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Mohammadi v. Michael

United States District Court, D. Maryland

March 26, 2015

HASSAN MOHAMMADI, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
JOSEPH MICHAEL, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

RICHARD D. BENNETT, District Judge.

Plaintiffs Hassan Mohammadi ("Mohammadi") and Yasaman Rowhani ("Rowhani") (collectively, "Plaintiffs") bring this action against Defendants Joseph Michael ("Michael"), Cristina O'Brien ("O'Brien"), Colleen McKee ("McKee"), and David Finizie ("Finizie")[1], alleging violations of their constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971).[2]

Currently pending before this Court are Defendant Michael's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 8) and Defendants O'Brien, McKee, and Finizie's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 15). The parties' submissions have been reviewed and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2014). For the reasons that follow, Defendant Michael's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 8) is GRANTED WITH PREJUDICE and Defendants O'Brien, McKee, and Finizie's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 15) is GRANTED WITHOUT PREJUDICE.

BACKGROUND

This Court accepts as true the facts alleged in the plaintiff's complaint. See Aziz v. Alcolac, Inc., 658 F.3d 388, 390 (4th Cir. 2011). The present action arises out of the investigation and subsequent imprisonment and criminal prosecution of Plaintiffs Hassan Mohammadi and Yasaman Rowhani for alleged theft. Plaintiffs are United States citizens of Iranian descent who were employed at the Hagerstown Hotel and Convention Center ("the Hotel") from November 2006 through August 2010. Compl. ¶¶ 12, 13, 20, ECF No. 1. Plaintiffs' employment at the Hotel began when Watchwood, LLC ("Watchwood") purchased the Hotel in November 2006. Id. ¶ 20. Bahman Rowhani ("Bahman"), Plaintiff Yasaman Rowhani's brother, was the sole shareholder of Watchwood. Id. Bahman hired Mohammadi and Rowhani as management-level employees of the Hotel. Id. At no time did the Plaintiffs possess an ownership interest in the Hotel. Id.

In 2008, the Hotel began to experience recession-related difficulties, forcing it to reduce its staff and neglect some of its financial obligations. Id. ¶¶ 27-28. The Hotel became unable to pay the premiums for its employees' insurance. Id. ¶ 28. From late 2008 until July 2009, the Hotel continued to withhold from employees' wages, but never made the necessary payments to the insurance company. Id. ¶ 33. During this period, Abbie Rhodes, the Hotel's comptroller, and Edward Lough, the insurance broker, allegedly engaged in a scheme to continue insurance coverage without payment. Id. ¶ 34. Plaintiffs claim that they did not learn of the insurance-related debts until June 2009. Id. ¶ 35. By that time, the Hotel had accumulated such great debt that the insurance policy was cancelled for all employees on of July 7, 2009, with the cancellation made retroactive to February 2009. Id. ¶¶ 37-38.

In July and August of 2009, [3] Mohammadi and Rowhani sought to repay the insurance obligations and reinstate coverage for the Hotel's employees. Id. ¶ 42. The debt obligation had grown to such a large amount, however, that the Hotel ultimately could never hope to satisfy it. Id. After the cancellation, Patricia McDonnell ("McDonnell"), a Hotel employee, filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor regarding the lapsed insurance coverage and arrears. Id. ¶ 45. The Department of Labor commenced a civil investigation, led by Michael Piro ("Piro"), of the circumstances leading to the Hotel's insurance cancellation. Id. ¶ 46. After reviewing McDonnell's complaint, Piro recommended that the Department of Labor also initiate a criminal investigation.[4] Id. ¶¶ 46-47. Defendant McKee, an investigator for the Department of Labor's Employee Benefit Services Administration, began a criminal investigation on March 15, 2015. [5] Id. ¶ 47. She soon learned that McDonnell had also filed a complaint with the Washington County Sheriff's Office in September 2009. Id. ¶ 51. McKee thus wrote to Washington County Sheriff's Deputy Michael Boras ("Boras") to coordinate their investigations of McDonnell's allegations. Id. ¶ 52. Boras referred McKee to Defendant Michael, the Deputy State's Attorney for Washington County, as Michael was already working on the matter. Id. ¶ 53. McKee then spoke with Michael regarding the insurance allegations. Id.

