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Posyton v. Maryland

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

August 28, 2017

RONALD H. POSYTON, III, Plaintiff,
v.
MARYLAND, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Paul W. Grimm United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Ronald Posyton, III enrolled at the University of Maryland, College Park for about a month in 2015, where he lived in a dormitory. During that time, University of Maryland Police Department (“UMPD”) officers came to his dorm room twice, once entering briefly and the second time asking him to accompany them to the station, where they questioned him for three and a half hours. Upset by these interactions, Posyton withdrew from the university and filed suit against the police officers (“Individual Defendants”) in their individual and official capacities, as well as the State of Maryland.

         Pending is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint with Prejudice and/or for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 33. Because, as Posyton concedes, he cannot state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the State, those claims will be dismissed. And, because the Individual Defendants are immune to suit in their individual capacities with regard to Posyton's state constitutional tort claims, I will dismiss those claims as well. Defendants fail to establish Eleventh Amendment or qualified immunity, however, and Posyton has stated claims against the Individual Defendants in their individual capacities under § 1983 and Maryland under state law.

         Therefore, this case will proceed to discovery with regard to those claims, and I will appoint pro bono counsel for Posyton, for the limited purpose of advising him throughout the discovery period, without entering an appearance or representing him in this case.

         Background

         Posyton transferred to the University of Maryland, College Park (“UMCP”) at the beginning of fall semester 2015, and he lived in a dormitory. Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 16-22, ECF No. 26; Pl.'s Aff. to Clarify ¶ 1, ECF No. 32.[1] Late on September 19, 2015, he “snorted his prescription medications (one 10mg Adderall pill) in the vantage-point of his roommate, ” who “asked Mr. Posyton ‘to either stop snorting the substance or leave the room because it [was] not allowed in the residence halls.'” Pl.'s Aff. to Clarify ¶ 2. Posyton left the room, and his roommate reported his actions to the “RA” (Residential Advisor); another RA called the University of Maryland Police Department (“UMPD”). Id. ¶¶ 2-3. UMPD officers went to Posyton's dorm room but, because he was not there, they asked the RA “to contact UMPD when Mr. Posyton was located.” Id. ¶ 4. At about 12:30 p.m. on September 20, 2015, the RA learned that Posyton was in his dorm room, asleep, and she called UMPD. Id. ¶¶ 6-7.

         Five UMPD officers responded to her call. Id. ¶ 7; Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 16-22.[2] They knocked on Posyton's room door, waking him. Second Am. Compl. ¶ 23. He opened the door and “backed away slowly, and sat down in a chair.” Id. ¶ 25. After speaking briefly with Posyton while standing in the hallway, Officer Brian Naecker asked if he and the other officers (John Doe 1, John Doe 3, and Jane Doe 4) could enter; “[i]n response to NAECKER's request, MR. POSYTON unequivocally did absolutely nothing.” Id. Naecker took two steps into the room, Posyton “yelled, ‘No!'” and Nacker left the room, continuing his conversation from the hallway. Id. ¶¶ 26-29.

         Posyton claims that Doe 4 “reminded [him] to take his prescription medications, ” he went to his bathroom to do so, and invited Naecker to accompany him. Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 30-31, 33; Pl.'s Aff. to Clarify ¶ 18. Naecker “walk[ed] over to Mr. Posyton's bed and start[ed] looking around, ”[3] instead of accompanying him to the bathroom. Pl.'s Aff. to Clarify ¶ 19. When Posyton returned, he saw Doe 1 standing five feet inside his room; Does 3 and 4 failed to stop Doe 1 from entering. Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 30-31, 33. Ultimately, the officers “decided to vacate the premises”; Posyton asserts that he “never felt free to terminate the encounter.” Id. ¶ 32.

         On September 23, 2015, Officers William Mable, Michael Thomas and John Doe 2 went to Posyton's dorm room. Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 38, 40. The officers had their weapons, but not their body cameras with them. Id. ¶¶ 40, 43. When Posyton opened the door, Mable said, “We'd like you to come down to the station for questioning.” Id. ¶ 44. Posyton agreed to go and invited the officers in, although as he sees it, he “believed that MABLE was getting prepared to imminently pull him from his home, ” and “MR. POSYTON would have been chastised by UMCP's Code of Conduct if he had refused.” Id. ¶¶ 48-49. Additionally, he “believed that he had no choice other than to travel to ‘the station, '” and because the officers were not in uniform, “during brief moments, he believed that he was being kidnapped.” Id. ¶ 54. Posyton asked to be questioned in his dorm room, but Mable simply repeated that they wanted him to go to the police station. Id. ¶¶ 47, 53. Thomas showed Posyton his badge on the way to the officers' unmarked car. Id. ¶ 55. Thomas and Doe 2 ordered Posyton to sit in the front seat, which Posyton perceived as an “attempt[] to cover-up [his] seizure.” Id.

