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June v. Thomasson

United States District Court, D. Maryland

August 24, 2017

VINCENT E. JUNE, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
OFFICER E. THOMASSON, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          GEORGE L. RUSSELL, III UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendant Officer Eric Thomasson's (“Officer Thomasson”) Motion to Alter or Amend the Court's December 20, 2016 Order (ECF No. 62). The Motion is fully briefed and ripe for disposition. No hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D.Md. 2016). For the reasons that follow, the Court will deny the Motion because it is untimely. The Court, however, will also sua sponte reconsider its December 20, 2016 Order and after conducting a full qualified immunity analysis, again deny Officer Thomasson's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 27).

         I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND [1]

         On July 31, 2014, Plaintiff Vincent E. June, Jr. brought a federal civil rights action against Officer Thomasson, raising one count of malicious prosecution. (Compl., ECF No. 1). June alleged specifically that Officer Thomasson violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizures that occur when an officer deliberately, or with reckless disregard for the truth, makes material false statements or omits material facts in a warrant application. (See id. ¶¶ 11-13, 15, 21). Officer Thomasson answered on December 8, 2014, asserting qualified immunity as an affirmative defense. (Answer at 4, ECF No. 9).

         Officer Thomasson filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on June 23, 2015, attaching Goodwin's First Affidavit[2] for support that Officer Thomasson had probable cause to arrest June. (ECF Nos. 27, 27-3). Officer Thomasson neither argued nor attempted to demonstrate why he was entitled to qualified immunity.

         On July 10, 2015, June filed his Opposition to the Motion for Summary Judgment, attaching Goodwin's Second Affidavit in support. (ECF Nos. 28, 28-7). In Goodwin's Second Affidavit, victim Antonio Goodwin completely contradicts almost every factual assertion in his First Affidavit, including the material fact of whether Goodwin identified June as one of his attackers. (See Goodwin 2d Aff. at 2-4, ECF No. 28-7). Goodwin, however, explained in his Second Affidavit that the statements in his Second Affidavit contradict those in his First Affidavit because an Anne Arundel County investigator prepared the First Affidavit outside Goodwin's presence and without Goodwin's input. (Id. ¶¶ 11-17). According to Goodwin, the County investigator did not review the contents of the First Affidavit with Goodwin, and Goodwin signed the First Affidavit without reading it because his mother implored him to do so out of her desire to end the matter. (Id. ¶¶ 15, 16, 18).

         On July 23, 2015, Officer Thomasson filed his Reply in further support of his Motion for Summary Judgment, arguing-for the first time-that he was entitled to qualified immunity. (See ECF No. 31 at 7-10). Officer Thomasson also attached an affidavit from Officer Levar DeLoatch (“Officer DeLoatch”), in which Officer DeLoatch states that while speaking to Goodwin on August 30, 2011, Goodwin advised him that “an individual named Vincent was also involved in [Goodwin's] assault” and “Vincent is a friend of” one of the alleged assailants. (DeLoatch Aff. at 1, ECF No. 31-1). Officer DeLoatch further states that he “relayed this information to Officer Thomasson.” (Id.).

         Also on July 23, 2015, Officer Thomasson moved to strike Goodwin's Second Affidavit. (ECF No. 32). On August 10, 2015, June filed a Motion to Strike New Arguments Made in Defendant's Reply or, in the Alternative, Motion for Leave to File Surreply. (ECF No. 33). On October 21, 2015, the Court granted in part and denied in part Officer Thomasson's Motion for Leave to File Surreply. (ECF No. 38). The Court granted June seven days to file a surreply addressing only Officer DeLoatch's affidavit and Officer Thomasson's qualified immunity argument. (Id.). On October 28, 2015, June filed a timely Surreply in Opposition to Officer Thomasson's Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 39).

         On November 18, 2015, the Court granted Officer Thomasson's Motion to Strike on two alternative grounds. First, the Court concluded that Goodwin's Second Affidavit was a sham (Mem. Op. at 8-9, ECF No. 40). Second, the Court found that an exclusion analysis under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37(c)(1) militated in favor of excluding Goodwin's Second Affidavit as a sanction for June's failure to timely supplement his discovery responses. (Id. at 10-11). Relying on Goodwin's First Affidavit, and the other evidence that the Parties presented, the Court then concluded as a matter of law that Officer Thomasson had probable cause to arrest June. (Id. at 11-14). In a footnote near the end of the Court's Memorandum Opinion resolving Officer Thomasson's Motions to Strike and for Summary Judgment, the Court addressed Officer Thomasson's qualified immunity argument-an argument that Officer Thomasson did not raise until his Reply in support of summary judgment. The Court concluded that Officer Thomasson would be protected by qualified immunity because based on the undisputed record evidence, Officer Thomasson was entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the first prong of the qualified immunity analysis.[3] (Id. at 14 n.3). The Court then granted Officer Thomasson's Motion for Summary Judgment and directed the Clerk to close the case.

