Merideth v. Prince George's County et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Deborah K. Chasanow on 1/10/2022. (sat, Chambers)
Case 8:19-cv-03198-DKC Document 46 Filed 01/10/22 Page 1 of 24
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF MARYLAND
Civil Action No. DKC 19-3198
PRINCE GEORGE’S COUNTY, et al.
Presently pending and ready for resolution in this civil
rights case is a motion for summary judgment filed by Defendants
Prince George’s County and Officer Tommy M. Thomas.
(ECF No. 38).
The issues have been fully briefed, and the court now rules, no
hearing being deemed necessary.
Local Rule 105.6.
following reasons, the motion for summary judgment will be granted
in part and denied in part.
On the morning of February 25, 2016, Plaintiff Lionel Meredith
walked to a Target store and bought a pair of Bluetooth headphones.
(ECF Nos. 38-4, at 23 (Thomas Depo.); 38-5, at 11-12 (Meredith
He charged the headphones in the store, paired them with
The complaint apparently misspelled Plaintiff’s last name
and, as a result, so does this court’s docket. The clerk will be
directed to correct the spelling.
Deposition citations are to the transcript page number,
rather than the ECF page number.
Case 8:19-cv-03198-DKC Document 46 Filed 01/10/22 Page 2 of 24
his phone, and left.
(ECF No. 38-5, at 21, 25-26).
out of the building, he made a phone call.
On his way
(Id., at 26, 28).
he walked across the parking lot talking on the phone, a police
SUV cruiser came up from behind and cut him off.
(Id., at 20,
Unbeknownst to Mr. Meredith, Target personnel had told
Defendant Tommy M. Thomas, a Prince George’s County police officer,
that the man walking across the parking lot stole an employee’s
(ECF Nos. 38-4, at 25-27; 38-5, at 21-22, 32, 34).
received that call.
According to Mr. Meredith, Officer Thomas
never said anything to him, let alone shouted for him to stop, and
that he would have heard if Officer Thomas had.
at 32-33 (Meredith Depo.); 38-5, at 34).
(ECF Nos. 40-3,
Mr. Meredith only became
aware of Officer Thomas after the Officer pulled up in his car.
(ECF No. 38-5, at 34).
Mr. Meredith immediately stopped walking
and stretched his arms out “to look as nonaggressive as possible.”
(Id., at 34, 43).
Officer Thomas then emerged from his vehicle
with his gun drawn. (ECF No. 38-6 at 3 (Meredith Interrogatories);
see also 38-5, at 41).
Officer Thomas then switched to his taser
(ECF No. 38-6, at 3).
Officer Thomas put his
knee in Mr. Meredith’s back, handcuffed him, and yelled, “Where is
Where is the phone?”
Officer Thomas maintains that he told Mr. Meredith to stop
multiple times but that Mr. Meredith continued walking even after
Case 8:19-cv-03198-DKC Document 46 Filed 01/10/22 Page 3 of 24
he pulled up in his vehicle.
(ECF No. 38-4, at 27, 29, 31, 54-
After getting out, he again told Mr. Meredith to stop and
still Mr. Meredith continued on. (Id., at 31, 63). Officer Thomas
then pulled out his taser and pointed it at Mr. Meredith to get
him to stop.
(Id., at 31-33, 36-37, 55, 59).
Meredith to the ground and handcuffed him.
He ordered Mr.
(Id., 65-66; 71-72).
Officer Thomas does not remember putting his knee in Mr. Meredith’s
(Id., at 71).
Officer Thomas then frisked Mr. Meredith on
“officer safety” grounds.
(Id., at 36).
It is not clear whether
Officer Thomas suspected that Mr. Meredith had a weapon.
id., at 36; ECF No. 40-4, at 40-41 (Thomas Depo.), with ECF No.
38-4, at 86;).
Officer Thomas apparently pats down everyone he
(Id., at 45-46).
He maintains that he did not “search”
Mr. Meredith for a cell phone.
(See id., at 72).
After Mr. Meredith was detained, two other officers arrived
on the scene.
(ECF No. 40-3, at 31).
Officer Thomas drove off to
confirm the details of the stolen phone, leaving Mr. Meredith with
the other officers.
(ECF Nos. 38-4, at 72; 38-5, at 35-36).
