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Mouzon v. Mewshaw

United States District Court, D. Maryland

July 18, 2017

SHAUN MOUZON, Plaintiff,
v.
OFFICER CHARLES MEWSHAW, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Richard D. Bennett United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Shaun Mouzon (“plaintiff” or “Mouzon”) has filed this action alleging that defendant police officers Charles Mewshaw, Torran Burrus, Fabien Laronde, Chris Szakolczai, and Kevin Saliba (collectively, “defendants”) violated 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and committed several state-law torts on the evening of January 28, 2013. (ECF No. 47.) On that evening, the officers stopped Mouzon's vehicle for an alleged traffic offense, which led to a confrontation which resulted in Mouzon being shot numerous times.

         Now pending before this Court is defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (“Defendants' Motion”) (ECF No. 40). This Court conducted a hearing on the pending Motion on July 17, 2017.[1] (ECF No. 63.) For the reasons stated below, Defendants' Motion (ECF No. 40) is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART. Specifically, it is GRANTED as to plaintiff's false arrest and false imprisonment claims (Counts II and III). The Motion is also GRANTED as to plaintiff's claims regarding the legality of the initial stop and defendants Burrus and Laronde's “bystander liability” under § 1983 (Count VII). Defendants' Motion is DENIED as to plaintiff's battery claims (Count I) and plaintiff's excessive force claims under § 1983 (Count VII), which are asserted against all five defendant officers. The Motion is also DENIED as to Mouzon's malicious prosecution claim against defendant Laronde only (Count X).

         BACKGROUND

         In ruling on a Motion for Summary Judgment, this Court must view all facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Lee v. Town of Seaboard, ---F.3d---, 2017 WL 2989483, at *1 (4th Cir. July 14, 2017). See Jacobs v. N.C. Admin. Office of the Courts, 780 F.3d 562, 568-69 (4th Cir. 2015).

         Plaintiff alleges that defendants violated his civil rights and committed state-law torts by using excessive force against him during an unlawful traffic stop on the evening of January 28, 2013. (ECF No. 47 at ¶¶ 12-25.) That night, plaintiff was driving his car in West Baltimore when defendants Mewshaw, Laronde, and Burrus, driving in a patrol car, observed Mouzon's vehicle commit several traffic violations. In particular, the officers saw Mouzon turn right onto Edmondson Avenue from Dennison Street without stopping at the stop sign on Dennison. (ECF No. 40-7.)[2] Mouzon's vehicle then stopped behind other cars on Edmondson Avenue awaiting a red light at the intersection of Hilton Street. (Id.) The officers followed Mouzon's vehicle onto Edmondson Avenue and stopped their vehicle directly behind Mouzon's. (Id.) The unmarked patrol car's emergency lights were illuminated, and the officers quickly exited their vehicle with their guns drawn. (Id.) Defendants Szakolczai and Saliba arrived on the scene in a separate vehicle, drew their weapons, and approached Mouzon's vehicle. (Id.)

         Following a brief exchange, some of the defendant officers, apparently fearing that Mouzon would either shoot or otherwise injure them, fired their weapons at Mouzon, striking him numerous times. See, e.g., ECF No. 40-3 at 6-7. Plaintiff nevertheless navigated his vehicle through the intersection, but ultimately lost control of his vehicle and crashed into a curb. (ECF No. 57-8 at 5.) Plaintiff was found to be unarmed when the police approached his vehicle after firing at him. (Id. at 9.) Plaintiff was taken to the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where he underwent extensive treatment to recover from the gunshot wounds. (Id. at 5.)

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         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). 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, 780 F.3d at 569 (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).

         DISCUSSION

         This Memorandum Opinion addresses only those counts of plaintiff's Amended Complaint (ECF No. 47) which remain pending following the July 17, 2017 Hearing.[3]

         I. Count I - Battery

         Defendants raise two arguments in support of their Motion for Summary Judgment on plaintiff's battery claims. First, defendants Burrus and Laronde argue that because they never shot or otherwise touched plaintiff, they did not commit a battery as a matter of law. (ECF No. 40-1 at 21.) Second, defendants Mewshaw, Saliba, and Szakolczai assert that their shooting of Mouzon was legally justified based on their reasonable fear of imminent harm- whether by a weapon or by his vehicle-by Mouzon. (Id. at 20.)

         With respect to defendants Burrus and Laronde, plaintiff argued during the July 17 Hearing that there exists a genuine issue of material fact as to whether these officers fired their weapons at him. Specifically, Mouzon relies on his own deposition testimony, during which he stated that both Laronde and Burrus shot at him. (ECF No. 64 at 32-38.) As to defendants' second argument-that they acted in self-defense-Mouzon argues that there exist genuine issues of material fact as to the reasonableness of the officers' fear of imminent harm. (ECF No. 46-1 at 20-21.)

         Under Maryland law, “[a] battery is a harmful or offensive contact with a person resulting from an act intended to cause the person such contact.” Northfield Ins. Co. v. Boxley, 215 F.Supp.2d 656, 661-62 (D. Md. 2002) (citing Saba v. Darling, 320 Md. 45, 575 A.2d 1240, 1242 (1990)). “A touching is harmful if it causes physical pain, injury, or illness, and it is offensive if it offends a person's reasonable sense of dignity.” Id. See Robinson v. Cutchin, 140 F.Supp.2d 488 (D. Md. 2001).

         Viewing the evidence presented “‘in the light most favorable to the' nonmoving party, ” as this Court must, there exist genuine issues of material fact regarding (1) whether Laronde and Burrus fired at Mouzon and (2) whether all of the shooting officers' use of force was legally justified or done in self-defense. Jacobs, 780 F.3d at 568-69 (quoting Tolan, 134 S.Ct. at 1865). Although the Baltimore Police Department's (“BPD”) investigation concluded that only Officers Mewshaw, Saliba, and Szakolczai fired their weapons on the night in question, Mouzon specifically identifies Burrus and Laronde as shooters in his sworn deposition testimony. (ECF Nos. 57-8, 57-9; ECF No. 64 at 32-38.) While the BPD reports and Mouzon's admittedly limited ability to view and identify the shooters may undermine his testimony at trial, “[s]ummary judgment cannot be granted merely because the court believes that the movant will prevail if the action is tried on the merits.” Jacobs, 780 F.3d at 569 (quoting 10A Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, et al., Federal Practice & Procedure § 2728 (3d ed. 1998)). Accordingly, Defendants' Motion must be DENIED as to plaintiff's battery claim (Count I), as to all five defendant officers.

         II. Counts II and III - False Arrest and False Imprisonment[4]

         Defendants argue that because their initial stop of Mouzon was legally justified based on Mouzon's violation of traffic laws in the officers' presence, plaintiff is unable to prove his false arrest and false imprisonment claims as a matter of law. (ECF No. 40-1 at 10.)

         Plaintiff argues in opposition that his alleged violation of traffic laws does not justify the officers' seizure of him. (ECF No. 46-1 at 23.) At the July 17 Hearing, plaintiff's counsel cited portions of Maryland's Transportation Code for the proposition that the violation of traffic laws ...


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