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Garcia v. Montgomery County

United States District Court, Fourth Circuit

August 23, 2013



J. FREDERICK MOTZ, District Judge.

Plaintiff Mannie Garcia brought this action against the following defendants: Montgomery County, Maryland; Chief of Police Thomas Manger; Montgomery County police officers Christopher Malouf, Kevin Baxter, and Michael Graves; and Lieutenant Mark Sheelor (collectively, the "defendants"). In his complaint, Mr. Garcia seeks relief for claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Privacy Protection Act of 1980, and several common law tort claims. Now pending before the court is defendants' amended motion to dismiss counts I through VII of plaintiff's complaint.[1] (ECF No. 11.) The issues have been fully briefed, and the court finds no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons stated below, defendants' motion to dismiss is granted in part and denied in part.


The following facts are alleged by Mr. Garcia in his complaint. ( See ECF No. 1.) On June 16, 2011, Mr. Garcia, his wife, and a family friend were leaving a restaurant in Wheaton, Maryland, when Mr. Garcia observed two young Hispanic men being arrested. (Compl. ¶ 16.) The officers on the scene were defendants Malouf, Baxter, and Graves and two Montgomery County Alcohol and Tobacco Officers. ( Id. ) Concerned that the arresting officers were using excessive force, Mr. Garcia-an award-winning freelance photojournalist-began to record the incident photographically. ( Id. ¶¶ 6, 17.) Mr. Garcia did not interfere with the police activity, initially recording the incident from at least thirty feet away. ( Id. ¶ 18.) Officer Baxter subsequently flashed Mr. Garcia with a spotlight, and Mr. Garcia moved across the street to continue photographing the arrest from about one hundred feet away. ( Id. )

After he moved across the street, Mr. Garcia was approached by Officer Malouf. ( Id. ¶ 18, 19.) As Officer Malouf approached, Mr. Garcia identified himself as a member of the press and opened his hands to show that he had nothing in his possession except a camera. ( Id. ¶ 19.) Officer Malouf shouted that Mr. Garcia was under arrest, placed him in a chokehold, and forcibly dragged him along the ground to the police cruiser. ( Id. ¶¶ 20, 24.) Officer Malouf then placed Mr. Garcia in handcuffs and confiscated his camera. ( Id. ¶ 23.) While handcuffed, Officer Malouf kicked Mr. Garcia's right foot out from under him, causing Mr. Garcia to hit his head on the police cruiser as he fell to the ground. ( Id. ¶ 24.) Mr. Garcia's wife emerged from their car to see what was happening, and as she did so, Mr. Garcia heard an officer say, "If that fucking bitch takes one more step I am going to arrest her ass." ( Id. ¶ 25.)

The officers at the scene did not inform Mr. Garcia of his charges, nor did they provide him with Miranda warnings. ( Id. ¶ 28.) Instead, Mr. Garcia was placed in a police cruiser and driven by Officer Malouf to the Wheaton/Glenmont Police Station. ( Id. ¶ 29.) While in the police cruiser, Mr. Garcia observed Officer Malouf remove the battery and video card from Mr. Garcia's camera and stash the video card in his shirt pocket. ( Id. ¶ 30.) Mr. Garcia was subsequently taken to the Montgomery County Detention Center, Central Processing Unit, where he was booked and charged with disorderly conduct in violation of Maryland Code, Criminal Law Article § 10-201. ( Id. ¶¶ 31, 32.) Mr. Garcia alleges that Officer Malouf's report, which formed the basis for the disorderly conduct charge, was a fabrication. ( Id. ¶ 34.) After being booked, Mr. Garcia was released on his personal recognizance, but his video card was never returned. ( Id. ¶ 35.) On December 16, 2011, after a trial in the District Court of Maryland for Montgomery County, Mr. Garcia was acquitted of the disorderly conduct charge. ( Id. ¶ 37.)

Mr. Garcia alleges that the defendants failed to follow the written Montgomery County Police Department ("MCPD") Policy on Police Media Relations, FC No. 1141, dated December 29, 2000, which provides, among other things, that the police should maintain a cooperative working relationship with members of the media. ( Id. ¶¶ 38-39.) Because of this incident, the MCPD Internal Affairs Division conducted an investigation, which Mr. Garcia alleges was "perfunctory" and marred by conflict of interest. ( Id. ¶¶ 40-42.) In particular, the principal investigator-defendant Lieutenant Sheelor-forgot to record his investigatory interviews with the officers and forgot to take any notes. ( Id. ¶ 41.) Moreover, the internal investigation was conducted during Mr. Garcia's district court trial, and Lieutenant Sheelor conferred with and assisted the officers he was assigned to investigate. ( Id. ¶ 42.) Despite Mr. Garcia's acquittal in the state district court, Internal Affairs determined that there were "no administrative violations" by the officers. ( Id. ¶¶ 43-44.) Since Mr. Garcia's Internal Affairs investigation and the initial filing of this civil suit, Mr. Garcia has observed some of the arresting officers cruising around his neighborhood and parking in front of his residence. ( Id. ¶45.)

Mr. Garcia brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, seeking relief for violations of his First and Fourth Amendment rights. In addition, Mr. Garcia has brought a Privacy Protection Act of 1980 claim and several common law tort claims.


I. Legal Standard

"[T]he 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) (internal quotation marks and alterations omitted) (quoting Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999)). When ruling on such a motion, the court must "accept the well-pled allegations of the complaint as true" and "construe the facts and reasonable inferences derived therefrom in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Ibarra v. United States, 120 F.3d 472, 474 (4th Cir. 1997). "Even though the requirements for pleading a proper complaint are substantially aimed at assuring that the defendant be given adequate notice of the nature of a claim being made against him, they also provide criteria for defining issues for trial and for early disposition of inappropriate complaints." Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 192 (4th Cir. 2009).

To survive a motion to dismiss, the factual allegations of a complaint "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, ... on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact)." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal citations and alterations omitted). Thus, the plaintiff's obligation is to set forth sufficiently the "grounds of his entitlement to relief, " offering more than "labels and conclusions." Id. (internal quotation marks and alterations omitted). "[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not show[n]'-that the pleader is entitled to relief.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)).

II. Claims for Deprivation of Civil Rights Under 42 U.S.C. § 1983

Section 1983 establishes liability for "every person" who, under the color of law, deprives an individual of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution. 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In their motion to dismiss, defendants assert various bases for ...

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