United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division
WAYNE E. COLEMAN, Plaintiff,
CALVERT COUNTY, et al., Defendants.
J. HAZEL United States District Judge
Plaintiff Wayne E. Coleman's Amended Complaint alleges
violations of his civil rights, pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§§ 1983, 1985, 1986, and 18 U.S.C. § 241,
along with state law claims for various torts against Calvert
County, the Calvert County Sheriff Department, the State of
Maryland, Supervising Officer Phelps, Officer Gott, Officer
Cress, and Sheriff Mike Evans. ECF No. 16. Now pending before
the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss or, in the
Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment. ECF No. 27. A
hearing is unnecessary. Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the
reasons stated below, the Court grants summary judgment to
ail Defendants on all counts except for the unreasonable
search and seizure claim in Count I with respect to Gott,
Phelps, and Evans in their individual capacities.
morning of February 4, 2014, Coleman was driving his pick-up
truck home along Route 260 after picking up his medication at
a local pharmacy when Officer Gott pulled him over for not
having a rear license plate. ECF No. 16 ¶ 6. Gott
approached the driver's side door, informed Coleman that
he lacked a rear license plate, and asked for identification.
Id. Coleman handed Gott a "personal
identification card" and a "Public Servant's
Questionnaire." Id. The Questionnaire asserted
the right of a "sovereign natural person" to
collect information from a "Public Servant"
pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 552a(e)(3). ECF No. 17-2. Upon
receiving these papers, Gott returned to his vehicle and
requested a supervisor because Coleman was not providing his
license. ECF No. 27, Ex. A at 09:47:30.
Officer Phelps then arrived on the scene. ECF No. 16 ¶
7. Both Phelps and Gott approached the driver's side
window of the truck, and Phelps asked Coleman to produce a
driver's license-telling him he could go to jail for
failing to produce a license during a traffic stop. ECF No.
27, Ex. A at 09:51:00. After Coleman's noncompliance,
Phelps opened the truck door, took Coleman's hand, and
said, "climb on out, I don't want to drag you out of
the vehicle." Id. at 09:51:17; contra
ECF No. 16 ¶ 8 (alleging that Phelps said
"[y]ou're under arrest" while removing Coleman
from the vehicle). At the same time, the two officers grabbed
each of Coleman's arms and moved him to the side of the
truck. ECF No. 27, Ex. A at 09:51:17; contra ECF No.
16 ¶ 8 (alleging that Phelps "aggressively grabbed
Plaintiff by the hand (pressure point), neck and shoulder
area" and twisted his right arm while Gott twisted his
left arm). The officers forcefully placed Coleman's hands
on the truck and frisked him after he reached for his back
pocket. ECF No. 27, Ex. A at 09:51:26. The officers searched
inside at least some of Coleman's pockets during the
frisk and seized a wallet. ECF No. 16 ¶ 9. Inside the
wallet, the officers found Coleman's Virginia
driver's license. Id. Phelps escorted Coleman by
his shirtsleeve behind the truck and ordered him to sit on
the roadside guardrail. ECF No. 27, Ex. A at 09:52:40;
contra ECF No. 16 ¶ 8 (alleging that Phelps
"forcibly carried" Coleman to the guardrail). At
this point, Officer Cress arrived on the scene. ECF No. 16
officers stood around Coleman on the guardrail. Id.
¶ 10. Phelps and Gott took turns searching the
truck's interior. Id. ¶ 9. Phelps took the
keys out of the truck and removed the ignition key from the
key ring because the ring held a little knife. Id.
¶ 11. The officers informed Coleman that his truck would
be impounded because it could not be legally operated without
a rear plate. Id. Phelps asked Coleman if he wanted
anything from the truck before it was towed, and Coleman
mentioned only an unsealed, stamped letter which Phelps
brought to him. Id. ¶ 12. The officers handed
Coleman a ticket, told him to use his cell phone to call a
friend who could pick him up, placed the key ring containing
the little knife thirty feet up the road from the truck, and
terminated the encounter. Id. ¶¶ 10, 13.
days following the encounter, Coleman talked to Sheriff Mike
Evans over the phone. Id. ¶ 14. Coleman asked
if the Sheriffs Department could return the medication left
inside his truck. Id. He also expressed his concern
that the vehicle was illegally impounded, but Evans did not
remedy those concerns. Id. Coleman was charged
criminally for driving an uninsured vehicle, failing to
attach registration plates, and operating an unregistered
vehicle on the highway. Id. ¶ 15. The criminal
proceedings were subsequently terminated in favor of Coleman.
Id Coleman raises the following claims against one
or more Defendants pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983:
unreasonable search and seizure; deprivation of liberty
without due process; deprivation of property without due
process; excessive force; false arrest; a takings claim; and,
failure to implement appropriate police customs and
practices. ECF No. 16 ¶¶ 23-44. Coleman also raises
additional federal claims against the three officers present
during the stop and Sheriff Evans for conspiring against
Coleman pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3), id.
