United States District Court, D. Maryland
L. Russell, III United States District Judge
MATTER is before the Court on Defendants', Sergeant Scott
Knauer, Sergeant Jason Hoffman, Officer Thomas Newton,
Officer Matthew Nussle, Officer Lindsey Ziegenfuss (the
“Officers”),  and Town of Elkton, Motion for Summary
Judgment (ECF No. 36). Also before the Court is
Plaintiffs', Robert and Alyce Brooke Szathmary, Cross
Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 37). This 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 action arises from the Officers' traffic stop
of the Szathmarys in Elkton, Maryland and the Officers'
subsequent detention of Robert Szathmary. The Motion is ripe
for disposition, and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule
105.6 (D.Md. 2016). For the reasons outlined below, the Court
will grant Defendants' Motion and deny the
Newton's Stop of the Szathmarys
11, 2012, at approximately 10:10 p.m., Newton was doing speed
enforcement on Route 40 in Elkton, Maryland, between Landing
Lane and a bridge to the west. (Newton Dep. 19-20, Feb. 18,
2016, ECF No. 36-3). The Szathmarys, driving a Chevrolet
Impala, passed Newton traveling forty-seven miles per hour,
two miles above the speed limit. (Newton Dep. 22, 25). Newton
began following the Szathmarys and pulled them over soon
after. (Id. at 24). After stopping the Szathmarys,
Newton approached the passenger's side of their car.
(Compl. ¶ 34, ECF No. 1).Newton informed the Szathmarys
that their license plates were registered to a Nissan, rather
than a Chevrolet, and that they were going forty-seven miles
per hour where the speed limit was forty-five miles per hour.
(Robert Szathmary Dep. 99-100, Feb. 17, 2016, ECF No. 36-10;
Alyce Szathmary Dep. 13-14, Feb. 17, 2016, ECF No. 36-11).
Newton asked Mr. Szathmary for his driver's license and
registration. (Newton Dep. 28).
waiting for Mr. Szathmary to provide the car's
registration, Newton began asking the Szathmarys other
questions, including where they were going and why they had a
baseball bat in the car. (Id. at 31). They said they
were going to Lewes, Delaware or Cape May, New Jersey.
(Id. at 31- 32). After giving the registration to
Newton, Mr. Szathmary informed Newton that his driver's
license was in the trunk. (Id. at 30). After Newton
told Mr. Szathmary to get his driver's license from the
trunk, Mr. Szathmary advised Newton that there were also two
unloaded firearms in the trunk. (Compl. ¶¶ 39, 40).
Newton called for backup. (Newton Dep. 43).
The First Search
10:16 p.m. and 10:22 p.m., Ziegenfuss, Nussle, Nussle's
K-9 dog Rommel, and Officer Leffew arrived. (Cross Mot. Summ.
J. Ex. 6 [“CAD Report”] at 2, ECF No. 38-6).
Newton brought Mr. Szathmary to the trunk, Mr. Szathmary gave
Newton permission to open the trunk, and Mr. Szathmary gave
Newton his driver's license. (Newton Dep. 46). Newton
secured Mr. Szathmary's handguns. (Id. at
45-46). Newton called dispatch and relayed the handguns'
serial numbers at 10:22 p.m. (Id. at 49; CAD Report
at 2). He also observed loose ammunition in the car's
passenger compartment. (Newton Dep. 58-59). Shortly
thereafter, Newton asked Nussle to do a K-9 scan of the
Szathmarys' car for drugs. (Cross Mot. Summ. J. at 8, ECF
No. 38; Nussle Dep. 36, Feb. 18, 2017, ECF No. 36-5). Nussle
brought Rommel to the Szathmarys' car for the K-9 scan.
(Nussle Dep. 36-39). Rommel alerted near the car's
passenger-side door handle to the presence of drugs.
(Id. at 39-41).
Rommel alerted, Newton searched the Szathmarys' car by
performing a “lunge, reach, grab” search of the
front and rear passenger compartments, the areas underneath
the seats, the glove compartment, the center console, and the
floor of the back seats (the “First Search”).
(Newton Dep. 78-79). He did not find anything illegal.
(Id. at 80). During the search at 10:32 p.m., and
again at 10:36 p.m., one of the Officers called dispatch and
told dispatch the vehicle identification number (VIN). (CAD
Report at 2). At 10:36 p.m., dispatch informed Newton that
there was no discrepancy with the car's registration
after all. (Cross Mot. Summ. J. at 9). With Hoffman's
permission, Newton decided nonetheless to bring the car to
the police station for another search. (Newton Dep. 80;
Hoffman Dep. 16, Feb. 19, 2016, ECF No. 36-8). Ziegenfuss
patted down Mrs. Szathmary and handcuffed her. (Ziegenfuss
Dep. 42-43, Feb. 19, 2016, ECF No. 36-7). Ziegenfuss drove
Mrs. Szathmary to the Elkton police station. (Id. at
41). Newton drove Mr. Szathmary to the police station.
