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Thomas v. State

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

December 24, 2017

CHRISTOPHER THOMAS, et al., Plaintiff,
STATE OF MARYLAND, et at., Defendants.



         Christopher Thomas and Alexandra Curbelo ("Plaintiffs") allege constitutional and state law tort violations against a number of entities within the State of Maryland, including Anne Arundel County, Prince George's County. Howard County, associated police departments. county executives, police chiefs, and 28 individual police officers (collectively, "Defendants").[1]The Complaint arises out of a purported high-speed pursuit on Route 295 that ended in Plaintiffs" arrest. ECF No. 2. Presently pending before the Court are motions to dismiss from defendants Anne Arundel County. ECF Nos. 30. 31. 35. Howard County, ECF No. 29. Prince George's County. ECF No. 36. and the State of Maryland, ECF No. 49, and the State of Maryland's Motion to Strike Plaintiffs Opposition, ECF No. 56. No hearing is necessary to adjudicate the motions. Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the following reasons, the State of Maryland's motions are granted. Anne Arundel and Howard Counties' motions are granted, in part, and denied, in part, and Prince George's County's motion is denied as moot.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background[2]

         On June 3. 2014. police officers employed by the State of Maryland. Anne Arundel County, and/or Howard County initiated pursuit of a speeding vehicle on Route 295. going through Prince George's County. Anne Arundel County, and ultimately stopping in Howard County. Maryland. ECF No. 2 ¶¶ 36-37. Plaintiff Thomas operated the vehicle and Plaintiff Curbelo was a passenger. Upon stopping the vehicle, and in compliance with police orders. Thomas exited the vehicle and laid face down on the ground in anticipation of arrest. Id. ¶ 39. While on the ground, an unidentified police officer placed Thomas' hands behind his back. Id. ¶ 40. and additional officers punched and kicked Thomas repeatedly as he lay helpless on the ground. Id. ¶ 41. Prior to Thomas being handcuffed and arrested, but while on the ground and subdued. Officer Jeffery Rothenbecker instructed a police canine to maul Thomas. Id. ¶¶ 42-43. 46. Thereafter. Officer Jeremy Duncan employed a Taser gun on Thomas. Id. ¶ 44. Plaintiffs maintain that at all times following the police stop, Thomas was acting in full compliance with police orders, "demonstrated no acts of restraint or unwillingness to cooperate with police, " and made no movements that could cause a reasonable officer to feel threatened. Id. ¶ 45. Following Thomas' arrest. Plaintiff Curbelo exited the vehicle from the front passenger door in compliance with police orders. Id. ¶ 49. Upon exit, an unidentified police officer grabbed Curbelo and "hurled her body over a guardrail directly adjacent to the vehicle." Id. ¶ 49.

         Once in custody. Plaintiffs were transported to the Anne Arundel County Medical Center for treatment. Id. ¶ 51. Plaintiffs note that in response to a question from a nurse as to why Thomas "was beaten so badly." an unidentified officer commented that "he shouldn't have ran." Id. ¶ 52. Further. Plaintiffs allege that while Thomas was receiving treatment, an unidentified officer was relieved of his duties by a superior, whereby the superior officer stated that he would "take care of the police report" and that the relieved officer would not need "to worry about it." Id. ¶¶ 56-57.

         As a result of the arrest. Thomas suffered bruising to his body and face and lacerations inflicted by the police canine, including a large gash on his lower back. Id. ¶ 61. In addition. Plaintiffs allege that while in custody, Thomas received inadequate medical treatment, resulting in permanent injuries including sciatic nerve damage and scarring. Id. ¶¶ 53-55. 61. Plaintiffs also allege that Thomas continues to suffer from severe emotional distress, including "major depression, trouble concentrating, recurring nightmares, distress as a result of permanent injuries to his person, and extreme anxiety." Id. ¶ 62. Curbelo's physical injuries included bruises and cuts to her body, and she continues to suffer from severe emotional distress, including "major depression, crying spells, poor concentration, sleep disturbance, appetite disturbance, poor energy, and fleeing suicidal ideations." hi. ¶¶ 59, 60.

         B. Procedural Background

         Plaintiffs filed the instant action in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County on May 26, 2017 and bring the following claims: Assault (Count I): Battery (Count II); Excessive Force. 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count III); Negligence (Count IV); Conspiracy to Interfere with Civil Rights, 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3) (Count V); Monell Allegations. 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count VI); Violation of Article 24 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights (Count VII); Equal Protection. 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count VIII); Negligent Supervision and Training (Count IX): and Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (Count X). ECF No. 2.

