Carter v. Copfer #3937
MEMORANDUM OPINION (c/m to Plaintiff 10/17/17 sat). Signed by Judge Paula Xinis on 10/16/2017. (sat, Chambers)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF MARYLAND
POLICE OFFICER COPFER #3937
Civil Action No. PX-16-3817
Defendant Officer Copfer filed a Motion to Dismiss or for Summary Judgment in
response to this civil rights complaint. ECF No. 10. Plaintiff opposes the motion. ECF No. 15.
No hearing is necessary to determine the matters pending. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016).
For the reasons that follow, Defendant’s motion, construed as a Motion to Dismiss, shall be
By his self-represented complaint, Plaintiff Allen Carter, an inmate confined to Western
Correctional Institution (WCI), asserts that Prince George’s County Police Officer Copfer
wrongfully filed criminal charges against him. Carter states that Copfer affirmed under penalties
of perjury that on August 4, 2015, Copfer pulled Carter over during his patrol of the 4400 block
of Wheeler Road in the Oxen Hill area of Prince George’s County. ECF No. 1 at 5. Copfer’s
report indicated that he searched the “black Dodge Avenger” that Carter was driving and found
300 grams of marijuana, worth approximately $6,000, and three “digi scales” used for
distribution of marijuana. Id. Copfer further stated that the driver of the vehicle, who he claimed
was Carter, made eye contact with him before he fled the scene. Id. Copfer further averred that
he and Narcotics Enforcement Division Detective Geer searched the Maryland Motor Vehicles
Administration (MVA) database and identified Carter as the person to whom both the car that
was searched and the items uncovered during the search belonged. Id.
Carter states that in January of 2015, he was “sentenced to a lengthy prison sentence” and
had been incarcerated since May 30, 2014, for an offense unrelated to the one charged by
Copfer. Id. He claims that Copfer “deliberately and recklessly gave false allegations placing
[Carter] at the crime scene.” Id. Carter alleges that Copfer’s statements constitute perjury and
that the error was not harmless. Id. at 5–6. Carter proffers that had he not been incarcerated on
an unrelated charge he would have been arrested on the felonies charged in Copfer’s arrest
warrant “and my liberty taken away from me, because the courts would have trusted his word.”
Id. at 6. Carter concludes that this was “a complete violation of my Fourth Amendment right.”
Id. As relief, Carter seeks to have the charges completely expunged from his record and
damages in the amount of $50,000. Id. at p. 4.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Defendant’s motion seeks dismissal of the complaint under Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6). ECF No. 10. The purpose of a motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P.
12(b)(6) is to test the sufficiency of the Plaintiff’s complaint. See Edwards v. Goldsboro, 178
F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999).
The Supreme Court articulated the proper framework for
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires only “a short and plain
statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,” in order to
“give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon
which it rests.” Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957) (abrogated on other
grounds). While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss
does not need detailed factual allegations, ibid.; Sanjuan v. American Board of
Psychiatry and Neurology, Inc., 40 F.3d 247, 251 (7th Cir. 1994), a plaintiff's
obligation to provide the “grounds” of his “entitle[ment] to relief” requires
more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of
a cause of action will not do, see Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)
(on a motion to dismiss, courts “are not bound to accept as true a legal
conclusion couched as a factual allegation”). Factual allegations must be
enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, see 5 C. Wright &
A. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1216, pp. 235-236 (3d ed. 2004)
(hereinafter Wright & Miller) (“[T]he pleading must contain something more .
. . than . . . a statement of facts that merely creates a suspicion [of] a legally
cognizable right of action”), on the assumption that all the allegations in the
complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact), see, e.g., Swierkiewicz v. Sorema
N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 508, n.1 (2002); Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319,
327(1989) (“Rule 12(b)(6) does not countenance . . . dismissals based on a
judge's disbelief of a complaint's factual allegations”); Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416
U.S. 232, 236 (1974) (a well-pleaded complaint may proceed even if it appears
“that a recovery is very remote and unlikely”).
Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (footnotes omitted).
This standard does not require a defendant to establish “beyond doubt” that plaintiff can
prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief. Id. at 561. Once
a claim has been stated adequately, it may be supported by showing any set of facts consistent
with the allegations in the complaint.
Id. at 562.
