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Santos v. Frederick County Board of Commissioners

United States District Court, D. Maryland

June 16, 2016



          William M. Nickerson Senior United States District Judge.

         Before the Court is Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss Third Amended Complaint or, in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment and Motion to Strike. ECF No. 157. The motion is fully briefed. Upon review of the parties’ submissions and the applicable law, the Court determines that no hearing is necessary, Local Rule 105.6, and that the motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

         This action relates to an incident that occurred more than seven years ago, on October 7, 2008, in Frederick, Maryland. Aspects of Plaintiff’s claims have been addressed by several decisions of this Court, the case was appealed to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, and now has been remanded on a single narrow issue. Santos v. Frederick Cty. Bd. of Comm’rs, 725 F.3d 451 (4th Cir. 2013).[1] Because the factual and procedural background of this action has been detailed in those previous opinions of this Court and by the Fourth Circuit, and because this Court finds that additional discovery is needed before the merits of the pending motion can be fully resolved, that background will not be repeated here in any significant detail. The factual and procedural background relevant to the Court’s finding is as follows.

         Plaintiff is a native of El Salvador and, on the day in question, was sitting on a curb eating her lunch behind her place of employment. She was approached by two deputies of the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office (FCSO), Deputies Jeffrey Openshaw and Kevin Lynch (the Deputies), who detained her and then arrested her after learning that she had an outstanding civil warrant for removal issued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). She was transferred to a Maryland detention center where she was later turned over to ICE. After being detained by ICE for a little over a month, she was released on supervised release on November 13, 2008.

         On November 10, 2009, Plaintiff filed this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Deputies, Frederick County Sheriff Charles Jenkins, the Frederick County Board of Commissioners (Board), and several individuals from ICE and the Department of Homeland Security. Plaintiff asserted that the Deputies violated her Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizures and violated the Fourteenth Amendment by targeting her because of her perceived race, ethnicity, or national origin. The Complaint also included allegations concerning Sheriff Jenkins’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and asserting that, during Jenkins’s tenure as sheriff, Frederick County devoted an increasingly greater share of its resources to the enforcement of federal immigration laws. Specifically, Plaintiff noted that the FCSO entered into a Section 287(g)[2] Memorandum of Agreement (287(g) MOA) with ICE under which certain deputy sheriffs were permitted to carry out certain limited functions of federal immigration officers.

         All of the Defendants moved to dismiss the original complaint under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. On August 25, 2010, Judge Legg granted the motion, concluding that the Complaint was alleging that the Deputies were acting under color of federal and not state law and, therefore, that Plaintiff’s suit should have been brought as a Bivens action, [3] and not as an action under § 1983. ECF No. 50. Plaintiff was given leave to conduct discovery to determine whether Defendants were acting under color of federal law or state law, after which Plaintiff would be permitted to file an amended complaint.

         In its initial Motion to Dismiss, the Board also requested, in the alternative, that the discovery and resolution of the merits of the claims against the Board be bifurcated from the claims against the individual defendants. In a telephone conference held on February 4, 2011, which was memorialized in a Letter Order issued that same date, ECF No. 66, Judge Legg granted the request for bifurcation, concluding that discovery and anticipated dispositive motions would be initially limited to claims against the individual defendants. Thus, only after liability of the individual defendants was determined would discovery on the claims against the Board be permitted. Judge Legg also held that all discovery on the issue of damages would be deferred.

         Plaintiff filed her Second Amended Complaint[4] on February 18, 2011, ECF No. 75, which removed the claims against the federal defendants, deleted some of the allegations related to the 287(g) MOA, but was again brought under § 1983. After a period of limited discovery, Defendants moved for summary judgment on the claims against the individual defendants. ECF No. 84. This Court granted the motion, concluding that the Deputies violated neither Plaintiff’s Fourth Amendment rights nor the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Santos v. Frederick Cty. Bd. of Comm’rs, 884 F.Supp.2d 420, 428-30 (D. Md. 2012). Finding no violation on the part of the Deputies, the Court also dismissed the claims against Sheriff Jenkins and the Board. Id. at 432.

         Plaintiff moved for reconsideration, citing a number of recent federal court decisions holding that state and local governments lack inherent authority to enforce civil federal immigration law. ECF No. 101. Judge Legg denied Plaintiff’s motion, observing that even if those decisions represented a growing consensus, the Deputies would still be entitled to qualified immunity. Plaintiff filed a timely appeal.[5]

         On appeal, the Fourth Circuit concluded that the Deputies did violate Plaintiff’s Fourth Amendment rights when they detained and arrested her based solely on an outstanding federal civil immigration warrant. Santos, 725 F.3d at 465. Nevertheless, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the individual capacity claims against the Deputies based on qualified immunity “because the right at issue was not clearly established at the time of the encounter.” Id. at 469. The court, however, concluded that this Court erred in dismissing the claims against the Board because qualified immunity does not extend to municipal defendants. Id. at 470. In addition, because “qualified immunity from suit under Section 1983 does not extend to municipal defendants or government employees sued in their official capacity, ” id., the court held it was also error to have dismissed the official capacity claims against the Deputies and Sheriff Jenkins.

Having (erroneously) determined that the deputies did not violate Santos's constitutional rights, the district court did not have occasion to address whether the municipal defendants were “responsible” for the deputies' conduct. Therefore, on remand, the district court should determine whether the deputies' unconstitutional actions are attributable to an official policy or custom of the county or the actions of a final county policymaker.


         When the case returned to this Court on remand, Plaintiff argued in her status report that discovery was necessary to develop the factual record in support of her municipal liability claim because, under this Court’s bifurcation order, discovery had, thus far, been limited to the claims against the individual defendants. ECF No. 130. She also stated that she might seek leave to amend her complaint. Defendants suggested in their status report that Plaintiff’s municipal liability claims “are subject to decision as a matter of law or on the basis of the significant discovery that already has taken place.” ECF No. 129. Defendants expressed an intent to file a “preliminary motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment, ” and the Court approved that request. ECF No. 131.

         Defendants filed their preliminary motion on December 16, 2014. ECF No. 132. Plaintiff opposed that motion, ECF No. 137, but also sought leave to file a Third Amended Complaint. ECF No. 136. In opposing Plaintiff’s motion for leave to amend, Defendants argued that her request was untimely, that they would be prejudiced by this late amendment, and that amendment would be futile. ECF No. 140. After those motions were fully briefed, Judge Quarles issued a Memorandum and Order on August 26, 2015, granting in part and ...

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