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Rockwell v. Mayor & City Council of Baltimore

United States District Court, D. Maryland

March 11, 2014

DANIEL L. ROCKWELL, et al, Plaintiff,
v.
MAYOR & CITY COUNCIL OF BALTIMORE, et al, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

RICHARD D. BENNETT, District Judge.

Plaintiffs Demetria R. Holden ("Holden") and Daniel L. Rockwell ("Rockwell") bring this action against Defendants Detective Clyde Rawlins ("Detective Rawlins"), Detective Richard Manning ("Detective Manning"), School Police Officer Rodney Coffield ("Officer Coffield"), Department of Juvenile Services Officer Leo Zilka ("Officer Zilka"), and the Baltimore Police Department, asserting various claims under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985, and 1986 and related Maryland state tort law arising from the Defendants' execution of an arrest warrant against Rockwell.[1] Specifically, Plaintiffs allege that the tasing of Rockwell while he was standing on a second-story roof, resulting in his fall and sustaining of serious injuries, constituted excessive force under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments and additionally assert that the Defendants conspired to withhold information after the incident. In a flurry of motions, all Defendants have moved to dismiss the claims. See ECF Nos. 8, 21, 22, and 31. The parties' submissions have been reviewed, and this Court held a hearing on the motions on February 27, 2014. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2011). For the reasons that follow, the Motions to Dismiss filed by Defendant Officer Zilka and Officer Coffield (ECF Nos. 8 and 31) are GRANTED. In addition, the Motion to Dismiss of Detectives Manning and Rawlins (ECF No. 21) is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART; specifically it is GRANTED with respect to all claims against Detective Manning and with respect to Count III, Count IV, Count V, Count VI, Count IX, and Count X as to Detective Rawlins. Finally, Defendant Baltimore Police Department's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 22) is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART; specifically, the Motion is granted with respect to all claims except Count XII asserting Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment violations under federal law. Accordingly, for the reasons that follow, the Defendants Officer Zilka, Officer Coffield, and Detective Manning are DISMISSED from this case, and this action shall proceed against the Defendants Detective Rawlins and Baltimore Police Department.

BACKGROUND

This Court accepts as true the facts alleged in the plaintiffs' complaint. See Aziz v. Alcolac, Inc., 658 F.3d 388, 390 (4th Cir. 2011).

This case arises out of the execution of a warrant to arrest Plaintiff Daniel L. Rockwell ("Rockwell") in Baltimore City, Maryland. On February 8, 2011, Defendants Detective Clyde Rawlins ("Detective Rawlins"), Detective Richard Manning ("Detective Manning"), School Police Officer Rodney Coffield ("Officer Coffield"), and Department of Juvenile Services Officer Leo Zilka ("Officer Zilka") arrived at Plaintiffs' home at 4425 Wrenwood Avenue, Baltimore City, Maryland 21212 in order to execute the warrant. Pls.' Compl. ¶ 21. Plaintiff Demetria Holden ("Holden") is the mother of Rockwell, who is mentally challenged, and was a minor at the time. Id. ¶¶ 1, 2. At some point after the Defendants' arrival, Rockwell exited his second story bedroom window and stood on the roof of the house. Id. ¶ 21. It is undisputed that Defendant Rawlins subsequently tasered Rockwell, causing Rockwell to fall from the roof to the ground and fracture his vertebrae. Id.

Thereafter, Plaintiffs Rockwell and Holden retained counsel in order to file a civil rights lawsuit. Id. ¶ 27. In order to identify the officers involved in the incident, Plaintiffs requested the police report and other statements pertaining to the incident. Id. ¶ 29. Despite Plaintiffs' repeated efforts, the Plaintiffs were informed on at least two occasions that the report was not available while several other attempts to obtain information were simply denied. Id. ¶¶ 29-38. Ultimately, Plaintiff was able to obtain the information after filing a suit against the Government Defendants, seeking production of the documents and information. Id. ¶ 43.

