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Jones v. Chapman

United States District Court, D. Maryland

July 24, 2015

TAWANDA JONES, et al., Plaintiffs,
NICHOLAS DAVID CHAPMAN, et al., Defendants.



This case arises from allegations of police brutality in connection with the untimely death of Tyrone A. West, Sr. ("Mr. West" or the "Decedent") on July 18, 2013.[1] Tawanda Jones, as Personal Representative of the Estate of Tyrone A. West, Sr. ("West Estate"); Nashay West; Tyrone West, Jr.; and T.W., a minor child, by Mary Agers, as Guardian and next of friend of T.W., plaintiffs, filed suit against various Baltimore City law enforcement officers, alleging, inter alia, the use of excessive force against the Decedent following a traffic stop that was allegedly unlawful. See ECF 2 ("Complaint").

Tawanda Jones is the sister of the Decedent. ECF 2 ¶ 4, Complaint. Nashay West, Tyrone West, Jr., and T.W. are children of the Decedent. Id. ¶¶ 5-7. They sued Baltimore City Police Officers Nicholas David Chapman; Jorge Omar Bernardez-Ruiz; Matthew Rea Cioffi; Eric Maurice Hinton; Alex Ryan Hashagen; Danielle[2] Angela Lewis; Derrick Dewayne Beasley; and Latreese Nicole Lee (collectively, "BPD Officer Defendants").[3] In addition, plaintiffs sued Anthony W. Batts, who was Commissioner of the BPD from September 2012 to July 2015.[4] And, they have sued David Lewis, an officer with the Morgan State University ("MSU") Campus Police ("MSU Police"); and Lance Hatcher, Chief of the MSU Police.[5] Plaintiffs sued all defendants in their official and individual capacities, except for Chief Hatcher. ECF 2 at 1-3, Complaint.[6]

Plaintiffs allege that at about 7:15 p.m. on July 18, 2013, the Decedent was "beaten to death" by eight BPD officers and one MSU Police officer "after immediately complying to a request... to pull over the vehicle... during an alleged traffic stop...." ECF 2 ¶ 12, Complaint. They also assert, id. ¶ 37: "As a result of the unconstitutional use of force by Defendants, Tyrone West received multiple severe injuries about his body, experienced severe pain and suffering, and mental anguish resulting in death."

According to plaintiffs, the traffic stop was illegal. Id. ¶ 14. They maintain that "the individual police officer defendants made an unreasonable seizure" of the Decedent, thereby violating his rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, and "assaulted and battered [him], resulting in his death, and otherwise used excessive force and unwarranted force during the course of said seizure." ECF 2 ¶ 3, Complaint.[7]

Plaintiffs assert claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, for violations of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the federal Constitution and Articles 24 and 26 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights;[8] and tort claims under Maryland law.[9] Specifically, the Complaint contains seven counts, with claims within claims:[10] (1) a survival action by the West Estate for assault and battery against the BPD Officer Defendants and MSU Officer Lewis (Claim I - Count I), id. at 14; (2) a survival action by the West Estate for false arrest against the BPD Officer Defendants and MSU Officer Lewis (Claim I - Count II), id. at 15; (3) a survival action by the West Estate for false imprisonment against BPD Officer Defendants and MSU Officer Lewis (Claim I - Count III), id. at 16; (4) a survival action by the West Estate against the BPD Officer Defendants and MSU Officer Lewis for a violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Articles 26 and 24 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights (Claim I - Count IV), id. at 17-18; (5) a survival action by the West Estate against Batts and Chief Hatcher, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, captioned as one for negligent supervision, training, and retention; and, in the text, a § 1983 claim based on a custom or policy of deliberate indifference to the use of excessive force by the BPD (Claim I - Count V), id. at 19-20; (6) a claim by the West Estate against all defendants for funeral expenses (Claim I - Count VI), id. at 21-22; and (7) a wrongful death claim under Maryland Code (2014 Repl. Vol.), § 3-904 of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article ("C.J."), by Nashay West, Tyrone West, Jr., and Mary Agers, as Guardian and next of friend of T.W., a minor, against BPD Officer Defendants; Batts; MSU Officer Lewis; and MSU Chief Hatcher (Claim II - Count I). Id. at 22-23.[11] Collectively, plaintiffs seek a total of $45, 000, 000 in compensatory damages, $95, 000, 000 in punitive damages, and $10, 000 in funeral expenses.

