(I) malicious prosecution, (II) intentional infliction of emotional distress, (III)
false arrest and false imprisonment,
(IV) battery, (V) gross negligence, (VI) a violation of
Cuellar's state constitutional rights under Article 24 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights, and
(VII) a violation of Cuellar's federal constitutional rights under the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth
Amendments, pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
In its Motion, the County seeks dismissal
of Counts I-V of Cuellar's
Complaint on the basis that, as a local government, it is immune from suit for non-constitutional
torts. The County also seeks dismissal of Count VII on the basis that Cuellar fails to plead any
facts that would support the inference that the County had a custom, policy, or practice that led
to P.O. Lamm's alleged violation of Cuellar's federal constitutional rights.
To defeat a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a complaint must allege enough facts to state a
plausible claim for relief. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).
A claim is plausible
when "the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the Court to draw the reasonable inference
that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged."
Legal conclusions or conclusory
statements do not suffice and are not entitled to the assumption of truth. Id. In evaluating the
sufficiency of a plaintiff s claims, the Court must examine the complaint as a whole, consider the
factual allegations in the complaint as true, and view the factual allegations in the light most
favorable to the plaintiff.
Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 268 (1994); Lambeth v. Bd. of
Comm'rs of Davidson Cty., 407 F.3d 266, 268 (4th Cir. 2005).
However, the complaint must
still contain more than "legal conclusions, elements of a cause of action, and bare assertions
devoid of further factual enhancement."
Nemet Chevrolet, Ltd. v. ConsumerajJairs.com,
The County asserts that it is immune from suit for the various non-constitutional
591 F.3d 250, 255 (4th Cir. 2009).
asserted in Counts I-V.
The County is correct.
In Maryland, counties and municipalities, as
instrumentalities of the State, are immune from suit on common law, non-constitutional torts that
stem from the exercise of a governmental, rather than proprietary, function.
Prince George's Cty. v. Town of Riverdale, 578 A.2d 207, 210 (Md. 1990).
Bd. of Educ. of
A function is
governmental if it is "performed ... for the common good of all" rather than "for the special
benefit or profit" of the local government.
Tadjer v. Montgomery Cty., 479 A.2d 1321, 1325
(Md. 1984). The "exercise of the police power to promote the safety, health, and welfare of the
public" is a quintessential government function.
E. Eyring and Sons Co. v. City of Bait., 252
A.2d 824, 826 (Md. 1969); see also Port Deposit v. Petetit, 688 A.2d 54, 64 (Md. Ct. Spec. App.
1997) (holding that acts taken by a Chief of Police pursuant to his law enforcement authority
were "clearly" an exercise of a government function). Here, Cuellar has sued the County based
on her arrest and prosecution, acts that plainly fall within the scope ofthe police power. Because
Cuellar's state common law, non-constitutional
tort claims against the County arise from the
County's exercise of a government function, the County is immune from suit on those claims.
In an effort to avoid dismissal, Cuellar observes that the Maryland Local Government
Tort Claims Act ("LGTCA"), Md. Code Ann. Cts. & Jud. Proc.
requires local governments to provide a defense to employees in tort actions arising from acts
taken within the scope of employment and to indemnify, with some exceptions, employees for
any tort judgments against them. See Md. Code Ann. Cts. & Jud. Proc.
But the LGTCA obligation to defend and indemnify does not render a local government, such as
the County, itself liable in tort for the acts or omissions of its employees.
"The only liabilities
created by the LGTCA or expressly dealt with in the LGTCA concern tort suits against
Edwards v. Mayor and City Council of Bait., 933 A.2d 495, 502 (Md.
Ct. Spec. App. 2007) (quoting Hous. Auth. of Bait. City v. Bennett, 754 A.2d 367, 376 (Md.
2000)). Thus, to the extent that Cuellar may be suggesting that the LGTCA's duty to defend and
indemnify exposes the County to direct liability for her non-constitutional
tort claims, she is
See Edwards, 933 A.2d at 502 (stating that under the LGTCA, a tort plaintiff "may
not sue a local government directly but must sue, instead, the employee").
to Dismiss is therefore granted as to Counts I-V.
The County's Motion
Because the County is immune from suit on
those non-constitutional torts, the claims are dismissed with prejudice.
42 U.S.c. ~ 1983
In Count VII, Cuellar asserts that her arrest and prosecution for Second Degree Assault
violated her Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Specifically, she asserts that she
was falsely arrested, that the arrest involved excessive force, .and that the prosecution was
The County seeks dismissal of Cuellar's
1983 claim on the basis that she fails to
plead sufficient facts to sustain it. Because there is no vicarious liability for
Love-Lane v. Martin, 355 F.3d 766, 782 (4th Cir. 2004), Cuellar's
1983 claim against the
County can proceed only if she pleads facts that allow the Court to draw the reasonable inference
that the County had a custom, policy, or practice that led to Cuellar's alleged constitutional
injuries, Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of the City of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978).
