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Bailey v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore

United States District Court, Fourth Circuit

July 3, 2013

VANESSA BAILEY, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
MAYOR AND CITY COUNCIL OF BALTIMORE, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

RICHARD D. BENNETT, District Judge.

Plaintiffs Hasson Tucker, Vanessa Bailey, Phyllis Quickley and Annette Walker (collectively "Plaintiffs"), proceeding pro se, initially brought this action against the Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealfeld, III and Officer Milton G. Smith, III (collectively "Defendants") in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City. Subsequently, Defendants removed this action before this Court based on federal question jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1441, 1331, and 1446. Mr. Tucker filed the Complaint (ECF No. 2) and Ms. Bailey, Ms. Quickley and Ms. Walker filed three virtually identical letters (Attach. 1, ECF No. 2) which have been incorporated into the Complaint. Plaintiffs allege that Defendants violated their constitutional right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures as protected by the Fourth Amendment, and incorporated to the states by the Fourteenth Amendment. Although not explicitly stated in the Complaint, this Court assumes that Plaintiffs seek relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiffs also appear to claim that Defendants violated Article 24 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights which protects substantive due process rights. Md. Const. Decl. of Rts. art. 24. Pending before this Court are Defendants Mayor and City Council of Baltimore and Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld, III's Motions to Dismiss (ECF Nos. 9 & 11). Also pending are Plaintiffs' Motions to Amend (ECF No. 15), Appoint Counsel (ECF No. 17) and Reissue Summons (ECF No. 14). The parties' submissions have been reviewed and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2011). For the reasons that follow, Plaintiffs' Motion to Amend (ECF No. 15) is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part. Specifically, it is GRANTED as to the dismissal of Plaintiffs' claims against the Mayor and City Council of Baltimore and DENIED regarding the addition of the State of Maryland as a party to this action. As a result, Defendants Mayor and City Council of Baltimore and Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld, III's Motions to Dismiss (ECF Nos. 9 & 11) are MOOT. Plaintiffs' Motions for Reissuance of Summons (ECF No. 14) is DENIED and Plaintiff's Motion to Appoint Counsel (ECF No. 17) is DENIED as MOOT.

BACKGROUND

This Court accepts as true the facts alleged in the Plaintiffs' Complaint.[1] See Aziz v. Alcolac, Inc., 658 F.3d 388, 390 (4th Cir. 2011). Moreover, a pro se litigant's complaint should not be dismissed unless it appears beyond doubt that the litigant can prove no set of facts in support of his claim that would entitle him to relief. Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th Cir. 1978). Plaintiffs allege that on or about December 20, 2008, law enforcement officials conducted searches and seizures on Plaintiffs' residences pursuant to a warrant signed by Baltimore County Circuit Court Judge Wanda Heard. Id. at ¶¶ 2, 5. Plaintiffs also allege that the warrant was supported by an affidavit signed by Officer Milton G. Smith, III. Id. Additionally, Plaintiffs claim that upon executing the warrant, Officer Smith and the other officers located Mr. Hasson Tucker and his vehicle at Ms. Walker's residence. Id. at ¶ 3. The officers allegedly took Mr. Tucker into custody and seized his vehicle. Id. Ms. Walker claims that she was Mr. Tucker's fiance and Vanessa Bailey and Phyllis Quickley allege that they are members of Mr. Tucker's family. Id. at ¶¶ 2, 6. Ms. Bailey, Ms. Quickley and Ms. Walker allege that Defendants violated their rights under the Fourth Amendment and Article 24 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights and, although not explicitly stated in the Complaint, this Court assumes that they seek relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983. Id. at ¶ 10. Specifically, they argue that the execution of the searches and seizures "caused [them] irrevocable harm, [and] did injure [and] interfere with [their] legally protected interest[s]." Id. at ¶ 8. They argue that these searches and seizures"did invade [their] privacy, peace, effects and papers in [their homes]." Id. at ¶ 9.

Plaintiffs Hasson Tucker, Vanessa Bailey, Phyllis Quickley and Annette Walker (collectively "Plaintiffs"), proceeding pro se, initially brought this action against the Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealfeld, III and Officer Milton G. Smith, III (collectively "Defendants") in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City. Subsequently, Defendants removed this action before this Court based on federal question jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1441, 1331, and 1446.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

A. MOTION TO AMEND

Rule 15(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure instructs that a court "should freely give leave [to amend] when justice so requires." FED. R. CIV. P. 15(a)(2). Accordingly, the Fourth Circuit has held that "leave to amend a pleading should be denied only when the amendment would be prejudicial to the opposing party, there has been bad faith on the part of the moving party, or the amendment would have been futile." Laber v. Harvey, 438 F.3d 404, 427 (4th Cir. 2006); see also Sciolino v. City of Newport News, 480 F.3d 642, 651 (4th Cir. 2007).

B. MOTION TO DISMISS

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), a complaint must contain a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a)(2). Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure authorizes the dismissal of a complaint if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted; therefore, "the purpose of Rule 12(b)(6) is to test the sufficiency of a complaint and not to resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses." Presley v. City of Charlottesville, 464 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Cir. 2006). In ruling on such a motion, this Court is guided by the Supreme Court's instructions in Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009) which "require complaints in civil actions [to] be alleged with greater specificity than previously was required." Walters v. McMahen, 684 F.3d 435, 439 (4th Cir. 2012) (citation omitted). The Twombly Court articulated "[t]wo working principles" courts must employ when ruling on Rule 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

First, while a court must accept as true all the factual allegations contained in the complaint, legal conclusions drawn from those facts are not afforded such deference. Id. ("Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice" to plead a claim.). In the context of pro se litigants, however, pleadings are "to be liberally construed, " and are "held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (citation omitted); accord Brown v. N.C. Dept. of Corr., 612 F.3d 720, 724 (4th Cir. 2010). Second, even a pro se complaint must be dismissed if it does not allege "a plausible claim for relief." Id. at 679; see also O'Neil v. Ponzi, 394 Fed.App'x 795, 796 (2d Cir. 2010). Under the plausibility standard, a complaint must contain "more than labels and conclusions" or a "formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Although the plausibility requirement does not impose a "probability requirement, " id. at 556, "[a] claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 663; see also Robertson v. Sea Pines Real Estate Cos., 679 F.3d 278, 291 (4th Cir. 2012) ("A complaint need not make a case against a defendant or forecast evidence sufficient to prove an element of the claim. It need only allege facts sufficient to state elements of the claim.") (emphasis in original) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). In short, a court must "draw on its judicial experience and common sense" to determine whether the pleader has stated a plausible claim for relief." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 664.

ANALYSIS

A. MOTION TO AMEND

Plaintiffs seek to amend their Complaint by (1) dismissing their claims against the Mayor and City Council of Baltimore and Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealfeld with prejudice and (2) adding the State of Maryland as a party to the action.[2] Rule 15(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure instructs courts to "freely give leave" to a party seeking to amend its pleadings "when justice so requires." FED. R. CIV. P. 15(a)(2). The Fourth Circuit has held that justice requires granting a party leave to amend unless the amendment would be prejudicial to the opposing party, there has been bad faith on the part of the moving party, or the amendment would have been futile." Laber v. Harvey, 438 F.3d 404, 427 (4th Cir. 2006); see also Sciolino v. City of Newport News, 480 F.3d ...


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