         On December 16, 2015, June filed a timely Motion to Alter or Amend Judgment under Rule 59(e) (ECF No. 45). After reviewing the parties' briefs, the Court held a motions hearing on July 6, 2016. (ECF No. 49). Following the hearing, the Court reopened discovery for the limited purpose of resolving June's Motion to Alter or Amend. (ECF No. 50). The Court gave the parties forty-five days to take depositions regarding any facts that would have been discoverable had the parties taken Goodwin's deposition during discovery, including, but not limited to, the circumstances surrounding the creation of Goodwin's First and Second Affidavits. (Id.). Following the renewed discovery period, the parties supplemented their briefs regarding the Motion to Alter or Amend. (See ECF Nos. 55-57).

         On December 20, 2016, the Court granted June's Motion to Alter or Amend Judgment. (ECF No. 60). After reviewing United States Supreme Court and Fourth Circuit precedent regarding the sham affidavit rule, the Court concluded that it clearly erred when it discounted Goodwin's explanation for the contradictions in his Second Affidavit and ruled that the affidavit was a sham. (Mem. Op. at 9-17, ECF No. 59). The Court then conducted a renewed analysis under Southern States Rack and Fixture, Inc. v. Sherwin-Williams Co., 318 F.3d 592 (4th Cir. 2003), concluding that excluding Goodwin's Second Affidavit under Rule 37(c)(1) was no longer warranted. (Id. at 22- 23). The Court next concluded that “relying on testimony consistent with Goodwin's Second Affidavit, a reasonable jury could find Officer Thomasson did not have probable cause to arrest June.” (Id. at 25). The Court did not address qualified immunity because as the Court explained in an earlier footnote in its Memorandum Opinion, Officer Thomasson waived that argument. (Id. at 5 n.1).

         Because the Court concluded that a reasonable jury could find that Officer Thomasson did not have probable cause to arrest June, the Court further concluded that it clearly erred when it granted Officer Thomasson's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Id. at 25). Accordingly, the Court vacated its Order entering summary judgment for Officer Thomasson and denied Officer Thomasson's Motion for Summary Judgment without prejudice. (Id.).

         Officer Thomasson filed the present Motion to Alter or Amend on January 12, 2017, asking the Court to alter or amend its December 20, 2016 Order granting June's Motion to Alter or Amend. (ECF No. 62). The present Motion was fully briefed as of February 7, 2017. (See ECF Nos. 63-64).

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Officer Thomasson's Motion to Alter or Amend

         1. Standard of Review

         Officer Thomasson moves under Rule 59(e), which applies only to final judgments. Fayetteville Inv'rs v. Commercial Builders, Inc., 936 F.2d 1462, 1469 (4th Cir. 1991). The Court may only alter or amend a final judgment under Rule 59(e) in three circumstances: “(1) to accommodate an intervening change in controlling law; (2) to account for new evidence not available at trial; or (3) to correct a clear error of law or prevent manifest injustice.” Pac. Ins. Co. v. Am. Nat'l Fire Ins. Co., 148 F.3d 396, 403 (4th Cir. 1998). Rule 59(e) “permits a district court to correct its own errors, ‘sparing the parties and the appellate courts the burden of unnecessary appellate proceedings.'” Id. (quoting Russell v. Delco Remy Div. of Gen. Motors Corp., 51 F.3d 746, 749 (7th Cir. 1995)). Altering or amending a final judgment “is an extraordinary remedy which should be used sparingly.” Id. (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

         2. Analysis

         Officer Thomasson asks the Court to alter or amend its December 20, 2016 Order, but he does not appear to argue in favor of any of the three circumstances permitting relief under Rule 59(e). Instead, Officer Thomasson argues that the Court should rule on qualified immunity because that issue was fully briefed and under long-standing Supreme Court and Fourth Circuit precedent, Officer Thomasson is entitled to a ruling on qualified immunity before trial.

         In response, June advances three main arguments. First, Officer Thomasson's Motion is untimely because Officer Thomasson challenges an interlocutory order, not a final order, and Officer Thomasson filed his Motion more than fourteen days after the Court entered the December 20, 2016 interlocutory Order. Second, Officer Thomasson waived his qualified immunity argument by failing to raise it until his Reply in support of summary judgment. Third, even if Officer Thomasson did not waive his qualified immunity argument, Officer Thomasson is not entitled to qualified immunity. The Court will first address June's timeliness argument.

         a. Timeliness of Officer Thomasson's Motion

         June is correct that the Court's December 20, 2016 Order is an interlocutory order-not a final order. Madison River Mgmt. Co. v. Bus. Mgmt. Software Corp., 402 F.Supp.2d 617, 619 (M.D. N.C. 2005) (“The court's denial of summary judgment is an interlocutory order.”). Rule 54(b)-not Rule 59(e)-governs motions to reconsider interlocutory orders. See Fayetteville, 936 F.2d at 1470 (finding district court properly reconsidered interlocutory order under Rule 54(b)). The Court concludes, thus, that Rule 54(b) governs Officer Thomasson's Motion.

         Rule 54(b) and 59(e) motions have different filing deadlines. Litigants must file Rule 59(e) motions no later than twenty-eight days after the entry of the final judgment. Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e). Litigants must file Rule 54(b) motions no later than fourteen days after entry of the interlocutory order. See Local Rule 105.10 (D.Md. 2016) (“Except as otherwise provided in Fed.R.Civ.P. 50, 52, 59, or 60, any motion to reconsider any order issued by the Court shall be filed with the Clerk not later than fourteen (14) days after entry of the order.”). Officer Thomasson filed his Motion on January 12, 2017- within the ...


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