Target personnel told Officer Thomas that there had been a mistake,
the cell phone was never stolen in the first place.
(ECF Nos. 38-
4, at 72-73, 92; 38-3, at 2 (Thomas Interrogatories)).
Thomas returned, uncuffed Mr. Meredith, and allowed him to leave.
(ECF Nos. 38-4, at 74; 38-5, at 39-40).
Officer Thomas estimates
that Mr. Meredith was handcuffed on the ground for two-to-three
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(ECF No. 38-4, at 75-76).
County documents may indicate
that the stop lasted thirty minutes.
(See ECF No. 40-6, at 3 (Pub.
Safety Commc’ns Incident Details)).
Mr. Meredith does not know
how much time passed.
(ECF No. 38-5, at 40-41).
suffered lower back pain for about two months afterwards.
No. 40-3, at 30).
On August 23, 2016, Mr. Meredith notified Prince George’s
County of his intent to sue.
(ECF No. 40-1).
He filed this
lawsuit in state circuit court on February 22, 2019, naming the
County, “Officer Thompson (John Doe #1),” and two other “John Does”
(ECF No. 3).
Summonses were issued on that date
and again on May 31, 2019 but were not served.
2; see also ECF Nos. 1-8; 1-11 through 1-14).
(ECF No. 1-3, at
He amended his
complaint on August 16, (ECF No. 4), and served Prince George’s
County on October 10, (ECF No. 1-6).
Officer Thomas testifies
that he first became aware of the suit that same month—October
2019—when notified by counsel.
(ECF Nos. 38-4, at 85; 41-1, ¶ 3).
The County removed to this court on November 5 and answered shortly
(ECF Nos. 1; 2; 7).
During discovery, Mr. Meredith identified Officer Thomas and
moved in May 2020 for leave to amend his complaint a second time
by substituting him for “Officer Thompson (John Doe #1)” and
removing the other “John Does.”
(ECF No. 20, ¶¶ 4-7; see ECF No.
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20-5). The County opposed, arguing that the statute of limitations
had run for claims against Officer Thomas.
(ECF No. 21).
a hearing, Judge Paula Xinis granted the motion to amend but
limitations defense at summary judgment.
(ECF Nos. 27; 28).
Officer Thomas consented to service and answered.
38-1, at 4).
(ECF Nos. 33;
The second amended complaint presents two claims
against Officer Thomas for (1) false imprisonment or arrest under
Maryland law, and (2) Fourth Amendment unreasonable seizure and
excessive use of force under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and a third claim
against the County for (3) failure to train, supervise, and
discipline under Section 1983.
(ECF No. 28, at 4-6).
In March 2021, Defendants moved for summary judgment.
Mr. Meredith responded, (ECF No. 40), and Defendants
replied, (ECF No. 41).
In October, the case was reassigned to
this member of the bench.
Standard of Review
A motion for summary judgment will be granted only if there
exists no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the moving
party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Anderson
v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986).
judgement should be granted only when it is perfectly clear that
Case 8:19-cv-03198-DKC Document 46 Filed 01/10/22 Page 6 of 24
no issue of material fact exists.”
Raynor v. Pugh, 817 F.3d 123,
129 n.2 (4th Cir. 2016) (quotation omitted).
A material fact is
one that “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing
law[.]” Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 248. A dispute about a material
fact is genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury
could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.”
must view the facts and the reasonable inferences drawn therefrom
“in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion,”
Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574,
587 (1986) (quotation omitted), but “a party cannot create a
genuine dispute of material fact through mere speculation or
compilation of inferences,” Shin v. Shalala, 166 F.Supp.2d 373,
375 (D.Md. 2001).
To prevail on a motion for summary judgment, the moving party
generally bears the burden of showing that there is no genuine
dispute as to any material fact.
No genuine dispute of material
fact exists, however, if the nonmoving party fails to make a
sufficient showing on an essential element that he bore the burden
Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322–23. Therefore, on those issues
on which the nonmoving party has the burden of proof, it is his
responsibility to confront the summary judgment motion with an
“affidavit or other evidentiary showing” demonstrating that there
is a genuine issue for trial.
See Ross v. Early, 899 F.Supp.2d
415, 420 (D.Md. 2012), aff’d, 746 F.3d 546 (4th Cir. 2014).
