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Devi v. Prince George's County

United States District Court, D. Maryland

August 21, 2017




         Presently pending and ready for resolution in this civil rights case are partial motions to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment filed by Defendants Prince George's County (the “County”) and Prince George's County Police Officers Alton Bradley and Daniel Conley. (ECF Nos. 20; 29). The issues have been briefed, and the court now rules, no hearing being deemed necessary. Local Rule 105.6. For the following reasons, the partial motions to dismiss will be granted.

         I. Background[1]

         On March 8, 2015, Plaintiff La'Moore Queen Devi (“Plaintiff”), while in transit to visit her brother Antonio Thomas, was driving through the parking lot of Henson Creek Apartments, when she was pulled over by private security for the apartment complex for failing to stop at a stop sign. (ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 8-10). Mr. Thomas emerged from his apartment and notified Plaintiff that the men were private security for the apartment complex and that she should neither give them her identification nor answer any questions. (Id. ¶ 12). Plaintiff was issued a warning citation, and Mr. Thomas and the security guards continued to argue about the guard's treatment of visitors to the apartment complex. (Id. ¶¶ 13-14). Plaintiff subsequently left the apartment complex without further incident. (Id. ¶ 17).

         The following day, Plaintiff returned to the Henson Creek Apartments. While inside Mr. Thomas's apartment, Mr. Thomas's girlfriend informed Plaintiff that County police and apartment security had blocked in her vehicle and were on their way upstairs to Thomas's apartment. (Id. ¶ 18). Upon opening the front door to the apartment, Plaintiff was met by Officers Bradley and Conley, who allegedly forced their way through the partially open door, grabbed Plaintiff by the neck, twisted her arms behind her back, and slammed her against the wall with sufficient force to break the dental retainer in her mouth. (Id. ¶¶ 20, 21, 23). After Plaintiff's arrest, she was transported to the Upper Marlboro Department of Corrections and charged with trespassing upon private property, resisting arrest, and failure to obey a lawful order of a law enforcement officer. (Id. ¶¶ 24, 26). Those charges were dismissed nolle prosequi on December 7, 2015. (ECF No. 1-4).

         On November 23, 2016, Plaintiff filed a complaint against Defendants alleging claims for malicious prosecution (Count I); unlawful custom, pattern, or practice of improper conduct under Maryland law (Count II); gross negligence (Count III); § 1983 excessive force (Counts IV and V); and § 1983 Monell liability (Counts VI and VII). (ECF No. 1). On February 7, the County and Officer Bradley filed a partial motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. (ECF No. 20). The County moves to dismiss all claims except Count V. Officers Bradley and Conley move to dismiss Counts II, IV, VI, and VII. Plaintiff submitted her opposition to the County and Officer Bradley's motion on February 24 (ECF No. 24), and the County and Officer Bradley replied on March 10 (ECF No. 25). After Officer Conley was served, he filed his motion adopting the arguments made by Officer Bradley in the County and Officer Bradley's motion (ECF No. 29), to which Plaintiff submitted her opposition on May 2, adopting all arguments made in her opposition to the County and Officer Bradley's motion. (ECF No. 30).

         II. Standard of Review

         The purpose of a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) is to test the sufficiency of the complaint.[2] Presley v. City of Charlottesville, 464 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Cir. 2006). A plaintiff's complaint need only satisfy the standard of Rule 8(a), which requires a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). “Rule 8(a)(2) still requires a ‘showing, ' rather than a blanket assertion, of entitlement to relief.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 n.3 (2007). That showing must consist of more than “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action” or “naked assertion[s] devoid of further factual enhancement.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citations omitted).

         At this stage, all well-pleaded allegations in a complaint must be considered as true, Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 268 (1994), and all factual allegations must be construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, see Harrison v. Westinghouse Savannah River Co., 176 F.3d 776, 783 (4th Cir.1999) (citing Mylan Labs., Inc. v. Matkari, 7 F.3d 1130, 1134 (4th Cir. 1993)). In evaluating the complaint, unsupported legal allegations need not be accepted. Revene v. Charles Cty. Comm'rs, 882 F.2d 870, 873 (4th Cir. 1989). Legal conclusions couched as factual allegations are insufficient, Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, as are conclusory factual allegations devoid of any reference to actual events, United Black Firefighters v. Hirst, 604 F.2d 844, 847 (4th Cir. 1979); see also Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 193 (4th Cir. 2009). Ultimately, a complaint must “‘permit[ ] the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct' based upon ‘its judicial experience and common sense.'” Coleman v. Md. Court of Appeals, 626 F.3d 187, 190 (4th Cir. 2010) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679).

         III. Analysis

         A. Tort Claims against the County

         The County argues that Counts I and III should be dismissed against it because, as a municipality, it is immune from suit based on the tortious acts of its employees.

         A state's right to governmental immunity is “deeply ingrained in Maryland law” and may not be waived in the absence of express or implied statutory authorization. Nam v. Montgomery Cty., 127 Md.App. 172, 182 (1999). A municipality, such as the County, is also entitled to governmental immunity. Id. at 183. (“When the state gives a city or county part of its police power to exercise, the city or county to that extent is the state.”). Specifically, municipalities are generally immune from common law tort suits when engaged in governmental, as opposed to proprietary, acts. Id.; DiPino v. Davis, 354 Md.App. 18, 47 (1999). “The operation of a police force is a governmental function.” Hector v. Weglein, 558 F.Supp. 194, 206 (1982)(citations omitted). Thus, the County is immune as to common law tort claims asserted against it based on torts committed by its police officers. See Gray-Hopkins v. Prince George's Cty., 309 F.3d 224, 234 (4th Cir. 2002). Although Section 5-303(b) of the Local Government Tort Claims Act (“LGTCA”) requires the County to indemnify a judgment against its employee for damages resulting from a tortious act committed by the employee within the scope of employment, the LGTCA does not permit a plaintiff to name the County directly in a common law tort suit. Md.Code Ann., Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 5-303(b); Martino v. Bell, 40 F.Supp.2d 719, 722 (D.Md. 1999)(citing Dawson v. Prince George's Cty., 896 F.Supp. 537, 539 (D.Md. 1995)). Accordingly, governmental immunity bars Counts I and III against the County, and the County's motion will be granted as to Counts I and III.

         B. Monell Claims ...

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