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Spicknall v. Spencer

United States District Court, D. Maryland

June 21, 2016

BARBARA SPICKNALL Plaintiff,
v.
WILLIAM R. SPENCER, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Richard D. Bennett, United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Barbara Spicknall (“Plaintiff” or “Spicknall”) brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988 against Defendant William R. Spencer (“Defendant” or “Detective Spencer”), alleging violations of her rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution and Articles 24 and 26 of the Maryland Constitution.[1] Specifically, Spicknall claims that she suffered an unreasonable seizure when Detective Spencer deliberately or recklessly provided false identification information to a grand jury and the drafter of her arrest warrant, leading to her unlawful arrest. In short, she claims that an arrest warrant was issued in connection with the activity of another woman in Pennsylvania, bearing a similar name. As a result, Spicknall, an Anne Arundel County resident of 50 years with no criminal history, was held for seven days at the Baltimore City Detention Center.

         Currently pending before this Court are Defendant’s first and second Motions to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim, or in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment (ECF Nos. 9, 15). The parties’ submissions have been reviewed and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2014). For the reasons stated below, Defendant’s first Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim, or in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 9) is MOOT[2] and second Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim, or in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 15), construed as a Motion to Dismiss, is DENIED.

         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). This action arises from the alleged unlawful and unconstitutional seizure of the Plaintiff, Barbara Spicknall, pursuant to an erroneous arrest warrant. At some point between May 2012 and December 2012, officers of the Baltimore City Police Department (“BCPD”) intercepted a phone call between Troy Maisel and Kristen Mummert (“Mummert”), a resident of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, in which an illicit drug transaction was planned. Second Am. Compl. ¶ 5. On September 25, 2012, BCPD Detective William Bearde and Drug Enforcement Agency (“DEA”) Special Agent Grob observed Barbara Melton (“Melton”), also of Pennsylvania, purchase nineteen gel caps containing heroin. Id. ¶¶ 6, 22. The BCPD subsequently conducted a traffic stop of the vehicle carrying Mummert and Melton. Id. ¶ 7.

         After the traffic stop, the BCPD and DEA produced separate reports of the incident. Id. The BCPD Report contained Melton’s address and date of birth. Id. The DEA Report contained Melton’s social security number, telephone number, SID number, [3] NADDIS number, [4] FBI number, address, and driver’s license number. Id. Spicknall contends that Detective Spencer of BCPD was the lead investigator into the alleged heroin dealings of Mummert and Melton. Id. ¶ 8.

         On December 10, 2012, Detective Spencer allegedly provided testimony on Melton before a Baltimore grand jury. Id. ¶ 9. The grand jury then indicted Melton with conspiracy to possess heroin and conspiracy to distribute and dispense heroin. Id. ¶ 11. The indictment, however, erroneously listed Spicknall’s address, date of birth, and SID number underneath Melton’s name. Id. ¶ 11. On that same day, Piper McKeithen, Assistant State’s Attorney for Baltimore City, filed a Motion for Issuance of Warrant that likewise named Melton, but again listed Spicknall’s personal information. Id. ¶ 12. The warrant issued later that day thus contained Spicknall’s information. Id. ¶ 13. Spicknall alleges that Detective Spencer was responsible for providing the State’s Attorney’s Office with this information and that the person who drafted the warrant application relied on the information that Detective Spencer provided. Id. ¶ 10. She also alleges that Detective Spencer provided false statements and omitted material facts in his testimony before the grand jury, leading the jury to find probable cause for her arrest. Id. ¶ 32. Spicknall acknowledges, however, that Detective Spencer’s testimony before the grand jury is sealed. Id. ¶ 9.

         On March 14, 2013 an Annapolis Police Department officer arrested Spicknall, an Anne Arundel County resident of fifty years with no criminal history, pursuant to the warrant. Id.¶¶ 15, 21. Spicknall unsuccessfully attempted to convince the Annapolis Police Department that she was not the person they sought to arrest. Id. ¶ 16. She allegedly explained that she had abandoned her maiden name, “Melton”, over twenty-five years ago when she married her current husband. Id. Spicknall was ultimately detained for seven days at the Baltimore City Detention Center. Id.¶¶ 18-19. She was released on March 21, 2013 and all charges against her were dismissed on April 10, 2013. Id. ¶¶ 19-20.

         On November 9, 2015, Spicknall filed the present action against Defendant Spencer and the State of Maryland alleging violations of her rights protected by the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Detective Spencer subsequently moved to dismiss (ECF No. 9) pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. In response, Spicknall filed a Second Amended Complaint (ECF No. 14) naming only Detective Spencer. Detective Spencer now moves to dismiss the Second Amended Complaint again pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6).

         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 merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses.” Presley v. City of Charlottesville, 464 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Cir. 2006).

         The Supreme Court’s recent opinions in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), “require that complaints in civil actions be alleged with greater specificity than previously was required.” Walters v. McMahen, 684 F.3d 435, 439 (4th Cir. 2012) (citation omitted). The Supreme Court’s decision in Twombly articulated “[t]wo working principles” that courts must employ when ruling on Rule 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. First, while a court must accept as true all the factual allegations contained in the complaint, legal conclusions drawn from those facts are not afforded such deference. Id. (stating that “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice” to plead a claim); see also Wag More Dogs, LLC v. Cozart, 680 F.3d 359, 365 (4th Cir. 2012) (“Although we are constrained to take the facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, we need not accept legal conclusions couched as facts or unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments.” (internal quotation marks omitted)). Second, a complaint must be dismissed if it does not allege “a plausible claim for relief.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.

         ANALYSIS

         Plaintiff’s Second Amended Complaint asserts two causes of action against Defendant: unreasonable seizure in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, U.S. Const. amends. IV, XIV (Count One), and unreasonable seizure in violation of Articles 24 and 26 of the Maryland Constitution, Md. Const. art. 24 and 29 (Count Two). In his Motion to Dismiss, Defendant argues that Plaintiff has failed to allege sufficient facts to state a plausible claim for relief because (1) Plaintiff cannot indicate what exactly Defendant said in his testimony before the grand jury; (2) Plaintiff cannot explain precisely how the indictment and warrant for Melton’s arrest came to bear Plaintiff’s identifying information; and (3) Plaintiff cannot show that Defendant’s actions deprived Plaintiff of her constitutional rights.[5] Deriding Plaintiff’s Complaint as a “request to initiate a ...


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