¶¶ 45-47, against the Sheriff Department for
neglecting to prevent a conspiracy pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 1986, id. ¶¶ 48-53, and against the
three officers and Evans for conspiring to deprive
constitutional rights pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 241,
id. ¶¶ 54-55. Coleman raises the following
claims against one or more Defendants pursuant to Maryland
law: assault; battery; intentional infliction of emotional
distress; false arrest; malicious prosecution; abuse of
process; false imprisonment; and, gross negligence.
Id. ¶¶ 56-96. Lastly, Coleman alleges a
violation of Article 24 of Maryland's Declaration of
Rights. Id. ¶¶ 71-75.
seeks the following relief: a declaration that his rights
were violated; an injunction ordering Defendants to avoid
Coleman on sight and forbidding them from detaining him;
compensatory and punitive damages; statutory damages and
reimbursement of funds paid or lost; and court costs.
Id. ¶¶ 97-102.
filed his Amended Complaint on June 12, 2015. Defendants have
filed a Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Motion for
Summary Judgment. The Court sent Plaintiff a letter dated
June 1, 2016 that notified him of Defendants' motion and
provided him seventeen days to file a response. ECF No. 28.
Coleman replied with a letter dated June 21, 2016, ECF No.
29, requesting clarification of his need to respond to a
pending motion. The Court construed Mr.
letter as a Motion for Extension of Time to Respond and
granted Coleman thirty days from June 24, 2016 to file a
response. ECF No. 30. Coleman filed his response on July 29,
2016. ECF No. 31.
MOTION TO DISMISS OR, IN THE ALTERNATIVE, MOTION FOR SUMMARY
Standard of Review
have styled their motion as a motion to dismiss under Federal
Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), or in the alternative, a
motion for summary judgment under Rule 56. "A motion
styled in this manner implicates the court's discretion
under Rule 12(d) of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure." McCray v. Md. DOT., No.
ELH-11-3732, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 8513, at * 15 (D. Md. Jan.
16, 2013); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(d) ("If,
on a motion under Rule 12(b)(6) or 12(c), matters outside the
pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the court, the
motion must be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule
56."). Pursuant to Rule 12(d), the Court has discretion
to determine whether to accept evidence outside the
pleadings, and thus convert a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to a Rule
56 motion. Id. at *16. Typically, all parties must
then be given the opportunity to present all material
pertinent to the motion, Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d), but when the
moving party captions its motion "in the
alternative" and presents evidence outside the pleadings
for the Court's consideration, the parties are deemed to
have notice that the Court may treat the motion as one for
summary judgment under the parameters of Rule 12(d).
McCray, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 8513, at *17.
instant case, Defendants' motion relies heavily on video
footage from a dashboard camera in Gott's car. Coleman
likewise references the video in his Amended Complaint and
had full opportunity to respond to this evidence. Thus, it
appears that both parties agree the video is helpful to the
Court's resolution of this motion and neither side has
requested additional discovery in this regard. See
McCray, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 8513, at *16 ("In
general, courts are guided by whether consideration of
extraneous material 'is likely to facilitate the
disposition of the action, ' and 'whether discovery
prior to the utilization of the summary judgment
procedure' is necessary.") (citation omitted).
Accordingly, conversion of the motion to a motion for summary
judgment under Rule 56 is appropriate.
judgment is appropriate only when the Court, viewing the
record as a whole and in the light most favorable to the
non-moving party, determines that there exists no genuine
issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled
to judgment as a matter of law. See Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-24 (1986); Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., Ml U.S. 242, 24850 (1986). Once a
party has properly filed evidence supporting the motion for
summary judgment, the non-moving party may not rest upon mere
allegations in the pleadings, but must instead set forth
specific facts illustrating genuine issues for trial.
Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-24.
Court "must review the motion, even if unopposed, and
determine from what it has before it whether the moving party
is entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law."
Custer v. Pan American Life Ins. Co., 12 F.3d 410,
416 (4th Cir. 1993). If the non-movant's version of the
facts are "so utterly discredited by the record, "
in this case the dashboard recording, "that no
reasonable jury could have believed him, " the facts
should be viewed in the light depicted by the recording.
See Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380-81 (2007)
(finding that the courts below should not have relied on a
"visible fiction" refuted by a videotape). Finally,
"a pro se complaint, 'however inartfully pleaded,
' must be held to 'less stringent standards than
formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.'" Estelle
v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976) (quoting Haines
v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972)).
42 U.S.C. § 1983 Claims (Counts
1983 provides a remedy against any person who, under color of
state law, deprives another of rights protected by the United
States Constitution. See 42 U.S.C. § 1983
(2012); Brown v. Bailey, No. RDB-11-01901, 2012 U.S.
Dist. LEXIS 81664, at *14 (D. Md. June 13, 2012) ("A
civil rights action under Section 1983 allows 'a party
who has been deprived of a federal right under the color of
state law to seek relief."') (quoting City of
Monterey v. Del Monte Dunes, 526 U.S. 687, 707
(1999)). "To state a claim under Section 1983, a
plaintiff must allege that: 1) a right secured by the
Constitution or laws of the United States was violated and 2)
the alleged violation was committed by a person acting under
the color of state law." Brown, 2012 U.S. Dist.
