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Dehn Motor Sales, LLC v. Schultz

Court of Appeals of Maryland

July 22, 2014

DEHN MOTOR SALES, LLC, et al.
v.
JOSEPH SCHULTZ, et al

Argued June 5, 2014.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Circuit Court for Baltimore City, Maryland. Case No: 24-C-08-002096. Certiorari to the Court of Special Appeals (Circuit Court for Baltimore City). Pamela J. White JUDGE.

ARGUED BY John B. Sinclair (Crosswhite, Limbrick & Sinclair of Baltimore, MD: Alexander R, Martick of Baltimore, MD) on brief FOR PETITIONERS

ARGUED BY Kara K. Lynch (Suzanne Sangree, City Solicitor's Office of Baltimore, MD) on brief FOR RESPONDENTS

ARGUED BEFORE Barbera, C.J., Harrell, Battaglia, Greene, Adkins, McDonald, Rodowsky, Lawrence F. (Retired, Specially Assigned), JJ.

OPINION

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[439 Md. 464] Battaglia, J.

In this case we are called upon to explore, once again, what actions may constitute substantial compliance with Section 5-304 of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article, Maryland Code (1974, 2006 Repl. Vol., 2008 Supp.),[1] the notice requirement [439 Md. 465] of the Local Government Tort Claims Act (LGTCA or the Act), which requires a claimant suing a local government[2] or its employees to provide a written notice of claim to the government within 180 days of the alleged injury. We also must decide whether two Baltimore City police officers, Officer Joseph A. Schultz, Jr. and Sergeant Anthony Proctor, Respondents, are entitled to qualified immunity from federal constitutional claims asserted by Petitioners, Dehn Motor Sales, LLC, et al. (Dehn Motor)[3] under Section 1983 of Title 42, United States Code.[4] Specifically, we

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granted certiorari to consider:

I. Whether the Court of Special Appeals erred in affirming the dismissal of the state law claims against the respondents because adequate notice was allegedly not given under the Local Government Tort Claims Act even though a replevin action filed by the petitioners gave [439 Md. 466] notice of constitutional violations by the police and where the City Solicitor litigated the replevin action for three years, thus ensuring an adequate investigation, and where the respondents cooperated with the City Solicitor during the course of the three year investigation prior to the filing of the underlying case in this matter?
II. Whether the Court of Special Appeals committed error in affirming summary judgment when it concluded that the respondent police officers were constitutionally justified in seizing the petitioners' 67 vehicles without a warrant or other court order because of an alleged emergency, when that fact was disputed as a pretext by the petitioners and where the trial court expressly stated that exigent circumstances were not present?

Dehn Motor v. Schultz, 435 Md. 266, 77 A.3d 1084 (2013).

The genesis of the instant matter occurred when Dehn Motor[5] filed an action for replevin in the District Court of Maryland, sitting in Baltimore City, against Alford H. Foxx, the Director of the Baltimore City Department of Transportation; Richard Hooper, Acting Tow Manager of the Baltimore City Department of Transportation; and the Mayor and City Council of Baltimore. The complaint for replevin specifically alleged tat Dehn Motor owned and operated a used car business at the address of 330-334 East Patapsco Avenue, Baltimore, Maryland and 3550-3554 Fourth Street, Baltimore, Maryland. On April 1, 2005, according to the complaint, ten to twenty Baltimore City police officers allegedly entered Dehn Motor's lots and initiated the towing of sixty-seven vehicles that Dehn Motor lawfully owned as part of the used car sales business, without a court order or warrant. The complaint further averred that the City would not return the vehicles unless Dehn Motor agreed to pay $6,600 for the cost of towing:

[439 Md. 467] 1. The Plaintiffs legally operate a used car business at the address of 330-334 East Patapsco Avenue, Baltimore, Maryland 21225 and 3550-3554 Fourth Street, Baltimore. Maryland 21225..[sic]
2. The Plaintiffs' location has been continuously used to sell used cars for more than fifty years.
3. The Plaintiffs' two lots are private property. 3554 Fourth Street is surrounded by a chain link fence about eight feet high with lattice sheets.
4. On or about April 1, 2005, about 10 to 20 Baltimore City police officers came to the Plaintiffs' place of business without a warrant and without a prior Court order and they, with the help of many tow trucks of the City of Baltimore, entered into the private property