Subsequently, McKee continued to pursue her investigation of the circumstances underlying the cancellation of the Hotel's insurance coverage. Id. ¶¶ 54-63. She interviewed witnesses from the insurance company (CareFirst), the insurance broker, and other relevant individuals. Id. ¶ 54. She also reviewed the insurance and payment records of the Hotel. Id. ¶¶ 54-58. On October 13, 2010, McKee prepared a status report of her investigation, in which she concluded that the Hotel withheld insurance-related sums from its employees, even though it knew that it was not paying the insurance premiums. Id. ¶ 59. McKee alleged that Plaintiffs and Bahman Rowhani were aware of the discrepancies. Id. ¶¶ 56, 60.

Defendants McKee and Finizie met with Defendant Michael on October 21, 2010 to discuss the case. Id. ¶ 64. Michael agreed to prosecute the criminal case, but refused to take part in any continuing investigation. Id. ¶ 65. McKee and Finizie agreed that the Department of Labor would carry the investigatory burden. Id. Thereafter, McKee resumed her investigation by interviewing Abbie Rhodes, the Hotel's former comptroller. Id. ¶ 66. Ms. Rhodes stated that all payments to the insurance carrier were at the direction of the Hotel's owner. Id. Plaintiffs claim that Ms. Rhodes's statement was false, as they explain that neither they nor Bahman Rowhani ever gave Ms. Rhodes such instructions. Id. McKee also interviewed other Hotel employees and reviewed the Hotel's payroll and other financial records.[6] Id. ¶ 80, 70. Throughout the investigation, McKee communicated with Michael to update him as to the progress of her scrutiny. Id. ¶¶ 77, 78.

On June 1, 2011, Michael obtained a grand jury indictment against Mohammadi and Rowhani for theft. Id. ¶ 84. As residents of Washington, D.C., Plaintiffs allege that they were unaware of any indictment against them, nor did any member of the investigation attempt to contact them to ask for their voluntary surrender. Id. ¶¶ 86, 87. Instead, Mohammadi and Rowhani were arrested on July 28, 2011, and held for five days at the District of Columbia Central Detention Facility. Id. ¶¶ 91, 93-95. Plaintiffs allege that they were informed of the charges while awaiting transfer to Washington County, Maryland. Id. ¶¶ 95, 96. Plaintiff Rowhani fell ill while in custody, and was transferred to a hospital. Id. ¶ 96. Plaintiffs were extradited to Washington County on August 2, 2011, and released on bond the following day. Id. ¶¶ 97, 103. The Employee Benefit Services Administration issued a press release concerning Plaintiffs' arrest and charges on August 4, 2011.[7] Id. ¶ 106.

From April 30 to May 3, 2012, Defendant Michael prosecuted the Mohammadi and Rowhani before a jury in the Circuit Court for Washington County, Maryland. Id. ¶ 112. Michael called many witnesses to testify, but Plaintiffs allege that none of the witnesses could connect Plaintiffs to the insurance payment scheme. Id. ¶¶ 113-115. Defendant McKee testified briefly regarding her investigation of the Hotel's insurance discrepancies. Id. ¶ 117. At the conclusion of the prosecution's case, the court dismissed the charges against Mohammadi and Rowhani via a motion for judgment of acquittal. Id. ¶ 122. The court explained that the State failed to prove that they possessed the requisite intent to commit theft. Id.

Plaintiffs subsequently filed the present action on July 8, 2014, alleging various constitutional and state law claims (ECF No. 1). Defendant Michael moved to dismiss the Complaint, asserting the defenses of absolute and qualified immunity, as well as sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment (ECF No. 8). Defendants McKee, O'Brien, and Finizie then filed a separate Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Rules 12(b)(1)[8] and 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.[9]

STANDARD OF REVIEW

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 ...


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