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Cullison v. Queen Anne's County

United States District Court, D. Maryland

September 6, 2016



          James K. Bredar United States District Judge.

         Pending before the Court are Defendant Queen Anne County's motion to dismiss (ECF No. 18), Plaintiff's motion for leave to file an amended complaint (ECF No. 21), and Defendants Jones, Layton, and Stouffer's motion to seal exhibits A, B, C, and E of their motion to dismiss (ECF No. 23), all of which are unopposed (ECF Nos. 21; 22), and all of which will be granted.

         Also pending is Defendants Stouffer, Jones and Layton's motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 25.) That motion is fully briefed (ECF Nos. 30; 31), and no hearing is required, Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). The motion will be granted. Plaintiff's motion for leave to file response to Defendants' reply brief to the afforementioned motion (ECF No. 34) (technically a motion to file a surreply) is opposed by Defendants Stouffer, Jones and Layton (ECF No. 35); the motion will be denied.

         Furthermore, the docket reflects no evidence that service has been effected on Defendants Rob Penny or the State of Maryland. Therefore, the Court will require Plaintiff to show cause that those defendants not be dismissed from the case pursuant to Rule 4(m) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

         I. Background[1]

         Plaintiff Raymond Gene Cullison, Jr. (“Cullison”) was arrested on December 19, 2012 for the murder of Larry Gears (“Gears”), and was held pending trial until July 11, 2013, when prosecutors declared nolle prosequi in the case. (ECF No. 21-1 ¶¶ 18-24.)[2]

         In 2012, Cullison had an ongoing dispute with his neighbor, Gears, stemming from Cullison's allegations that Gears' step-sons had repeatedly vandalized Cullison's home and harassed his family. (Id. ¶ 9.) Throughout 2012, Cullison made numerous complaints to the sheriff's department concerning the vandalism, and ultimately installed flood lights and a video surveillance system in an attempt to definitively establish the identities of the perpetrators. (Id. ¶ 9.) On November 20, 2012, he brought to the sheriff's department a video recording that documented the most recent incident of vandalism in which three juvenile males threw stones at Cullison's home. (ECF 24 at 18.) Unable to identify the perpetrators from the video, sheriff's deputies intermittently surveilled Cullison's home in the early hours of November 21, 2012. (ECF 24-1 at 2.) However, at approximately 1:30 a.m., while the deputies were not at the house, Cullison called 911 to report yet another incident of vandalism. (ECF No. 21-1 ¶ 10.) Sheriff's deputies responded to the call and interviewed Cullison, Gears, and Gears' stepsons. (Id. ¶ 10.) Still unable to identify either of Gears' stepsons as being among the vandals, the deputies left the scene at approximately 2:30 a.m. (Id. ¶ 10.)

         At 9:00 that morning, Gears' wife returned home from work to find Gears' body on the sidewalk in front of his home. (Id. ¶ 13.) She contacted emergency medical personnel, who arrived and pronounced him dead. (Id. ¶ 13.) Due to the presence blood around Gears' head and the fact that there were signs of injury to his face and hands, deputies at the scene immediately identified the possibility of a homicide and began an investigation into the circumstances of his death. (Id. ¶ 14; ECF No. 24 at 12.) Cullison and the members of Gears' household all voluntarily submitted to questioning, and after obtaining a search warrant, deputies also seized video footage from Cullison's surveillance system. (ECF No. 21-1 ¶¶ 14, 15.) Review of that footage ultimately showed that after the deputies left the scene, Cullison exited his house in the direction of Gears' residence (passing out of the frame of his surveillance cameras) at approximately 2:38 a.m., returning to his property at 2:42. (ECF No. 24-2.) The footage also showed Cullison aiming what appears to be a rifle (Cullison identifies it as a BB gun) in the direction of the Gears home, holding that position from 2:51 to 2:54 a.m., until he eventually returned to his home. (Id.) The camera did not record any other activity until Gears' wife returned at 9:05 a.m. (ECF No. 24 at 26.)

         Based on hemorrhages in the face and neck and a broken hyoid bone, [3] the medical examiner's report ultimately concluded the cause of Gears' death to be asphyxia by strangulation. (ECF No. 24-3.) The sheriff's department's investigation continued through December 19, 2012 when Cullison was charged with and arrested for Gears' murder. (ECF No. 25-3.) The grand jury indicted him for the same on January 14, 2013 (ECF No. 25-5) and he was held in custody until the State's Attorney's Office terminated their prosecution on July 11, 2013 (ECF No. 21-1 ¶ 24).

         Cullison challenges the legality of his search, arrest, and detention and accordingly has filed suit against Queen Anne's County, the State of Maryland, and four individual defendants whom Plaintiff identifies as members of the Queen Anne's County Sheriff's Department: Stephen E. Stouffer, Morris Jones, Jr., Bruce Layton, and Rob Penny. (ECF 21-1.)

