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Jones v. Chapman

United States District Court, D. Maryland

September 15, 2016

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


          Ellen Lipton Hollander United States District Judge.

         This civil rights case arises from the death of Tyrone A. West, Sr. (“Mr. West” or the “Decedent”) on July 18, 2013, while in police custody. Tawanda Jones, as Personal Representative of the Estate of Tyrone A. West, Sr.; Nashay West; Tyrone West, Jr.; and T.W., a minor child, by Mary Agers, as Guardian and next friend of T.W., plaintiffs, [1] have filed an Amended Complaint (ECF 33) alleging, inter alia, that Mr. West's death was caused by police brutality, i.e., an excessive use of force following an allegedly unlawful traffic stop of Mr. West.[2]

         In particular, plaintiffs have sued Baltimore City Police Officers Nicholas David Chapman; Jorge Omar Bernardez-Ruiz; Matthew Rea Cioffi; Eric Maurice Hinton; Alex Ryan Hashagen; Danielle Angela Lewis; Derrick Dewayne Beasley; and Latreese Nicole Lee (collectively, “BPD Officer Defendants”). Plaintiffs also sued Anthony W. Batts, who was the Commissioner of the Baltimore Police Department (“BPD”) when Mr. West died. ECF 33, Amended Complaint, ¶ 10.[3] In addition, plaintiffs sued David Lewis, an officer with the Morgan State University Campus Police (“MSU Police”), and Lance Hatcher, Chief of the MSU Police, (collectively, MSU Defendants). All defendants were sued in their official and individual capacities. Id. at 1-3; id. at 25.

         Suit is predicated on 42 U.S.C. § 1983, based on alleged violations of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the federal Constitution.[4] Plaintiffs also allege violations of Articles 24 and 26 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights, and they assert tort claims under Maryland law.[5] “Claim I” includes six counts, all brought by the Estate of Tyrone West, and “Claim II” includes one count, a wrongful death action brought by members of the Decedent's family.

         By Memorandum Opinion and Order of July 24, 2015, I granted in part and denied in part a motion to dismiss filed by former Commissioner Batts. See ECF 28; ECF 29. In particular, I dismissed with prejudice all State law claims against Batts in his official capacity. I concluded that a suit against Batts in his official capacity is, in effect, a suit against the BPD, which is an agency of the State of Maryland. Therefore, as to claims against Batts in his official capacity, the State enjoyed Eleventh Amendment immunity. Id. at 16-21. However, I denied the motion to dismiss as to the Monell claim, [6] based on the alleged existence of an unconstitutional custom or policy of deliberate indifference to the use of excessive force within the BPD. Id. at 23-33. And, I dismissed, without prejudice, the individual claims against Batts based on supervisory liability. Id. at 33-48. I also granted plaintiffs leave to amend their Complaint. ECF 29. An Amended Complaint was filed on August 13, 2015. See ECF 33.

         Based on the Court's prior ruling (ECF 28; ECF 29) and the Amended Complaint (ECF 33), the only claim remaining against former Commissioner Batts is “Claim I - Count V, ” the “survival action for negligent supervision, training and retention and custom or policy of deliberate indifference.” ECF 33, Amended Complaint, ¶¶ 64-76.[7]

         On March 2, 2016, Batts filed a motion to dismiss the Amended Complaint or, alternatively, a motion for summary judgment (ECF 55), along with a memorandum of law (ECF 55-1) (collectively “Motion to Dismiss”).[8] It is supported by several exhibits. He asserts, inter alia, sovereign immunity, public official immunity, and failure to state a claim. Plaintiffs oppose the Motion (ECF 56), supported by a memorandum of law (ECF 56-1) (collectively, “Opposition”), to which Batts has replied. ECF 57.

         Batts has also filed a Motion to Bifurcate and to Stay Discovery (ECF 69), supported by a memorandum of law. ECF 69-1 (collectively, “Motion to Bifurcate”).[9] Plaintiffs oppose the Motion to Bifurcate (ECF 78), supported by a memorandum of law (ECF 78-2) (collectively, “Opposition”). Batts has replied. ECF 82.[10]

         No hearing is necessary to resolve the motions. See Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons that follow, I will grant the Motion to Bifurcate. ECF 69. Therefore, I will stay discovery as to the claims against Batts, pending disposition of the claims against the BPD Officer Defendants. In view of the foregoing, I shall deny the Motion to Dismiss (ECF 55), without prejudice to the right to refile the motion after resolution of plaintiffs' claims against the BPD Officer Defendants.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         The relevant facts of this case are set forth in the Court's Memorandum Opinion dated July 24, 2015 (ECF 28), and are incorporated here. In sum, plaintiffs aver that Mr. West was subjected to an illegal traffic stop (ECF 33, Amended Complaint, ¶ 14) and, “[a]s 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.” Id. ¶ 37. Further, 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.” Id. ¶ 3. And, plaintiffs maintain that such incidents are part of a common practice, pattern, policy, and custom in the BPD. Id. ¶¶ 63-70.

         II. Discussion

         Batts seeks to bifurcate the §1983 claims against the various police officers from the §1983 Monell and supervisory claims against Batts, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 42(b). ECF 69-1 at 3, 6. He also moves the Court “to stay 42 U.S.C. § 1983 Monell discovery against the BPD and former Commissioner Batts pending the resolution of the Plaintiffs' claims against the other defendants, ” pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P 26(d). Id. at 6.

         In the Motion to Bifurcate, Batts raises two principal arguments. First, he argues that bifurcation will advance judicial economy and efficiency. Id. He observes that “Plaintiffs cannot pursue their §1983 Monell or supervisory liability claims against BPD and former Commissioner Batts unless they first prevail on their §1983 individual claims against the Officer Defendants” and they might not prevail. Id. at 7. In Batts's view, ‚Äúseparate trials ...

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