Case 8:19-cv-03198-DKC Document 46 Filed 01/10/22 Page 7 of 24
Officer Thomas argues that he is entitled to judgment because
Plaintiff’s claims against him are barred by the statute of
(ECF No. 38-1, at 12-18).
He also argues that the
evidence does not support finding that he falsely arrested Mr.
Meredith or violated his Fourth Amendment rights.
(Id., at 18-
Last, he contends that he is entitled to qualified immunity
on Mr. Meredith’s Section 1983 claims.
(Id., at 26-28).
Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations had run when Officer Thomas was
joined as a defendant.
He asserts, and Mr. Meredith does not
dispute, that the state and federal causes of action accrued on
limitations period for both the false imprisonment/arrest claim
and the Section 1983 claims.
Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384, 387
(2007); Md. Code Ann., Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 5-101.
period therefore ran on Mr. Meredith’s claims on February 25, 2019.
Mr. Meredith filed suit against Prince George’s County and “Officer
Thompson (John Doe #1)” three days prior.
The case was removed in
November 2019 and Mr. Meredith moved to add Officer Thomas in May
2020, more than a year after the limitations period had run.
Mr. Meredith can only proceed if his claims against Officer
Thomas “relate back.”
This question is governed by the Federal
Rules of Civil Procedure because Mr. Meredith moved for leave to
Case 8:19-cv-03198-DKC Document 46 Filed 01/10/22 Page 8 of 24
amend after removal.
See Taylor v. Bailey Tool Mfg. Co., 744 F.3d
944, 946-47 (5th Cir. 2014) (holding that whether a plaintiff moves
to amend before or after removal determines the applicable relation
back rule); Pac. Emp’rs Ins. v. Sav-A-Lot, 291 F.3d 392, 399-401
(6th Cir. 2002) (same); Davis v. Piper Aircraft Corp., 615 F.2d
606, 611 (4th Cir. 1980) (holding federal rules control for state
Relation back balances a defendant’s statute-of-
limitations interest in repose from suit against the general
preference for resolving disputes on their merits.
Costa Crociere S. p. A., 560 U.S. 538, 550 (2010); see also Goodman
v. Praxair, Inc., 494 F.3d 458, 467-68 (4th Cir. 2007) (en banc).
Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(c)(1)(C), an amendment that “changes
[a] party or the naming of [a] party” can relate back to an original
timely complaint and satisfy the limitations period if it meets
First, the claim must involve the same
transaction or occurrence.
Goodman, 494 F.3d at 467.
new party must have “notice of the action” “within the period
provided by Rule 4(m) for service of the summons and complaint”
and must have known or should have known that, “but for a mistake
in identity,” “the action would have been brought against him.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(c)(1)(C); see Goodman, at 467, 469-71.
notice must have been such that the party “will not be prejudiced
in defending on the merits.”
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Officer Thomas does not dispute that the claims against him
involve the same transaction or occurrence as those asserted in
the first amended complaint.
(ECF No. 41, at 12-13).
to argue instead that Rule 15(c)(1)(C) does not apply in the first
instance, and, even if it does, that he did not have proper notice
of the action, should not have known Mr. Meredith would have sued
him but for a mistake, and was prejudiced by his late addition.
As discussed below, Mr. Meredith’s claims against Officer Thomas
relate back and are not barred by the statute of limitations.3
Officer Thomas argues that “John Doe” defendants are not
(John Doe #1)” was not a party when the case was removed to this
(ECF No. 38-1, at 12-13).
Although not clearly stated, he
appears to contend that, as a result, Rule 15(c)(1)(C) does not
apply because Mr. Meredith’s amendment sought to add Officer Thomas
as a new party rather than “change” an existing party.
Thomas is wrong, even assuming he correctly states Maryland law.
substitution of one party for another.
Adding a party will do.
Goodman, 494 F.3d at 468-
This opinion does not address Rule 15(c)(1)(A) which permits
relation back where “the law that provides the applicable statute
of limitations allows[.]”
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A newly named defendant must receive “‘notice of the action’
within the Rule 4(m) period[.]”
Krupski, 560 U.S. at 554 n.5
(quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(c)(1)(C)).
