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Costley v. City of Westminster

United States District Court, D. Maryland

January 4, 2017

THE CITY OF WESTMINSTER, et al., Defendants.


          George L. Russell, III United States District Judge.

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendants', the City of Westminster, the Westminster City Police Department, [1] Lieutenant Thomas Kowalczyk, and Officer Patricia Parks[2] (collectively, the “Westminster Defendants”), Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 7).[3] The Motion is 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 grant the Motion.

         I. BACKGROUND[4]

         On November 15, 2015, pro se Plaintiff Nathaniel M. Costley, Sr. called Defendant Christina Steiner to explain that he “was tired of fighting over their child and wanted the fighting to end.” (Compl. ¶ 10, ECF No. 1). During the conversation, Costley also told Steiner that “he was thinking about moving from his current residence and that all the fighting between them would soon be over because [Costley] could not take it anymore.” (Id.). Steiner began asking questions about their minor child's wellbeing and encouraged Costley to reconsider his decision to relocate. (Id.).

         Following the conversation with Costley, Steiner called the Westminster Police Department and alerted them that Costley told Steiner he was going to commit suicide. (Id. ¶ 11). Meanwhile, Costley drove to a neighbor's house to collect money Costley had loaned. (Id. ¶ 12). While at the neighbor's house, Costley's cousin, Justin Carter, arrived and asked Costley to follow him back to Costley's house. (Id.). Costley obliged. (Id.).

         As Costley approached his house, he observed a marked Westminster Police Department vehicle in front of his house. When Costley pulled into his driveway, “he was completely caught off guard by three officers.” (Id. ¶ 13). One officer “blocked [Costley's] vehicle in, ” while the other two officers approached Costley with his wife, Shelvon Costley (“Mrs. Costley”). (Id.). Mrs. Costley then explained to her husband that Steiner called the Westminster Police Department, as well as Mrs. Costley and Carter, to explain that Costley was going to commit suicide. (Id. ¶ 14). Costley “immediately” stated to “everyone” that the allegation that he was going to commit suicide was “completely false.” (Id.). The Officers, however, “were not trying to hear [Costley] and told him that they were going to get him some help.” (Id.).

         Costley attempted to reason with Lieutenant Kowalczyk, Officer Parks, and “Sgt. Darby”[5] and repeatedly stated that Steiner was lying because he had no intentions of harming himself. (Id. ¶ 15). Costley told the Officers he was not going anywhere and demanded they get off his property. But the Officers refused to listen. (Id.). When Costley proceeded to the back door of his residence, the Officers followed him and “forced their way” inside. (Id. ¶¶ 15, 16). Costley alleges the Officers had neither consent nor a warrant to enter his home. (Id. ¶ 16).

         Once Costley was inside his home with the Officers, he “felt threatened and fearful for his safety.” (Id. ¶17). Costley made several more requests for the Officers to leave, but they refused. (Id.). Costley also “continuously” repeated that Steiner was lying and that he was not going to harm himself. (Id.). The Officers, however, told Costley he needed to go with them to the hospital for a psychiatric evaluation. (Id.). Costley refused, reiterating that there was nothing wrong with him, and sat down at his kitchen table. (Id.).

         While Costley was seated at his kitchen table, Lieutenant Kowalczyk told him that he had no choice but to obey the Officers and he could go willingly or “by force.” (Id. ¶ 18). At that point, Costley was “in tears.” (Id.). Lieutenant Kowalczyk then warned Costley that if Costley did not go willingly, Costley's home, which was once his grandmother's, may get destroyed in any ensuing struggle. (Id.).

         Costley next alleges that as result of Lieutenant Kowalczyk's “verbal t[h]reats” and the Officers' “threats to physically harm” him, Costley began to suffer an anxiety attack. (Id. ¶ 19). Costley took some medication and informed the Officers he needed and wanted to rest on his sofa. (Id.). Lieutenant Kowalczyk and Officer Parks, however, blocked the doorway leading to Costley's living room. (Id.). Lieutenant Kowalczyk then threatened to use his taser and handcuffs if Costley did not voluntarily submit to the Officers' authority and accompany them to the hospital. (Id.). At that point, Officer Parks “started going through [Costley's] cabinets and checking [his] medicine bottles and other prescriptions against [Costley's] will and without a warrant.” (Id.). Costley reminded Officer Parks that she did not have a warrant or consent to search his home, but she responded, “It does not matter!” (Id.).

         Costley made several phone calls “to get advice and help” with his situation because it was “clear” that the Officers were violating his rights, but no one answered. (Id. ¶ 20). Following these unsuccessful calls, the Officers made more threats to “harm” Costley and “destroy” his home. (Id.). Costley then walked outside to his back porch, and the Officers followed him. (Id.). “Out of fear for his safety, ” Costley ran away from the Officers. (Id.). As he fled, Costley fell and hit his head, left hand, and forearm on the concrete. (Id. ¶ 21). Costley got back on his feet and took off again, but after traveling only a few yards, he fell again. (Id.). This time, Costley was unable to get up and he remained on the ground until paramedics arrived to transport him to the hospital. (Id.). Once Costley arrived at the hospital, Officer Parks completed a petition for emergency mental health evaluation in accordance with § 10-622 of the Health-General Article of the Maryland Code. (See ECF Nos. 7-3, 7-4). After spending twelve hours in the hospital, a psychiatrist released Costley after determining the Officers' complaint that Costley had threatened to commit suicide was “frivolous.” (Id. ¶ 22).

