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Jeffers v. Harrison-Bailey

United States District Court, D. Maryland

March 21, 2017



          J. Frederick Motz, United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Rye'Keisha Jeffers brings suit against defendants Raquel Harrison-Bailey, Neisha L. Brown, Sergeant Neile Hicks, and the Maryland Transit Administration, for various torts and constitutional violations stemming from an incident on April 19, 2013. Now pending is defendants' motion to dismiss all counts in Jeffers' third amended complaint. (ECF No. 21). The motion is fully briefed, and no oral argument is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is granted in part and denied in part, and Counts 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, and 13 are dismissed.


         At the motion to dismiss stage, this court accepts as true the facts alleged in the complaint. See Aziz v. Alcolac, Inc., 658 F.3d 388, 390 (4th Cir. 2011). Plaintiff Rye'Keisha Jeffers (“Jeffers”) “is a natural person residing in Baltimore County, Maryland.” (ECF No. 19, ¶ 7). Defendants Raquel Harrison-Bailey (“Harrison-Bailey”) and Neisha L. Brown (“Brown”) were police officers employed by defendant Maryland Transit Administration (“MTA”) during the events alleged in Jeffers' complaint. Id. at ¶ 8. Defendant Sergeant Neile Hicks (“Sgt. Hicks”) supervised Harrison-Bailey and Brown during these alleged events. Id. at ¶ 8.

         Jeffers alleges that on April 19, 2013, she “was seated on the subway platform of the Rogers Station in Baltimore City . . . listening to music on her cell phone” through her earphones. While at the platform, Jeffers' “cell phone began to ring, indicating she was receiving a text message.” Id. at ¶ 11. Jeffers' “ring tone was a popular song that play[ed] until she complete[d] a response to the text message.” Id. at ¶ 12. While responding to the text message, Jeffers alleges she noticed Harrison-Bailey “standing directly in front of her.” Id. at ¶ 13. Jeffers “removed one of the ear pieces and asked [Harrison-Bailey] if she could help her.” Id. at ¶ 14. In response, Harrison-Bailey notified Jeffers “it was against the law to play music without head phones and there was signage stating as much.” Id. at ¶ 15. Jeffers indicated she was not playing music and “further advised that she was within the limits of the law as she was wearing head phones”; despite this, Harrison-Bailey insisted Jeffers turn off her phone. Id. at ¶¶ 16-17. Instead of turning off her phone, Jeffers alleges she requested that Harrison-Bailey call her supervisor. Id. at ¶ 19. When Harrison-Bailey declined to do so, Jeffers called “911” and “reported the harassing conduct of Defendant Harrison-Bailey.” Id. at ¶¶ 20.

         After this interaction, Jeffers alleges “Harrison-Bailey proceeded to place Plaintiff under arrest by grabbing her by her sweatshirt [] and twisting it around her neck.” Id. at ¶ 21. Subsequently, “Brown arrived and aided Defendant Harrison-Bailey” with placing Jeffers in custody. Id. at ¶¶ 22-23. Jeffers alleges this incident left her clothing in disarray “and her breast and stomach were exposed.” Id. at ¶ 23. Jeffers further alleges she requested defendants allow her to fix her clothing, but Harrison-Bailey and Brown “refused and walked [Jeffers through] the station with her private areas exposed to the general public.” Id. at ¶¶ 24-25.

         Jeffers alleges she was led to the women's bathroom where three female officers, including Harrison-Bailey and Brown, “accosted her, first by tripping her to the floor, punching her in the face and back of the neck and head, [and then] stomping and jumping on her leg and ankle.” Id. at 27. Subsequently, Jeffers was criminally charged with “Disorderly Conduct, Failure to Obey [the] Lawful Order of [a] Law Enforcement Officer, and Resisting Arrest.” Id. at ¶ 28. The criminal case “went to trial in the District Court for Baltimore City” on September 16, 2013, where the state “entered a Nolle Prosequi on the docket.” Id. at ¶¶ 29-30.

         On December 31, 2015, Jeffers filed her original complaint in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City against Harrison-Bailey and Brown, in their individual capacities, alleging various torts and violations of the Maryland Declaration of Rights and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (ECF No. 2; ECF No. 21, p. 1). Jeffers amended her original complaint on May 19, 2016, omitting the federal claims included in her first complaint. (ECF No. 21, p. 1). Jeffers again amended her complaint, filing a second amended complaint on November 2, 2016, where she added the MTA as a defendant, and reasserted the federal claims against all defendants. Id. at 1-2. Defendants removed that action to the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland and responded with a motion to dismiss. Id. at 1-2. Jeffers filed a third amended complaint (“TAC”) on November 19, 2016, adding several claims and naming Sgt. Hicks as a defendant for the first time. Id.

