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Johnson v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

June 1, 2017

MICHAEL JOHNSON, JR.
v.
MAYOR AND CITY COUNCIL OF BALTIMORE, ET AL.

          Wright, Reed, Sharer, J. Frederick (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned), JJ.

          OPINION

          Reed, J.

         This appeal stems from the aftermath of this Court's reported opinion in Francis v. Johnson, 219 Md.App. 531 (2014), in which Michael Brian Johnson, Jr., appellant, filed an action in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City against three detectives of the Baltimore City Police Department ("BPD"), Tyrone S. Francis, Milton G. Smith, III, and Gregory Hellen (collectively, the "officers"). A jury awarded compensatory and punitive damages to Mr. Johnson for intentional torts and constitutional violations "based on the officers' actions in taking him from Baltimore in a police van, assaulting him, breaking his phone, and then dropping him off in Howard County, in the rain, without shoes, socks or a way home." Francis, 219 Md.App. at 537.

         The officers filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict ("JNOV"), a new trial, and remittitur, which was granted in part and denied in part by the trial court. The trial court ordered a new trial unless Mr. Johnson agreed to a remittitur in the compensatory damages award, which he ultimately did. The officers appealed. This Court largely affirmed the judgments of the trial court; nevertheless, we revised the compensatory damages and remanded the case for further proceedings.

         Before those further proceedings took place, Mr. Johnson filed a Request for Writ of Execution and Levy Upon Personal Property and a Request for Garnishment of Property in the amount of this Court's revised judgment, identifying the Mayor & City Council of Baltimore City (the "City"), appellees, as "Judgment Debtors" and M&T Bank as the "Garnishee." After the clerk of the court issued both writs, the City filed a Motion to Quash Writs of Execution and Garnishment of Property and to Release Property from Levy.

         After a hearing, the motions court quashed both writs and ordered that the funds be released by the bank. The court found (1) that there was no valid judgment to execute upon because the judgment had not been revised by the circuit court after this Court's remand, (2) that the writs were not timely filed, and (3) that the City was not the judgment debtor in this case. Mr. Johnson noted a timely appeal, and presents one question for our review:

Did the [circuit c]ourt err in granting the Mayor & City Council's Motion to Quash Writs of Execution and Garnishment of Property and to Release Property from Levy[?]

         For the following reasons, we answer in the negative and, accordingly, affirm the judgment of the circuit court.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND A. Prior Proceedings

         The following is a summary of the background as pertinent to this case. The detailed factual background of the trial and verdict is set out in this Court's reported opinion in Francis, supra.

         On February 23, 2010, Mr. Johnson's parents, on behalf of Mr. Johnson, [1] filed an action in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City arising from his detention by the officers on May 4, 2009. Seeking both compensatory and punitive damages, they claimed assault, battery, false imprisonment, and violations of Articles 24 and 26 of the Maryland Declaration of rights. Specifically,

[t]he complaint alleged that the officers were "acting . . . within the scope of their employment as Baltimore City Police Officers" when the foregoing [detention] occurred, and they "maliciously, intentionally, carelessly, recklessly, with gross negligence, wantonly, willfully, wrongfully, unreasonably, with reckless disregard for human life; and without justification assaulted, battered, and detained" Mr. Johnson. Mr. Johnson sought compensatory damages in the amount of ten million dollars ($10, 000, 000) and punitive damages in the amount of fifteen million dollars ($15, 000, 000).

Francis, 219 Md.App. at 539.

         A jury trial was held on January 17-25, 2013. On January 25, 2013, the jury rendered its verdict in favor of Mr. Johnson and awarded him a total of $500, 000 in compensatory and punitive damages. The vast majority of those damages was against Detectives Francis and Hellen.

         The officers subsequently filed a motion for JNOV, a new trial, and remittitur on February 4, 2013, alleging, inter alia, that there was no competent evidence to support the jury's verdict that the injuries were committed through malice on the part of the officers, and that the verdict was excessive and exceeded the damages cap from the Local Government Tort Claims Act ("LGTCA"), found in Maryland Code (1974, 2013 Repl. Vol.) § 5-301 et seq. of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article ("CJP"). The trial court filed a memorandum opinion and order on May 21, 2013, granting the motion in part and denying it in part. The court found that there was sufficient evidence to support the jury's finding of malice and that, while the awards against Detectives Smith and Francis were above the LGTCA's statutory cap, the officers were not entitled to a reduction because of the malice finding. The court, however, also found that the awards for compensatory damages were "grossly excessive" and ordered a new trial as to damages only, unless Mr. Johnson agreed to a remittitur of $165, 000 on the compensatory damages award. Mr. Johnson agreed, and the remittitur was entered May 28, 2013, revising compensatory damages to $300, 000, in addition to the $34, 000 in total punitive damages.

         The officers timely appealed to this Court. Pertinent here, they alleged that the trial court erred both in failing to further reduce the damages award and in allowing the jury to consider the issue of malice. Ultimately, on October 6, 2014, this Court issued the opinion in Francis, supra, reversing the damages in part, but otherwise affirming the judgments of the circuit court. For reasons not relevant here, the damages were further revised down to a total of $281, 000 against the officers, and the case was remanded for further proceedings. Subsequently, the officers filed a petition for writ of certiorari, and Mr. Johnson filed a conditional cross petition for writ of certiorari, both of which were denied by the Court of Appeals on April 20, 2015.

         B. Current Proceedings

         Before any further proceedings regarding this Court's remand for revised damages, Mr. Johnson filed the two requests for writs underlying this appeal. On June 22, 2015, he filed a Request for Writ of Execution and Levy Upon Personal Property and a Request for Garnishment of Property in the circuit court, seeking the revised $281, 000, plus interest of 10% per annum from January 25, 2013. Both request for writs were captioned in the ...


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