         On May 13, 2016, Costley sued the Westminster Defendants in this Court, asserting several federal and state claims arising out of the November 15, 2015 incident described above. (Compl.). Costley raises federal claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for (1) illegal search and seizure, (2) excessive use of force, and (3) violation of equal protection. (Id.). He asserts state common law claims for (1) assault and battery, (2) defamation, and (3) “Abuse of Government Power and Authority, ” which the Court will construe as a claim for the tort of abuse of process. (Id.). Costley neither states which claims he brings against which Defendants, nor states whether he sues the Officers in their official or individual capacities.[6] Costley seeks $5 million in compensatory damages and $750, 000 in punitive damages.

         On August 24, 2016, the Westminster Defendants filed their Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 7); it is fully briefed, [7] (see ECF Nos. 7-10, 7-12). On October 19, 2016, the Court granted Costley's Motion to submit a cellular phone video of the November 15, 2015 incident. (ECF No. 13). The Court received the video on October 28, 2016. (ECF No. 14).


         A. Standard of Review

         The Westminster Defendants style their Motion as a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) or, in the alternative, for summary judgment under Rule 56. A motion styled in this manner implicates the Court's discretion under Rule 12(d). See Kensington Vol. Fire Dept., Inc. v. Montgomery Cty., 788 F.Supp.2d 431, 436-37 (D.Md. 2011), aff'd sub nom., Kensington Volunteer Fire Dep't, Inc. v. Montgomery Cty., 684 F.3d 462 (4th Cir. 2012). This Rule provides that when “matters outside the pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the court, the [Rule 12(b)(6)] motion must be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d). The Court “has ‘complete discretion to determine whether or not to accept the submission of any material beyond the pleadings that is offered in conjunction with a Rule 12(b)(6) motion and rely on it, thereby converting the motion, or to reject it or simply not consider it.'” Wells-Bey v. Kopp, No. ELH-12-2319, 2013 WL 1700927, at *5 (D.Md. Apr. 16, 2013) (quoting 5C Wright & Miller, Federal Practice & Procedure § 1366, at 159 (3d ed. 2004, 2012 Supp.)).

         The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has articulated two requirements for proper conversion of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to a Rule 56 motion. The first is notice: the Court must give the parties some indication that it is treating the 12(b)(6) motion as a motion for summary judgment. Greater Balt. Ctr. for Pregnancy Concerns, Inc. v. Mayor of Balt., 721 F.3d 264, 281 (4th Cir. 2013). The second is a reasonable opportunity for discovery. Id.

         When the movant expressly captions its motion “in the alternative” as one for summary judgment and submits matters outside the pleadings for the court's consideration, the parties are deemed to be on notice that conversion under Rule 12(d) may occur. See Moret v. Harvey, 381 F.Supp.2d 458, 464 (D.Md. 2005). The nonmovant “cannot complain that summary judgment was granted without discovery unless that party had made an attempt to oppose the motion on the grounds that more time was needed for discovery.” Harrods Ltd. v. Sixty Internet Domain Names, 302 F.3d 214, 244 (4th Cir. 2002) (quoting Evans v. Techs. Applications & Serv. Co., 80 F.3d 954, 961 (4th Cir. 1996)). Rule 56(d) provides that the Court may deny or continue a motion for summary judgment “[i]f a nonmovant shows by affidavit or declaration that, for specified reasons, it cannot present facts essential to justify its opposition.” “[T]he failure to file an affidavit under Rule 56[(d)] is itself sufficient grounds to reject a claim that the opportunity for discovery was inadequate.” Nguyen v. CNA Corp., 44 F.3d 234, 242 (4th Cir. 1995) (quoting Paddington Partners v. Bouchard, 34 F.3d 1132, 1137 (2d Cir. 1994)).

         Here, the Westminster Defendants caption their Motion in the alternative for summary judgment and attach matters beyond Costley's Complaint for the Court's consideration. Costley submits his own extra-pleading material and he has not expressed a need for discovery via a formal Rule 56(d) affidavit or an informal discovery request. Accordingly, the Court will treat the Westminster Defendants' Motion as one for summary judgment.

         In reviewing a motion for summary judgment, the Court views the facts in a light most favorable to the nonmovant, drawing all justifiable inferences in that party's favor. Ricci v. DeStefano, 557 U.S. 557, 586 (2009); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986) (citing Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 158-59 (1970)). Summary judgment is proper when the movant demonstrates, through “particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations . . . admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials, ” that “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a), (c)(1)(A). Significantly, a party must be able to present the materials it cites in “a form that would be admissible in evidence, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3), and supporting affidavits and declarations “must be made on personal knowledge” and “set out facts that would be admissible in evidence, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(4).

         Once a motion for summary judgment is properly made and supported, the burden shifts to the nonmovant to identify evidence showing there is a genuine dispute of material fact. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986). The nonmovant cannot create a genuine dispute of material fact “through mere speculation or the building of one inference upon another.” Beale v. Hardy, 769 F.2d 213, 214 (4th Cir. 1985) (citation omitted).

         A “material fact” is one that might affect the outcome of a party's case. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; see also JKC Holding Co. v. Wash. Sports Ventures, Inc., 264 F.3d 459, 465 (4th Cir. 2001) (citing Hooven-Lewis v. Caldera, 249 F.3d 259, 265 (4th Cir. 2001)). Whether a fact is considered to be “material” is determined by the substantive law, and “[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; accord Hooven-Lewis, 249 F.3d at 265. A “genuine” dispute concerning a “material” fact arises when the evidence is sufficient to allow a reasonable jury to return a verdict in the nonmoving party's favor. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. If the nonmovant has failed to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of her case where she has the burden of proof, “there can be ‘no genuine [dispute] as to any material fact, ' since a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986).

         B. Analysis

         1. City ...

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