         Specifically, against Harrison-Bailey and Brown, Jeffers alleges: false arrest (Count 1); unreasonable seizure pursuant to Article 26 of the Maryland State Declaration of Rights (Count 2); battery (Count 3); false imprisonment (Count 4); unreasonable seizure and excessive force pursuant to § 1983 (Count 6); intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count 10); and Fourth Amendment violations pursuant to § 1983 (Count 11). Against the MTA, Jeffers alleges: a violation of the Maryland State Declaration of Rights for having a “policy custom, or usage” that resulted in the incident (Count 7); a claim for inadequate supervision and discipline under § 1983 (Count 8); and a violation of civil rights under § 1983 for having improper policies or customs “which caused the violation of Plaintiff rights” (Count 9). Next, against Sgt. Hicks, Jeffers alleges “supervisory liability” pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and § 1988 (Count 12). Jeffers also alleges malicious prosecution against all defendants (Count 5). Lastly, against Sgt. Hicks, Harrison-Bailey, and Brown, Jeffers alleges a “conspiracy to violate [her] civil rights” pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1985 (Count 13).

         In response, defendants Harrison-Bailey, Brown, Sgt. Hicks, and the MTA filed this instant motion on November 28, 2016, to dismiss all counts asserted against them. (ECF No. 21).


         Defendants Harrison-Bailey, Brown, Sgt. Hicks, and the MTA filed this motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). “[T]he Court's consideration of the 12(b)(6) motion [is] limited to the pleadings and exhibits that are both integral and authentic, or matters of public record.” Chesapeake Bay Found., Inc. v. Severstal Sparrows Point, LLC, 794 F.Supp.2d 602, 612 (D. Md. 2011). To adequately state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint, relying on only well-pled factual allegations, must state at least a “plausible claim for relief.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009). 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). In order to determine whether Jeffers' claims have crossed “the line from conceivable to plausible, ” the court must employ a “context-specific inquiry, ” drawing on the court's “experience and common sense.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 680. When performing this inquiry, the court accepts “all well-pled facts as true and construes these facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff in weighing the legal sufficiency of the complaint.” Nemet Chevrolet, Ltd. v., Inc., 591 F.3d 250, 255 (4th Cir. 2009). The court need not, however, accept unsupported legal allegations, Revene v. Charles Cnty. Comm'rs, 882 F.2d 870, 873 (4th Cir. 1989), nor must it agree with legal conclusions couched as factual allegations, Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, or conclusory factual allegations devoid of any reference to actual events, United Black Firefighters v. Hirst, 604 F.2d 844, 847 (4th Cir. 1979); see also Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 193 (4th Cir. 2009).


         Defendants move to dismiss the thirteen counts asserted against them pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). (ECF No. 21). I address their arguments in turn.

         I. Timeliness of claims brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985, and 1988

         Defendants argue they are entitled to dismissal of Jeffers' claims brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985, and 1988, because these claims were not timely filed. Below, I address: (a) whether the claims against the MTA and Sgt. Hicks were timely, and (b) whether the § 1985 claim against Harrison-Bailey, Brown, and Sgt. Hicks was timely.

         A. Claims against the MTA and Sgt. Hicks

         Defendants argue Jeffers' federal claims against the MTA and Sgt. Hicks brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1983, and 1988, are untimely. (ECF No. 21, p. 5-6). Both sides agree a three-year statute of limitations period applies to these claims. (ECF No. 21, p. 5-6; ECF No. 23, p. 12-13). What is in dispute, however, is whether these claims were timely filed given that Jeffers repeatedly amended her complaint, adding and removing claims and parties in each successive amendment.

         The alleged events giving rise to this action occurred on April 19, 2013. (ECF No. 19, ¶ 9). Jeffers filed her original complaint on December 31, 2015. (ECF No. 2; ECF No. 32, p. 12). This original filing was timely; it was filed before the three-year limitations period lapsed on April 19, 2016. However, this original filing did not name the MTA or Sgt. Hicks as defendants, nor did it allege any federal claims against defendants. (ECF No. 21, p. 6). Rather, the claims against the MTA were added in Jeffers' second amended complaint on November 2, 2016, id. at 6, and Sgt. Hicks was added as a defendant for the first time in Jeffers' TAC on November 19, 2016, id. at 1-2. Therefore, the relevant question is whether these claims against the MTA and Sgt. Hicks, added after the expiration of the limitations period, “relate back” to the timely original complaint.[1] I agree with defendants and find these claims do not relate back.

         “In determining whether an amended complaint relates back, we look to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(c)(1).” See Wilkins v. Montgomery, 751 F.3d 214, 224 (4th Cir. 2014). Rule 15(c)(1) provides, in relevant part:

(1) When an Amendment Relates Back. An amendment to a pleading relates back to the date of the original pleading when: . . .
(B) the amendment asserts a claim or defense that arose out of the conduct, transaction, or occurrence set out-or attempted to be set out-in the original pleading; or
(C) the amendment changes the party or the naming of the party against whom a claim is asserted, if Rule 15(c)(1)(B) is satisfied and if, within the period provided by Rule 4(m) for serving the summons and complaint, the party to be brought in by amendment:
(i) received such notice of the action that it will not be prejudiced in defending on the merits; and
(ii) knew or should have known that the action would have been brought against it, but for a mistake concerning the ...

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