LEXIS 81664, at * 15-16 (citing West v. Atkins, 487
U.S. 42, 48 (1988)).
Unreasonable Search and Seizure (Count I)
seek summary judgment on Count I which alleges, inter
alia, unreasonable searches and seizures under the
Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments during the traffic stop. ECF
The Initial Traffic
Plaintiff alleges that Officer Gott lacked a legally
sufficient basis to conduct a warrantless stop of Plaintiff s
vehicle. Id. A warrantless traffic stop requires, at
minimum, a "reasonable suspicion, based on specific and
articulable facts, of unlawful conduct." United
States v. Hassan El, 5 F.3d 726, 729 (4th Cir. 1993)
(citing Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968)).
Maryland, it is illegal to operate a vehicle "on any
highway in [Maryland], unless there is attached to the
vehicle and displayed on it. . . plates issued for the
vehicle ... for the current regulatory period .. . ."
Md. Code Ann., Transp. § 13-411(d)(1) (West 2016).
"[O]ne plate shall be attached to the front and the
other on the rear of the vehicle." § 13-411(a). In
his Amended Complaint, Plaintiff concedes that he was driving
along Route 260, a Maryland highway, immediately prior to the
traffic stop. ECF No. 16 ¶ 6. Plaintiff also concedes
that he was driving his truck without plates. Id.
Additionally, the dashboard video shows that the truck was
missing a rear license plate, and that the missing plate was
visible from Gott's vantage point immediately prior to
the decision to stop. ECF No. 27, Ex. A. Thus, Gott had
reasonable suspicion to stop Coleman's vehicle for a
violation of Maryland law because he observed first-hand the
lack of a rear license plate. See U.S. v. Johnson,
734 F.3d 270, 275 (4th Cir. 2013) (finding that officers had
reasonable suspicion for a traffic stop after observing a
vehicle with illegal license plates under Maryland law). The
Court grants summary judgment in favor of Defendants
regarding the alleged illegality of the initial stop in Count
The Removal of Coleman from His Vehicle
alleges the officers violated his Fourth Amendment right to
be free from unreasonable seizure by opening the driver's
door and removing him from the truck. Id. ¶ 26.
The Fourth Amendment "reasonableness" analysis
requires balancing "the public interest and the
individual's right to personal security free from
arbitrary interference by law officers."
Pennsylvania v. Mimms, 434 U.S. 106, 109 (1977)
(quoting United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, 422 U.S.
873, 878 (1975)); United States v. Sakyi, 160 F.3d
164, 167 (4th Cir. 1998). Applying this balancing test to
Terry traffic stops, the Supreme Court has found
that, "once a motor vehicle has been lawfully detained
for a traffic violation, the police officers may order the
driver to get out of the vehicle without violating the Fourth
Amendment's proscription of unreasonable searches and
seizures." Mimms, 434 U.S. at 111 n.6. The
public interest in an officer's safety outweighs the
"mere inconvenience" to the driver from being
forced to exit the vehicle. See Id. at 111. "A
brief but complete restriction of liberty is valid under
Terry." United States v. Moore, 817 F.2d 1105,
1108 (4th Cir. 1987) (citing United States v.
Bautista, 684 F.2d 1286, 1289 (9th Cir. 1982)).
Accordingly, the officers had the authority to exert some
physical force to effectuate the order for Coleman to step
out of his vehicle.
truck was lawfully stopped for a traffic violation. Pursuant
to Mimms, the officers did not violate the Fourth
Amendment's proscription of unreasonable searches and
seizures by ordering Coleman from the truck then physically
removing him upon noncompliance. The reasonableness of the
officers' actions stands as a lawful continuation of the
initial Terry stop. Thus, the Court grants summary
judgment in favor of Defendants regarding the Count I
allegation of unreasonable seizure when Coleman was removed
from the vehicle.
The Frisk of Coleman and Wallet Search
alleges the officers violated his Fourth Amendment right to
be free from an illegal search by performing a patdown search
of his person shortly after he exited the truck. See
ECF No. 16 ¶ 26. "To justify a patdown of the
driver or a passenger during a traffic stop ... the police
must harbor reasonable suspicion that the person subjected to
the frisk is armed and dangerous." Arizona v.
Johnson, 555 U.S. 323, 327 (2009).
alleges that Gott and Phelps carried him to the side of the
truck then began "tearing through every pocket of shirt,
coat and pants after forcibly placing his hands upon his
truck." ECF No. 16 ¶ 9. The dashboard video,
however, provides crucial context absent from Plaintiffs
Amended Complaint for the officers' decision to commence
the body patdown. Immediately prior to the frisk and while
standing by the side of the truck, Coleman reached with his
right hand into his right back pocket. ECF No. 18, Ex. A. at
Coleman reaching toward his back pocket, like observing a
bulge in a jacket, provided Gott and Phelps a reasonable
suspicion that Coleman was armed and dangerous and reaching
for a weapon, which was sufficient to justify a patdown.
See Mimms 434 U.S. at 112 (finding frisk of driver
previously ordered out of his vehicle to be lawful because
the police's observation of an ...