Thereafter, Plaintiff filed an action in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City asserting a variety of federal and state claims for money damages against Defendants and the Baltimore City Police Department ("BPD) (ECF No. 2). Specifically, the Complaint alleged assault (Count I), battery (Count II), false arrest (Count III), false imprisonment (Count IV), intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count V), negligence (Count VI), gross negligence (Count VII), negligent hiring, retaining, training, and supervision (Count VIII), civil conspiracy (Count IX), violations of Articles 24 and 26 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights (Counts X and XI), and federal claims under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments and 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985, and 1986 (Count XII). Zilka's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 8), as well as the original Plaintiff's Response brief (ECF No. 10), were filed in the state court. Thereafter, the Defendants removed the action to this Court pursuant 28 U.S.C. § 1446 and 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and the Detectives (Rawlins and Manning), Officer Coffield, and the Baltimore Police Department filed separate motions to dismiss (ECF Nos. 21, 22, and 31 respectively). Plaintiff filed a consolidated Response to the Motions of Zilka, the Detectives, and Coffield (ECF No. 40). Plaintiff also filed a separate Response brief to the BPD's motion (ECF No. 43). In addition, this Court held a motions hearing on February 27, 2013.

At the hearing, all parties agreed that, upon arrival at the Plaintiffs' home, Officers Zilka and Coffield remained outside of the home while Detective Rawlins entered the home.[2] The parties also agreed that Detective Rawlins was the officer who tased Rockwell. During the hearing, Plaintiffs agreed to dismiss numerous counts including the false arrest, false imprisonment, and negligence claims.[3] The Counts that remain are claims against Rawlins for assault and battery (Count I and II), intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count V), gross negligence (Count VII), civil conspiracy (Count IX), Maryland Declaration of Rights claims (Count X and XI), and violations of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment and 42 U.S.C. § 1983, 1985, and 1986 (Count XII); claims against Zilka, Coffield, and Manning for state and federal conspiracies (Counts IX, X, XII); and claims against the BPD for negligent hiring, retaining, training, and supervision (Count VIII), civil conspiracy (Count IX), violations of the Maryland Declaration of Rights (Counts X and XI), and federal conspiracies (Count XII).

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Defendants Baltimore City Police Department, Officer Zilka, and Officer Coffield move this Court to dismiss Plaintiffs' claims or, in the alternative, enter summary judgment.

A motion of this type implicates the Court's discretion under Rule 12(d) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Kensington Vol. Fire Dept., Inc. v. Montgomery County, 788 F.Supp.2d 431, 436-37 (D. Md. 2011). Ordinarily, a court "is not to consider matters outside the pleadings or resolve factual disputes when ruling on a motion to dismiss." Bosiger v. U.S. Airways, 510 F.3d 442, 450 (4th Cir. 2007). However, under Rule 12(b)(6), a court, in its discretion, may consider matters outside of the pleadings, pursuant to Rule 12(d). If the court does so, "the motion must be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56, " but "[a]ll parties must be given a reasonable opportunity to present all the material that is pertinent to the motion." Fed. R, Civ. P. 12(d). When the movant expressly captions its motion "in the alternative" as one for summary judgment, and submits matters outside the pleadings for the court's consideration, the parties are deemed to be on notice that conversion under Rule 12(d) may occur; the court "does not have an obligation to notify parties of the obvious." Laughlin v. Metro. Wash. Airports Auth., 149 F.3d 253, 261 (4th Cir. 1998).

A district judge has "complete discretion to determine whether or not to accept the submission of any material beyond the pleadings that is offered in conjunction with a Rule 12(b)(6) motion and rely on it, thereby converting the motion, or to reject it or simply not consider it." 5 C WRIGHT & MILLER, FEDERAL PRACTICE & PROCEDURE § 1366, at 159 (3d ed.2004, 2011 Supp.). This discretion "should be exercised with great caution and attention to the parties procedural rights." Id. at 149. In general, courts are guided by whether consideration of extraneous material "is likely to facilitate the disposition of the action, " and "whether discovery prior to the utilization of the summary judgment procedure" is necessary. Id. at 165-67.

Ordinarily, summary judgment is inappropriate "where the parties have not had an opportunity for reasonable discovery." E.I. de Nemours & Co. v. Kolon Industries, Inc., 637 F.3d 435, 448 (4th Cir.2011). However, "the party opposing summary judgment cannot complain that summary judgment was granted without discovery unless that party has made an attempt to oppose the motion on the grounds that more time was needed for discovery.'" Harrods Ltd. v. Sixty Internet Domain Names, 302 F.3d 214, 244 (4th Cir.2002) (quoting Evans v. Techs. Applications & Serv. Co., 80 F.3d 954, 961 (4th Cir.1996)). Generally, to raise adequately the issue that discovery is needed, the party opposing the motion must file an affidavit or declaration pursuant to Rule 56(d) (formerly Rule 56(f)), explaining why, "for specified reasons, it cannot present facts essential to justify its opposition, " without needed discovery. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(d); see Harrods, 302 F.3d at 244-45 (discussing affidavit requirement of former Rule 56(f)).

