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Jones v. Jordan

United States District Court, D. Maryland

September 18, 2017

ERIC JONES, Plaintiff,
JOSHUA JORDAN, et al., Defendants.


          George L. Russell, III United States District Judge.

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendant Baltimore Police Department and Anthony W. Batts’s (collectively, “BPD”) Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim (ECF No. 22) Plaintiff Eric Jones’s Amended Complaint (ECF No. 21). This 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (2012) action arises from the August 17, 2014 arrest of Jones by Defendants Joshua Jordan and Russell J. Tonks (the “Officer Defendants”). The Motion is ripe for disposition, and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D.Md. 2016). For the reasons outlined below, the Court will deny the Motion.[1]

         I. BACKGROUND[2]

         On August 17, 2014, the Officer Defendants were investigating suspected drug activity at 3500 Hayward Avenue, Baltimore, Maryland. (Am. Compl. ¶ 26, ECF No. 21). They were looking for a person suspected of selling drugs who was “wearing all black.” (Id. ¶ 27). The Officer Defendants observed Jones and another person walking out of a building on the 3200 block of the same avenue. (Id. ¶ 29). While Jones did not meet the description of the suspect, the Officer Defendants observed him walking on the sidewalk in a “hurried manner.” (Id. ¶¶ 30, 32, 34). They stopped[3] Jones. (Id. ¶ 33).

         He provided them his name and other “pertinent information,” but when they asked if he had anything illegal on him, he “attempted to end the discussion” and leave. (Id.). The Officer Defendants did not let Jones leave, and instead, they “employed a ‘departmentally trained take down’” of Jones, “tackling” him to the ground. (Id. ¶ 35). He fell, face first, onto the curb. (Id. ¶ 36). As a result, Jones went to the hospital for five days, where he was diagnosed with various brain and shoulder injuries. (Id. ¶ 37). He underwent brain surgery and continues to receive treatment. (Id. ¶ 38). The take down left Jones with permanent injuries, including brain damage, preventing him from returning to his job. (Id. ¶¶ 36, 38).

         Jones was charged with seven counts related to possession and distribution of marijuana, assault, and interfering with arrest. (Id. ¶ 39). On September 29, 2014, the State’s Attorney dismissed the charges, and a nolle prosequi was entered for all of Jones’s charges. (Id. ¶ 45).

         Jones filed the present action on July 22, 2016 against the Officer Defendants, Batts, the Baltimore Police Department, Unknown Individual Officers (the “John Doe Officers”), and Unknown Supervisors of the Baltimore Police Department (the “John Doe Supervisors”). (ECF No. 1). On October 25, 2016, Jones filed an Amended Complaint. (ECF No. 21).

         In his nine-count Amended Complaint, Jones alleges: direct liability for violations of his constitutional rights under § 1983 against the Officer Defendants and John Doe Officers (the “Individual Defendants”) (Count I); municipal liability for violations of his constitutional rights under § 1983 against the Baltimore Police Department, Batts, and the John Doe Supervisors (Count II); supervisor liability for violations of his constitutional rights under § 1983 against the John Doe Supervisors (Count III); bystander liability for violations of his constitutional rights under § 1983 against the John Doe Officers (Count IV); violations of Articles 24 and 26 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights against the Individual Defendants (Count V); Malicious Prosecution against the Individual Defendants (Count VI); Assault and Battery against the Individual Defendants (Count VII); False Imprisonment against the Individual Defendants (Count VIII); and False Arrest against the Individual Defendants (Count IX). (See id. ¶¶ 95–149). Jones seeks damages and attorney’s fees and costs. (Id. ¶¶ 101, 109, 117, 127, 130, 136, 141, 148, 149).

         BPD now moves to dismiss all counts against it for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. (ECF No. 22). Jones filed an Opposition on December 2, 2016. (ECF No. 26). BPD filed a Reply on December 22, 2016. (ECF No. 29).


         A. Standard of Review

         “The purpose of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion is to test the sufficiency of a complaint,” not to “resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses.” Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243–44 (4th Cir. 1999) (quoting Republican Party v. Martin, 980 F.2d 943, 952 (4th Cir. 1992)). A complaint fails to state a claim if it does not contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), or does not “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face,” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is facially plausible “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Though the plaintiff is not required to forecast evidence to prove the elements of the claim, the complaint must allege sufficient facts to establish each element. Goss v. Bank of Am., N.A., 917 F.Supp.2d 445, 449 (D.Md. 2013) (quoting Walters v. McMahen, 684 F.3d 435, 439 (4th Cir. 2012)), aff’d sub nom., Goss v. Bank of Am., NA, 546 F.App’x 165 (4th Cir. 2013).

         In considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court must examine the complaint as a whole, consider the factual allegations in the complaint as true, and construe the factual allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 268 (1994); Lambeth v. Bd. of Comm’rs of Davidson Cty., 407 F.3d 266, 268 (4th Cir. 2005) (citing Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)). But, the court need not accept unsupported or conclusory factual allegations devoid of any reference to actual events, United Black Firefighters v. Hirst, 604 F.2d 844, 847 (4th Cir. 1979), or legal conclusions couched as factual allegations, Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         B. Analysis

         Under Monell v. Department of Social Services, a municipality, such as the Baltimore Police Department, is subject to suit under § 1983. 436 U.S. 658, 690 (1978). A plaintiff may sue a municipality under § 1983 if he suffered a constitutional violation at the hands of an employee acting under color of a municipal policy. Id. at 692. Under Monell, however, “a municipality is liable only for its own illegal acts.” Owens v. Balt. City State’s Attorneys Office, 767 F.3d 379, 402 (4th Cir. 2014). As a result, “[o]nly if a municipality subscribes to a custom, policy, or practice can it be said to have committed an independent act, the sine qua non of Monell liability.” Id. at 402. Liability under respondeat superior is insufficient under Monell’s standard. Monell, 436 U.S. at 693–94.

