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Santos v. Crowell

United States District Court, D. Maryland

October 17, 2016

Miguel Santos
Deputy David Crowell


         Dear Counsel:

         Pending before the Court is Defendant Deputy David Crowell's (“Deputy Crowell”) Motion to Quash Subpoena and for Protective Order (ECF No. 23). Also pending are Plaintiff Miguel Santos's Motion for Leave to Amend (ECF No. 26) and Petition to Hold Sheriff Michael A. Lewis (“Sheriff Lewis”) in Contempt of Court (ECF No. 27). The Motions and Petition are fully briefed and ripe for disposition. No hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D.Md. 2016). For the reasons that follow, the Court will deny the Motions and defer ruling on Santos's Petition until the Court determines whether Santos will withdraw it.

         The Court outlined the alleged facts underlying this case in its March 17, 2016 Order and will not repeat them here. (See ECF No. 14). In his original Complaint, Santos sued only Deputy Crowell and raised three claims: (1) a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (2012) claim for violations of the Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution based on unreasonable seizure, [1] excessive use of force, and denial of due process (Count I); (2) a claim under Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of N.Y., 436 U.S. 658 (1978) (“Monell claim”) (Count II);[2] and (3) a common law assault claim (Count III). (Compl., ECF No. 1). Santos prayed for compensatory and punitive damages. (Id. ¶ 19). In its March 17, 2016 Order, the Court dismissed Count I as to Deputy Crowell in his official capacity and Count II in its entirety. (ECF No. 14). In dismissing Count II, the Court explained that a local governmental unit, not Deputy Crowell, is the appropriate defendant for a Monell claim. (Id.).

         On June 20, 2016, Santos filed his Motion for Leave to Amend his Complaint, to which he attached his proposed First Amended Complaint in accordance with Local Rule 103.6(a) (D.Md. 2016). (ECF Nos. 26, 26-1). On June 15, 2016, Santos served Deputy Crowell with a subpoena commanding Sheriff Lewis, who is not a party to this action, to testify at a deposition scheduled for July 19, 2016. (ECF Nos. 23-1, 23-3). On June 20, 2016, Deputy Crowell moved to quash the subpoena or for a protective order. (ECF No. 23). After Sheriff Lewis did not appear at the July 19, 2016 deposition, Santos petitioned to hold Sheriff Lewis in contempt of Court. (ECF No. 27).

         Motion for Leave to Amend

         Rule 15(a)(1) provides that a party may amend its pleading once as a matter of course within twenty-one days after service of a motion under Rule 12(b). Because Santos filed his proposed Second Amended Complaint after this deadline, Rule 15(a)(2) applies.

         Under Rule 15(a)(2), “[t]he court should freely give leave [to amend a complaint] when justice so requires.” Justice does not require granting leave to amend when the moving party has exhibited bad faith, or amendment would prejudice the nonmoving party or be futile. See Edell & Assocs., P.C. v. Law Offices of Peter G. Angelos, 264 F.3d 424, 446 (4th Cir. 2001) (citing Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 242 (4th Cir. 1999)). Leave to amend would be futile when an amended complaint could not survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. See U.S. ex rel. Wilson v. Kellogg Brown & Root, Inc., 525 F.3d 370, 376 (4th Cir. 2008). The Court should only deny leave to amend on the ground of futility, however, when the proposed amendment is clearly insufficient on its face. Johnson v. Oroweat Foods Co., 785 F.2d 503, 510 (4th Cir. 1986) (citing Davis v. Piper Aircraft Corp., 615 F.2d 606, 613 (4th Cir. 1980)).

         In his First Amended Complaint, Santos seeks to correct and bolster his Monell claim. First, he attempts to assert his Monell claim against Wicomico County, Maryland (“Wicomico County”)-a new Defendant. (First Am. Compl., ECF No. 26-1). Second, he seeks to include numerous new allegations regarding Sheriff Lewis's and the Wicomico County Sheriff's Office's (“WCSO”) purported policies and customs of encouraging racial profiling and excessive use of force. (Id.).

         Deputy Crowell argues amendment would be futile because sheriffs and their deputies are state officials and Wicomico County cannot be liable under Monell for the policies and customs of state officials. To be sure, under Maryland law, sheriffs and their deputies are state officials. See Rucker v. Harford Cty., 558 A.2d 399, 402 (Md. 1989). But, Deputy Crowell overlooks that whether Sheriff Lewis is a state official does not end the inquiry of whether Wicomico County can be liable under Monell. See Fether v. Frederick Cty., No. CCB 12-1674, 2013 WL 1314190, at *7 (D.Md. Mar. 29, 2013) (explaining that although “sheriffs are state rather than local government employees . . . this does not end the inquiry for . . . Frederick County”).

         A county may be liable under Monell for the allegedly unconstitutional policies and customs of the sheriff of the county if the sheriff had final policymaking authority for the county when devising and implementing the policies and customs. See City of St. Louis v. Praprotnik, 485 U.S. 112, 123 (1988) (“[O]nly those municipal officials who have ‘final policymaking authority' may by their actions subject the government to § 1983 liability.”); see also Dotson v. Chester, 937 F.2d 920, 924 (4th Cir. 1991) (“County liability for the Sheriff's operation of the County Jail depends on whether the Sheriff had final policymaking authority for the County over the County Jail.”). A county may also be liable under Monell if it “officially sanctioned or ordered” the policies and customs. Praprotnik, 485 U.S. at 123.

         The amended Monell claim that Santos proposes is clearly insufficient on its face for at least two reasons. First, Santos alleges “Wicomico County, through its Sheriff's Department, has repeatedly adopted and used policies, procedures, practices, and customs . . . that [have] allowed racial and ethnic profiling, excessive force, and grossly disproportionate force to ‘send a message' or further some political agenda or motive of the [WCSO].” (First Am. Compl. ¶ 21) (emphasis added). By alleging Wicomico County has adopted unconstitutional policies and customs “through” the WCSO, it appears Santos seeks to hold Wicomico County vicariously liable for the acts of the WCSO. A county, however, “cannot be held liable under § 1983 on a respondeat superior theory.” Monell, 436 U.S. at 691. Second, Santos provides specific examples of purportedly unconstitutional policies and customs, but he attributes them only to Sheriff Lewis and the WCSO-not Wicomico County.[3] Santos neither alleges that Wicomico County sanctioned or ordered the policies and customs, nor alleges that Sheriff Lewis or the WCSO had final policymaking authority for Wicomico County when devising and implementing them. See Praprotnik, 485 U.S. at 123.

         Because the amended Monell claim Santos proposes is clearly insufficient on its face, the Court concludes amendment would be futile. See Johnson, 785 F.2d at 510. Accordingly, the Court will deny Santos's Motion for Leave to Amend without prejudice.

         Motion to Quash Subpoena or for Protective Order

         Deputy Crowell argues the Court should quash Santos's subpoena because Sheriff Lewis does not possess any potentially relevant information regarding the physical altercation between Santos and Deputy Crowell (the “Altercation”), and ordering Sheriff Lewis to be deposed would subject him to an undue burden. Santos responds that after the Altercation, Sheriff Lewis made several comments to local media that demonstrate he is familiar with the facts and circumstances surrounding the Altercation. Santos maintains that Sheriff Lewis “applauded” Deputy's Crowell's efforts in “restrain[ing] himself” because lethal force “would have been completely justified” and Santos “would have been a lot more banged up” if Sheriff Lewis had arrested him. (Pl.'s Opp'n Mot. Quash Subpoena at 1, 2, ECF No. 24). Santos contends Sheriff Lewis must have ...

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