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Chae Bros., LLC v. Mayor & City Council of Baltimore

United States District Court, D. Maryland

March 30, 2018

CHAE BROS., LLC, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
MAYOR & CITY COUNCIL OF BALTIMORE, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          GEORGE L. RUSSELL, III UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendants Mayor & City Council of Baltimore (the “Mayor & City Council”), the City of Baltimore, and former Baltimore City Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's (“Mayor Rawlings-Blake”) (collectively, the “City” or “City Defendants”) Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 27).[1] Also pending is the State of Maryland's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 33), and the Baltimore Police Department and former Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts' (“Commissioner Batts”) (collectively, “BPD” or “BPD Defendants”) Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 34). This action arises out of the civil unrest that occurred after the arrest and subsequent death of Freddie Gray while in police custody in April 2015. The Motions are ripe for disposition, and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D.Md. 2016). For the reasons outlined below, the Court will grant in part and deny in part the City Defendants' Motion, grant the State's Motion, and grant the BPD Defendants' Motion.

         I.BACKGROUND[2]

         On April 12, 2015, BPD officers arrested Freddie Gray. (Compl. ¶ 36, ECF No. 2). Gray sustained various injuries and subsequently fell into a coma. (Id.). Protests in response to BPD officers' treatment of Gray began around April 18 at the BPD's Western District police station. (Id. ¶ 37). After Gray died from his injuries on April 19, protests “began growing in frequency and size.” (Id. ¶ 38). The BPD “regularly communicated” with the City about the ongoing protests, warning them on April 22 that certain individuals may use “very aggressive/potentially violent tactics.” (Id. ¶ 40). Commissioner Batts also warned the public on April 22 “about the dangers of escalating protests.” (Id. ¶ 41).

         At BPD's request, thirty-two Maryland State Troopers with expertise in crowd control arrived in Baltimore on April 23. (Id. ¶ 43). The same day, “[v]arious businesses and city agencies warned their employees and the public about expected protests, ” many even encouraging people to leave early. (Id. ¶ 44). News outlets reported that several hundred protesters gathered in front of the BPD's Western District station and tossed bottles at officers, and hundreds more protestors marched in the streets of downtown Baltimore. (Id. ¶ 42, 45). The protests impeded rush-hour traffic, and at least two protestors were arrested for disorderly conduct and destruction of property. (Id. ¶ 45).

         On April 24, news outlets began reporting about a protest planned for April 25. (Id. ¶ 50). BPD sent an email to the City about the ongoing demonstrations, explaining that it had received information that certain individuals “are encouraging others to use aggressive tactics and even violence against our officers or others” and that it expected protests to “grow in size.” (Id. ¶ 48). Commissioner Batts also contacted various community leaders, warning, “we must avoid any attempts to create a riot.” (Id. ¶ 49). BPD cancelled all leave for April 25 to ensure adequate coverage for the impending protests. (Id. ¶ 46). In spite of these precautions, the April 25 protest ultimately “turned violent, as demonstrators reportedly looted a [convenience store], damaged other storefronts, fought with and threw bricks and bottles at police officers . . . and damaged police vehicles.” (Id. ¶ 55).

         The next day, local business leaders received an email from the City and participated in a conference call with Mayor Rawlings-Blake. (Id. ¶ 59). The business leaders learned that the City was taking steps to ensure “the least amount of disruption to downtown businesses.” (Id.). As a result of these communications with the City, at least one business leader decided that he would “be open for business as normal [on April 27].” (Id.). The next day, April 27, the City sent an email to a local business organization expressing concerns that “it will look like a ghost town” if businesses “tak[e] in or lock outdoor furniture[, ] despite concerns that the furniture could be used to destroy business storefronts.” (Id. ¶ 65).

         Also on April 26, the City and BPD began receiving reports about a “purge”-a term from a movie with the same title in which citizens “were given a twelve-hour period of lawlessness to rob, kill, and commit other crimes with impunity”-scheduled to take place at Mondawmin Mall on April 27. (Id. ¶ 61). On April 27, “violence erupted at the Mondawmin Mall.” (Id. ¶ 66). Violence subsequently began in other Baltimore neighborhoods. (Id. ¶ 67). Buildings and vehicles were set on fire, stores were looted and damaged, and individuals were assaulted. (Id.). BPD officers were unable to respond to all incidents of violence that day because, according to Commissioner Batts, “[w]e had opposite ends of the city pulling us at the same time.” (Id. ¶¶ 67, 68). Moreover, even where BPD officers were present, they “simply watched and/or turned away, and let the destruction of property continue.” (Id. ¶ 69). It was only after this civil unrest on April 27 that Mayor Rawlings-Blake ultimately issued an executive order requesting resources from the State and imposing a curfew. (Id. ¶ 74).

