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Cuellar v. Prince Georges County Maryland

United States District Court, D. Maryland

April 27, 2017

ROXANA MARIA CUELLAR, Plaintiff,
v.
PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY, MARYLAND, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          THEODORE D. CHUANG JUDGE.

         In her Amended Complain,, Plaintiff Roxana Maria Cuellar alleges seven causes of action against Defendants Prince Georgess County, Maryland ("the County") and Police Officer Lamm ("P.O. Lamm") of the Prince Georgess County Police Department stemming from her arrest and prosecution for Second Degree Assault: five common law, non-constitutional torts; a state constitutional tort claim pursuant to Article 24 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights; and a federal civil rights claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. S 1983 ("S 1983"). Cuellar failed timely to serve P.O. Lamm, who has accordingly been dismissed from this action. The County now seeks partial dismissal of Cuellarss claims. Specifically, the County seeks dismissal of Cuellarss S 1983 claim and her five non-constitutional tort claims. It mounts no challenge to her state constitutional tort claim. Having reviewed the Amended Complaint and the briefs, the Court finds no hearing necessary. See D. Md. Local R. 105.6 (2016). For the reasons set forth below, the Motion is GRANTED and, because Cuellarss only remaining claim is a state constitutional tort, the case is REMANDED to state court.

         BACKGROUND

         On May 19, 2013, Cuellar was arrested without a warrant by P.O. Lamm based on her alleged assault of Genner Guerra. Upon her arrest, Cuellar was handcuffed, searched, and taken into police custody for an unspecified period of time. Cuellar was subsequenlly charged with Second Degree Assault, Md. Code Ann., Crim. Law 93-203 (West 2002), and proceeded to trial. When called to testify, Guerra stated that he had not been assaulted by Cuellar. The State's Attorney presented no other witnesses and no other evidence. On June 27, 2013, Cuellar was found not guilty.

         On May 19, 2016, Cuellar filed suit against P.O. Lamm, the County, the Prince Georgess County Police Department ("the Department"), and 10 unnamed police officers ("Does 1-10"). She asserted eight causes of action against all Defendants: (I) malicious prosecution, (II) intentional infliction of emotional distress, (III) false arrest and false imprisonmen,, (IV) assault, (V) battery, (VI) gross negligence, (VII) a violation of Cuellarss state constitutional rights under Articles 24 and 47 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights, and (VIII) a violation of Cuellarss federal constitutional rights under the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendmenss to the United States Constitution, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 9 1983. On June 6, 2016, the Complaint was served on the County and on the Departmen.. The case was removed to this Court on July 5, 2016 on the basis of federal question jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. 9 1331 (2012).

         On July 14, 2016, pursuant to this Court's Case Management Order, the County filed a Notice that it intended to move for dismissal of all of Cuellarss claims. On July 28, 2016, the Court held a Case Management Conference to discuss the Countyss proposed Motion. Based on that Conference, and with the mutual consent of the parties, the Court granted Cuellar leave to amend her Complaint to cure pleading deficiencies asserted by the County, and the parties agreed that any counts in the Amended Complaint that failed to state a plausible claim for relief would be dismissed with prejudice.

         On August 22, 2016, Cuellar filed an Amended Complaint, which removed the Department as a Defendant and asserted the following seven causes of action against P.O. Lamm and the County: (I) malicious prosecution, (II) intentional infliction of emotional distress, (III) false arrest and false imprisonmen,, (IV) battery, (V) gross negligence, (VI) a violation of Cuellarss state constitutional rights under Article 24 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights, and (VII) a violation of Cuellarss federal constitutional rights under the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 9 1983.

         DISCUSSION

         In its Motion, the County seeks dismissal of Counts I-V of Cuellarss Amended Complaint on the basis that, as a local governmen,, it is immune from suit for non-constitutional torts. The County also seeks dismissal of Count VII on the basis that Cuellar fails to plead any facts that would support the inference that the County had a custom, policy, or practice that led to P.O. Lammss alleged violation of Cuellarss federal constitutional rights.

         I. Legal Standard

         To defeat a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a complaint must allege enough facts to state a plausible claim for relief. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). A claim is plausible when "the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the Court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. Legal conclusions or conclusory statements do not suffice and are not entitled to the assumption of truth. Id. In evaluating the sufficiency of a plaintiff s claims, the Court must examine the complaint as a whole, consider the factual allegations in the complaint as true, and view the factual allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 268 (1994); Lambeth v. Bd. of Comm'rs of Davidson Cty., 407 F.3d 266, 268 (4th Cir. 2005). However, the complaint must still contain more than "legal conclusions, elements of a cause of action, and bare assertions devoid of further factual enhancement." Nemet Chevrolet, Ltd. v. Consumeraffairs.com, Inc.". 591 F.3d 250, 255 (4th Cir. 2009).

         II. Sovereign Immunity

         The County asserts that it is immune from suit for the various non-constitutional torts asserted in Counts I-V. The County is correct. In Maryland, counties and municipalities, as instrumentalities of the State, are immune from suit on common law, non-constitutional torts that stem from the exercise of a governmental, rather than proprietary, function. Bd. of Educ. of Prince George's Cty. v. Town of Riverdale, 578 A.2d 207, 210 (Md. 1990). A function is governmental if it is "performed ... for the common good of all" rather than "for the special benefit or profit" of the local governmen.. Tadjer v. Montgomery Cty., 479 A.2d 1321, 1325 (Md. 1984). The "exercise of the police power to promote the safety, health, and welfare of the public" is a quintessential government function. E. Eyring and Sons Co. v. City of Bait., 252 A.2d 824, 826 (Md. 1969); see also Port Deposit v. Petetit, 688 A.2d 54, 64 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 1997) (holding that acts taken by a Chief of Police pursuant to his law enforcement authority were "clearly" an exercise of a government function). Here, Cuellar has sued the County based on her arrest and prosecution, acts that plainly fall within the scope of the police power. Because Cuellarss state common law, non-constitutional tort claims against the County arise from the Countyss exercise of a government function, the County is immune from suit on those claims.

         In an effort to avoid dismissal, Cuellar observes that the Maryland Local Government Tort Claims Act ("LGTCA",, Md. Code Ann. Cts. & Jud. Proc. SS 5-301-304 (West 2011), requires local governmenss to provide a defense to employees in tort actions arising from acts taken within the scope of employment and to indemnify, with some exceptions, employees for any tort judgmenss against them. See Md. Code Ann. Cts. & Jud. Proc. SS 5-302(a), 5-303(b). But the LGTCA obligation to defend and indemnify does not render a local governmen,, such as the County, itself liable in tort for the acts or omissions of its employees. "The only liabilities created by the LGTCA or expressly dealt with in the LGTCA concern tort suits against government employees." Edwards v. Mayor and City Council of Bait.,933 A.2d 495, 502 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 2007) (quoting Horn. Auth. of Bait. City v. Bennett, 754 A.2d 367, 376 (Md. 2000)). Thus, to the extent that Cuellar may be suggesting that the LGTCAss duty to defend and indemnify exposes the County to direct liability for her non-constitutional tort claims, she is incorrect. See Edwards, 933 A.2d at 502 (stating that under the LGTCA, a tort ...


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