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Blue v. Prince George's County

Court of Appeals of Maryland

September 27, 2013

Roguell Blue
v.
Prince George's County, Maryland, et al

Barbera, C.J. Harrell Battaglia Greene Adkins McDonald [*] Bell, JJ.

OPINION

McDonald, J.

Ernie Banks, the always cheerful Hall of Fame shortstop and first baseman for the Chicago Cubs, used a baseball bat to hit home runs out of what he referred to as the "friendly confines" of Wrigley Field.[1] In Romeo and Juliet, the ill-fated Mercutio spoke of laying one's sword upon a table when entering the "confines of a tavern."[2]

Maryland law regulating a modern weapon of choice also makes reference to the "confines" of an establishment. In 1972, the General Assembly enacted emergency legislation to limit the "widespread carrying of handguns on streets and in vehicles...." An exception to that law allows a supervisory employee of a business to carry a handgun without a permit "within the confines of the business establishment in which" the employee works.[3]

Although the Legislature likely had no thought of Ernie Banks or Shakespeare when it used the term "confines" in the handgun law, in this case we must decide whether it used the word in the same sense as they did – i.e., the interior of an enclosed or walled space. Petitioner Roguell Blue, the head of security for a nightclub, was arrested by the Prince George's County Police for carrying a handgun without a permit on the open parking lot of the nightclub. Mr. Blue brought suit against the County, contending at trial that his arrest was illegal because the parking lot should be considered to be "within the confines" of the nightclub.

We agree with the Court of Special Appeals that there is no reason to believe that the Legislature used the term "confines" with respect to a "business establishment" other than in its ordinary sense, which would not include an open parking lot adjacent to a nightclub. We thus affirm the judgment of that court directing judgment in favor of the County.

Background

Handgun Permit Requirement and Exceptions

Under Maryland law, an individual may not "wear, carry, or transport a handgun, whether concealed or open, on or about the person[.]" Maryland Code, Criminal Law Article ("CR"), §4-203(a)(1)(i).[4] There are numerous exceptions to this prohibition. As a general rule, a member of the public may legally carry a handgun only by obtaining a permit pursuant to the handgun permit law – one of the exceptions to the prohibition.[5] CR §4-203(b). Pertinent to this case, the statute also excepts from the prohibition:

the wearing, carrying, or transporting of a handgun by a supervisory employee:
(i) in the course of employment;
(ii) within the confines of the business establishment in which the supervisory employee is employed; and
(iii) when so authorized by the owner or manager of the business establishment[.]

CR §4-203(b)(7). Violation of the statute is a misdemeanor that carries maximum penalties that vary depending on the circumstances and location of the offense, as well as whether the defendant has prior firearms-related convictions. CR §4-203(c).

Mr. Blue's Arrest

On the night of June 17, 2008, Mr. Blue was working as the head of security for Irving's Nightclub, [6] a strip club in Capitol Heights, Maryland. His employer required that he be armed with a handgun.[7] During the evening, he came to believe that there was "illicit sexual activity" taking place outside the club in a car in the nightclub's parking lot. Mr. Blue confronted the individuals involved, ordered a man out of the car, and attempted to pat him down for weapons. The man ran from the scene, and Mr. Blue and other security guards relented when he left the parking lot. Mr. Blue then called the Prince George's County Police Department to report the incident.

As it turned out, however, officers from the Police Department were already on their way to the nightclub in response to a report of gunshots. Upon arrival, the officers learned that Mr. Blue was carrying a handgun and asked him to produce a valid permit for it. Instead, Mr. Blue showed them a laminated copy of CR §4-203 and informed them that he had the permission of the club owner to possess the handgun on the premises.[8] Mr. Blue was arrested and charged with "wearing, carrying, or transporting a handgun in public" in violation of CR §4-203(a)(1). Those charges were later disposed of with the State's entry of a nolle prosequi.

Mr. Blue's Lawsuit

On September 14, 2009, Mr. Blue filed a lawsuit in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County against the County and three of the police officers involved in his arrest.[9] In his complaint, he alleged a violation of Article 24 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights, [10]false arrest and imprisonment, and malicious prosecution.

A trial was held from December 13 to December 15, 2010. At the trial, Mr. Blue asserted that he was legally permitted to carry the handgun under CR §4-203(b)(7) as a "supervisory employee, " and that the officers therefore did not have probable cause to arrest him. The nightclub owner testified that Mr. Blue's position required him "to have a weapon on [the] premises" in order to ensure "that everything was safe around the club, " including "[i]nside and around the parking lot." At the close of Mr. Blue's case, the Circuit Court, finding that Mr. Blue had failed to prove that the arrest was motivated by "ill will ... or contempt or with the intent to injure, " granted the County's motion for judgment on the malicious prosecution claim. The remaining two claims were eventually sent to the jury.

The jury found in favor of Mr. Blue on his State constitutional claim and on the false arrest and imprisonment claim. He was awarded $106, 100 in damages, comprised of $29, 350 for lost wages, $1, 750 for medical expenses, and $75, 000 in other non-economic damages. The trial court denied the County's motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict.

Both Mr. Blue and the County appealed. On August 30, 2012, the Court of Special Appeals, in a reported decision, upheld the dismissal of the malicious prosecution claim, but reversed the judgment based on the jury verdict. 206 Md.App. 608, 51 A.3d 42 (2012). The intermediate appellate court reasoned that, because Mr. Blue had been carrying his handgun in the parking lot of the club and not "within the confines of the business establishment" – which it construed to mean the interior of the building – the officers had probable ...


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