Cuellar fails to do so.
In the Amended Complaint, Cuellar asserts that she was arrested by P.O. Lamm for
Second Degree Assault and that her arrest was followed by an unsuccessful prosecution in which
the only evidence introduced at trial was the testimony of her alleged victim. Beyond reporting
that she was ultimately found not guilty after Guerra testified that she had not assaulted him,
Cuellar offers no facts to support the inference that P.O. Lamm's force was excessive, that his
decision to arrest her was erroneous, or that the decision to prosecute her was malicious.
particular, she provides no factual allegations that her allegedly unconstitutional
prosecution were the result of a custom, policy, or practice of the County.
In asserting the
1983 claim itself, Cuellar declares that "[i]t is the custom, policy, and
practice of [the County] to fail to properly hire, train and supervise its police officers," and "[i]t
is the custom, policy, and practice of [the County] to treat with reckless or deliberate
indifference" the use of excessive force, false arrest, and malicious prosecution.
Am. Compi. ~
43, ECF No. 21. These declarations are supplemented by the more attenuated assertions that "on
information and belief, it is the custom and practice of [the County] to underinvestigate and not
properly screen" cases involving domestic violence before bringing them to trial, and "on
information and belief, [the County] receives frequent complaints and notices of claim" based on
these alleged practices. Id
on the County's
role in depriving her of her federal
constitutional rights thus consist of the "labels and conclusions" and "formulaic recitation of the
elements of a cause of action" that the United States Supreme Court has deemed insufficient to
state a plausible claim for relief under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2). Bell Atlantic
Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). With one exception, Cuellar points to nothing in
either her own experience or the County's handling of domestic violence cases more broadly that
could serve as the factual basis for her Monell claim.
The closest that Cuellar comes is her
assertion, made upon information and belief, that there are frequent complaints and claims about
the County's approach to domestic violence cases. But Cuellar offers no examples or other facts
that would support a plausible claim for relief. See Cook v. Howard, 484 F. App'x 805, 811 (4th
Cir. 2012) (affirming the district court's granting of a motion to dismiss the plaintiffs
claim where "the amended complaint parrots the language of various legal theories without
stating any facts to demonstrate that type of conduct"); Ulloa v. Prince George's Cty, Md., No.
DKC 15-0257,2015 WL 7878956 at *6 (D. Md. Dec. 4, 2015) (dismissing a Monell claim where
the complaint failed to "pair general averments of a policy or custom with particular examples").
Even the facts Cuellar asserts about her own alleged mistreatment do not allow the Court
"to draw the reasonable inference that the [County] is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal,
556 U.S. at 678. Cuellar provides no explanation of how P.O. Lamm's actions in her case, even
if unconstitutional, were the product of adherence to any overarching custom, policy, or practice
of the County. To allow Cuellar's Monell claim to proceed in the absence of factual allegations
relating to such a custom or policy would conflate the County with P.O. Lamm and thus
improperly expose the County to liability based on a theory of respondeat superior. Monell, 436
U.S. at 691 (holding that municipalities can be liable under
1983 only if "action pursuant to
official municipal policy of some nature caused a constitutional tort").
Alternatively, Cuellar asks for leave to amend her Complaint.
However, Cuellar has
already had an opportunity to amend her Monell claim, which she was afforded after receiving
notice from the County of its proposed arguments for dismissal.
In receiving that opportunity,
Cuellar agreed that her failure to state a plausible claim as to any count in her Amended
Complaint would result in dismissal of that count with prejudice.
Count VII will therefore be
dismissed with prejudice.
With the dismissal of Count VII, Cuellar's sole federal claim, this Court no longer has
over this case, but may continue to hear it pursuant to supplemental
See 28 U.S.C.
However, a district court may decline to exercise
supplemental jurisdiction where the court "has dismissed all claims over which it has original
Under such circumstances, a district court has inherent
authority to remand a case to state court. Hinson v. Norwest Fin. South Carolina, Inc., 239 F.3d
611, 61 7 (4th Cir. 200 1). Here, the only remaining claim is Count VI, which alleges a violation
of Cuellar's state constitutional rights under Article 24 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights.
Discovery has not yet begun in federal court, and principles of federalism and comity counsel in
favor of allowing the state courts to adjudicate whether Cuellar's state constitutional rights were
The Court accordingly chooses to exercise its inherent power to remand this case to
For the reasons set forth above, the County's Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED.
I-V and VII are dismissed with prejudice.
The case is REMANDED to the state court for
proceedings on Count VI. A separate Order shall issue.
Date: April 27, 2017
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