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McCourry v. Town of Elkton

United States District Court, Fourth Circuit

October 22, 2013



WILLIAM M. NICKERSON, Senior District Judge.

Before the Court are two motions to dismiss: one filed by Defendants Town of Elkton, Joseph Fisona, William Ryan, and the Commissioners of the Town of Elkton (collectively, the Town Defendants), ECF No. 17, and one filed by Defendants Cecil County SPCA, Inc. (SPCA), Jean Deeming, and Jerry Hawkins (collectively, the SPCA Defendants), ECF No. 18. Both motions are fully briefed. Upon review of the filings and the applicable case law, the Court determines that no hearing is necessary, Local Rule 105.6, and that both motions will be granted.


This action arises out of an October 15, 2011, incident in which two police officers of the Elkton Police Department shot and killed "Shiloh, " a pet pit bull belonging to Plaintiffs Nakia McCourry and Kenny Bedwell. The forty-plus page, 226 paragraph Complaint relates a disquieting account of the shooting which, if the allegations are true, reflects a high degree of callousness on the part of these two police officers toward this family pet, as well as an apparent disregard for the safety and lives of those at the scene. The allegations in the Complaint, which the Court must accept as true for purposes of this motion, are as follows.

Plaintiffs Nakia McCourry and Kenny Bedwell live with their four young children in Elkton, Maryland, which is located in Cecil County. Plaintiff Dennis Bedwell, Kenny Bedwell's brother, lives on an adjacent street. Plaintiffs Lisa Lucas and Gladys Medina are sisters and are neighbors of McCourry and Kenny Bedwell. On the afternoon of October 15, 2011, Shiloh was in the fenced-in backyard of the McCourry/Bedwell Residence (the Residence) when a neighbor's dog broke through the fence. There was a brief scuffle between the two dogs but neither dog was injured and the neighbor's dog left the yard. Lisa Lucas then attempted to patch the hole in the fence through which the neighbor dog entered. At some point during the scuffle, however, someone called the Elkton Police Department.

A considerable time later, two police officers from the Elkton Police Department, Defendants John Doe 1 and John Doe 2, responded to the call and Lisa Lucas began talking with them on the street. Dennis Bedwell and Gladys Medina were in the front yard of the Residence. While Lucas was talking to the officer, Shiloh came through the hole in the fence that Lucas had attempted to repair and headed toward Dennis, tail wagging. One of the officers called out to Shiloh and Shiloh went to the officer and sniffed his pants-leg, without making contact. Dennis called Shiloh and Shiloh began walking away from the officer, toward Dennis.

As Shiloh was walking toward Dennis, still wagging his tail, the second police officer on the scene took out his service weapon and said, "you better get your dog." At a point when Shiloh was in the front yard of the Residence, still walking toward Dennis, the second officer started shooting at Shiloh and the first officer did likewise. Shiloh was hit multiple times and collapsed in front of Dennis. Dennis picked up the bleeding dog and, while Dennis was holding the dog in his arms, the officers continued to shoot at Shiloh. Dennis states that he felt every bullet that was fired. Plaintiffs also state that Gladys Medina was in the line of fire while the officers were shooting at the dog in Dennis's arms.

In addition to the details related to the shooting of Shiloh, the Complaint contains general allegations of a widespread practice on the part of the SPCA and the Elkton police of shooting domestic pets, particularly pit bulls. In addition to these generalized allegations, Plaintiffs relate several specific accounts of the unprovoked, sadistic shooting of domestic pets, but these were all committed by a particular SPCA employee, Defendant Jerry Hawkins. Compl. ¶¶ 6-8. Plaintiffs also assert that Defendant Jean Deeming, the Director of the SPCA, has instructed the SPCA's animal control officers, as well as the officers of the Elkton Police Department, "to pay special attention to the opportunity to kill a pit bull, " and has condoned "the reckless shooting of friendly dogs in residential areas without legal cause or justification." Id . ¶ 10. They further aver that the Town of Elkton and the Elkton Police Department "both implicitly and explicitly support their officers that follow [Deeming's] lead, even if it means shooting at civilians that are in the line of fire." Id.

In addition to the two police officers that shot Shiloh, [1] Plaintiffs have named as Defendants: the SPCA; Jean Deeming; Jerry Hawkins; the Town of Elkton; the Commissioners of the Town of Elkton, identified as Charles Givens, Mary Jablonski, Earl Piner, and Charles Hicks (the Commissioners); the Mayor of the Town of Elkton, Joseph Fisona; the Chief of the Elkton Police Department, William Ryan; and "Richard and Jane Roes 1-20" (the Roe Defendants), who are identified as supervisors of John and Jane Does 1-20 (the Doe Defendants). The Complaint contains seventeen counts, including several claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as well as various state law claims. The Town Defendants and SPCA Defendants have moved to dismiss all claims asserted against them.[2] In responding to the motions to dismiss, Plaintiffs concede that there is insufficient evidence at the present time to support many of the claims asserted against the moving Defendants. Specifically, they concede that Counts 3-7, 9-13, and 15-16 should be dismissed against the Town Defendants and Counts 4-12, and 16 should be dismissed against the SPCA Defendants.

With Plaintiffs' concessions, the following claims remain at issue in the pending motions:

Count 1 - Municipal Liability under § 1983 against the Town of Elkton only (the Monell[3] Claim);

Count 2 - Violation of Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments under § 1983, Supervisory Violations against the Commissioners, Mayor Fisona, and Chief Ryan, in their individual and official capacities;

Count 3 - Violation of Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments under § 1983, "Failure to Intercede and Prevent the Violation of Constitutional Rights" against the SPCA Defendants;

Count 8 - Violation and Conspiracy to Violate Rights under Articles 24 and 26 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights against all Defendants, in their individual and ...

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