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Poindexter v. Prince George's County

United States District Court, D. Maryland

November 9, 2016

PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY, MD, et al. Defendants.


          Paula Xinis United States District Judge.

         Pending before the Court is Defendants' Partial Motion to Dismiss or, in the alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 8). The issues have been fully briefed, and the court now rules, no hearing being deemed necessary. Local Rule 105.6. For the following reasons, the Defendants' motion will be GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         This lawsuit arises from Plaintiffs arrest on August 15, 2014. ECF No. 1 at 5. On March 8, 2016, Lynwood Poindexter ("Plaintiff or "Mr. Poindexter") filed suit against Prince George's County, Maryland and Police Officer Cedric Babineaux ("Officer Babineaux"), in his individual and official capacity, and unknown police officers John and Jane Doe in their individual and official capacities (collectively, "Defendants"). The Complaint alleges that, on August 15, 2014, Plaintiff was unlawfully searched and arrested by Babineaux and the unknown officers for drug possession and possession of a firearm in connection with drug trafficking. ECF No. 1 at 3-5. Plaintiff was released from incarceration after 5 days. ECF No. 1 at 5. During the criminal proceedings, Plaintiff was represented by counsel. ECF No. 22 at 1. The firearms charges against Plaintiff were dropped on October 20, 2014, and the two remaining criminal charges were dismissed on January 29, 2015. ECF No. 1 at 6. On April 30, 2015, Plaintiff notified the County of his intention to file suit against the County and the defendant police officers. ECF No. 1 at 2-3.

         The seven-count Complaint asserts claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for Malicious Prosecution against Officer Babineaux (Count I), False Arrest against Officer Babineaux (Count III), and Illegal Search in violation of the Fourth Amendment against Officers Babineaux and Doe (Count VI). The state tort claims include Malicious Prosecution and False Arrest against Officer Babineaux (Counts II and IV). Plaintiff also alleges violations of Articles 24 and 26 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights for false arrest against Officer Babineaux (Count V) and illegal search against Officers Babineaux and Doe (Count VII). The Plaintiffs Complaint asserts no claims against Prince George's County although the County is named as a defendant.


         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). When a defendant attaches documents to a motion to dismiss that are not "integral to the complaint" or where the documents' authenticity is disputed, the Court must treat the motion as one for summary judgment to consider the documents. See CACI Int'l v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co., 566F.3d 150, 154 (4th Cir. 2009); Syncrude Canada Ltd. v. Highland Consulting Grp., Inc., No. RDB-12-318, 2013 WL 139194, at *2 (D. Md. Jan. 10, 2013); Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d). To be "integral, " a document must be one "that by its 'very existence, and not the mere information it contains, gives rise to the legal rights asserted.'" Chesapeake Bay Found., Inc. v. Severstal Sparrows Point, LLC, 794 F.Supp.2d 602, 611 (D.Md.2011) (citation and emphasis omitted). The April 30, 2015, notice of intention to file suit attached to the Defendants' motion is not integral to the complaint; thus, the Court will treat Defendants' pleading as a motion for summary judgment. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(d).

         A court may enter summary judgment only if there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Emmett v. Johnson, 532 F.3d 291, 297 (4th Cir. 2008). However, summary judgment is inappropriate if any material fact at issue "may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986); JKC Holding Co. LLC v. Washington Sports Ventures, Inc., 264 F.3d 459, 465 (4th Cir. 2001).

         "A party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment 'may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of [his] pleadings, ' but rather must 'set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Bouchat v. Baltimore Ravens Football Club, Inc., 346 F.3d 514, 522 (4th Cir. 2003) (quoting former Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)). "A mere scintilla of proof. . . will not suffice to prevent summary judgment." Peters v. Jenney, 327 F.3d 307, 314 (4th Cir. 2003). "If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted." Liberty Lobby, Ml U.S. at 249-50 (citations omitted). At the same time, the court must construe the facts presented in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. See Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007); Emmett, 532 F.3d at 297.

         III. ANALYSIS

         Defendants argue that the Court should dismiss all of Mr. Poindexter's state law claims because the Plaintiff failed to comply with the notice requirement of the Local Government Tort Claims Act (the "LGTCA"). ECF No. 8 at 2.

         Under the LGTCA, local governmental entities can be held liable for state constitutional torts and common law torts. See Martino v. Bell, 40 F.Supp.2d 719, 723 (D. Md. 1999); DiPino v. Davis, 729 A.2d 354, 370-71 (Md. 1999). However, to sue a local government or its employees for unliquidated damages based on an injury prior to October 1, 2015, [2] a plaintiff must provide written notice of the claim within 180 days of the injury giving rise to the suit. Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 5-304(b) (2015) (amended 2015); see also Ashton v. Brown, 339 Md. 70, 107 n.19 (1995) (holding that the LGTCA applies to constitutional torts). Further, the notice must be provided to the county attorney. Id. § 5-304(c)(3)(iii). The Maryland Court of Appeals "expressly has held that the notice requirements ... are a condition precedent to maintaining an action pursuant to the LGTCA." Faulk v. Ewing, 371 Md. 284, 304 (2002); see also Hansen v. City of Laurel, 420 Md. 670, 682 (2011) ("It is a longstanding principle of Maryland jurisprudence that the LGTCA notice provision is a condition precedent to maintaining an action directly against a local government [ ] or its employees."). The requirement generally governs both common law and state constitutional torts alike. Rounds v. Md.-Nat'l Capital Park & Planning Comm'n, 109 A.3d 639, 651-52 (Md. 2015).

         Failure to give actual notice is not fatal to a claim if a plaintiff substantially complies with the notice requirements. Huggins v. Prince George's Cnty., Md., 683 F.3d 525, 538 (4th Cir. 2012). Substantial compliance, a narrow exception to the LGTCA notice requirement, "will occur when the local government receives actual notice such that it is given the opportunity to properly investigate the potential tort claim." Id. (quoting Hansen, 996 A.2d at 891 (alteration, citation, and internal quotation marks omitted)). Notably, "substantial compliance has no application to an outright failure to comply." Moore v. Norouzi, 807 A.2d 632, 643 (Md. 2002) (citing Blundon v. Taylor, 770 A.2d 658, 670 (Md. 2001)). "There must be some effort to provide the requisite notice and, in fact, it must be provided, albeit not in strict compliance with the statutory provision." Id. In addition to showing "substantial compliance as to the content of the notice within the 180-day period, " a plaintiff must show substantial compliance "as to the statutory recipient." Huggins, 683 F.3d at 538.

         Here, Mr. Poindexter properly asserts that his alleged injuries on Count II for malicious prosecution occurred on January 29, 2015, the date that the criminal charges were dismissed. See Heron v. Strader,361 Md. 258, 265 (2000) (arrestee's cause of action for malicious prosecution arose under the LGTCA on the date that he was acquitted of criminal charges). The 180-day period for this claim ended on July 28, 2015. The April 30, 2015, letter was sent to the County Attorney within the 180-day period. Thus, this Court finds that Plaintiff adequately ...

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