         II. Standard for Dismissal for Failure to State a Claim

         A complaint must contain “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Facial plausibility exists “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. An inference of a mere possibility of misconduct is not sufficient to support a plausible claim. Id. at 679. As the Twombly opinion stated, “Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” 550 U.S. at 555. “A pleading that offers ‘labels and conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.' . . . Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders ‘naked assertion[s]' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557). Although when considering a motion to dismiss a court must accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint, this principle does not apply to legal conclusions couched as factual allegations. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

         III. Standard for Summary Judgment

         “The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986) (citing predecessor to current Rule 56(a)). The burden is on the moving party to demonstrate the absence of any genuine dispute of material fact. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970). If sufficient evidence exists for a reasonable jury to render a verdict in favor of the party opposing the motion, then a genuine dispute of material fact is presented and summary judgment should be denied. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). However, the “mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [opposing party's] position” is insufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment. Id. at 252. The facts themselves, and the inferences to be drawn from the underlying facts, must be viewed in the light most favorable to the opposing party, Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007); Iko v. Shreve, 535 F.3d 225, 230 (4th Cir. 2008), who may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of his pleading but instead must, by affidavit or other evidentiary showing, set out specific facts showing a genuine dispute for trial, Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). Supporting and opposing affidavits are to be made on personal knowledge, contain such facts as would be admissible in evidence, and show affirmatively the competence of the affiant to testify to the matters stated in the affidavit. Id.

         IV. Allegations of the Complaint

         Cullison alleges that Sergeants Jones and Layton knowingly or recklessly provided Corporal Stouffer with false information, which he then used to obtain the warrant for Cullison's arrest and which he also presented to the Grand Jury as a basis for its indictment. (ECF No. 21-1 ¶¶ 17, 21.) Specifically, Cullison denies having made statements attributed to him that he was going to take the law into his own hands with respect to the ongoing conflict with Gears, that something bad was going to happen, and that he was not afraid to go to jail. (Id. ¶ 17.) He also alleges that the sheriff's deputies falsely claimed that he had martial arts training. (Id.) Cullison points to the absence of eyewitnesses or forensic evidence that would have connected him to Gears' murder, as well as the presence of exculpatory evidence including surveillance video indicating that he was off of his property for only a brief period and Gears' daughter's statement that she saw Gears alive and uninjured after the time which Cullison returned to his property. (Id. ¶ 18.) Cullison further alleges that even the conclusion that Gears was strangled to death was the result of the misrepresentation of evidence by the Defendants. (Id. ¶ 18.)

         The sixteen counts of Cullison's amended complaint constitute eight causes of action, each of which is duplicated to include alternate theories of liability against Queen Anne's County (Counts I-VIII) and the State of Maryland (Counts IX-XVI), and their respective agents. (ECF No. 21-1.) The Plaintiff's alleged causes of action against the government entities include False Arrest (Counts I and IX), False Imprisonment (Counts II and X), Malicious Prosecution (Counts III and XI), Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (Counts IV and XII), violations of the Maryland Declaration of Rights (Counts V and XIII), Longtin[4] claims alleging violations of Articles 24 and 26 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights (Counts VI and XIV), and Monell[5]claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983 (Counts VIII and XVI). Id. Cullison charges each of the individual defendants with violations of the 4th and 14th Amendments brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983 (Counts VII and XV) as well as joining them with the governmental defendants on all other Counts except the Longtin (Counts VI and XIV) and Monell (Counts VIII and XVI) claims. Id.

         V. Analysis

         A. Motion for Surreply

         The primary issues before the Court are contained in Defendants Stouffer, Jones, and Layton's motion to dismiss / motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 25). Nonetheless, for the sake of efficiency, the Court will first address Cullison's MOTION FOR LEAVE TO FILE RESPONSE TO DEFENDANTS' REPLY TO PLAINTIFF'S OPPOSITION TO DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS AMENDED COMPLAINT OR IN THE ALTERNATIVE MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (ECF No. 34).

         Cullison initially attempted to characterize this motion as a response. (ECF No. 32.) However, because Cullison had already filed a response to the Defendants' motion (ECF No. 30), and because Defendants filed a reply brief (ECF No. 31), this document could only be characterized as a surreply. Accordingly, the Court issued an order indicating that the document was deficient, the Court's leave being required before filing a surreply (ECF No. 33).

         Cullison now argues that the document should be accepted based on its purported compliance with Local Rule 103.6 (D. Md. 2016), citing case law regarding leave for a party to amend its pleadings. (ECF No. 34 ¶¶ 4, 5, 7.) However, the document in question does not set forth a second amended complaint, but on its face responds to Defendants' motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 34-1.) Alternatively, Cullison asks the court to consider the document a supplement to its previous response. (ECF No. 34 ¶ ...

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