         At the police station, the officers brought Posyton to a room, which they “covertly video record[ed], ” and where they took a photograph of him. Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 56-57. Posyton states that he “was never told that he was free to leave, ” and he informed the officers that he was “really scared” and concerned that “he would be expelled from UMCP's program” for being at the station. Id. ¶¶ 61-63. He claims that “MABLE and THOMAS implied that they would not enlighten UMCP of MR. POSYTON's situation if he cooperated, which effectively induced MR. POSYTON into expressing every cognizable act of possible wrongdoing.” Id. ¶ 65. Within less than two minutes, “MR. POSYTON . . . confess[ed] to every offense that he ever committed, ” including that “he made brief contact with an unknown person on their ‘shin.'” Id. ¶¶ 66-67. He provided a statement. Id. ¶¶ 69-72.

         Posyton then admitted “to having said something sexual to GAREY, ” after having “previously denied [it] approximately 14 times”; he claims that Thomas “coerce[d] him” and said he would not “get in trouble.” Id. ¶ 72. When Posyton asked if he could open the door, “THOMAS chuckled and left THE ROOM.” Id. ¶ 70. He was “released” after three and a half hours. Id. ¶ 75. He claims that this was a “false confession” and that he would not have been “released . . . if he had not provided a confession.” Id. According to Posyton, “MABLE's and THOMAS's primary objective was to capture MR. POSYTON's photograph” while he was at the station. Id. ¶ 76. Mable included Posyton's photograph in a photo line-up shown to Garey, who identified Posyton as the one involved in the September 18, 2015 incident. Id. ¶¶ 77-78.

         Two days later, on September 25, 2015, Posyton was charged with underage possession of alcohol; the charge was nolle prosequi. Second Am. Compl. ¶ 80. He claims that the officer who charged him, James Runuldue, [4] “drove off with [his] UMCP identification card.” Id. The same day, Posyton withdrew from UMCP because he “was afraid that UMPD officers would return to his home.” Id. ¶ 79.

         On September 26, 2015, Posyton was charged with second degree assault; he claims that the charge was based on Mable's warrant application, which provided that “Posyton stated” that he asked to kiss Garey, when Posyton actually wrote that he “maybe, probably” asked to kiss her. Id. ¶¶ 73-74, 81, 84. Posyton contacted UMPD about the charges a few days later, but Mable refused to speak with him, and Deanna Renner, who did speak with him, refused to provide the police report and threatened to charge him with assault and harassment if he contacted UMPD again. Id. ¶¶ 86-87. He asserts that he was not properly served with process in his criminal case. Id. ¶¶ 88-89. His criminal trial was scheduled for December 12, 2015 but had to be rescheduled when Garey and Mable did not appear, “thereby, depriving MR. POSYTON of the right to a speedy trial.” Id. ¶ 91. The case was placed on the stet docket. Id. ¶ 92. Thereafter, “[o]n February 22, 2016, MR. POSYTON was involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital for the mentally insane due to the foregoing events.” Id. ¶ 93.

         Posyton filed suit on October 25, 2016 in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County, ECF No. 2, and Defendants removed to this Court on December 5, 2016, ECF No. 1. He sought leave to file a “second” amended complaint, ECF No. 17, but, because no prior amendment appeared on the docket, I informed him that he could amend as a matter of course, Jan. 5, 2017 Ltr. Order, ECF No. 23. Posyton filed a document titled “Second Amended Complaint, ” which actually was his first amended complaint. ECF No. 24. Defendants filed a letter stating their intent to file a motion to dismiss and outlining the perceived deficiencies in the amended complaint. ECF No. 25. In response, Posyton filed a Second Amended Complaint (erroneously titled “Third Amended Complaint” but referred to in this Memorandum Opinion and Order as Second Amended Complaint). ECF No. 26; see Jan. 5, 2017 Ltr. Order (permitting Posyton to amend to address deficiencies that Defendants identified, after which Defendants could move to dismiss if they still believed the pleading failed to state a claim). He further amended his pleadings through Consent Motions to Dismiss Counts IV, VIII, IX, X and XI of the Second Amended Complaint and all claims against James Runuldue and Deanna Renner in their official and individual capacities, ECF Nos. 27, 29, which I approved, ECF Nos. 30, 31. Thus, the Second Amended Complaint, as amended by the Consent Motions to Dismiss, is the operative complaint.

