Devi v. Prince George's County , et al

Filing 31

MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Deborah K. Chasanow on 8/21/2017. (sat, Chambers)

Download PDF
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF MARYLAND : LA’MOORE QUEEN DEVI : v. : Civil Action No. DKC 16-3790 : PRINCE GEORGE’S COUNTY, et al. : MEMORANDUM OPINION Presently pending and ready for resolution in this civil rights case alternative, are for partial summary motions judgment to dismiss filed by or, in Defendants the Prince George’s County (the “County”) and Prince George’s County Police Officers Alton Bradley and Daniel Conley. The issues have been briefed, hearing being deemed necessary. following reasons, the partial and the (ECF Nos. 20; 29). court now Local Rule 105.6. motions to dismiss rules, no For the will be granted. I. Background1 On March 8, 2015, Plaintiff La’Moore Queen Devi (“Plaintiff”), while in transit to visit her brother Antonio Thomas, was driving through the parking lot of Henson Creek Apartments, when she was pulled over by private security for the 1 Unless otherwise noted, the facts outlined here are set forth in the complaint and construed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff. apartment complex for failing to stop at a stop sign. 1 ¶¶ 8-10). (ECF No. Mr. Thomas emerged from his apartment and notified Plaintiff that the men were private security for the apartment complex and that she should neither give them her identification nor answer any questions. warning citation, and (Id. ¶ 12). Mr. Thomas Plaintiff was issued a and the security guards continued to argue about the guard’s treatment of visitors to the apartment complex. (Id. ¶¶ 13-14). Plaintiff subsequently left the apartment complex without further incident. (Id. ¶ 17). The following day, Plaintiff returned to the Henson Creek Apartments. While inside Mr. Thomas’s apartment, Mr. Thomas’s girlfriend informed Plaintiff that County police and apartment security had blocked in her vehicle upstairs to Thomas’s apartment. front door to the apartment, and were (Id. ¶ 18). Plaintiff was on their way Upon opening the met by Officers Bradley and Conley, who allegedly forced their way through the partially open door, grabbed Plaintiff by the neck, twisted her arms behind her back, and slammed her against the wall with sufficient force to break the dental retainer in her mouth. (Id. ¶¶ 20, 21, 23). After Plaintiff’s arrest, she was transported to the Upper Marlboro Department of Corrections and charged with trespassing upon private property, resisting arrest, and failure to obey a lawful order of a law enforcement 2 officer. (Id. ¶¶ 24, 26). Those charges were dismissed nolle prosequi on December 7, 2015. (ECF No. 1-4). On November 23, 2016, Plaintiff filed a complaint against Defendants alleging claims for malicious prosecution (Count I); unlawful custom, pattern, or practice of improper conduct under Maryland law (Count II); gross negligence (Count III); § 1983 excessive force (Counts IV and V); and § 1983 Monell liability (Counts VI and VII). (ECF No. 1). On February 7, the County and Officer Bradley filed a partial motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. (ECF No. 20). moves to dismiss all claims except Count V. and Conley move to dismiss Counts II, The County Officers Bradley IV, VI, and VII. Plaintiff submitted her opposition to the County and Officer Bradley’s motion on February 24 (ECF No. 24), and the County and Officer Bradley replied on March 10 (ECF No. 25). After Officer Conley was served, he filed his motion adopting the arguments made by Officer Bradley in the County and Officer Bradley’s motion (ECF No. 29), to which Plaintiff submitted her opposition on May 2, adopting all arguments made in her opposition to the County and Officer Bradley’s motion. 3 (ECF No. 30). II. Standard of Review The purpose of a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) is to test the sufficiency of the complaint.2 Charlottesville, 464 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Presley v. City of Cir. 2006). A plaintiff’s complaint need only satisfy the standard of Rule 8(a), which requires a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” 8(a)(2). Fed.R.Civ.P. “Rule 8(a)(2) still requires a ‘showing,’ rather than a blanket assertion, of entitlement to relief.” v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 n.3 (2007). Bell Atl. Corp. That showing must consist of more than “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action” or “naked assertion[s] devoid of further factual enhancement.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citations omitted). At this stage, all well-pleaded allegations in a complaint must be considered as true, Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 268 (1994), and all factual allegations must be construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, see Harrison v. Westinghouse Savannah River Co., 176 F.3d 776, 783 (4th Cir. 2 The Defendants move to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. Material outside of the pleadings was not submitted with Defendants’ motions. Accordingly, the Defendants’ motions will be analyzed as motions to dismiss. See Pruitt v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., No. DKC-15-1308, 2015 WL 9490234, at *2 (“In reviewing [a] motion to dismiss, the court may consider allegations in the complaint . . . . without converting the motion into one for summary judgment.”). 