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Mills v. PPE Casino Resorts Maryland, LLC

United States District Court, D. Maryland

July 10, 2017

JUSTIN MILLS, Plaintiff,



         This Memorandum Opinion addresses the parties' Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment (ECF Nos. 113, 122, 123) as to Count I (42 U.S.C. § 1983 Liability) and Count IV (False Imprisonment) of plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint (ECF No. 37). This Court conducted a Motions Hearing on the parties' Cross-Motions on June 27, 2017. (ECF No. 142.) While this Court rendered its decisions as to Counts II, III, V, VI, and VII on the record, [1] it reserved judgment on Counts I and IV and took these matters under advisement. (ECF Nos. 143, 144.)

         For the reasons stated below, plaintiff Justin Mills' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (ECF No. 113) is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART. Specifically, it is GRANTED as to defendants PPE Casino Resorts Maryland, LLC (“PPE”) and Coulter's false imprisonment liability (Count IV), and it is DENIED as to defendants' § 1983 liability (Count I). Summary judgment shall be ENTERED on liability in favor of Mills on Count IV (False Imprisonment). In addition, defendants Bilter and Shapelow's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 122) is DENIED. Finally, defendants' PPE and Coulter's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (ECF No. 123) is DENIED IN PART.

         Based on the foregoing and the prior decisions of this Court, the following claims shall proceed to trial beginning on September 5, 2017: Count I (§ 1983 liability - Bilter, Shapelow, PPE, Coulter); Count II (Negligence - PPE and Coulter); Count III (Assault - PPE and Coulter).


         The pertinent factual and procedural background is set forth in this Court's May 8, 2017 Memorandum Opinion (ECF No. 133) and incorporated herein by reference.[2]


         Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that a court “shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows 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(c). A material fact is one that “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Libertarian Party of Va. v. Judd, 718 F.3d 308, 313 (4th Cir. 2013) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). A genuine issue over a material fact exists “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. When considering a motion for summary judgment, a judge's function is limited to determining whether sufficient evidence exists on a claimed factual dispute to warrant submission of the matter to a jury for resolution at trial. Id. at 249.

         In undertaking this inquiry, this Court must consider the facts and all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Libertarian Party of Va., 718 F.3d at 312; see also Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007). Where, as here, both parties have filed motions for summary judgment, this Court “must consider each motion separately on its own merits to determine whether either of the parties deserves judgment as a matter of law.” Bacon v. City of Richmond, 475 F.3d 633, 637-38 (4th Cir. 2007) (internal quotation marks omitted). This Court “must not weigh evidence or make credibility determinations.” Foster v. University of Md.-Eastern Shore, 787 F.3d 243, 248 (4th Cir. 2015) (citing Mercantile Peninsula Bank v. French, 499 F.3d 345, 352 (4th Cir. 2007)); see also Jacobs v. N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts, 780 F.3d 562, 569 (4th Cir. 2015) (explaining that the trial court may not make credibility determinations at the summary judgment stage). Indeed, it is the function of the fact-finder to resolve factual disputes, including issues of witness credibility. See Tolan v. Cotton, 134 S.Ct. 1861, 1866-68 (2014). However, this Court 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).


         I. Plaintiff's Claims Under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count I)

         a. Defendants Bilter and Shapelow Are Not Entitled to Qualified Immunity

         Defendant Officers Bilter and Shapelow argue that they are entitled to summary judgment on Count I, the sole claim against them, because they are entitled to qualified immunity based on their official actions. (ECF No. 122-1 at 11-12, ECF No. 132 at 8-12.) Specifically, Bilter and Shapelow assert that because they entered the secured, back hallway with a “reasonable suspicion” that Mills was illegally counting cards, their misunderstanding of the legal status of card counting and of Mills' actions does not subject them to liability under § 1983. (Id.)

         The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has explained that, “[q]ualified immunity shields government officials performing discretionary functions ‘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.'” Henry v. Purnell, 501 F.3d 374, 376-77 (4th Cir. 2007) (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald,457 U.S. 800, 818, 102 S.Ct. 2727 (1982)). “Because an official who performs an act clearly established to be beyond the scope of his discretionary authority is not entitled to claim qualified immunity, the defendant bears the initial burden of demonstrating that the conduct of which the plaintiff complains falls within the scope of the defendant's duties.” Henry, 501 F.3d at 377, n. 2 (emphasis added). See Drury v. Dziwanowski, MJG-15-3845, 2017 WL 1153890, at *4, n. 4 (D. Md. Mar. 28, 2017) (“Although Maryland police officers are entitled to qualified immunity when performing their official duties, they lose such protection when they commit ...

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