(Newton Dep. 81-82). By this point, the length of the traffic
stop was approximately thirty minutes. (Robert Szathmary Dep.
67; Alyce Szathmary Dep. 22).
The Second Search
police station, Ziegenfuss told Mrs. Szathmary she was
released. (Alyce Szathmary Dep. 24). Mrs. Szathmary remained
in the police station lobby. (Id. at 24-25). Newton,
meanwhile, detained Mr. Szathmary in a holding cell. (Newton
Dep. 86). Newton then searched the car again, this time
looking underneath the hood, searching the areas around the
front and back seats, feeling underneath the dashboard,
opening the glove compartment, and searching the trunk (the
“Second Search”). (Id. at 90-91). Again,
Newton did not find anything illegal. (Id. at
110-12). Newton released Mr. Szathmary and returned the car
to the Szathmarys. (Id. at 103-11). According to
Newton, he released Mr. Szathmary at 12:45 a.m. (Id.
at 87). According to the Szathmarys, however, he released Mr.
Szathmary at 4:47 a.m., because they arrived in Dover,
Delaware at sunrise, sunrise was at 5:47 a.m., and Dover is
an hour from Elkton. (See Alyce Szathmary Dep. 34; Cross Mot.
Summ. J. Exs. 9 & 10, ECF Nos. 38-9, 38-10).
Szathmarys filed the present action against Defendants on
July 11, 2014. (ECF No. 1). In their six-count Complaint,
they allege: Custom and/or Policy in Violation of
Constitutional Rights Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983
(Count I); Violation of Constitutional Rights Pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 1983 (Count II); False Arrest (Count III);
False Imprisonment (Count IV); Battery (Count V); and
Attorney's Fees and Costs (Count VI). (Compl.). On April
15, 2016, Defendants moved for summary judgment on all
counts. (ECF No. 36). On May 6, 2016, the Szathmarys filed a
Cross Motion for Summary Judgment and opposed Defendants'
Motion. (ECF No. 37). On May 20, 2016, Defendants opposed the
Szathmarys' Cross Motion and filed a Reply in further
support of their Motion, (ECF No. 39). On June 2, 2016, the
Szathmarys filed a Reply. (ECF No. 40).
Standard of Review
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).
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).
“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).
the parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment.
The court, therefore, must “review each motion
separately on its own merits to ‘determine whether
either of the parties deserves judgment as a matter of
law.” Rossignol v. Voorhaar, 316 F.3d 516, 523
(4th Cir. 2003) (quoting Philip Morris Inc. v.
Harshbarger, 122 F.3d 58, 62 n.4 (1st Cir. 1997)).
Moreover, “[w]hen considering each individual motion,
the court must take care to ‘resolve all factual
disputes and any competing, rational inferences in the light
most favorable' to the party opposing that motion.”
Id. (quoting Wightman v. Springfield Terminal
Ry. Co., 100 F.3d 228, 230 (1st Cir. 1996)). This Court,
however, must also abide by its affirmative obligation to
prevent “factually unsupported claims and
defenses” from going to trial. Drewitt v.
Pratt, 999 F.2d 774, 778-79 (4th Cir. 1993) (citing
Felty v. Graves-Humphreys Co., 818 F.2d 1126, 1128
(4th Cir. 1987). If the evidence presented by the nonmovant
is “merely colorable, or is not significantly
probative, summary judgment may be granted.” Anderson,
477 U.S. at 249-50 (citations omitted).
argue they are entitled to qualified immunity. The doctrine
of qualified immunity shields government officials
“from liability for civil damages insofar as their
conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or
constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have
known.” Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800,
818 (1982). In the Fourth Circuit, courts should apply the
qualified immunity doctrine “with due respect for the
perspective of police officers on the scene and not with the
greater leisure and acquired wisdom of judicial
hindsight.” Gooden v. Howard Cty., 954 F.2d
960, 964-65 (4th Cir. 1992).
immunity “is an immunity from suit rather than a mere
defense to liability.” Mitchell v. Forsyth,472 U.S. 511, 526 (1985). The United States Supreme Court has
“made clear that the ‘driving force' behind
creation of the qualified immunity doctrine was a desire to
ensure that ‘insubstantial claims against government
officials [will] be resolved prior to discovery.'”
Pearson v. Callahan,555 U.S. 223, 231-32 (2009)
(quoting Anderson v. Creighton,483 U.S. 635, 640
n.2 (1987)). “Because the doctrine seeks to protect
government officials from the burdens of trial” and
trial preparation, courts must resolve qualified immunity
questions “at the earliest possible stage in