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Whitley v. Prince George's County

United States District Court, Fourth Circuit

July 11, 2013

EVERETT WHITLEY, Plaintiff,
v.
PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY, MD, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

PAUL W. GRIMM, District Judge.

This Memorandum and Order addresses the Motion to Dismiss, or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 6, that Defendants Prince George's County, Maryland ("the County"), Detective Thomas Harley, and Detective Maurice Talley filed, and Plaintiff Everett Whitley's Opposition thereto, ECF No. 10. Defendants have not filed a reply, and the time for doing so has passed. See Loc. R. 105.2.a. I find that a hearing is unnecessary in this case. See Loc. R. 105.6. For the reasons stated below, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

I. BACKGROUND

An individual named Eric Jamal Harper was shot on October 24, 2009 at the entrance to an apartment building located at 6802 Atwood Street, District Heights, Maryland, by someone other than Plaintiff.[1] Compl. ¶¶ 8 & 11, ECF No. 1; Aff. & Application Accompanying Search & Seizure Warrant ¶ 4, ECF No. 6-1. Mr. Harper stated that a "black male wearing green shirt dark pants with dreaded hair" shot him. Aff. & Application ¶ 4. When Prince George's County Police Detective Harley interviewed one eyewitness, she described the shooter, whom she said she saw from an upstairs window in the apartment building, as a "black male wearing green shirt dark pants with dreads, " and she identified Plaintiff in a photo array as the shooter. Id. When another officer interviewed the same witness, she said that she "was in [her] apartment and heard two shots when she looked out of the window and saw two males running across Atwood Street towards District Heights Parkway, one suspect had on a green shirt and blue jeans...." Incident Report 2, ECF No. 10-2. She said that "she saw the flash of the gun but could not provide any other details." Id. Another eyewitness said that "she saw a[n] older style gold van fleeing the area in a high rate of speed." Id.

Defendant Detective Harley swore out an affidavit and applied for a search and seizure warrant for 6802 Atwood Street, Apartment 2, stating that the eyewitness who identified Plaintiff informed the police that Plaintiff and the other suspect lived in Apartment 2. Aff. & Application ¶ 4. Defendant Detective Harley stated that he believed that the handgun used in the incident, as well as its ammunition, were in Apartment 2, and sought to seize those items as evidence. Id . ¶ 5. The state judge found that probable cause existed to search Apartment 2 and issued the search and seizure warrant ("Warrant"). Search & Seizure Warrant 1. According to Plaintiff, "the eyewitness statement and photographic identification relied upon by the Defendant Detectives was improper and incorrect." Compl. ¶ 12. Plaintiff claims that the Defendant Detectives "obtained a warrant, under false pretenses, for the arrest of Mr. Whitley." Id. ¶ 13.

On November 23, 2009, Defendants executed the Warrant and "physically attacked" and arrested Plaintiff, who was present at Apartment 2 at the time of the search. Id. ¶ 14; Defs.' Mot. 2. At the time of Plaintiff's arrest, Defendants seized documents and 0.2 grams of marijuana, but no weapons or ammunition. Search & Seizure Warrant Return, ECF No. 6-1. Plaintiff was charged with violations of Maryland law in conjunction with Mr. Harper's shooting. Compl. ¶¶ 14-15 & 19. Plaintiff spent more than forty days incarcerated before he was released and "all criminal charges were terminated in favor of Mr. Whitley." Compl. ¶¶ 17-18.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for "the dismissal of a complaint if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Velencia v. Drezhlo , No. RDB-12-237, 2012 WL 6562764, at *4 (D. Md. Dec. 13, 2012). This rule's purpose "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.'" Id. (quoting Presley v. City of Charlottesville , 464 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Cir. 2006)). To that end, the Court bears in mind the requirements of Fed.R.Civ.P. 8, Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662 (2009), when considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). Specifically, 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), and must state "a plausible claim for relief, " as "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice, " Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 678-79. See Velencia , 2012 WL 6562764, at *4 (discussing standard from Iqbal and Twombly ). "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.

When reviewing a motion to dismiss, if the Court considers matters outside the pleadings, as the Court does here, [2] the Court must treat the motion as a motion for summary judgment. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d); Syncrude Canada Ltd. v. Highland Consulting Grp., Inc. , No. RDB-12-318, 2013 WL 139194, at *2 (D. Md. Jan. 10, 2013). Summary judgment is proper when the moving party demonstrates, through "particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations..., admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials, " 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), (c)(1)(A); see Baldwin v. City of Greensboro , No. 12-1722, ___ F.3d ___, 2013 WL 1866940, at *3 (4th Cir. May 6, 2013). If the party seeking summary judgment demonstrates that there is no evidence to support the nonmoving party's case, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to identify evidence that shows that a genuine dispute exists as to material facts. See Celotex v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317 (1986). The existence of only a "scintilla of evidence" is not enough to defeat a motion for summary judgment. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc ., 477 U.S. 242, 251 (1986). Instead, the evidentiary materials submitted must show facts from which the finder of fact reasonably could find for the party opposing summary judgment. Id.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Compliance with the Local Government Tort Claims Act

Defendants contend that the Court should dismiss all of the state law claims against all of the Defendants in Counts VI - XIX, XXII, XXIII, and XXV because Plaintiff failed to comply with the notice and pleading requirements of the Local Government Tort Claims Act ("LGTCA"), Md. Code Ann., Cts & Jud. Proc. §§ 5-301 - 5-304. Defs.' Mot. 9-10. Plaintiff counters that the Court should entertain all of the state law claims because Plaintiff substantially complied with the LGTCA's notice requirements and, in any event, Defendants were not prejudiced by Plaintiff's failure to comply with the statute, and Plaintiff has shown good cause for his failure to give notice. Pl.'s Opp'n 17-18.

Under the LGTCA, "a local governmental entity is liable, up to $200, 000 per person, $500, 000 for all claims, for its own tortious conduct. It also is liable for tort judgments for compensatory damages rendered against its employees, if the judgment arises from tortious conduct committed within the scope of the employment." DiPino v. Davis , 729 A.2d 354, 370-71 (Md. 1999). The LGTCA applies to state constitutional torts, as well as common law torts. Martino v. Bell , 40 F.Supp.2d 719, 723 (D. Md. 1999). However, to sue a local government or its employees for unliquidated damages, a plaintiff must provide written notice of the claim within 180 days after the injury giving rise to the suit. Md. Code Ann., Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 5-304(b) (West 2009). Further, the notice must "state the time, place, and cause of the injury, " id . § 5-304(b)(2), and it must be provided to the county solicitor or county attorney, id. § 5-304(c)(3)(iii). Plaintiff concedes that he did not give actual notice. Pl.'s Opp'n 17.

Failure to give actual notice is not fatal to a claim if a plaintiff substantially complies with the notice requirements, Huggins v. Prince George's Cnty. , Md., 683 F.3d 525, 538 (4th Cir. 2012), as Plaintiff insists that he did here, Pl.'s Opp'n 17. Although a substitute for full compliance, ...


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