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Williams v. United States

United States District Court, D. Maryland

December 21, 2017

TIFFANY WILLIAMS, Plaintiff
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, et al. Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          PETER J. MESSITTE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Tiffany Williams has sued United States Marshals John Lopez and Linwood “Chuck” Battle for unlawful search and seizure. She sues Grady Management, Inc. (“GMI”) for unlawful entry, unwarranted invasion of privacy and breach of contract.

         The suit arises out of a warrantless search of Williams' apartment residence, located in the Fox Hills apartment complex at 1140 Kennebec Street, Unit 204, Oxon Hill, Maryland (the “Unit”). On September 12, 2014, Lopez, Battle and other law enforcement officers, all members of the Capital Area Regional Fugitive Task Force (“CARFTF”), were in pursuit of a fugitive- Leonard Delonte Short-which led them to the Fox Hills apartments, managed by GMI. When the CARFTF officers arrived, Lopez first met with GMI representative Andrea Brown and informed her that he believed the fugitive they were seeking was residing in Williams' apartment. Based on that information, Brown gave Lopez a key to the Williams apartment, where CARFTF officers conducted a search but did not discover the fugitive. Later that day, Short was in fact found inside the apartment next door to Williams' apartment and arrested.

         Battle, Lopez and GMI have moved to dismiss Williams' claims for failure to state a claim, or, in the alternative, for summary judgment.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         These are the undisputed facts.

         On July 28, 2014, Leonard Delonte Short (“Short”) committed an armed bank robbery in Wilmington, North Carolina. ECF No. 25-1 at 4. A North Carolina State warrant for him was issued, and the U.S. Marshal Service (“USMS”) began an interstate manhunt for him. Id. On August 29, 2014, a Deputy U.S. Marshal in the Eastern District of North Carolina asked CARFTF to assist in the search for Short.

         On the basis of confidential information, the USMS discovered that Short was likely residing the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan area. Id. Investigation further revealed that a co-conspirator in the bank robbery, Short's possible girlfriend Porsha Davis, had transported Short from North Carolina to the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan area, that Davis was in fact residing in the D.C. area, and that Short had associations in the area, including with an individual known as Lavonne “Lovie” Graves, as well as several of Short's family members. Id. It was also discovered that Short had previously been arrested in Suitland, Maryland. Id. Finally, the USMS obtained electronic surveillance orders for two cell phones, one believed to belong to Short [telephone number (202) 910-9423] and one believed to belong to Graves [telephone number (202) 413-8457] (together, the “target phones”). Id. at 4, 5.

         On September 10, 2014, after conducting surveillance on her residence, the USMS arrested and interviewed Porsha Davis. Id. at 5. Davis told the officers that she believed “Lovie” Graves to be Short's wife and that Graves lived at the Fox Hills apartment complex, although Davis did not identify the particular apartment in the complex in which Short might be. Id. Davis further provided descriptions of two vehicles known to be driven by Short and Graves, viz., a blue Chevy Pacifica with D.C. tags that Davis had observed Short driving on September 7, 2014, and a red Toyota Camry with temporary tags believed to be owned by Graves. Id.

         Based on the information provided by Davis, on September 10, 2014, CARFTF officers went to the Fox Hills complex and arranged for visual surveillance of Short and Graves. Id. at 5. Shortly thereafter, the officers in fact observed the blue Chevy Pacifica with D.C. tags associated with Short in the parking lot, and watched as three people exited the apartment complex and drove away in the vehicle. Id. None of the individuals observed, however, matched the physical description of Short. Id. After approximately four hours, having failed to see Short or Graves, the officers discontinued surveillance. Id.

         Two days later, on September 12, 2014, Lopez, Battle and other CARFTF officers again undertook visual surveillance at the Fox Hills apartment complex. This time they did observe Short-the fugitive in question-who, along with an unidentified woman, walked into the apartment complex. Id. 5-6. Since the stairwell leading to the second floor of the apartment complex was visible from the exterior, the officers were able to observe Short and the unidentified woman walk up the stairwell to the second floor and into an area of the building containing Units 203 and 204 (Plaintiff Williams' apartment). Id. at 6. After seeing Short, Lopez went to GMI's on-site office and spoke with GMI's on-site property manager, Andrea Brown, while Battle and other CARFTF officers waited in their vehicles. Id. Lopez inquired of Brown whether Short or Graves lived in the complex, but Brown replied that neither individual was listed on a lease. Id. Brown then provided Lopez with the names on the leases for Units 203 and 204. Id. Unit 203 was leased to an unknown male; Unit 204, on the other hand, was leased to Plaintiff Williams. Id.

         Lopez relayed the names of the leaseholders for Units 203 and 204 to Senior Inspector Ed Cline (“Cline”), a member of the USMS's Technical Operations Group (“TOG”), who was at the complex conducting electronic surveillance of the target phones from his vehicle. Id. Cline ran the names of the two leaseholders through the call records of the target phones and found that Plaintiff Williams in Unit 204 had in fact placed a phone call to Graves' phone number on the morning of July 11, 2014.[1] ECF No. 29-1 at 12. Cline relayed this information to Lopez, who concluded that Short was very likely residing in Unit 204. ECF No. 25-1 at 7. When Lopez informed Brown of this determination, Brown provided Lopez with a key to that Unit.[2] Id. At no point did Lopez, Battle or any of the other CARFTF officers obtain or provide a search warrant for the Unit.

         Lopez then informed the other CARFTF officers of his determination that Short was likely residing in Unit 204. Id. The officers proceeded to the second floor of the complex, knocking on Williams' door, but received no response. Id. at 8. They knocked again and announced their presence, but again received no response. Id. Using the key provided by Brown, the officers then entered Unit 204 and conducted a search for Short, but found no one inside. Id. During the search, the officers noticed a photograph of Williams wearing a Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department (“MPD”) uniform whereupon members of the CARFTF, who were also MPD officers, telephoned MPD and confirmed that Williams was indeed an officer in the MPD's Sixth District. Id. Battle and several other CARFTF officers immediately went to the MPD's Sixth District Station, where they located and interviewed Williams regarding Short and his whereabouts. Id. During the interview, the officers showed Williams a picture of Short, and she informed them that she had in fact seen him with her neighbor. ECF No. 25-1 at 9; ECF No. 29 at 1-2.

         Immediately following the interview, the officers who met with Williams relayed the information she provided to the CARFTF members who had remained at Fox Hills. ECF No. 25-1 at 9. Those officers proceeded to Unit 203, found Short inside, and arrested him without incident. Id. at 9.

         On December 28, 2016, Williams filed a complaint in this Court against GMI, Battle and the United States, alleging unlawful search and seizure under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Battle, unlawful entry against all defendants, unwarranted invasion of privacy against all defendants, and breach of contract and negligence against GMI. On February 21, 2017, GMI moved to dismiss the Complaint for failure to state a claim. On March 7, 2017, Williams filed a Response in Opposition, and GMI filed a Reply. On July 11, 2017, Williams filed an Amended Complaint that removed the United States as Defendant and added John Lopez. She also amended her claims, alleging unlawful search and seizure against Battle and Lopez, and unlawful entry, breach of contract and unwarranted invasion of privacy against GMI. On July 19, 2017, ...


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