         Counts I, II, and III are claims under the Fourth Amendment (pursuant to § 1983) and Md. Const., Art. 26 against Naecker and Doe 1, Count I for invasion of privacy, Count II for unlawful entry, and Count III for unreasonable search. Posyton claims that when Naecker and Doe 1 entered his dorm room on September 20, 2015 “without a warrant, consent, notice probable cause, or exigency/safety concerns, ” and as a result gained “a better viewpoint, ” they violated his privacy rights and his rights not to have his premises entered or searched unlawfully. Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 105, 111, 117-18. Count IV has been dismissed. Count V is a claim under the Fourteenth Amendment (pursuant to § 1983) and Md. Const., Art. 24 against Does 3 and 4 for failure to intervene when Naecker and Doe 1 entered his dorm room. Id. ¶¶ 128-30.

         Count VI is a claim under the Fourth Amendment (pursuant to § 1983) and Md. Const., Art. 26 against Mable, Thomas, and Doe 2 for unreasonable seizure based on the incident on September 23, 2015, when they asked him to go to the police station for questioning and he felt that “he had no choice but to travel to UMPD headquarters.” Id. ¶ 140. Count VII is a claim under the Fourteenth Amendment (pursuant to § 1983) and Md. Const., Art. 24 against Mable, Thomas, and Doe 2 for unlawful custody, based on the time he spent in the interrogation room on September 23, 2015, during which he was not told he was free to leave and, in his view, “[n]o reasonable person would feel free to leave an interrogation room. . . .” Id. ¶¶ 149-50. Counts VIII, IX, X and XI have been dismissed. Under the heading “Epilogue, ” Posyton alleges that he has at least substantially complied with the Maryland Torts Claims Act and that none of the Defendants have immunity with regard to his claims. Second Am. Compl. 20.[5]

         After Posyton filed the Second Amended Complaint, Defendants filed the pending Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint with Prejudice and/or for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 33, which the parties fully briefed, ECF Nos. 33-1, 36, 38. Additionally, Posyton has filed a Motion for Leave to File Sur-Reply, ECF No. 39 (which Defendants opposed, ECF No. 41, and to which Posyton filed a reply, ECF No. 42), and a Motion for Leave to File a Supplement to Sur-Reply, ECG No. 40, both of which are pending. He also filed a letter request to file a motion to file a third amended complaint that would add a Monell[6] claim, add facts, and “strike things that were already dismissed with prejudice.” ECF No. 43. I denied his request, without prejudice to filing a motion to amend to state a Monell claim after the motion to dismiss is resolved. ECF No. 44. Finally, he filed a Motion for Leave to Clarify, ECF No. 46, which Defendants opposed, ECF No. 47, and which also is pending. Although Posyton's pleadings have not been a model of clarity, neither additional allegations nor additional briefing are likely to provide clarity; nor are they necessary to understand the nature of the claims in this case. Accordingly, Posyton's three pending motions to augment his filings are denied.

         Standard of Review

          Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for “the dismissal of a complaint if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Velencia v. Drezhlo, No. RDB-12-237, 2012 WL 6562764, at *4 (D. Md. Dec. 13, 2012). This rule's purpose “‘is to test the sufficiency of a complaint and not to resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses.'” Id. (quoting Presley v. City of Charlottesville, 464 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Cir. 2006)). To that end, the Court bears in mind the requirements of Fed.R.Civ.P. 8, Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), when considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). Specifically, a complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), and must state “a plausible claim for relief, ” as “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice, ” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79; see also Velencia, 2012 WL 6562764, at *4 (discussing standard from Iqbal and Twombly). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 663.