In this case, the Baltimore Police Department has urged this Court to convert the Motions and enter judgment against Plaintiffs due to Plaintiffs' purported failure to comply with the requirements of a Rule 56(d) affidavit. See BPD's Reply 3-6, ECF No. 49. Specifically, the Department argues that the declaration of Plaintiffs' counsel (attached to Plaintiffs' Response brief) is inadequate and that the Plaintiffs themselves should have provided an affidavit describing the specific reasons that they needed discovery. However, it is well-established that this Court is afforded great discretion in determining the treatment of such motions, and that "[w]hen the nonmoving party, through no fault of its own, has had little or no opportunity to conduct discovery, and when fact-intensive issues, such as intent, are involved, courts have not always insisted on a [Rule 56(d)] affidavit if the nonmoving party has adequately informed the district court that the motion is pre-mature and that more discovery is necessary." Harrods, 302 F.3d at 244. In this case, the precise factual circumstances surrounding the tasing have not yet been addressed, and Plaintiffs, through counsel, have repeatedly requested an opportunity for discovery. Accordingly, this Court finds that Defendants' Motions will be treated as motions to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6).

Under Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, 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). Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure authorizes the dismissal of a complaint if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The 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).

The Supreme Court's recent opinions in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), "require that complaints in civil actions be alleged with greater specificity than previously was required." Walters v. McMahen, 684 F.3d 435, 439 (4th Cir. 2012) (citation omitted). The Supreme Court's decision in Twombly articulated "[t]wo working principles" that courts must employ when ruling on Rule 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. First, while a court must accept as true all the factual allegations contained in the complaint, legal conclusions drawn from those facts are not afforded such deference. Id. (stating that "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice" to plead a claim); see also Wag More Dogs, LLC v. Cozart, 680 F.3d 359, 365 (4th Cir. 2012) ("Although we are constrained to take the facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, we need not accept legal conclusions couched as facts or unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments." (internal quotation marks omitted)). Second, a complaint must be dismissed if it does not allege "a plausible claim for relief." Id. at 679. Under the plausibility standard, a complaint must contain "more than labels and conclusions" or a "formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

ANALYSIS

I. Plaintiff Holden's Claims

The Complaint names Demetria R. Holden as a Plaintiff in this action; in the Plaintiffs' Response brief (ECF No. 40-1), Plaintiffs clarify that Holden's claims arise out of her status as Plaintiff Rockwell's mother. See Pls.' Resp. 13, ECF No. 40-1 (citing Garay v. Overholtzer, 332 Md. 339, 346, 631 A.2d 429, 432 (Md. 1993)). Specifically, Plaintiffs argue that because Rockwell was a minor at the time of injury and that Holden incurred medical expenses in caring for her son, Holden may recover under Maryland law. See Pls.' Resp. 13-14, ECF No. 40-1. In his Reply brief, Detective Rawlins asserts that Holden's claims must still be dismissed; specifically, he contends that the Plaintiffs may only recover medical expenses under the assault and battery charges, which he argues must fail as a matter of law. Dets.' Reply 1-2, ECF No. 46. As discussed below, however, Plaintiffs have adequately stated claims for assault and battery against Detective Rawlins. Moreover, Plaintiffs may recover for medical costs pertaining to Detective Rawlins' alleged excessive use of force under the state constitutional claims and the gross negligence claim.

No party has directly addressed the issue whether Plaintiff Holden may recover as Rockwell's parent under federal law.[4] However, because Plaintiff has not alleged any direct injury to Holden and because Plaintiffs have failed to provide any case law indicating such a theory is permitted under federal law, this Court will dismiss Holden's federal claims.[5] Cf. Jones v. Prince George's Cnty., Civ. A. No. AW-04-1735, 2005 WL 1074353, at *4-6 (D. Md. Apr. 28, 2005) (dismissing § 1983 claim under Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment because no government action directly targeting parental relationship).

II. Claims Solely Against Defendant Detective Rawlins ...


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