4 1999) (citing Mylan Labs., Inc. v. Matkari, 7 F.3d 1130, 1134 (4th Cir. 1993)). In evaluating the complaint, unsupported legal allegations not need be accepted. Revene Comm’rs, 882 F.2d 870, 873 (4th Cir. 1989). v. Charles Cty. Legal conclusions couched as factual allegations are insufficient, Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, as are conclusory factual allegations devoid of any reference to actual events, United Black Firefighters v. Hirst, 604 F.2d 844, (4th 847 Cir. 1979); see also Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 193 (4th Cir. 2009). Francis v. Ultimately, a complaint must “‘permit[ ] the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct’ based upon ‘its judicial experience and common sense.’” Coleman v. Md. Court of Appeals, 626 F.3d 187, 190 (4th Cir. 2010) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). III. Analysis A. Tort Claims against the County The County argues that Counts I and III should be dismissed against it because, as a municipality, it is immune from suit based on the tortious acts of its employees. A state’s right to governmental immunity is “deeply ingrained in Maryland law” and may not be waived in the absence of express or implied statutory authorization. Montgomery Cty., 127 Md.App. 172, 182 (1999). Nam v. A municipality, such as the County, is also entitled to governmental immunity. Id. at 183. (“When the state gives a city or county part of its 5 police power to exercise, the city or county to that extent is the state.”). Specifically, municipalities are generally immune from common law tort suits when engaged in governmental, as opposed to proprietary, acts. 18, 47 (1999). “The governmental function.” operation law tort of a claims asserted against of is a the Local it based on torts See Gray–Hopkins v. Prince George’s Cty., 309 F.3d 224, 234 (4th 5-303(b) force Thus, the County is immune as to committed by its police officers. Section police Hector v. Weglein, 558 F.Supp. 194, 206 (1982)(citations omitted). common Id.; DiPino v. Davis, 354 Md.App. Cir. 2002). Government Tort Although Claims Act (“LGTCA”) requires the County to indemnify a judgment against its employee for damages resulting from a tortious act committed by the employee within the scope of employment, the LGTCA does not permit a plaintiff to name the County directly in a common law tort suit. Martino v. Bell, Md.Code Ann., Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 5-303(b); 40 F.Supp.2d 719, 722 (D.Md. 1999)(citing Dawson v. Prince George’s Cty., 896 F.Supp. 537, 539 (D.Md. 1995)). Accordingly, governmental immunity bars Counts I and III against the County, and the County’s motion will be granted as to Counts I and III. 6 Monell Claims against the County3 B. The County also asserts that Counts VI and VII must be dismissed because Plaintiff has failed to plead sufficient facts in her complaint under Monell v. Dept. of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978). Under Monell, municipal liability arises only where the constitutionally offensive acts of its employees are taken in furtherance of some municipal “policy or custom.” Milligan v. City of Newport News, 743 F.2d 227, 229 (4th Cir. 1984). A policy or custom can arise in four ways: “(1) through an express policy, such as a written ordinance or regulation; (2) through the decisions of a person with final policymaking authority; (3) through an omission, officers, that rights citizens’; of such as ‘manifest[s] or (4) a failure to properly deliberate indifference through practice a that train to is the so ‘persistent and widespread’ as to constitute a ‘custom or usage with the force of law.’” Lytle v. Doyle, 326 F.3d 463, 471 (4th Cir. 2003)(citing Carter v. Morris, 164 F.3d 215, 217 (4th Cir. 1999)). 3 Although Plaintiff requests relief against all Defendants on Counts VI and VII of her complaint, she concedes in her opposition to Defendants’ motions that she has “no intention of pursuing a Monell claim against [Officers Bradley and Conley], and they are not named in the complaint.” (ECF No. 24, at 12). Furthermore, Plaintiff cannot state a Monell claim against an officer in his individual capacity. Lee v. Queen Anne’s Cty. Office of Sheriff, No. RDB-13-672, 2014 WL 476233 at *11 (D.Md. 2014)(citations omitted). 7 In Count VI, Plaintiff alleges that a policy or custom of the County has arisen through its failure to train its officers with respect to the use of excessive force. Plaintiff further alleges that a policy or custom has also arisen through certain practices that encourage officers to use excessive force. 