         According to a report issued by the Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police, officers were specifically told “to allow the protestors room to destroy and allow the destruction of property” and that BPD “would not respond until [the protestors] burned, looted, and destroyed the city.” (Id. ¶ 56). News outlets reported that the City and BPD had issued a “stand-down order” to BPD officers, preventing them from intervening as the destruction of property continued. (Id. ¶ 72). Mayor Rawlings-Blake and Commissioner Batts also publicly spoke about the response to the civil unrest. (Id. ¶ 58). Mayor Rawlings-Blake stated that “we [ ] gave those who wished to destroy space to do that as well.” (Id.). Commissioner Batts explained that BPD “couldn't be seen as the aggressors or instigators.” (Id.). These public statements “were consistent with the ‘stand-down' orders” given on April 25 and April 27. (Id.).

         On June 19, 2017, Plaintiffs filed the instant 264-count Complaint (ECF No. 2), which individually alleges each Plaintiff's claims against each Defendant. Sixty-two of the sixty-five named Plaintiffs[3] allege 250 counts: (1) violations of the Maryland Riot Act (the “Riot Act”), Md. Code Ann., Pub. Safety [“PS”] § 14-1001 et seq. (West 2018), against the Mayor & City Council and City of Baltimore (Counts 1-50); (2) violations of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution for deprivation of property without due process against all Defendants (Counts 51-100); (3) violations of Article 24 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights for deprivation of property without due process against all Defendants (Counts 101-150); (4) violations of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution for takings without just compensation against all Defendants (Counts 151-200); and (5) violations of Article III, § 40 of the Maryland Constitution for takings without just compensation against all Defendants (Counts 201-250). (Compl. at 53 ¶¶ 1-1750). Plaintiffs seek compensatory and punitive damages. (Id. at 680).

         A smaller subset of the Plaintiffs-John Han Chae, Han Bok Chae, Young Park, Jong Youn, Julie Youn, Jin Suk Kim, and Kil Ja Kim-allege: (1) violations of the Fourteenth Amendment for unjustified intrusions on personal security against all Defendants (Counts 251-257); and (2) violations of Article 24 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights for unjustified intrusions on personal security against all Defendants (Counts 258-264). (Compl. at 645 ¶¶ 1751-1862). Plaintiffs seek compensatory and punitive damages. (Id. at 680).

         Plaintiffs bring all federal constitutional claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (2018).

         All Defendants now move to dismiss all Counts against them for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. (ECF Nos. 27, 33, 34). Plaintiffs oppose the Motions.

         II.DISCUSSION

         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.” King v. Rubenstein, 825 F.3d 206, 214 (4th Cir. 2016) (quoting Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243-44 (4th Cir. 1999)). 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

         1. Maryland Riot Act

         At bottom, the Court concludes that it will not dismiss Plaintiffs' Maryland Riot Act claims against the Mayor & City Council of Baltimore.[4]

         To state a claim against a municipal corporation under the Riot Act, a plaintiff must first allege that his or her “structure or personal property [was] stolen, damaged, or destroyed” during an event of civil unrest. PS § 14-1001(b). Next, a plaintiff must assert that the authorities of the municipal corporation “had good reason to believe that the [event] was about to take place or, having taken place, had notice of the [event] in time to prevent the theft, damage, or destruction. Id. § 14-1002(a). Finally, the plaintiff must show the municipal corporation “had the ability, either by use of the . . . municipal corporation's police or with the aid of the residents of the . . . municipal corporation, to prevent the theft, damage, or destruction.” Id.[5]

         The Mayor & City Council submit that Plaintiffs fail to state each of these elements. The Court considers them in turn.

         i. Damages

         The Mayor & City Council argue that Plaintiffs fail to adequately plead damages under the Riot Act because Plaintiffs do not specifically state that their property was damaged by rioters. Plaintiffs contend that it is sufficient to plead that their property was Rather, only the entity known as the “Mayor and City Council of Baltimore” may sue and be sued. Baltimore City Charter, art. I § 1. Accordingly, the Court will dismiss all claims against the City of Baltimore with prejudice. stolen, damaged, or destroyed during civil unrest without attributing the damage to rioters. The Court agrees with Plaintiffs.

         Under the plain language of the Riot Act, Plaintiffs need not allege that individual rioters caused their property damage. Rather, the Act provides that Plaintiffs “may recover actual damages” in a civil action “if a structure or personal property is stolen, damaged, or destroyed in a riot.” PS § ...


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