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of the Plaintiffs' place of business and towed from the Plaintiffs' place of business about sixty-seven (67) automobiles that were lawfully owned by the Plaintiff in the operation of it's [sic] business. Attached hereto and marked Plaintiffs' Exhibit Number One is a list of the vehicles taken from the Plaintiffs' place of business and vehicle identification number of the automobiles that were illegally seized.
5. The Defendants seized about six (6) more automobiles which they did not provide a list of to the Plaintiff.
6. The Baltimore City Police officers never showed a warrant and/or a Court order to Plaintiffs and/or its agents, servants or employees, that the police had a right in fact and in law, to enter on the private property of the Plaintiff and to forcibly seize sixty-seven (67) automobiles lawfully owned by the Plaintiff and lawfully stored on it's [sic] private property.
7. The Plaintiffs on April 1, 2005, was [sic] not served or given any citations of any alleged violation of the law concerning the sixty-seven (67) cars that the defendants illegally seized from the Plaintiffs' place of business and unjustly detains.
[439 Md. 468] 8. The Plaintiffs made an effort to recover some of it's [sic] automobiles, but they were told they could not have the automobiles they requested without paying about $6,600.00.
9. The Defendants do not claim title and/or ownership of the seized automobiles.
10. The Defendants unjustly detain the automobiles of the Plaintiffs they illegally seized from the Plaintiffs.

(emphasis in original). As a result of the alleged unlawful detention of the vehicles, Dehn Motor sought return of the cars, as well as $60,000 to cover loss of use:

11. The Plaintiffs believe that the automobiles illegally seized by the Defendants have a value to the Plaintiffs of about Sixty Thousand Dollars ($60,000.00) plus the damages caused to the Plaintiffs by the loss of use of it's [sic] automobiles since these automobile have been unjustly detained by the Defendants. The Plaintiffs cannot sell or prepare the seized automobile for sale while they are unjustly detained by the Defendants.
12. The Plaintiffs request that the sixty-seven (67) automobiles illegally seized by the Defendants be returned immediately to the Plaintiffs at the expense of the Defendants.
13. The Plaintiffs request damages, that are fair and reasonable, that the Plaintiffs suffered because of the illegal seizure of the sixty-seven (67) automobiles from the possession of the Plaintiffs and the illegal detention of said automobiles by the Defendants.

Subsequently, after the action was joined, District Court Judge Miriam B. Hutchins entered an order that the vehicles be returned to Dehn Motor, on the condition that they not be stored where the cars originally had been.

On March 28, 2008, almost three years after the vehicles were towed, Dehn Motor initiated another action in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City; this second action was instituted against Sergeant Proctor and Officer Schultz, inter alia ,[6] [439 Md. 469] identifying them as the police officers

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who allegedly initiated the towing of the vehicles. The impetus for the towing occurred, according to the suit, when the Baltimore City Police Department received complaints from Brooklyn & Curtis Bay Coalition,[7] a local neighborhood improvement association, leading Officer Schultz to conduct " his own inspection and observation of the used car business" . The complaint alleged that Officer Schultz, with the knowledge of his supervisor, Sergeant Proctor, planned to have the vehicles towed days prior to April 1, 2005 and, on April 1, 2005, executed that plan. Dehn Motor sought $500,000 in compensatory damages and $1,000,000 in punitive damages, alleging that the warrantless towing of the vehicles without a prior hearing violated Articles 19,[8] 24,[9] and 26[10] of the Maryland Declaration of Rights as [439 Md. 470] well as Section 1983 of Title 42 of the United States Code based on violations of the Fourth[11] and Fourteenth[12] Amendments to the United States Constitution:

17. The illegal seizure of the automobiles and automobile parts owned by the Plaintiffs and possessed by the Plaintiffs, violated the rights of the Plaintiffs as guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and 42 U.S.C. 1983 for which defendant police officers . . . are individually liable. . . . The Defendant police officers . . . also violated the rights of the Plaintiffs guaranteed to them under Articles 19, 24, and 26 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights and such other articles of the Maryland Declaration of Rights as may be implicated through the course of these proceedings.

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18. That at all times described herein Police Officer Joseph A. Schultz, Jr. and Sergeant A. Proctor of the Baltimore City Police Department and the Baltimore City Police Department, who were agents, servants, and employees of the Baltimore City Police Department and the Mayor and City Council of Baltimore City acted under the color of statutes, customs and usage of the State of Maryland and the City of Baltimore. . . .
19. As a direct and proximate result of the Defendants' conduct and actions as alleged herein, the Plaintiff had to retain counsel to file suit in the District Court of Maryland [439 Md. 471] for Baltimore City to regain possession of the automobiles and the automobile parts of which they legally possess to the great and emotional upset and discomfort to Farzan Mohamed and to his great expense for attorneys fees and costs to prosecute said replevin action.

Officer Schultz and Sergeant Proctor, thereafter, generally denied the allegations and asserted, as affirmative defenses, that their " actions were privileged because the Defendant[s] w[ere] performing lawful duties as . . . member[s] of the Baltimore Police Department and [they are] entitled to and claims all common law, statutory, and qualified immunities." [13]

After discovery was completed, the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. In its motion, Dehn Motor urged that the undisputed facts showed that Officer Schultz and Sergeant Proctor had entered private property without a [439 Md. 472] warrant or court order and towed Dehn ...


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