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Bratton-Bey v. Straughan

United States District Court, D. Maryland

January 31, 2014



DEBORAH K. CHASANOW, District Judge.

Presently pending and ready for review in this civil rights case are four motions. First, Defendants Jason Straughan and Casey Diaz filed a motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, summary judgment. (ECF No. 14). Second, Plaintiff Moadiah Elam Bratton-Bey filed a motion to proceed on his state tort and state constitutional claims for good cause. (ECF No. 17). Finally, Defendants filed a motion to strike Plaintiff's surreply (ECF No. 20), and Plaintiff subsequently moved for leave to file his already submitted surreply (ECF No. 21). The issues have been fully briefed, and the court now rules, no hearing being deemed necessary. Local Rule 105.6. For the following reasons, Plaintiff's motion to file a surreply will be granted and Defendants' motion to strike will be denied. Defendants' motion to dismiss will be granted and Plaintiff's motion to proceed will be denied as moot.

I. Background

The following facts are either set forth in the complaint, evidenced by documents referenced or relied upon in the complaint, or are matters of public record of which the court may take judicial notice.[1]

This case centers around a traffic stop. Defendants are Montgomery County police officers. On June 23, 2009, Defendants were working in plain clothes at a shopping center in Silver Spring, Maryland. Defendants observed Plaintiff enter the supermarket within the shopping center, take a shopping cart, and walk into the store. Plaintiff was in the supermarket for approximately five minutes and left without any shopping bags. Plaintiff returned to his car and sat in it for approximately fifteen minutes, then changed his hat, and again walked into the supermarket. The officers stated that they observed Plaintiff peruse the gift card selection for several minutes and then take a shopping cart through several aisles but never purchased anything. Officer Diaz observed that Plaintiff was carrying his wallet in his hand on top of which was some sort of identification. The identification appeared to be a Pennsylvania driver's license because it had a photograph on it and was in a blue, white, and yellow color scheme. Plaintiff returned to his car and left the shopping center.

Officer Straughan testified that he had not observed Plaintiff commit a crime to that point. Officer Straughan asked Officer Diaz - who was following Plaintiff - to observe for any traffic violations and if any presented themselves, to stop the vehicle. Officer Straughan instructed Officer Diaz in this manner "because we hadn't witnessed any crimes, but based on his activity, I believed that he may be involved in some sort of criminal activity, whether it be shoplifting or credit card theft." (ECF No. 2-5, at 5-6). Officer Straughan testified that he wanted a traffic violation in addition to their prior observations to justify the stop: "We always use traffic to back up our observations, because it's obviously up to the interpretation of the [c]ourt." ( Id. at 6). Officer Diaz observed Plaintiff driving without wearing a seatbelt, a violation of Maryland's driving laws. Plaintiff contends that he was in fact wearing his seatbelt. Because of his observations, Officer Diaz performed a traffic stop. Plaintiff provided his proper name but admitted that he did not have his driver's license on him. Consequently, Officer Diaz asked Plaintiff to exit the vehicle and began questioning him about his activities at the supermarket. Plaintiff stated that he was looking for a phone card but could not find one. He could not answer why he went into the supermarket a second time. Officer Diaz asked Plaintiff for consent to search his vehicle. Plaintiff responded "no." ( Id. at 14). Plaintiff provided his proper name when asked, which revealed that he was in possession of a valid Maryland driver's license. Before learning that Plaintiff had a valid license, Officer Straughan observed the Pennsylvania driver's license seen earlier in plain view on the car's center console. Officer Straughan reached into Plaintiff's car and took the driver license. This license had Plaintiff's photo but the name was "Malik Jones." Officer Straughan ran a check of the license and discovered it was registered to a completely different individual. Plaintiff was then placed under arrest. Pursuant to a search incident to arrest, the police recovered four Discover credit cards that were not in Plaintiff's name. On June 24, 2009, Plaintiff was charged by complaint with four counts of possessing counterfeit credit cards, five counts of fraudulent assumption of another's identity, and one count of displaying a fictitious or fraudulently altered government identification document. After posting bail, he was released from custody the same day. (ECF No. 14-3, at 2-3). Later, on August 24, 2009, an Information was filed in District Court and, on September 3, 2009, the case was transferred to Circuit Court.

