United States District Court, D. Maryland
January 13, 2015
BRIEANNA GUNSAY, ET AL
B. ROBERT MOZAYENI, M.D., ET AL
J. FREDERICK MOTZ, District Judge.
Brieanna Gunsay and Kristen Gunsay have instituted this action against B. Robert Mozayeni, Troy Plummer, Greg Henderson, Kevin Stultz, Montgomery County, Maryland, Metin Gunsay, and Melinda Lee Williams. Defendants, other than Plummer, have filed motions to dismiss. The motions to dismiss all claims are granted, with the exception of Brieanna Gunsay's claims against Henderson and Stultz in their individual capacity under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983. The motions to dismiss those claims are denied.
Kristen Gunsay and one of the defendants, Metin Gunsay, were divorced many years ago. The divorce was bitter and resulted in litigation in many jurisdictions. Brieanna Gunsay is the child of Kristen and Metin Gunsay. Brieanna is no longer a minor, but much of the litigation has concerned battles over her custody.
The event that gives rise to this lawsuit occurred on April 19, 2011, in the parking lot of the office of defendant Mozayeni. Mozayeni is a medical doctor, and he was treating Brieanna for a medical condition. According to plaintiffs, Mozayeni and his assistant, Tony, had contacted Metin Gunsay and informed him of a scheduled appointment with Brieanna. Gunsay, in turn, contacted law enforcement officials.
There were outstanding arrest warrants for Kristen Gunsay from state and federal courts in Utah. On the day in question, various employees of the Montgomery County Sheriff's Department, including defendants Henderson and Stultz, drove to the parking lot outside defendant Mozayeni's office, approached plaintiffs with guns pointed at their heads, and arrested Kristen Gunsay on the outstanding warrants. According to plaintiffs, the officers then grabbed Brieanna, yanked her by the arms, pushed and man-handled her, physically encircled her, and held her against the car so that Metin Gunsay and his mother, Melinda Williams, could speak with her. Again, according to plaintiffs, Kristen Gunsay and Brieanna Gunsay suffered emotional pain and suffering as a result of the actions taken against them.
The warrant upon which Kristen Gunsay was arrested mistakenly stated that it emanated from the Central District of Utah. In fact, there is only one federal district in Utah although there are several divisions (including a Central Division) in that district.
Plaintiffs filed a suit in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County, asserting virtually identical claims as the ones asserted in this action. Upon motion of Mozayeni, the Circuit Court dismissed the claims against him and ordered that the claims be referred to arbitration. Plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed portions of the complaint against Williams and Gunsay and the Circuit Court dismissed the remaining claims. The court's dismissal order was appealed to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals and a motion to dismiss the appeal was granted. Plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed their state court claims against the sheriff deputy defendants.
Kristen Gunsay has no viable claims against deputies Henderson and Stultz. For Kristen Gunsay's claim under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983, both deputy sheriffs argue that in executing the arrest warrants, they are shielded by absolute quasi-judicial immunity, or in the alternative, qualified immunity. At the least, they are entitled to qualified immunity. See Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982); Parrish Ex. Rel. Lee v. Cleveland, 372 F.3d 294, 301-02 (4th Cir. 2004). The arrest warrants for Kristen Gunsay had been issued and were in effect. When a law enforcement official "acts pursuant to a warrant, he is entitled to qualified immunity if he could have reasonably believed that probable cause existed to support the application." Porterfield v. Lott, 156 F.3d 563, 570 (4th Cir. 1998) (internal citation omitted). Kristen Gunsay's contention that the federal warrant was "bogus" because it indicated that it had been issued by the Central District of Utah rather than the Central Division of the District of Utah, is frivolous. Perhaps that mistake should have been identified, but, if so, it should have been identified by the personnel in the court in which the warrant was issued. Self-evidently, it is not incumbent upon law enforcement officers to research the question of whether such a mistake had been made. Unquestionably, the warrant had been issued by a magistrate judge in the District of Utah. Kristen Gunsay does not contend to the contrary.
As to Brieanna Gunsay's claim under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983, I find that the allegations against Hernandez and Stultz in their individual capacities are sufficient to state a claim. From the facts alleged, there was no justification for Henderson and Stultz to point weapons at Brieanna Gunsay or to detain her until she had spoken to Metin Gunsay and Williams. With respect to plaintiffs' claims against Mozayeni, they are barred by the doctrine of collateral estoppel. The same claims were pursued in Montgomery County Circuit Court and dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, because, pursuant to state law, mandatory arbitration was required. I find that this finding-requiring mandatory arbitration-bars subsequent litigation in this court.
As to plaintiffs' claim under 42 U.S.C. Section 1985, the only federal claim against Gunsay, the plaintiffs have not alleged that the actions taken against them were "motivated by a specific class-based, invidiously discriminatory animus." A Society Without A Name v. Virginia, 655 F.3d 342, 346 (4th Cir. 2011). Their claim therefore fails. See id.; see also Lee v. Queen Anne's Cnty. Office of Sheriff, No. 13-672, 2014 WL 476233, at *11 (D. Md. Feb. 5, 2014).
Because Kristen Gunsay has not alleged any viable claim against defendants Henderson and Stultz, her claim against Montgomery County as the purported employer of the deputies fails. Moreover, it is well-established that in cases such as this, involving the performance of law enforcement duties, a county is not the employer of persons employed in sheriff's offices. Rather, employees of such offices are employees of the State, not a county. See Babre v. Pope, 935 A.2d 699, 709 (Md. 2007) (citing Maryland Tort Claims Act, Md. Code Ann., State Gov't § 12-101 (a)(6) (West)); Young v. City of Mt. Rainer, 238 F.3d 567, 578 n.8 (4th Cir. 2001) (same); Kronk v. Carroll County, No. L-11-0277, 2012 WL 245059, at*6 (D. Md. Jan. 25, 2012) ("Maryland courts, however, have regularly held that county sheriffs and their deputies are State agents for the purposes of tort liability.") (internal citation omitted). That rule makes Brieanna's claim against Montgomery County fail.
Plaintiffs claim that subject matter jurisdiction exists in this court only because of the federal claims they have asserted. For the reasons stated, Kristen Gunsay has no viable federal claim against any of the defendants. Therefore, this court does not have subject matter jurisdiction over any of the state law claims asserted by her against any of the defendants. Furthermore, the claims against defendant Williams are barred by the doctrine of res judicata because they have been litigated in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County. Under these circumstances I decline to impose supplemental jurisdiction over any of the state law claims, except state law claims against Henderson and Stultz. The motions to dismiss those claims filed by Henderson and Stultz are denied without prejudice to the same arguments being renewed by way of a motion for summary judgment. Ruling upon the motions now would be imprudent in light of the fact that discovery has not started.
A separate order granting in full the motions to dismiss filed by Mozayeni, Montgomery County, Gunsay and Williams, granting Henderson and Stultz's motion to dismiss with respect to Kristen, and denying Henderson and Stultz's motion dismiss to dismiss Brieanna's claims is being entered herewith.