He must also “have expected
or should have expected . . . that [he] was meant to be named a
party in the first place[.]”
Goodman, 494 F.3d at 471.
The period for service under Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(m) is 90 days.
“Typically, ‘in removed cases, the Rule 4(m) time period starts to
run upon removal to the federal district court, not the date the
action was originated in state court.’”
Thompson v. Dollar Tree
Stores, Inc., No. 17-cv-3727-PWG, 2019 WL 414881, at *3 (D.Md.
Feb. 1, 2019) (quoting 4B Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller,
Fed.R.Civ.P. 81(c)(1); UWM Student Ass’n v. Lovell, 888 F.3d 854,
858 (10th Cir. 2018) (citing Cardenas v. Chicago, 646 F.3d 1001,
1004 (7th Cir. 2011) (collecting cases)); see also 28 U.S.C. § 1448.
The parties do not discuss, and no circuit precedent appears to
resolve, whether the same rule applies when calculating the start
of the 4(m) period for Rule 15(c)(1)(C) purposes.
decisions in this district demonstrate that it likely does.
15 does not distinguish between” original actions and removal
actions, Czach v. Int’l Hotels Grp. Res., LLC, No. 20-cv-0125-DLB,
2020 WL 6150961, at *8 (D.Md. Oct. 20, 2020), nor does “case law
Case 8:19-cv-03198-DKC Document 46 Filed 01/10/22 Page 11 of 24
or [an] advisory committee note provid[e] for an exception,”
Thompson, 2019 WL 414881, at *3.4
Based on that analysis, Officer Thomas received adequate
notice of the action.
November 5, 2019.
The case was removed to this court on
Officer Thomas must have had notice of it by
February 3, 2020. He testifies, and Mr. Meredith does not dispute,
that he first became aware of the suit on October 28, 2019, well
before the deadline. (ECF Nos. 38-4, at 85; 41-1, ¶ 3). (Notably,
Officer Thomas would not have had enough notice if Rule 4(m), as
applied under Rule 15(c)(1)(C), required looking to the date that
the original complaint was filed in state court.)
He also knew or should have known that Mr. Meredith intended
to name him as a defendant in the first place.
This question turns
on “the type of notice or understanding that the new party had.”
Goodman, 494 F.3d at 470.
It does not turn on the type of mistake
See also Hardy-roy v. Shanghai Kindly Enters. Dev. Grp. Co.,
No. 20-cv-0373-NYW, 2021 WL 229282, at *4 & n.6 (D.Co. Jan. 22,
2021); Lamendola v. Bd. of Cnty. Comm’rs, No. 18-cv-0163-KBM, 2019
WL 2371714, at *6 (D.N.M. June 5, 2019); Bondurant v. City of
Battleground, No. 15-cv-579-KLS, 2016 WL 5341966, at *5 (W.D.Wash.
Sept. 23, 2016); Lee v. City of Fayetteville, No. 15-cv-0638-FL,
2016 WL 1266597, at *8 (E.D.N.C. Mar. 30, 2016); Hoffman v. Daimler
Trucks N. Am., 940 F.Supp.2d 347, 363 n.15 (W.D.Va. Apr. 12, 2013);
Dietz v. McAdams-Norman Property, II, LLC, No. 12-cv-0509-JCT,
2013 WL 247651, at *3-4 (W.D.Va. Jan. 23, 2013); cf. Washington v.
Roundy’s Ill., LLC, No. 19-cv-3054, 2020 WL 374696, *6 & n.9
(D.N.D. Jan. 23, 2020) (declining to decide). But see Mendez v.
Jarden Corp., 503 F.App’x 930, 937 (11th Cir. 2013); Robinson v.
Se. Pa. Transp. Auth., No. 21-cv-4050, 2021 WL 5330401, at *8 n.99
(E.D.Pa. Nov. 16, 2021); Acosta-Felton v. Greinke, No. 11-cv-3103RDR, 2013 WL 615469, at *2 (D.Kan. Feb. 19, 2013).
Case 8:19-cv-03198-DKC Document 46 Filed 01/10/22 Page 12 of 24
made – relation back can apply as equally to “typographical
mistakes” as to “oversights or mistakes of inclusion or omission.”
Id., at 471.
Officer Thomas admits that he was made aware of an “intent to
sue [him]” in October 2019.