The court need not, however, accept
unsupported legal allegations, see Revene v. Charles Cty Comm'rs, 882 F.2d 870, 873 (4th Cir.
1989), legal conclusions couched as factual allegations, see Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286
(1986), or conclusory factual allegations devoid of any reference to actual events, see United
Black Firefighters v. Hirst, 604 F.2d 844, 847 (4th Cir. 1979).
Fourth Amendment claim
The Fourth Amendment protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures. See
Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 8 (1968). To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for false arrest,
Plaintiff must show that each arrest was made without probable cause. See Street v. Surdyka,
492 F.2d 368, 372–73 (4th Cir. 1974). Probable cause exists if “at that moment the facts and
circumstances with [the officers’] knowledge and of which they had reasonably trustworthy
information were sufficient to warrant a prudent man in believing that the petitioner had
committed or was committing an offense.” Beck v. Ohio, 379 U.S. 89, 91 (1964) (citation
omitted). A probable cause determination is governed by a totality of the circumstances test.
See Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 241 (1983); United States v. Garcia, 848 F.2d 58, 59–60 (4th
Cir. 1988). Whether probable cause to arrest exists is based on information the police had at the
time of the arrest. Id. at 261. A warrantless arrest in a public place may be made when the
arresting officers have probable cause to believe that the suspect has committed, is committing,
or is about to commit a crime. See Beck, 379 U.S. at 91 (probable cause exists if “at that moment
the facts and circumstance within [the officers] knowledge and of which they had reasonably
trustworthy information were sufficient to warrant a prudent man in believing that the petitioner
had committed or was committing an offense.”). In Carter’s case, he was never arrested and, at
the time the arrest warrant was issued, had already been deprived of his liberty. See ECF No. 1
at 5–6. Copfer’s misidentification of Carter as the person he had probable cause to believe
committed the crimes described is not a violation of Carter’s Fourth Amendment rights under
these circumstances. Carter’s conclusory allegation that Copfer deliberately misidentified him as
the suspect is unsupported by any objective basis in fact.
Even if Carter had been arrested for the instant offense, Copfer, and the other police
officers involved, would be qualifiedly immune from suit.
“In particular, . . . . qualified
immunity protects law officers from ‘bad guesses in gray areas’ and it ensures that they may be
held personally liable only ‘for transgressing bright lines.’” Gomez v. Atkins, 296 F.3d 253, 261
(4th Cir. 2002) (quoting Maciariello v. Sumner, 973 F.2d 295, 298 (4th Cir. 1992)). The defense
provides protection for public officials for mistakes of law, mistakes of fact, or a combination of
the two. See Groh v. Ramirez, 540 U.S. 551, 567 (2004) (Kennedy, J., dissenting). Qualified
immunity is a defense from suit, not simply liability, which is lost if a matter is improperly
permitted to go to trial. See Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 526 (1985). Resolution of
whether an official is entitled to qualified immunity must be determined “at the earliest possible
stage in litigation.” Hunter v. Bryant, 502 U.S. 224, 227 (1991). Here, the only claim against
Copfer is that he mistakenly identified Carter as the perpetrator. To impose civil liability for
such a mistake would deprive Copfer of the protections afforded law officers for “bad guesses in
gray areas.” Maciariello, 973 F.2d at 298. As a police officer, Copfer
is entitled to that
protection and is not required to defend such a mistake at trial. Carter’s Fourth Amendment
claim must be dismissed.
State law claim
The extent to which Carter raises a tort claim against Copfer is not readily discernible
from the complaint. This court therefore declines to accept supplemental jurisdiction over such a
A federal court may decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over state
law claims where it has dismissed the federal claim. 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c).
When, as here, the federal claim is dismissed early in the case, the federal
courts are inclined to dismiss the state law claims without prejudice rather than
retain supplemental jurisdiction.
Carnegie Mellon Univ. v. Cohill, 484 U.S. 343, 350 (1988). The parties dispute whether Carter
has complied with the Local Government Tort Claims Act requirements, see Md. Code Ann.,
Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 5-304(b) (notice required within 180 days of injury). ECF No. 10 at pp. 6 – 8;
ECF No. 15 at 1 (asserting without documentation that plaintiff complied with notice
requirement). This Court declines to decide if Carter has complied with state law and dismisses
the claim without prejudice.
A separate Order follows.
United States District Judge
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