1. Failure to Train Properly Count liability VI of Plaintiff’s based on the complaint County’s alleged alleges failure municipal properly to train its officers with respect to the use of excessive force. Policy or custom may arise through an omission, such as a failure properly to train officers, that “manifest[s] deliberate indifference to the rights of citizens.” Id. “‘Deliberate indifference’ is a stringent standard, which is only met if Plaintiff pleads facts such that the Court may draw a reasonable inference that (1) the County has actual or constructive notice of a deficiency employees that despite system.” WL to in violate this its training citizens’ knowledge, program that constitutional it has chosen causes rights to and retain its (2) that McDonnell v. Hewitt-Angleberger, No. WMN-11-3284, 2012 1378636, at *4 (D.Md. Apr. 19, 2012)(citations omitted). Without alleging any facts from which a reasonable inference may be drawn, Plaintiff merely states in conclusory terms that the County failed to “adequately train, supervise, and discipline its officers against the use of 8 excessive force,” thereby “demonstrat[ing] a gross disregard for the constitutional rights of the public and [Plaintiff],” leading to Plaintiff’s injuries. (ECF No. 1 ¶ 81). Without more, Plaintiff has failed to allege the a existence of policy or custom through purported failure to train its officers. the County’s See Peters v. City of Mount Rainier, No. GJH-14-00955, 2014 WL 4855032, at *5 (D.Md. Sept. 29, 2014); see also Milligan, 743 F.2d at 230 (upholding the district court’s dismissal of a plaintiff’s Monell claim where the complaint alleged only that the City was “‘grossly negligent’ in failing adequately to train its personnel and that this exhibited ‘callous disregard’ for [the plaintiff]’s constitutional rights.”). 2. Unconstitutional Customs Plaintiff further alleges municipal liability on the basis of “formal and informal customs, policies, and practices that foster, promote, and encourage officers to use excessive force,” including: failure to effectively instruct officers that they have a duty to prevent and report excessive force when it occurs; failure to keep adequate record of acts of excessive force; failure excessive to force by control officers and who monitor have the a recurrence pattern for of such behavior; and failure to establish effective procedures, rules, orders, guidelines, and practices to ensure that excessive force will not be used. (ECF No. 1 ¶ 82(a)-(d)). 9 Policy or custom may arise through a practice that is so “persistent and widespread” as to constitute a “custom or usage with the force of law.” Lytle, 326 F.3d at 471. Plaintiff fails to allege any facts to support a known history of “persistent and widespread” constitutional deprivations on the part of County employees from which to infer a policy or custom of the County. Milligan, 743 F.2d at 229-30. pattern and practice of See id.; Plaintiff merely alleges that a excessive force, failure to provide adequate medical care, cover-up, and failure to investigate has been manifested in “other prior incidents involving town officers” (ECF No. 1 ¶ 82(a)), without providing any reference to actual prior incidents involving County officers. See Lanford v. Prince George’s Cty., 199 F.Supp.2d 297, 305 (D.Md. 2002)(finding that the plaintiff failed to provide support for his Monell claim when he pleaded “conclusory factual allegations devoid of any reference to actual events”); cf. Chen v. Mayor of Balt., No. L-09-47, 2009 WL 2487078, at *5 (D.Md. Aug. 12, 2009)(permitting the plaintiff’s Monell claim to proceed past the motion-to-dismiss stage because he had alleged two “separate incidents,” occurring nearly one week apart, in which the city had purportedly committed analogous due process violations); Savage v. Mayor of Salisbury, No. CCB-08-3200, 2009 WL 1119087, at *4 (D.Md. Apr. 22, 2009)(finding the plaintiff’s allegations raised an inference of widespread police misconduct in light of 10 “[t]he number of officers involved, including repeat offenders, the allegations of a ‘special task force,’ and the blatant illegality of their actions.”). Here, widespread Plaintiff conduct fails by to County offer allegations employees of comparable known, to that allegedly committed by Defendants Bradley and Conley, Milligan, 743 F.2d at 230, and “a municipal policy or custom giving rise to § 1983 liability will not be inferred merely from municipal inaction in the face of isolated constitutional deprivations by municipal employees.” Id. Plaintiff’s complaint “consists of speculative, legal conclusions couched as factual allegations; not facts supporting a plausible claim.” Lewis v. Simms, No. AW-11-2172, 2012 WL 254024, at *5 (D.Md. Jan. 26, 2012), aff’d, 582 F.App’x 180 (4th Cir. 2014). the pleading requirements, Plaintiff thus fails to satisfy and her Monell claim must be dismissed. In Count VII, Plaintiff makes identical allegations, a failure to train and certain improper practices, with respect to making arrests and imprisonment without probable cause. Plaintiff's allegations are identically general and fail for the same reasons. Therefore, the granted as to Counts VI and VII. 11 Defendants’ motions will be C. Longtin Claim against Defendants Defendants