(ECF No. 41-1, ¶ 5).
Not only does
this admission seem fatal to his position, but Officer Thomas does
little to combat it because he mistakenly assumes that the 4(m)
period begins at the filing of the original state complaint.
the extent, however, he suggests that Mr. Meredith filed a “John
Doe” complaint which made it impossible for him to recognize Mr.
Meredith’s intent to sue, he is wrong.
First, Mr. Meredith’s use
of “Officer Thompson (John Doe #1)” is not the same as using “John
Doe” to stand in for an entirely unknown defendant.
Doe” alone, “Officer Thompson (John Doe #1)” includes identifying
information that narrows the group of possible defendants.
provides a real name, and one similar to the name intended.
inclusion of “John Doe” is a red herring.
It acknowledges only
that the name given may be incorrect but does not assert that the
proper identity is entirely unknown.
Even if the complaint could be labeled a “John Doe” complaint,
Officer Thomas would still have had sufficient notice.
circuits bar relation back when a plaintiff moves to substitute a
new party for a “John Doe” defendant, the Fourth Circuit does not.
See Goodman, 494 F.3d at 469-73; Locklear v. Bergman & Beving AB,
Case 8:19-cv-03198-DKC Document 46 Filed 01/10/22 Page 13 of 24
It has made clear that relation back turns on notice
and prejudice to the new party.
Goodman, 494 F.3d at 469-71.
most “John Doe” cases, that is enough to block relation back
because the new party could not have expected that he was meant to
be sued in the first place.
Id., at 471.
This case, however, would be one of the few where the new
party should have realized he was an intended defendant.
does Officer Thomas admit as much, but almost any information from
the first amended complaint would make that clear.
in detail the incident in the Target parking lot.
ECF No. 4).
It also names “Officer Thompson (John Doe #1).”
noted above, “Thompson” is close enough to “Thomas” to suggest, in
concert with the factual detail alleged, that Mr. Meredith merely
misremembered the relevant officer’s name.
In addition, it was
always clear, as Judge Xinis noted at the October 13, 2020 Motions
Hearing, that Mr. Meredith intended to amend his complaint once
Officer Thomas had been identified to him.
(See also ECF No. 11,
at 2 (describing Mr. Meredith’s December 2019 proposal to join all
defendants once identified by the County in initial disclosures)).
The timely notice Officer Thomas received also eliminated any
risk of prejudice to him.
A new party is not prejudiced when “the
proceedings [have] not advanced to the point that he could show
Case 8:19-cv-03198-DKC Document 46 Filed 01/10/22 Page 14 of 24
any prejudice with regard to his presentation or preparation of
Robinson v. Clipse, 602 F.3d 605, 609 (4th Cir.
2010) (alterations and quotation omitted).
Officer Thomas was
aware of the action at the outset, before the County had answered
or discovery had begun.
Not only did he have time to prepare a
defense, but he could easily have coordinated with the County
because he shares the same attorney and the parties’ interests
In addition, Officer Thomas has fully participated in
this case since being added. Mr. Meredith moved for leave to amend
within the time required by the scheduling order.
discovery occurred before Officer Thomas was added.
he answered, depositions were taken, and Defendants filed the
dispositive motion now before the court.
Mr. Meredith’s second amended complaint relates back and his
claims against Officer Thomas can proceed.
False Imprisonment/Arrest and Fourth Amendment
Mr. Meredith’s false imprisonment/arrest claim and his Fourth
Amendment unreasonable seizure claim are assessed together because
the disputed legal requirements merge.
under both are:
The questions at issue
(1) what type of detention did Officer Thomas
effect, and (2) did he have enough reason to suspect Mr. Meredith
to justify a stop or arrest.
Both Maryland law and the Fourth
Amendment are violated if Officer Thomas made an investigatory
Case 8:19-cv-03198-DKC Document 46 Filed 01/10/22 Page 15 of 24
stop, also known as a Terry stop, without a reasonable, articulable
suspicion of wrongdoing. Santos v. Frederick Cnty. Bd. of Comm’rs,
725 F.3d 451, 460 (4th Cir. 2013); Ashton v. Brown, 339 Md. 70,
119-20 (1995); see also Foster v. Balt. Police Dep’t, No. 1666,
And they are violated if Officer Thomas made an
arrest without probable cause.