         Prior to filing the Complaint, Plaintiffs sent a Notice of Claim to the County Defendants on December 1. 2014. Id. ¶¶ 31-33. Plaintiffs sent a Notice of Claim to the Maryland State Treasurer in accordance with § 12-107(a) of the Maryland Tort Claims Act ("MTCA") on June 1, 2015. Id. ¶ 34. Following removal to this Court. Defendant Rothenbecker filed an answer, ECF No. 32. and Defendants Howard County. Anne Arundel County, and Prince George's County filed motions to dismiss on behalf of the counties, county executives, police chiefs, police departments, and individual police officers. See ECF Nos. 29. 30. 31, 35. 36[3] On October 10, 2017, the Court denied Plaintiffs' Combined Motion to Amend the Complaint and Remand to State Court, ECF No. 39. See ECF No. 44. Thereafter, the State of Maryland filed a Motion to Dismiss, ECF No. 45. and Plaintiffs filed responses to all motions to dismiss by the County Defendants. ECF No. 49. and the State of Maryland. ECF No. 51. Finally, the State of Maryland moved to strike Plaintiffs Response to its Motion to Dismiss. ECF No. 56.


         Defendants may "test the adequacy of a complaint by way of a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6)." Prelich v. Med Res.. Inc., 813 F.Supp.2d 654, 660 (D. Md. 2011) (citing German v. Fox, 267 F. App"x 231. 233 (4th Cir. 2008)). Motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim do "not resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses." Prelich. 813 F.Supp.2d at 660 (citing Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231. 243 (4th Cir. 1999)). To overcome a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a complaint must allege enough facts to state a plausible claim for relief. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662. 678 (2009). A claim is 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.

         In evaluating the sufficiency of Plaintiffs' claims, the Court accepts factual allegations in the complaint as true and construes the factual allegations in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff. See 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). However, the complaint must contain more than "legal conclusions, elements of a cause of action, and bare assertions devoid of further factual enhancement." Nemet Chevrolet, Ltd v., Inc., 591 F.3d 250. 255 (4th Cir. 2009). The Court should not grant a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim for relief unless "it is clear that no relief could be granted under any set of facts that could be proved consistent with the allegations." GE Inv. Private Placement Partners II v. Parker, 247 F.3d 543. 548 (4th Cir. 2001) (citing H.J. Inc. v. Northwestern Bell Tel. Co., 492 U.S. 229. 249-50 (1989)).


         Plaintiffs appear to bring each individual state tort and constitutional claim against all Defendants collectively, irrespective of the individual defendant's status as a municipality, state entity, supervisor, or individual police officer. Because certain claims are dependent upon the status of the individual defendant, the Court will first address claims that do not state a claim for relief irrespective of the individual defendant and will then evaluate the remaining claims based on the status of the individual defendant.

         A. Assault (Count I)

         In Maryland, assault claims are subject to a one year statute of limitations. See Md. Code, Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 5-105. Accordingly, Plaintiffs' assault claim expired on or about June 4, 2015, almost two years prior to filing the instant action. Plaintiffs acknowledge that Curbelo's claim is time barred but argue that the Court should toll Thomas" limitations period because he was incarcerated in Connecticut during that time. See ECF No. 49 at 13.[4] To receive equitable tolling. Plaintiffs bear the burden of proving that Thomas has diligently pursued his rights and some extraordinary circumstance beyond his control stood in his way. preventing timely filing. United States v. Sosa, 364 F.3d 507. 512 (4th Cir. 2004). However, no such extraordinary circumstances exist. See. eg, Dowries v. Carroll, 348 F.Supp.2d 296. 303 (D. Del. 2004) (noting that incarceration in another state is not an extraordinary circumstance justifying equitable tolling for petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254). Plaintiffs fail to show that Thomas' incarceration, alone, qualifies as an extraordinary circumstance justifying equitable tolling or that Thomas diligently pursued his claim while incarcerated or upon release. Moreover, Plaintiffs' counsel represented Thomas immediately following his arrest and pursued Plaintiffs' state law tort claims against the County Defendants while Thomas was incarcerated. See ECF No. 2 ¶¶ 31-33. As such. Plaintiffs do not establish that Thomas diligently pursued his claim. Plaintiffs' assault claim is time barred and therefore dismissed.

         B. Intentional Infliction of Emotional ...

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