argue that Count II should be dismissed because Plaintiff failed to plead sufficient facts to support her claim and is unable to bring a Longtin claim against Officers Bradley and Conley, in their individual capacities, under Maryland law. “Longtin claims Monell claims.” are essentially Maryland’s government, widespread patterns injuries.” of Rosa v. Board of Educ., No. AW-11-02873, 2012 WL 3715331, at *9 (D.Md. Aug. 27, 2012). federal version imposes or liability practices “Maryland, like the on that municipalities cause for constitutional McMahon v. Cty. Comm’rs, No. JFM-13-490, 2013 WL 2285378, at *4 n.6 (D.Md. May 21, 2013)(citing Prince George’s Cty. V. Longtin, 419 Md. 450, 494-98 (2011)). For the same reasons that Plaintiff’s Monell claims fail, Plaintiff’s Longtin claim fails support because a she widespread constitutional harm. has not pattern adequately or plead practice facts of to causing See McMahon, 2013 WL 2285378, at *4 n.6. Maryland law does, however, recognize municipal liability based on respondeat superior for civil damages arising constitutional violations committed by employees. not asserted a violation of the state from State Plaintiff has constitution in her complaint. Plaintiff argues in her opposition that she may bring a Longtin claim against Officers 12 Bradley and Conley in their individual capacities because Maryland law recognizes a pattern or practice government claim and for its “unconstitutional employees”. Longtin, 419 Md. at 500). language “its individual upon officers; the not 2013 WL to for liability support the 24, her at claim language local 13)(citing the at *4 of employee. (“Maryland, the liability actions individual n.6 against creates unconstitutional upon 2285378, No. of Plaintiff places emphasis on the however, municipality employees, McMahon, employees” (ECF actions unlike its See the United States, . . . imposes respondeat superior liability on local government entities ‘for civil damages resulting from State Constitutional violations committed by their agents and employees within the scope of the employment.’” (citation omitted)). Plaintiff has not identified any cases holding that a claim Longtin against an cognizable under Maryland law. individual officer would be Accordingly, Count II must also be dismissed as to Officers Bradley and Conley. See Lee, 2014 WL 476233, at *17. D. Fourteenth Amendment Excessive Force Claim Defendants next argue that Count IV should be dismissed because Plaintiff’s claim of excessive force during the course of her arrest is governed by the Fourteenth. 13 Fourth Amendment, not the The Fourth Amendment governs claims of excessive force during the course of an arrest, investigatory stop, or other seizure of a person, Riley v. Dorton, 115 F.3d 1159, 1161 (4th Cir. 1997), detainee whereas, are excessive governed by force the Due claims of Process a pretrial Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, Orem v. Rephann, 523 F.3d 442, 446 (4th Cir. 2008)). Plaintiff distinction requires a occurred. Officers asserts between in the determination However, Bradley and her opposition Fourth by a Plaintiff Conley and jury used applying Fourteenth as alleges that in to when her excessive Amendments her arrest complaint force this when that they physically restrained her inside her brother Thomas’s apartment, before she was transported to the Upper Marlboro Department of Corrections for processing. (ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 20-24). An arrest occurs when the arrestee is physically restrained or when the arrestee is told of the arrest and submits. 300 Md. 485, 510 (1984). Little v. State, Because Plaintiff does not allege any force used by Officers Bradley and Conley at any other time, Plaintiff’s alleged injury occurred during the course of her arrest and requires application of the Fourth Amendment, not the Fourteenth Amendment, to her claim. dismissed. 14 Accordingly, Count IV is E. Plaintiff May Not Recover Punitive Damages from the County Count V seeks both compensatory and punitive damages. The County moves to dismiss Plaintiff’s request for punitive damages on the ground that punitive damages are not recoverable against it. “Maryland law disallows any such assessment of punitive damages against a county.” Robles v. Prince George’s Cty., 302 F.3d 262, 273 (4th Cir. 2002)(citing Md.Code Ann., Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 5–303(c)(1)); see also City of Newport v. Fact Concerts, Inc., from 453 U.S. punitive 247, 271 damages (1981)(finding under § municipalities 1983). Therefore, immune although Plaintiff may seek punitive damages against Officers Bradley and Conley on Count V, Plaintiff will not be permitted to seek punitive damages against the County. IV. Conclusion For the foregoing reasons, Defendants’ partial motions to dismiss will be granted. Specifically, Counts II, IV, VI, and VII are dismissed as to all Defendants. dismissed as to the County only. Counts I and III are A separate order will follow. /s/ DEBORAH K. CHASANOW United States District Judge 15

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?