If an arrest did occur,
Officer Thomas specifically needed probable cause to believe Mr.
Meredith was stealing a phone in his presence because that is
likely misdemeanor theft, as Defendants suggest, (ECF No. 38-1, at
See Maryland v. Pringle, 540 U.S. 366, 370 (2003); Md. Code
Ann., Crim. Proc. § 2-202(b); id., Crim. Law § 7-104(g)(2).
Officer Thomas contends that he only stopped Mr. Meredith but
reasonable suspicion, and probable cause to believe, that Mr.
Meredith was committing theft in his presence.
(ECF No. 38-1, at
In response, Mr. Meredith fails to meet his burden to
point to facts that could support finding that Officer Thomas
Indeed, he essentially abandons his false imprisonment/arrest and
unreasonable seizure claims altogether.
Although his memorandum
includes two sections ostensibly devoted to unreasonable seizure,
Mr. Meredith makes no real attempt there or elsewhere to argue
anything other than excessive force.
(See generally ECF No. 40,
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At most, Mr. Meredith could be construed to suggest
that Officer Thomas lacked justification to frisk him.
at 22-23). But those statements only introduce evidence of Officer
Thomas’ attitude toward frisking individuals as evidence of the
Officer’s disregard for the Fourth Amendment.
In any case, the
operative complaint, (ECF No. 28), does not mention Mr. Meredith
being patted down or assert an unreasonable search claim.
Officer Thomas is entitled to judgment on Mr. Meredith’s false
imprisonment/arrest and unreasonable seizure claims. Accordingly,
summary judgment will be granted on Count I in full, and on a
portion of Count II.
Fourth Amendment Excessive Force
‘objective reasonableness’ standard,” looking to the totality of
the circumstances of each case.
Yates v. Terry, 817 F.3d 877,
884-85 (4th Cir. 2016) (quoting Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 395
This requires balancing “the nature and quality of the
intrusion on the individual’s Fourth Amendment interests against
the importance of the governmental interests alleged to justify
Whether an officer’s actions were reasonable
is determined “from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the
scene” with the same “information possessed by the [defendant]
officer at the moment at the moment force is employed.”
Case 8:19-cv-03198-DKC Document 46 Filed 01/10/22 Page 17 of 24
490 U.S. at 396 (citation omitted); Waterman v. Batton, 393 F.3d
471, 477 (4th Cir. 2005) (citation omitted).
Relevant factors in
making this determination include (1) the severity of the crime,
(2) whether there is an immediate threat to the safety of the
officer or others, and (3) whether the subject is resisting his
detention or attempting to flee.
Yates, 817 F.3d at 885 (citing
Graham, 490 U.S. at 396).
Clear disputes of material fact preclude awarding judgment on
the merits of Mr. Meredith’s excessive force claim.
above, it appears undisputed that Mr. Meredith was suspected of
misdemeanor theft, a relatively minor crime.
But the parties
disagree about whether Officer Thomas told Mr. Meredith to stop
before drawing a weapon and, as a result, about whether Officer
Thomas could reasonably have perceived Mr. Meredith to be fleeing
or to be a threat. They also disagree about whether Officer Thomas
drew his gun or placed his knee in Mr. Meredith’s back.
the light most favorable to Mr. Meredith, a jury could find that
Officer Thomas pointed his gun and taser, without warning, at a
man suspected of a minor, non-violent offense who was not running
away or threatening anyone (as Officer Thomas may admit).
after he’d stopped walking, made every effort to demonstrate he
wasn’t a threat, and complied with commands to get on the ground,
the Officer dug his knee into the man’s back with enough force to
leave him in pain for two months and handcuffed him.
Case 8:19-cv-03198-DKC Document 46 Filed 01/10/22 Page 18 of 24
could conclude that was disproportionate and unreasonable.
e.g., Turmon v. Jordan, 405 F.3d 202, 207-08 (4th Cir. 2005); Young
v. Prince George’s Cnty., 355 F.3d 751, 757-58 (4th Cir. 2004);
Rowland v. Perry, 41 F.3d 167, 174 (4th Cir. 1994).
an affirmative defense to Section
1983 claims that “ protects government officials from liability
their conduct does not violate
clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which
Pearson v. Callahan,
555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009) (quotation omitted).
