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Lyles v. Prawdzik

United States District Court, D. Maryland

June 22, 2016

RONNIE D. LYLES, Plaintiff,
v.
CPL JEFF PRAWDZIK, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Paul W. Grimm United States District Judge

         While arresting Ronnie Lyles for his failure to wear a seatbelt, Town of Riverdale Park ("Riverdale Park") Police Officers Corporal Jeff Prawdzik, PFC Blanco, and Sgt. Slattery allegedly assaulted Lyles, shooting him with a Taser and beating him. Lyles has brought this case against the police officers and Riverdale Park under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Defendants have filed a motion to dismiss, or in the alternative, to bifurcate, Defs.' Mot., ECF No. 27, some portions of which are not disputed.[1] Counts I and II will be dismissed with respect to Defendants Prawdzik, Blanco, and Slattery in their official capacities only and with respect to Defendant Riverdale Park. Because I find that Lyles has not pleaded facts sufficient to support his Monell claims, Counts III and IV will be dismissed. Because I will dismiss Counts III and IV, Defendants' motion in the alternative to bifurcate will be denied as moot.

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for "the dismissal of a complaint if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Velencia v. Drezhlo, No. RDB-12-237, 2012 WL 6562764, at *4 (D. Md. Dec. 13, 2012). This rule's purpose "‘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.'" Id. (quoting Presley v. City of Charlottesville, 464 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Cir. 2006)). To that end, the Court bears in mind the requirements of Fed.R.Civ.P. 8, Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), when considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). Specifically, 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), and must state "a plausible claim for relief, " as "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice, " Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79. See Velencia, 2012 WL 6562764, at *4 (discussing standard from Iqbal and Twombly). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. I must accept the facts as alleged in Plaintiffs' complaint as true. See Aziz v. Alcolac, 658 F.3d 388, 390 (4th Cir. 2011).

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Counts I and II

         Defendants seek dismissal of Counts I and II with respect to Defendants Prawdzik, Blanco, and Slattery in their official capacities and with respect to Defendant Riverdale Park. Lyles states in his opposition that "[t]o clarify, Counts I and II were not directed toward and not intended to plead any claims against the Town of Riverdale Park." Opp'n 1. Accordingly, Counts I and II will be dismissed with respect to Riverdale Park. Lyles also states that Counts I and II were

meant to refer to the individual Defendants, who are the only parties mentioned in the counts themselves. As a result, insofar as the defense motion is targeted any respondeat superior, "official capacity" or claims against the Town of Riverdale in Counts I and II, is it [sic] moot as no such claims are asserted.

Id. It is unclear if Lyles is also conceding that Counts I and II should also be dismissed against Defendants Prawdzik, Blanco, and Slattery in their official capacities.

         A local government entity is a "person[] which may be sued under § 1983 although . . . not on a respondeat superior basis." DiPino v. Davis, 729 A.2d 354, 368 (Md. 1999); see Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 690-91 (1978); 42 U.S.C. § 1983. "[O]fficial-capacity suits generally represent only another way of pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is an agent." Monell, 436 U.S. at 690 n.55. Indeed, a local government only may be sued through an official-capacity action, which "is really an action against the governmental entity, of which the official was merely an agent, " where the official "‘implement[s] governmental law, policy, or custom, ' i.e., the deprivation underlying the § 1983 claim is ‘caused by a statute, regulation, policy, or custom of the governmental entity' that the official was implementing." DiPino, 729 A.2d at 369 (quoting Ashton v. Brown, 660 A.2d 447, 468 (Md. 1995)). The suit against the officers in their official capacity is duplicative because Lyles also has brought a Monell claim against Riverdale Park. See Ulloa v. Prince George's County, Md., No. DKC-15-257, 2015 WL 7878956, at *6 (D. Md. Dec. 4, 2015) ("Accordingly, because Plaintiffs have failed to state a plausible Monell claim alleging that a policy or custom of the County caused the deprivation of Plaintiffs' rights, Plaintiffs have similarly failed to state a claim under § 1983 against [the police officers] in their official capacities."). Because I will dismiss Lyles's Monell claims against Riverdale Park as discussed below, I will also dismiss Lyles's claims, to the extent that these claims were intended, against Defendants Prawdzik, Blanco, and Slattery in their official capacities.[2]

         B. Counts III and IV

         Counts III and IV allege Monell claims against Riverdale Park for violations of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment. See Am. Compl. 10-13, ECF No. 21. With respect to both of these counts, Lyles has alleged liability based on Riverdale Park's failure "to adequately train, supervise, and discipline officers" and that Riverdale Park "instituted and maintained formal and informal customs, policies, and practices that foster, promote and encourage officers" to violate individuals' protected constitutional rights. See Am. Compl. ¶¶ 79, 80, 83, 84. For Count III, Lyles states that that these practices included

a. The use of excessive force occurs so frequently that it has become accepted manner by the Defendants and other employees of Riverdale Park. This is a result of Riverdale Park's failure to establish effective procedures, rules, orders, guidelines and practices to ensure that excessive force will not be used and to ensure that allegations of excessive force will be thoroughly investigated and appropriately punished when found to have occurred. As a result of this failure, there has been a regular pattern and practice of excessive force, failure to provide adequate medical care, cover-up, and failure to investigate. This pattern and practice has been manifested in other prior incidents involving town officers.
b. Riverdale Park has failed to effectively instruct officers that they have a duty to prevent and report excessive ...

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