All of the BPD Officer Defendants have answered (ECF 21), as have MSU Officer Lewis and MSU Chief Hatcher. ECF 23. Batts has moved to dismiss (ECF 20), supported by a memorandum of law (ECF 20-1, "Batts Memo.") (collectively, "Motion to Dismiss" or "Motion"). Plaintiffs submitted an opposition (ECF 24), supported by a memorandum of law (ECF 24-1) (collectively, "Opposition"), to which Batts has replied (ECF 27, "Reply"). No hearing is necessary to resolve the Motion. See Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons that follow, I will grant Batts's Motion to Dismiss (ECF 20) in part and deny it in part, and I will grant plaintiffs leave to amend the Complaint.

I. Factual Background[12]

On July 18, 2013, in the 5200 block of Kelway Road in Baltimore City, Mr. West was driving a 1999 Mercedes Benz owned by Tawanda Jones. ECF 2 ¶ 15, Complaint. At about 7:15 p.m., an "unmarked BPD car, driven by [BPD Officers] Chapman and Bernandez-Ruiz... pulled behind West and activated emergency lights."[13] Id. Corinthia Servance, who is not a party to this case, was a passenger in the vehicle driven by Mr. West. Id. ¶ 15. According to plaintiffs, Mr. West "was driving in a prudent and safe manner, obeying all traffic laws, and had not broken any laws of the road when Defendants Bernardez-Ruiz and Chapman, without probable cause pulled [him] over." Id. ¶ 16. After Mr. West stopped the car, Chapman and Bernardez-Ruiz "exited their vehicle, aggressively approached Tyrone West's vehicle with Defendant Bernardez-Ruiz on the driver's side and Defendant Chapman on the passenger's side of the decedent's vehicle and shouted verbal abuses" to Mr. West. Id. ¶ 18. They "commanded that both Tyrone West and his passenger exit the vehicle." Id. They also shouted "verbal abuses to Mr. West, " such as "fu**ing ni**er, get out of the fu**ing car!"' Id.

Further, plaintiffs allege: "As Tyrone West began voluntarily exiting the vehicle, Defendant Bernardez-Ruiz forced Mr. West out of the vehicle and onto the ground by dragging Mr. West out of the vehicle by his hair before Mr. West had a chance to fully comply[]." ECF 2 ¶ 19, Complaint. Then, Chapman "ran to the driver's side of Mr. West's vehicle and struck Tyrone West with his department issued baton and sprayed Mr. West in the face with his department issued pepper spray/mace."[14] Id. ¶ 20. Thereafter, "Chapman and Bernardez-Ruiz both tazed [sic] Tyrone West on his neck and on the side of his abdomen while continuing to spray Mr. West in his face with their department issued mace/pepper spray." Id. ¶ 21. According to plaintiffs, Officers Chapman and Bernardez-Ruiz "continued their assault against Tyrone West through beatings with their batons and fists and kicking administered to his body and head." Id. ¶ 22. In response, "West succumbed to the show of illegal and excessive police force." Id. ¶ 24. He "begged" Chapman and Bernardez-Ruiz "to stop the assault" and shouted "help me, help me, somebody help me! Please stop beating me!'" Id. ¶ 23. According to plaintiffs, Mr. West was "on the ground exclaiming, ahhh, you got me, stop beating me, why are you beating me, stop beating me? My face is burning!'" Id. ¶ 24.

After approximately fifteen minutes of this "unprovoked assault" on Mr. West, Officer Chapman "radioed a signal 13 (officer needs assistance)" because Chapman and Bernardez-Ruiz "had sprayed pepper spray so vigorously, and at a close range to Mr. West, that some had gotten on the said defendants." ECF 2 ¶ 25, Complaint. In response, "multiple BPD squad cars arrived on the scene...." Id. ¶ 26. Plaintiffs claim the squad cars "carried the remaining Defendants." Id. [15]

An MSU Campus Police squad car arrived first, driven by MSU Officer David Lewis with BPD Officer Beasley as a passenger. Id. ¶ 27.[16] The two officers "jumped" out of their automobile, and "immediately" started to "strik[e] West in the head with their batons." Id. Then, BPD Officers Danielle Lewis, Lee, and Cioffi arrived in a BPD police car, with Lewis as the driver, Lee as the front seat passenger, and Cioffi as the rear seat passenger. Id. ¶ 28. As explained by plaintiffs, the officers "recklessly drove up to the scene, striking the MSU vehicle from behind[]." Id. According to plaintiffs, "Defendant Lews' [sic] recklessly crash[ed] into the rear of the Morgan State University Vehicle driven by Defendant MSU Officer Lewis." Id. at 11 n.2. BPD Officers Lewis, Lee, and Cioffi "exited their vehicle and ran to join the beating" of Mr. West. Id. ¶ 28. Subsequently, a "BPD marked patrol vehicle arrived" at the scene, transporting BPD Officers Hinton and Hashagen, [17] who "immediately jumped out of their vehicle and ran to join the beating of Tyrone West." Id. ¶ 29.

