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Linnemann v. City of Aberdeen

United States District Court, Fourth Circuit

June 25, 2013

CITY OF ABERDEEN, et al., Defendants


MARVIN J. GARBIS, District Judge.

The Court has before it Defendants City of Aberdeen's and Cornis (a.k.a. "J.R.") Adkins' Motion to Dismiss or, Alternatively, for Summary Judgment [Document 8], and the materials submitted relating thereto. The Court finds a hearing unnecessary.


On the morning of Friday, November 18, 2011, Plaintiff Kurt Linnemann ("Linnemann" or "Plaintiff") unloaded anti-abortion signs from his vehicle "onto public property adjacent to the sidewalk in front of [Aberdeen High School]." Compl. ¶ 16-17. Linnemann then had an interaction with Defendant Cornis Adkins ("Officer Adkins"), a City of Aberdeen police officer, based upon which he filed the instant lawsuit. In the five Count Amended Complaint [Document 5], Linnemann presents the following claims against Officer Adkins and the City of Aberdeen:

Count I: Violation of First Amendment Rights (42 U.S.C. § 1983) against Officer Adkins;
Count II: First Amendment Retaliation (42 U.S.C. § 1983) against Officer Adkins
Count III: Fourth Amendment - Unreasonable Seizure (42 U.S.C. § 1983) against Officer Adkins;
Count IV: Municipal Liability - Failure to Train (42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the City of Aberdeen; and
Count V: Violation of the Maryland Declaration of Rights against Officer Adkins and the City of Aberdeen.

Linnemann seeks compensatory and punitive damages, a declaratory judgment that the Defendants' conduct was unlawful and injunctive relief barring Defendants from adopting or following any policy "authorizing confiscation and destruction of posters and signs intended for First Amendment-protected advocacy and assembly in public forums in a lawful manner", as well as compensatory and punitive damages.

By the instant motion, Defendants move for dismissal of all claims in the Complaint pursuant to Rule[1] 12(b)(6) or alternatively for summary judgment under Rule 56.


A. Dismissal Standard

A motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint. A complaint need only contain "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." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (citations omitted). When evaluating a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a plaintiff's well-pleaded allegations are accepted as true and the complaint is viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. However, conclusory statements or a "formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action" will not suffice. Id . A complaint must allege sufficient facts to "cross the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.'" Francis v. Giacomelli , 588 F.3d 186, 193 (4th Cir. 2009) (quoting Twombly , 550 U.S. at 557).

Inquiry into whether a complaint states a plausible claim is "a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id . Thus, if the well-pleaded facts contained within a complaint "do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged - but it has not shown - that the pleader is entitled to relief." Id . (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009)) (internal quotation marks omitted).

B. Summary Judgment Standard

A motion for summary judgment shall be granted if the pleadings and supporting documents show that there is "no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a).

The well-established principles pertinent to summary judgment motions can be distilled to a simple statement: The court may look at the evidence presented in regard to a motion for summary judgment through the non-movant's rose-colored glasses, but must view it realistically. After so doing, the essential question is whether a reasonable fact finder could return a verdict for the non-movant or whether the movant would, at trial, be entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See, e.g., Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986); Shealy v. Winston , 929 F.2d 1009, 1012 (4th Cir. 1991). Thus, in order to defeat a motion for summary judgment, "the party opposing the motion must present evidence of specific facts from which the finder of fact could reasonably find for him or her." Mackey v. Shalala , 43 F.Supp.2d 559, 564 (D. Md. 1999) (emphasis added).

Summary judgment should not be granted "where the nonmoving party has not had the opportunity to discover information that is essential to his opposition." Anderson , 477 U.S. at 250 n. 5. In such a case, the court may deny summary judgment under Rule 56(d) if the nonmovant shows through affidavits that it could not properly oppose a motion for summary judgment without a chance to conduct discovery.


A. Pertinent Events[2]

On Friday, November 18, 2011, Linnemann drove to Aberdeen High School in Aberdeen, Maryland, planning to display anti-abortion signs that were in his car and protest against abortion. Upon his arrival, Linnemann parked his vehicle at the "entrance/exit of the high school, basically half on the street and half on the entrance/exit lane", but unloaded his materials onto a public sidewalk in front of Aberdeen High School.[3] Pl.'s Aff. [Document 9-1] ¶ 5. Officer Adkins approached and advised Linnemann that he was on private property. Linnemann responded that he was "on a public right-of-way adjacent to the public sidewalk." Compl. ¶ 18. Linnemann continued to unload his protest materials while Officer Adkins observed. Id . ¶ 17-18. When he finished unloading, Linnemann informed Adkins that he was going to park his vehicle and proceeded to do so several hundred feet away from the unloaded protest materials. Id . ¶ 19. As Linnemann walked back to his materials, Linnemann claims that Officer Adkins took one of the anti-abortion signs and "hurled" it into the street.[4] Id . ¶ 20. Linnemann yelled to Officer Adkins not to touch his stuff.[5] Pl.'s Aff. ¶ 9.

When Linnemann returned to the spot where he had left his materials, "all of them, plus appurtenant sandbags and support poles, [were] lying in the adjacent public street." Compl ¶ 21. At "this point Officer Adkins began ranting and raving about how wrong we [Linnemann and another protestor] were and angrily telling us that what we were doing was ugly, inappropriate and we should not be there." Pl.'s Aff. ¶ 10. Linnemann then retrieved his protest materials from the street and assembled them in the same spot where he had previously unloaded them.[6] Pl.'s Aff. ¶ 13.

At some point, Linnemann asked Officer Adkins to call his supervisor in regard to his conduct. Presumably, Officer Adkins did so and, in response, Corporal Swain, other City of Aberdeen police officers, and the principal of Aberdeen High School showed up. They spoke with each other near Linnemann's protest materials for about thirty minutes, and then departed. Compl. ¶ 23-24. After this "deliberation", Linnemann held his protest without interruption or interference from the Aberdeen Police Department or any other state actor.

At about 8:00 AM (presumably after the protest) Linnemann, at the suggestion of Corporal Swain, went to the Aberdeen Police Department headquarters and filed a complaint against Officer Adkins. Id . ¶ 25.

B. Factual Disputes

The parties present versions of the events at issue that, in certain respects, are conflicting. ...

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