         “Although a motion pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) invites an inquiry into the legal sufficiency of the complaint, not an analysis of potential defenses to the claims set forth therein, dismissal nevertheless is appropriate when the face of the complaint clearly reveals the existence of a meritorious affirmative defense, ” such as qualified immunity. Occupy Columbia v. Haley, 738 F.3d 107, 116 (4th Cir. 2013) (quoting Brockington v. Boykins, 637 F.3d 503, 506 (4th Cir. 2011) (internal quotation marks omitted)). Thus, “[a] qualified immunity defense can be presented in a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, but, . . . when asserted at this early stage in the proceedings, ‘the defense faces a formidable hurdle' ” and “‘is usually not successful.'” Owens v. Baltimore City State's Attorneys Office, 767 F.3d 379, 396 (4th Cir. 2014) (quoting Field Day, LLC v. Cty. of Suffolk, 463 F.3d 167, 191-92 (2d Cir. 2006)).

         Posyton is proceeding pro se, and his Complaint is to be construed liberally. See Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972); however, liberal construction does not absolve Plaintiff from pleading plausible claims. See Holsey v. Collins, 90 F.R.D. 122, 128 (D. Md. 1981) (citing Inmates v. Owens, 561 F.2d 560, 562-63 (4th Cir. 1977)).

It is neither unfair nor unreasonable to require a pleader to put his complaint in an intelligible, coherent, and manageable form, and his failure to do so may warrant dismissal. District courts are not required to be mind readers, or to conjure questions not squarely presented to them.

Harris v. Angliker, 955 F.2d 41, 1992 WL 21375, at * 1 (4th Cir. 1992) (per curiam) (internal citations omitted).

         Summary judgment is proper when the moving party demonstrates, through “particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations . . ., admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials, ” 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(a), (c)(1)(A); see Baldwin v. City of Greensboro, 714 F.3d 828, 833 (4th Cir. 2013). If the party seeking summary judgment demonstrates that there is no evidence to support the nonmoving party's case, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to identify evidence that shows that a genuine dispute exists as to material facts. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 585-87 & n.10 (1986). The existence of only a “scintilla of evidence” is not enough to defeat a motion for summary judgment. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986). Instead, the evidentiary materials submitted must show facts from which the finder of fact reasonably could find for the party opposing summary judgment. Id.

         Discussion

         Posyton's claims fall into four categories, and I will address each category in turn: (1) his claims against “Defendant STATE OF MARYLAND (‘UMCP')” and the Individual Defendants in their official capacities under § 1983, (2) his claims against “Defendant STATE OF MARYLAND (‘UMCP')” and the Individual Defendants in their official capacities under the Maryland Declaration of Rights, (3) his claims against the Individual Defendants in their individual capacities under the Maryland Declaration of Rights, and (4) his claims against the Individual Defendants in their individual capacities under § 1983.

         Section 1983 Claims against the State

         Section 1983 provides a remedy for individuals who have been deprived of their constitutional rights under color of state law. See 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (2012); City of Monterey v. Del Monte Dunes, 526 U.S. 687, 707 (1999)). The statute states:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom or usage of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress.

42 U.S.C. § 1983. “To state a claim under Section 1983, a plaintiff must allege that: 1) a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States was violated and 2) the alleged violation was committed by a person acting under the color of state law.” Peters v. City of Mount Rainier, No. GJH-14-00955, 2016 WL 1239921, at *4 (D. Md. Mar. 24, 2016) (quoting Brown v. Bailey, 2012 WL 2188338, at *5 (D. Md. June 13, 2012)), aff'd sub nom. Peters v. Caplan, 672 Fed.Appx. 327 (4th Cir. 2017); see also West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).

         Posyton names the Individual Defendants in their individual and official capacities, as well as “Defendant, STATE OF MARYLAND (‘UMCP').” Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 4-14. He asserts that he is suing defendants in their “official capacity[ies] for equitable relief.” Id. ¶ 94. Notably, “a suit against a state official in his or her official capacity is not a suit against the official but rather is a suit against the official's office. As such, it is no different from a suit against the State itself.” Will v. Michigan Dep't of State Police,491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989) (internal citations omitted). And, regardless of relief sought, a state is not “a ‘person' within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 1983.” Kelly v. Bishop, No. RDB-16-3668, 2017 WL 2506169, at *4 (D. Md. June 9, 2017) (citing Will, 491 U.S. at 64-65 & 70-71). Consequently, Posyton fails to state a claim under ยง 1983 against the Individual Defendants in their official capacity, ...


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