After the case proceeded to Circuit Court, Plaintiff moved to suppress all evidence collected from the traffic stop, arguing that the driver's license was illegally seized from the center console. The Circuit Court for Maryland for Montgomery County held a hearing on January 6, 2010 and denied Plaintiff's motion, holding that Defendants lawfully seized the license under the doctrine of plain view, and following the lawful seizure, Defendants had probable cause to arrest appellant. On November 9, 2010, Plaintiff was found guilty of one count of possession of a falsely made credit card.

Plaintiff appealed to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, contending that the trial court erred in denying Plaintiff's motion to suppress. By an unreported opinion filed February 23, 2012, the Court of Special Appeals found for Plaintiff, reversing the trial court. The court found that two of the three conditions that must be present for the plain view doctrine to apply were absent: the incriminating nature of the driver's license was not "immediately apparent, " and Officer Straughan had no lawful right of access to the driver's license. As to the first absent condition, the court found that the officers observed Plaintiff acting suspiciously in the supermarket, a suspicion which was not dispelled upon questioning. "Nonetheless, even after speaking to him, the officers had no more than a suspicion that appellant was engaged in criminal activity. The incriminating nature of the driver's license was not immediately apparent' until after Officer Straughan seized the license from the car and saw the discrepancy between the picture and the name on the license." (ECF No. 14-2, at 11). As to the second absent condition, the state argued that because the officers could have arrested Plaintiff for the combination of violating a traffic law along with failure to furnish satisfactory evidence of identity, Md. Code Ann., Transp. § 26-202(a)(2), the subsequent seizure of the license was a valid search incident to arrest. The court rejected this argument, writing that "[t]o hold otherwise would gut the protections afforded by the Fourth Amendment." ( Id. at 12). The court denied the state's motion to reconsider on May 8, 2012. Plaintiff filed a claim against Montgomery County, which was acknowledged as received on June 27, 2012. As a result of the Court of Special Appeals' ruling, the state entered a nolle pros as to all counts on December 3, 2012.

On April 8, 2013, Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, filed a complaint in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County. The complaint brings multiple claims against Officers Diaz and Straughan alleging violations of numerous provisions of the United States Constitution, Maryland Declaration of Rights, and state tort law stemming from the alleged false arrest, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution. (ECF No. 2). Officer Straughan was served on June 6, 2013, and Officer Diaz was served on June 12, 2013. (ECF No. 1). Defendants filed a notice of removal in this court on July 8, 2013, with jurisdiction based on federal question, 28 U.S.C. § 1331. (ECF No. 1). On July 15, 2013, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. (ECF No. 14). In accordance with Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975), the clerk of court mailed a letter to Plaintiff on the same day, notifying him that a dispositive motion had been filed and that he was entitled to file opposition material or risk entry of judgment against him. (ECF No. 15). Plaintiff opposed Defendants' motion on August 2, 2013 (ECF No. 16), to which Defendants replied on August 8, 2013 (ECF No. 18). Plaintiff filed a surreply on September 9, 2013. (ECF No. 19). Defendants moved to strike this surreply on September 11, 2013. (ECF No. 20). Plaintiff opposed Defendants' motion and moved for leave to file a surreply on October 7, 2013 (ECF No. 21), and Defendants replied the next day (ECF No. 22).

II. Standard of Review

The purpose of a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) is to test the sufficiency of the complaint. Presley v. City of Charlottesville, 464 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Cir. 2006). A plaintiff's complaint need only satisfy the standard of Rule 8(a), which requires a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). "Rule 8(a)(2) still requires a showing, ' rather than a blanket assertion, of entitlement to relief." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 n.3 (2007). That showing must consist of more than "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action" or "naked assertion[s] devoid of further factual enhancement." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal citations omitted).

At this stage, all well-pleaded allegations in a complaint must be considered as true, Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 268 (1994), and all factual allegations must be construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, see Harrison v. Westinghouse Savannah River Co., 176 F.3d 776, 783 (4th Cir. 1999) ( citing Mylan Labs., Inc. v. Matkari, 7 F.3d 1130, 1134 (4th Cir. 1993)). In evaluating the complaint, unsupported legal allegations need not be accepted. Revene v. Charles Cnty. Comm'rs, 882 F.2d 870, 873 (4th Cir. 1989). Legal conclusions couched as factual allegations are insufficient, Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, as are conclusory factual allegations devoid of any reference to actual events. United Black Firefighters v. Hirst, 604 F.2d 844, 847 (4th Cir. 1979).

III. Analysis

A. Plaintiff's ...

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