The two elements
clearly established at the time of the alleged misconduct.
Meredith has carried his burden to point to sufficient facts
for a reasonable jury to conclude that his right to be free
from excessive force was violated.
Officer Thomas “bear[s]
the burden of showing that the violation was not clearly
Mays v. Sprinkle, 992 F.3d 295, at 302 n.5
(4 th Cir. 2021).
“To be clearly established, a legal principle must be
Case 8:19-cv-03198-DKC Document 46 Filed 01/10/22 Page 19 of 24
Feminist Majority Found. v. Hurley, 911 F.3d
674, 704 (4 th Cir. 2018).
Although the principle must be
(2014), “a court need not have previously found the specific
conduct at issue to have violated an individual’s rights,”
Feminist Majority, 911 F.3d at 704.
Officer Thomas fails to meet his burden.
In his initial
motion, he points to a single case about firing a taser.
No. 38-1, at 27).
Only on reply does Officer Thomas acknowledge
that Mr. Meredith introduced facts tending to show that he pointed
his gun at Mr. Meredith and dug his knee into Mr. Meredith’s back
after ordering him onto the ground.
Officer Thomas points to no
cases dealing with either of those facts, or the use of handcuffs,
does not argue that there is an absence of such cases, and does
not explain how the legal doctrine in the case it cites fails to
reach those facts.
(ECF No 41, at 17).
That is not enough.
The case Officer Thomas points to isn’t even enough to support
his taser argument and, if anything, undercuts it.
resisting arrest, and poses no threat to the safety of the officer
or others should not be subjected to ‘unnecessary, gratuitous, and
Yates, 817 F.3d at 888 (quoting Meyers
v. Baltimore Cnty., 713 F.3d 723, 735 (4th Cir. 2013)).
Case 8:19-cv-03198-DKC Document 46 Filed 01/10/22 Page 20 of 24
At bottom, Officer Thomas’ argument also fails because he
premises it on his version of events and does not attempt to argue
that he is entitled to qualified immunity on the facts most
favorable to Mr. Meredith.
A claim of qualified immunity cannot
be resolved in favor of a defendant where it hinges on disputes of
Williamson v. Stirling, 912 F.3d 154, 177 (4th Cir.
2018) (quotation omitted).
Officer Thomas is not entitled to judgment on Mr. Meredith’s
excessive force claim because it is not time barred, there are
genuine disputes of material fact, and he is not immune from suit.
Accordingly, summary judgment will be denied as to a portion of
Prince George’s County
A local municipality can be liable for an employee’s conduct
under Section 1983 if:
(1) it had an unconstitutional policy or
custom; and (2) the unconstitutional policy or custom caused a
violation of the plaintiff’s constitutional rights.
Dep’t of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978).
The only question
left at issue is whether the County had an unconstitutional custom
of using excessive force.
Mr. Meredith has pointed to sufficient
evidence that excessive force was used against him (but not that
Case 8:19-cv-03198-DKC Document 46 Filed 01/10/22 Page 21 of 24
he was falsely imprisoned or arrested), as discussed above, and
the County does not challenge causation.5
For a plaintiff to show that a local custom existed, “(1) the
municipality must have actual or constructive knowledge of the
custom and usage by its responsible policymakers, and (2) there
must be a failure by those policymakers, as a matter of specific
intent or deliberate indifference, to correct or terminate the
improper custom and usage.”
Randall v. Prince George’s Cnty., 302
F.3d 188, 210 (4th Cir. 2002) (quotation omitted).
In Section 1983 police misconduct suits, municipal liability
typically arises in two forms:
(1) when “programs of police
training and supervision  are claimed to have resulted in
officers”, and (2) when an “municipal policymakers [fail] to put
a stop to or correct a widespread pattern of unconstitutional
conduct by police officers of which the specific violation is
simply an example.”
Spell v. McDaniel, 824 F.2d 1380, 1389 (4th
Cir. 1987). Mr. Meredith appears to allege both. (See ECF No. 28,
In opposition, however, he argues only that the County
condoned widespread use of excessive force.