Plaintiffs claim that "[d]efendant officers used their batons to strike Mr. West with so much force to his head, torso, neck, back, arms, shoulders, thighs and legs so that both subcutaneous and intramuscular bruising were visible days after his death." Id. ¶ 30. Plaintiffs assert, id. ¶ 31:

Ultimately, Tyrone West became unconscious from the beatings, and as his seemingly lifeless body lay on the ground, he was handcuffed behind his back, left on the concrete ground in a prone face-down position and after a few more kicks to his face while in this state, Defendant, MSU Officer Lewis sat on the back of Tyrone West intentionally restricting his breathing. Eventually West turned gray, stopped breathing and had no pulse.

According to plaintiffs, after the incident, "[a]ll Defendant Officers reported in their statements to [the] BPD homicide [unit] or the State's Attorney for Baltimore City" that they knew that Mr. West had been "sprayed with pepper spray." Id. ¶ 32. Plaintiffs also claim that "[f]ellow police officers washed the eyes" of Chapman and Bernardez-Ruiz with water to clear the pepper spray or mace. Id. ¶ 33. Yet, "no treatment was administered to West...." Id. Indeed, plaintiffs allege that "no call was made for a paramedic prior to [Mr. West's] death." Id.

Medic 13 arrived at the scene for "an injured officer, "' id. ¶ 34, and Mr. West's "non-responsive body was taken from the scene" and transported to Good Samaritan Hospital. Id. At about 9:00 a.m. on July 19, 2013, thirteen hours after Mr. West was pronounced dead, his body was taken to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. Id. ¶ 34.

On December 11, 2013, the Office of the Medical Examiner "concluded" that the manner of death "could not be determined"' and that the cause of death was "Cardiac Arrhythmia and Cardiac Conduction System Abnormality complicated by dehydration during police restraint."' Id. ¶ 35. However, plaintiffs allege that, prior to the incident, Mr. West was "in good physical condition...." Id. ¶ 36. As noted, Mr. West was 44 years of age at the time of his death. In particular, plaintiffs assert, id.:

[West] had clear lungs, a normal heart size, normal sinus rhythm and no murmur, normal ECG, carotid and femoral pulses strong and symmetric, no effusions, no active boney disease, no acute disease, generally no distress, his nutrition was normal, he was not obese or malnourished; and, his hydration was normal.

Plaintiffs allege that Batts "exercise[d] final policy making authority for the BPD, [and] establishe[d] the duties, standards of conduct, and discipline of officers." Id. ¶ 10. According to plaintiffs, Batts also "establishe[d] policies regarding hiring, screening, training, monitoring, supervision and discipline of officers employed by the BPD." Id. Moreover, they aver that, at all relevant times, Batts acted under color of State law. Id.

In general, plaintiffs allege that Batts "failed to properly train, supervise, fire, manage, and otherwise enforce policies regarding the use of force against unarmed non-custodial persons after pepper spray/mace had been deployed against said unarmed non-custodial persons." ECF 2 ¶ 3, Complaint. Further, plaintiffs aver that Batts "failed to train, supervise and discharge the Defendant Police Officers for their roles in the well-publicized beatings and custody deaths at the hands of these and other police officers of the [BPD]...." Id. ¶ 65.[18] According to plaintiffs, "Commissioner Batts' response to [the use of excessive force by the BPD] was so inadequate as to constitute deliberate indifference to or tacit authorization of the alleged offensive practices; and there is an affirmative causal link between Batts' inaction and Tyrone West's injuries and constitutional deprivations." Id. ¶ 10.

According to plaintiffs, the BPD and the Commissioner "exert substantial control over the policies and practices that govern the actions of individual officers in the BPD, and their supervisors." Id. ¶ 38. In plaintiffs' view, the BPD and Batts "have permitted police practices and customs within the BPD which have allowed some citizens to be subjected to police brutality and in some instances death." Id. ¶ 39. Indeed, plaintiffs contend that "in recent years" there have been "numerous examples... of the BPD's intimidating witnesses, use [of] excessive force, shooting and brutally beating citizens to near death or death...." Id. ¶ 40.