         All § 1983 Monell claims have three elements: “(1) identifying the specific ‘policy’ or ‘custom’[;] (2) fairly attributing the policy and fault for its creation to the municipality; and (3) finding the necessary ‘affirmative link’ between identified policy or custom and specific violation.” Spell v. McDaniel, 824 F.2d 1380, 1389 (4th Cir. 1987), cert. denied sub nom., City of Fayetteville v. Spell, 484 U.S. 1027 (1988); see also Jones v. Chapman, No. ELH-14-2627, 2015 WL 4509871, at *12 (D.Md. July 24, 2015) (“[A] municipality is liable when a policy or custom is fairly attributable to the municipality as its own, and is . . . the moving force behind the particular constitutional violation.” (citation and internal quotation marks omitted)).

         There are four kinds of customs, policies, or practices that a plaintiff can allege: (1) the “decisions of a government’s lawmakers;” (2) “the acts of its policymaking officials;” (3) “a local government’s decision not to train certain employees about their legal duty to avoid violating citizens’ rights,” known as a “failure to train” claim; and (4) “practices so persistent and widespread as to practically have the force of law.” Connick v. Thompson, 563 U.S. 51, 61 (2011).

         “Although prevailing on the merits of a Monell claim is difficult, simply alleging such a claim is, by definition, easier.” Owens, 767 F.3d at 403. To state a Monell claim under Rule 12(b)(6) sufficiently, a plaintiff “need only allege facts which, if true, ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). The complaint’s facts “need not be particularly detailed, and the chance of success need not be particularly high.” Id. “A plaintiff fails to state a claim only when he offers ‘labels and conclusions’ or formulaically recites the elements of his § 1983 cause of action.” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678).

         Here, Jones alleges that BPD subscribes to the third and fourth kinds of Monell customs, policies, or practices-failure to train officers about their legal duties to avoid constitutional violations and failure to correct persistent and widespread unconstitutional practices, known as a condonation claim. BPD offers three principal reasons for dismissing Jones’s § 1983 claims under Monell.[4] First, BPD argues that Jones does not sufficiently state that he suffered an underlying constitutional violation to support his Monell claims. Second, BPD contends that Jones does not sufficiently state a failure to train claim. Third, BPD asserts that Jones does not sufficiently state a condonation claim. The Court begins by examining whether Jones sufficiently states an underlying constitutional violation.

         1. Underlying Constitutional Violation

         BPD maintains that Jones does not sufficiently state that he suffered an underlying constitutional violation at the hands of any officers because the Officer Defendants did not violate Jones’s constitutional rights when they arrested him on August 14, 2014. The Court disagrees.

         Jones alleges that the Officer Defendants violated his rights under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Fourth Amendment provides that “[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated.” U.S. Const. amend. IV. Reasonableness of a seizure “depends on a balance between the public interest and the individual’s right to personal security free from arbitrary interference by law officers.” Jones v. Ashford, No. TDC-14-3639, 2017 WL 221783, at *5 (D.Md. Jan. 18, 2017) (quoting United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, 422 U.S. 873, 878 (1975)). The Fourth Circuit has identified three categories of police-citizen interactions: (1) an arrest, which requires probable cause; (2) a brief investigatory stop, which requires reasonable suspicion; and (3) brief encounters, which do not implicate the Fourth Amendment. Id. at *4 (citing United States v. Weaver, 282 F.3d 302, 309 (4th Cir. 2002)).

         “Probable cause to justify an arrest means facts and circumstances within the officer’s knowledge that are sufficient to warrant a prudent person, or one of reasonable caution, in believing, in the circumstances shown, that the suspect has committed an offense.” Humbert v. Mayor of Balt. City, 866 F.3d 546, 555 (4th Cir. 2017) (alterations omitted) (quoting Cahaly v. Larosa, 796 F.3d 399, 407 (4th Cir. 2015)). “While probable cause requires more than bare suspicion, it requires less than that evidence necessary to convict.” Id. at 556 (quoting United States v. Gray, 137 F.3d 765, 769 (4th Cir. 1998)).

         In contrast to probable cause, reasonable suspicion to justify a brief investigatory stop means “the totality of circumstances” demonstrate that criminal activity “may be afoot.” United States v. Foster, 824 F.3d 84, 88–89 (4th Cir. 2016) (quoting United States v. Slocumb, 804 F.3d 677, 682 (4th Cir. 2015); United States v. Bumpers, 705 F.3d 168, 171 (4th Cir. 2013)). “While a mere hunch is insufficient, reasonable suspicion is less demanding than probable cause and may well fall[] considerably short of satisfying a preponderance of the evidence standard.” Foster, 824 F.3d at 89 (alteration in original) (quoting United States v. Massenburg, 654 F.3d 480, 485 (4th Cir. 2011)) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Here, Jones alleges that the Officer Defendants stopped him and asked him for his name and other information. (Am. Compl. ¶ 33). Jones pleads that after the Officer Defendants asked him whether he had anything illegal, he “attempted to end the discussion” and “leave the area.” (Id.). In response, the Officer Defendants “did not allow [Jones] to freely exit the area” and “tackled” Jones to the ground, injuring him. (Id. ¶¶ 35–36). BPD argues that the Officer Defendants did not violate Jones’s constitutional rights because they had reasonable suspicion to stop Jones and probable cause to arrest him. BPD asserts that Jones ran away from the ...

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