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Disney v. City of Frederick

United States District Court, D. Maryland

February 20, 2015



CATHERINE BLAKE, District Judge.

Nathan E. Disney and Paula Bowie (collectively "plaintiffs") bring suit against the City of Frederick ("the City"), the Frederick Police Department ("FPD"), former Chief of Frederick Police Thomas Ledwell, Frederick Mayor Randy McClement, Officer B. Wolf of the Frederick Police Department, and Officer D. Sullivan of the Frederick Police Department (collectively "defendants") for various violations of Maryland law and civil rights violations under 28 U.S.C. Section 1983. This suit was filed in the Circuit Court for Frederick County on July 1, 2014. Defendants timely filed a notice of removal to this court on September 8, 2014. Defendants now have moved to dismiss, or in the alternative, to bifurcate proceedings against the City, Ledwell, and McClement.


The conduct that gave rise to these claims occurred on January 25, 2013, when Sullivan and Wolf arrested Disney for a misdemeanor trespass. In April 2008, Disney had been issued a trespass notice with respect to a property located at 1000 Heather Ridge Drive. (Complaint, ECF No. 2 ¶ 15). On the evening of January 25, 2013, he was a passenger in an automobile being driven by his girlfriend, Erin Davis. ( Id. ¶ 9). Disney acknowledges that Davis was "driving her vehicle in the vicinity of" 1000 Heather Ridge Drive. Id.

Disney and Davis then proceeded to 997 Heather Ridge Drive, an apartment complex across the street, where Disney's mother, Paula Bowie, resided.[1] (ECF No. 2 ¶ 9). Disney exited the vehicle, and ascended the stairs while carrying a pizza. ( Id. ¶ 11). According to Disney, he was at this point unaware that Wolf and Sullivan had followed Davis's car and were behind him on the stairs. ( Id. ¶ 12).

Disney alleges that he entered the apartment and was closing the door when Sullivan forced his way into the apartment. ( Id. ¶ 14). In his statement of charges, Sullivan wrote that after running up the steps he "got to the door of apartment H' as it was closing. With my right hand I re-opened the door knob with a push because the door was not completely closed." ( Id. ¶ 16). Disney alleges that Sullivan did not announce himself or provide an explanation for the entry. ( Id. ¶ 13). Wolf then entered the apartment.

Inside the home, Disney and Bowie allege that the officers sprayed OC/Pepper spray in their eyes. ( Id. ¶ 17). Disney also alleges that he was assaulted and sustained serious injuries to his arm, shoulder, and legs. ( Id. ¶ 18). During the encounter, Disney "repeatedly requested to know what was happening as he had no idea why he was being assaulted." ( Id. ¶ 17). According to Disney, he did not "act combatively or resist arrest." Id. Following the incident, the officers called an ambulance ( Id. ¶ 19) and Disney was transported to Frederick Memorial Hospital where he was treated for his injuries. ( Id. ¶ 20).

Disney later pled guilty to misdemeanor trespass, presumably for his visit to 1000 Heather Ridge Drive. (ECF No. 5 at Ex. 3). He also was charged with resisting arrest and two instances of second degree assault, but those charges were dismissed. Id.

Plaintiffs' complaint contains eight counts. Count one is against Sullivan and Wolf for common law false imprisonment. Count two is for common law negligence against Sullivan, Wolf, and the City. Count three is for common law assault and battery against Sullivan and Wolf. Count four is for common law intentional infliction of emotional distress against all defendants. Count five is a claim under Section 1983 against McClement, Ledwell, the City, and the FPD; count six is the same claim against Wolf and Sullivan. Count seven is a claim for a violation of the Maryland Declaration of Rights (Articles 24 and 26) against Sullivan and Wolf; count eight is the same claim against the other defendants. Plaintiffs demand $500, 000 in compensatory damages and $500, 000 in punitive damages.


"[T]he 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) (internal quotation marks and alterations omitted). When ruling on such a motion, the court must "accept the well-pled allegations of the complaint as true" and "construe the facts and reasonable inferences derived therefrom in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Ibarra v. United States, 120 F.3d 472, 474 (4th Cir. 1997). "Even though the requirements for pleading a proper complaint are substantially aimed at assuring that the defendant be given adequate notice of the nature of a claim being made against him, they also provide criteria for defining issues for trial and for early disposition of inappropriate complaints." Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 192 (4th Cir.2009).

To survive a motion to dismiss, the factual allegations of a complaint "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level... on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact)." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal citations and alterations omitted). The plaintiff's obligation thus is to set forth sufficiently the "grounds of his entitlement to relief, " offering "more than labels and conclusions." Id. (internal quotation marks and alterations omitted). It is not sufficient that the well-pled facts create "the mere possibility of misconduct." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009). Rather, to withstand a motion to dismiss, "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face, " meaning the court could draw "the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. at 678.


The defendants contend that the FPD is not an independent government entity capable of being sued, and the plaintiffs do not disagree. Accordingly, the ...

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