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Williams v. United States

United States District Court, D. Maryland

November 16, 2016

UNITED STATES et al., Defendants.


          Paula Xinis United States District Judge

         Pending in this civil rights case is a motion to dismiss, or alternatively, for summary judgment (ECF No. 26) filed by Defendant Officer Anthony Pierelli. The issues are fully briefed and the Court now rules pursuant to Local Rule 105.6 because no hearing is necessary. For the following reasons, the motion is denied.


         In the early afternoon of January 14, 2014, Michael Benjamin and four passengers were travelling on the Suitland Parkway in Maryland when Defendant United States Park Police Officer Anthony Pierelli (“Officer Pierelli”) pulled alongside the vehicle and then behind it before pulling over Mr. Benjamin. ECF No. 1 at 2. Besides Mr. Benjamin, the other passengers in the vehicle included Plaintiff Holly Ann Williams (“Plaintiff”), who is the registered owner of the car Mr. Benjamin was driving.

         Officer Pierelli explained that the reason he stopped the vehicle was because the month and year expiration stickers were reversed on the license plate in violation of Maryland law. Id. at 3. Plaintiff alleges that the vehicle's registration stickers were properly affixed to the license plate in the correct order. Id. Officer Pierelli nonetheless approached the vehicle and requested identification from both Mr. Benjamin and Plaintiff. Several of the vehicle's occupants were ordered to step out of the vehicle for questioning.

         After approximately forty-five minutes, a female Prince George's County police officer arrived on the scene to frisk Plaintiff. Officer Pierelli then took Plaintiff into custody. Plaintiff alleges that Officer Pierelli arrested her on the basis of a Washington County, Maryland warrant. ECF No. 1 at 3. Upon learning that she was being arrested on a Washington County warrant, Plaintiff protested to Officer Pierelli that the warrant could not possibly be for her because she had never even been in Washington County. Id. The Officer ignored Plaintiff's protests and the corroborating information provided on Plaintiff's identification showing she resided in Prince George's County. Pierelli then placed her in handcuffs and transported her to the Commissioner in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. Id. at 4. At no point was Plaintiff read her Miranda rights, a standard procedure for officers to undertake upon arrest. Id.

         At Upper Marlboro, the Plaintiff received a copy of the Washington County warrant. Plaintiff is legally blind so she asked a good samaritan to read the warrant for her. The good samaritan obliged, revealing that the description on the warrant was of a white woman from Washington County, Maryland named “Holly Williams” who is sixty pounds lighter and twenty years younger than Plaintiff. ECF No. 1 at 4. Plaintiff is an African-American woman from Prince George's County.

         Plaintiff avers that Pierelli knew of the clear discrepancies between the information contained in the Washington County warrant and Plaintiff at the time he arrested her. Id. The Commissioner, upon reviewing the warrant, also immediately noted that the warrant “clearly” was not for the Plaintiff. Id. Four hours had elapsed between Plaintiff's detention by Officer Pierelli and her release. Id.

         On December 1, 2015, Plaintiff filed her Complaint in this Court. She asserts claims against the United States pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act, alleging that the United States is liable for her false imprisonment and false arrest because of the traffic stop and subsequent arrest. Plaintiff also asserts a Bivens claim against Officer Pierelli in his individual capacity, alleging that Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment rights were violated during the traffic stop and arrest.[2] On July 25, 2016, Officer Pierelli filed a motion to dismiss, or alternatively, a motion for summary judgment, seeking to have all the claims asserted against him dismissed on several grounds. ECF No. 26.


         Officer Pierelli has moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), or alternatively, for summary judgment under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. When the parties present matters outside of the pleadings and the court considers those matters, the court must treat the motion as one for summary judgment. See Gadsby by Gadsby v. Grasmick, 109 F.3d 940, 949 (4th Cir. 1997); Paukstis v. Kenwood Golf & Country Club, Inc., 241 F.Supp.2d 551, 556 (D. Md. 2003). Where, as here, the court considers only the pleadings and does not consider the outside materials provided by the parties, the court may decide the motion under Rule 12(b)(6). See Tuttle v. McHugh, 457 F. App'x 234, 235 (4th Cir. 2011); Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d).

         When ruling on a motion under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must “accept the well-pled allegations of the complaint as true, ” and “construe the facts and reasonable inferences derived therefrom in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Ibarra v. United States, 120 F.3d 472, 474 (4th Cir. 1997). “The mere recital of elements of a cause of action, supported only by conclusory statements, is not sufficient to survive a motion made pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6).” Walters v. McMahen, 684 F.3d 435, 439 (4th Cir. 2012) (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint's factual allegations “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal citations omitted).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Qualified ...

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