(ECF No. 40, at 28-
The County also argues for dismissal for failure to state a
claim. (ECF No. 38-1, at 28-32). The County’s motion is treated
as one for summary judgment because it was styled that way, (ECF
No. 38), and both sides have proffered evidence after discovery.
Case 8:19-cv-03198-DKC Document 46 Filed 01/10/22 Page 22 of 24
The County is therefore entitled to judgment on any failure-
Meredith must show:
(1) a “persistent and widespread practice[ ]
of municipal officials,” (2) that policymakers knew about, and
(3) failed to correct due to their “deliberate indifference.”
Spell, 824 F.2d at 1386, 1391 (alterations omitted); see also Owens
v. Balt. City State’s Att’ys Off., 767 F.3d 379, 402-03 (4th Cir.
misconduct can support finding that policymakers had actual or
constructive knowledge and that their failure to stop the conduct
constituted deliberate indifference.
Spell, 824 F.2d at 1387,
Deliberate indifference is, however, “a stringent standard
of fault, requiring proof that a municipal actor disregarded a
known or obvious consequence of his action.”
563 U.S. 51, 62 (2011).
Connick v. Thompson,
“Sporadic or isolated violations” are not
enough to put municipal policymakers on notice that inaction on
their part will cause future violations; “only ‘widespread or
flagrant’ violations will.” Owens, 767 F.3d at 403 (quoting Spell,
824 F.2d at 1387). In other words, liability will not “be inferred
constitutional deprivations by municipal employees.”
City of Newport News, 743 F.2d 227, 230 (4th Cir. 1984).
Case 8:19-cv-03198-DKC Document 46 Filed 01/10/22 Page 23 of 24
Mr. Meredith fails to show a widespread pattern of excessive
force by Prince George’s County police officers. The only evidence
he points to are newspaper reports of five excessive-force lawsuits
filed against Price George’s County officers between 2010 and 2016,
(ECF No. 40-7), and the settlement of a prior excessive force claim
against Officer Thomas, (ECF No. 40-4, at 7-9).
Of the five
lawsuits, three were filed after the events at issue in this case.
(ECF No. 40-7, at 1, 7, 10).
Another was filed six days before
the events and did not settle until 2018.
(Id., at 5; Goines v.
Prince George’s Cnty., No. 16-cv-0463-RWT, ECF No. 32, Settlement
Order (D.Md. Feb. 1, 2018).
Subsequent or unresolved lawsuits
cannot create notice of unconstitutional behavior.
See Amann v.
Prince George’s Cnty., No. 99-cv-3759-DKC, 2001 WL 706031, at *2
(D.Md. June 15, 2001).
That leaves Mr. Meredith with only one
complaint against Officer Thomas.6
That is not enough, even
assuming the newspaper article is admissible and a violation
occurred in the settled case.
See Connick, 563 U.S. at 62 (holding
four violations over ten years were insufficient); Nicholson v.
Balt. Police Dep’t, No. 20-cv-3146-DKC, 2021 WL 1541667, at *9
(D.Md. Apr. 20, 2021).
In Morales v. Prince George’s County, an officer “used
excessive force” when he struck the plaintiff “while working as a
security guard at a 2010 University of Maryland fraternity
party[.]” (ECF No. 40-7, at 3).
Case 8:19-cv-03198-DKC Document 46 Filed 01/10/22 Page 24 of 24
Mr. Meredith’s other arguments do not bring him any closer to
widespread use of excessive force.
It is not enough that the
County’s corporate representative is aware that members of the
public have objected to the use of force by County officers, (ECF
Nos. 40, at 32; 40-5, at 20 (Alerte Depo.)), or that Officer Thomas
may believe that he can frisk any person that he stops.
No. 40, at 29-30).
Nor is it enough to assert baldly that a
“boatload of evidence” warned the County that it had an excessive
(Id., at 29).
None of these arguments demonstrate
that the use of excessive force was widespread and persistent
within the department before February 2016.
Prince George’s County is entitled to judgment because there
are not enough facts to show that it condoned excessive force and,
as a result, it cannot be held liable for Officer Thomas’ conduct.
Accordingly, summary judgment will be granted as to Count III.
For the foregoing reasons, Defendants’ motion for summary
judgment will be granted in part and denied in part.
order will follow.
DEBORAH K. CHASANOW
United States District Judge
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