Plaintiffs add that the "police brutality" against citizens such as Mr. West was not an isolated incident. Id. ¶ 39. They aver, id. ¶ 10:

It has been widely reported in the community, by news media, about the activities and excessive force allegations against members of the BPD, including specific Defendant BPD Officers in this suit. Some resulting in settlements and awards. The [C]ommissioner is either aware of or should have been aware of these matters, and therefore, has actual or constructive knowledge that some of his BPD officers were engaged in conduct posing a pervasive and unreasonable risk of actual harm and constitutional deprivation to citizens such as Tyrone West[.]

In support of these allegations, plaintiffs highlight three examples of alleged police brutality committed by BPD officers prior to the incident with Mr. West.

First, plaintiffs refer to the "the brutal, video-taped and highly publicized beating of Mr. Abduljaami Salaam, " which was allegedly perpetrated by defendants Chapman and Bernardez-Ruiz on July 1, 2013. ECF 2 ¶ 40, Complaint. Plaintiffs claim that although Mr. Salaam's beating was "reported to [BPD] internal affairs... no disciplinary actions were taken against Defendants Chapman and Bernardez-Ruiz." Id .; see also id. at 10 n.1.

Second, in a footnote in the Complaint, plaintiffs describe the "unprovoked" assault and battery of Markita Smith. ECF 2 at 10 n.1, Complaint. Plaintiffs do not provide information about when and where the events involving Ms. Smith occurred, but they seem to imply that it preceded the incident with Mr. West. And, plaintiffs seem to suggest that the assault was perpetrated by defendants Chapman and Bernardez-Ruiz. Id. Plaintiffs contend that although Ms. Smith was "subjected... to constitutional depravations [sic], " neither officer was disciplined. Id.

Third, plaintiffs highlight the "killing of Anthony Anderson on September 21, 2012 by BPD Officers Michael J. Vodarick, Gregg B. Boyd and Todd A. Strohman...." Id. ¶ 65. However, the Complaint does not state whether Officers Vodarick, Boyd, and Strohman were disciplined for their alleged involvement in the death of Mr. Anderson. Nor are these officers involved in the events concerning Mr. West.[19]

Additional facts are included in the Discussion.

II. Standard of Review

Batts's Motion is predicated on Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). A defendant may test the legal sufficiency of a complaint by way of a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). McBurney v. Cuccinelli, 616 F.3d 393, 408 (4th Cir. 2010); Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999). A Rule 12(b)(6) motion constitutes an assertion by a defendant that, even if the facts alleged by a plaintiff are true, the complaint fails as a matter of law "to state a claim upon which relief can be granted."

Whether a complaint states a claim for relief is assessed by reference to the pleading requirements of Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Rule 8(a)(2) provides that a complaint must contain a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." The purpose of the rule is to provide the defendant with "fair notice" of the claim and the "grounds" for entitlement to relief. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56, 555 n.3 (2007).

A plaintiff need not include "detailed factual allegations" in order to satisfy Rule 8(a)(2). Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Moreover, federal pleading rules "do not countenance dismissal of a complaint for imperfect statement of the legal theory supporting the claim asserted." Johnson v. City of Shelby, ___ U.S. ___, 135 S.Ct. 346, 346 (2014) (per curiam). But, the rule demands more than bald accusations or mere speculation. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; see Painter's Mill Grille, LLC v. Brown, 716 F.3d 342, 350 (4th Cir. 2013).

To satisfy the minimal requirements of Rule 8(a)(2), the complaint must set forth "enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest" a cognizable cause of action, "even if... [the] actual proof of those facts is improbable and... recovery is very remote and unlikely." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556 (internal quotations omitted). In other words, the complaint must contain facts sufficient to "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570; see Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 684 (2009); Epps v. JP Morgan Chase Bank, N.A., 675 F.3d 315, 320 (4th Cir. 2012); Simmons v. United Mortg. & Loan Inv., LLC, 634 F.3d 754, 768 (4th Cir. 2011). "A court decides whether [the pleading] standard is met by separating the legal conclusions from the factual allegations, assuming the truth of only the factual allegations, and then determining whether those allegations allow the court to reasonably infer" that the plaintiff is entitled to the legal remedy sought. A Society Without A Name v. Virginia, 655 F.3d 342, 346 (4th Cir. 2011), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 132 S.Ct. 1960 (2012).

In reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court "must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint, '" and must "draw all reasonable inferences [from those facts] in favor of the plaintiff.'" E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. v. Kolon Indus., Inc., 637 F.3d 435, 440 (4th Cir. 2011) (citations omitted); see Houck v. Substitute Tr. Servs., Inc., No. 13-2326, 2015 WL 3973527, at *9 (4th Cir. July 1, 2015); Kendall v. Balcerzak, 650 F.3d 515, 522 (4th Cir.), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 132 S.Ct. 402 (2011); Monroe v. City of Charlottesville, 579 F.3d 380, 385-86 (4th Cir. 2009), cert. denied, 559 U.S. 991 (2010). However, a complaint that provides no more than "labels and conclusions, " or "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action, " is insufficient. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Moreover, the court is not required to accept legal conclusions drawn from the facts. See Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986); Monroe, 579 F.3d at 385-86.

A motion asserting failure to state a claim typically "does not resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses." Edwards, 178 F.3d at 243 (quotation marks omitted); see Houck, supra, 2015 WL 3973527, at *9; Tobey v. James, 706 F.3d 379, 387 (4th Cir. 2013). But, "if all facts necessary to the affirmative defense clearly appear[] on the face of the complaint, '" or in other material that is the proper subject of consideration under Rule 12(b)(6), such a defense can be resolved on the basis of the facts alleged in the complaint. Goodman v. Praxair, Inc., 494 F.3d 458, 464 (4th Cir. 2007) (en banc) (quoting Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac R.R. v. Forst, 4 F.3d 244, 250 (4th Cir. 1993)) (emphasis in Goodman ); see Houck, 2015 WL 3973527, at *9.

Ordinarily, in resolving a motion under Rule 12(b)(6), a court "is not to consider matters outside the pleadings...." Bosiger v. U.S. Airways, Inc., 510 F.3d 442, 450 (4th Cir. 2007); see Clatterbuck v. City of Charlottesville, 708 F.3d 549, 557 (4th Cir. 2013). If a court considers material outside of the pleadings, "the motion must be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56, " in which case "[a]ll parties must be given a reasonable opportunity to present all the material that is pertinent to the motion." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d). Under certain limited exceptions, however, a court may consider documents beyond the complaint without converting the motion to dismiss to one for summary judgment. Goldfarb v. Mayor & City Council of Baltimore, No. 14-1825, 2015 WL 3973598, at *6 (4th Cir. July 1, 2015).

For instance, without converting a motion under Rule 12(d), "a court may properly take judicial notice of matters of public record' and other information that, under Federal Rule of Evidence 201, constitute adjudicative facts.'"[20] Id.; see Fed.R.Evid. 201(b) (stating, that a "court may judicially notice a fact that is not subject to reasonable dispute because it... can be accurately and readily determined from sources whose accuracy cannot reasonably be questioned"); see also Tellabs, Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights, Ltd., 551 U.S. 308, 322 (2007); Katyle v. Penn Nat'l Gaming, Inc., 637 F.3d 462, 466 (4th Cir.), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 132 S.Ct. 115 (2011); Philips v. Pitt County Mem'l Hosp., 572 F.3d 176, 180 (4th Cir. 2009). Accordingly, "[i]t is not uncommon for courts to take judicial notice of factual information found on the world wide web." O'Toole v. Northrop Grumman Corp., 499 F.3d 1218, 1225 (10th Cir. 2007); cf. Jeandron v. Bd. of Regents of Univ. Sys. of Maryland, 510 F.Appx. 223, 227 (4th Cir. 2013) (noting that the court may take judicial notice of information on a website, "so long as the web site's authenticity is not in dispute"). However, "these facts [must be] construed in the light most favorable" to the non-movant. Clatterbuck, 708 F.3d at 557.

In resolving the motion to dismiss, I have taken judicial notice of the fact that Batts was sworn into office on November 8, 2012. Justin Fenton, "Batts formally sworn in as Baltimore police commissioner, " THE BALTIMORE SUN (Nov. 8, 2012), 2012-11-08/news/bs-md-ci-batts-sworn-in-20121108_1_anthony-w-batts-violent-crime-mayor-stephanie-rawlings-blake.

III. Discussion[21]

As noted, the Complaint includes three counts against Batts. Claim I - Count V is titled "Survival Action for Negligent Supervision, Training and Retention"; Claim I - Count VI is titled "Funeral Expenses"; and Claim II - Count I is titled "Wrongful Death." With respect to all three claims, it appears that Batts has been sued in his official and personal capacities. ECF 2 at 2, Complaint.

Batts advances two key arguments in support of his Motion to Dismiss. He contends that, under principles of sovereign immunity, plaintiffs' state law claims against Batts in his official capacity are subject to dismissal because the BPD is an arm of the State. ECF 20-1 at 9, Batts Memo. With respect to the federal constitutional claims, Batts argues that plaintiffs have failed to allege facts sufficient to establish supervisory liability, and have also failed to allege adequately that an ...

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