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State v. Keller-Bee

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

July 6, 2015

STATE OF MARYLAND
v.
CYNTHIA KELLER-BEE

Zarnoch, Hotten, Reed, JJ.

OPINION

HOTTEN, J.

Appellee, Cynthia Keller-Bee, was taken into custody pursuant to a body attachment that was improperly issued by the District Court for Harford County. She brought suit in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City against the State, alleging negligence on the part of the courtroom clerk who presented the warrant to the District Court judge for signature. The State moved to dismiss the lawsuit, asserting absolute judicial immunity. The circuit court denied the motion and the State appealed, presenting one question for our review:

Does absolute judicial immunity bar a civil suit against the State of Maryland arising from the performance of judicial acts, where the only injury alleged is the direct and proximate result of the entry of an order by a judge of the District Court of Maryland?

For the reasons that follow, we shall reverse the judgment of the circuit court.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

The facts of this case are undisputed. On April 16, 2010, appellee, appeared in the District Court for Harford County pursuant to a show cause order in a civil action in which a judgment had been obtained against her. She appeared for the hearing, but the creditor-plaintiff did not and accordingly, the District Court dismissed the show cause order. Nine months later, on January 20, 2011, the District Court issued a Body Attachment/Arrest Warrant, based on a motion for contempt by the creditor-plaintiff, for appellee allegedly failing to appear at the April 16, 2010 court date. Appellee was taken into custody on January 27, 2011. Following an appearance before a Court Commissioner, she was released on her own recognizance and instructed that she would receive notice regarding a court date to address her failure to appear. On February 4, 2011, appellee went to the District Court clerk's office to ascertain why she was arrested. Following an investigation by that office, it was determined that the warrant had been improperly issued.

Appellee filed a two count lawsuit against the State of Maryland on December 27, 2013. The first count alleged negligence on the part of the unidentified employee of the clerk's office who presented the arrest warrant to the District Court judge. The second count claimed violations of appellee's constitutional rights under Article 24 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights. In response, the State filed a motion to dismiss, asserting absolute judicial immunity. The circuit court denied the motion to dismiss following a hearing, expressing concern with the prolonged lapse in time between the April 16, 2010 hearing and the January 20, 2011 issuance of the warrant.

The State noted an appeal pursuant to the collateral order doctrine. Appellee moved to dismiss the State's appeal, which this Court denied.[1] Additional facts shall be provided, infra, to the extent they prove relevant in addressing the issue presented.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

In reviewing the denial of a motion to dismiss, "we must assume the truth of all relevant and material facts that are well pleaded and all inferences which can be reasonably drawn from those pleadings." Ronald M. Sharrow, Chartered v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins., 306 Md. 754, 768 (1986). The facts we may consider are limited "to the four corners of the complaint and its incorporated supporting exhibits, if any." Converge Servs. Grp. v. Curran, 383 Md. 462, 475 (2004). See also Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 1300 v. Lovelace, 441 Md. 560, 564 (2015). Additionally, the party asserting judicial immunity bears the burden of establishing the claim. Simms v. Constantine, 113 Md.App. 291, 318-319 (1997).

DISCUSSION

a. Is the State's appeal proper?

Upon the State's notice of appeal, appellee filed a motion to dismiss with this Court, arguing that the circuit court's denial of the State's motion to dismiss was not an appealable order. The State responded that its appeal ...


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