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Weeden v. Prince George's County

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

June 5, 2018

PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff Levon Derrell Weeden suffered injuries following an altercation with New Carrollton police officers on May 12, 2016. Plaintiff now brings claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Maryland Declaration of Rights Articles 24 and 26, and Maryland common law against Defendants Prince George's County, the City of New Carrollton ("the City"), New Carrollton Police Department Chief Col. David Rice, and the following individual police officers: Officer S. Whiting, Officer C. Marshall, Corporal B. Robinson, Sergeant K. Banton, and Sergeant K. Lewis (collectively, "Defendant Police Officers")- ECF No. 14. Now pending before the Court is Defendants' Partial Motion to Dismiss. ECF No. 19.[1]No hearing is necessary. Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the following reasons. Defendants' Motion is granted.

         I. BACKGROUND[2]

         On the evening of May 12, 2016, Plaintiff overheard Shaheem McNair tell Defendant Police Officers Whiting, Marshall, and two other unknown police officers that Plaintiff broke into McNaifs home and stole certain items. ECF No. 14 ¶ 10. Plaintiff believed himself to be in danger and, as he began to move away, he was "violently accosted" by Defendant Police Officers, who "slammed him into the ground and handcuffed him." Id. ¶ 11. While on the ground, one officer stomped on his head and arms while another stomped on Plaintiffs ankle, causing it to break. Id. ¶ 12. Plaintiff required surgery on his ankle and, in August of 2016, underwent a craniotomy after experiencing "excruciating headaches" following the incident. Id. ¶ 15. Plaintiff alleges that this medical procedure resulted in a loss of "mental mobility, " and he is now physically limited and unable to return to his place of employment. Id. Plaintiff further alleges that Defendant Police Officers' actions were part of a pattern and practice of abusive police conduct that continues to occur in accordance with established policies of the City and Prince George's County, as well as the instructions, supervision, and guidance of Rice. Id. ¶ 13.

         Plaintiff filed his initial Complaint in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County on May 11, 2017. Defendants removed the action to this Court on July 19, 2017 and filed a Partial Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs Second Amended Complaint on January 19, 2018. ECF Nos. 1, 19. Since his initial filing, Plaintiff has amended his Complaint multiple times, and his current claims are as follows: Section 1983 Claim for Violation of Plaintiffs' Freedom from Unreasonable Searches and Seizures Guaranteed by the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment (Count 1); Violation of Plaintiff s Freedom from Unreasonable Searches and Seizures Guaranteed by Maryland Declaration of Rights Articles 24 and 26 (Count II); Bystander Liability (Count III); Supervisory Liability (Count IV); Battery (Count V); Assault (Count VI); and False Imprisonment (Count VII).[3]


         To state a claim that survives a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a complaint, relying on only well-pled factual allegations, must state at least a "plausible claim for relief." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662. 679 (2009). The "mere recital of elements of a cause of action, supported only by conclusory statements, is not sufficient to survive a motion made pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6)." Walters v. McMahen, 684 F.3d 435, 439 (4th Cir. 2012). To determine whether a claim has crossed "the line from conceivable to plausible, " the court must employ a "context-specific inquiry, " drawing on the court's "experience and common sense." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679-80. When performing this inquiry, the court accepts "all well-pled facts as true and construes these facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff in weighing the legal sufficiency of the complaint." Nemet Chevrolet. Ltd. v., Inc., 591 F.3d 250, 255 (4th Cir. 2009).


         A. State Constitutional and Common Law Tort Claims (Counts II, V-VII)

         1. Notice under Local Government Tort Claims Act

         Because Plaintiff failed to provide Defendants with notice of his claims as required by the Local Government Tort Claims Act ("LGTCA"), Md. Code Ann. Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 5-301 et seq., his state constitutional and common law tort claims must be dismissed with prejudice. Pursuant to the LGTCA, "an action for unliquidated damages may not be brought against a local government or its employees unless notice of the claim required by this section is given within 1 year after the injury." § 5-304(b)(1); see also Rounds v. Maryland-Nat. Capital Park & Planning Comm'n, 109 A.3d 639, 648 (Md. 2015) ("[W]e hold that, generally, the LGTCA notice requirement applies to both state constitutional and non-constitutional tort claims for unliquidated damages.").

         For Defendant Prince George's County, notice shall be given to the county solicitor or the county attorney. § 5-304(c)(3)(iii).[4] For any other local government, the notice shall be given to the "corporate authorities" of that local government. § 5-304(c)(4). However, failure to strictly comply with the notice requirements is not fatal to a plaintiffs action. See Hansen v. City of Laurel, 996 A.2d 882, 891 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 2010) (citing Barbre v. Pope, 935 A.2d 699 (2007)) ("It is now well-established that claimants who fail to comply with the [LGTCA] notice requirements may prosecute their lawsuits so long as they have substantially complied with the notice statute."); see also § 5-304(d) ("unless the defendant can affirmatively show that its defense has been prejudiced by lack of required notice, upon motion and for good cause shown the court may entertain the suit even though the required notice was not given.'").

         Plaintiff provided notice directly to Rice by letter dated January 31, 2017, but Rice is not a "corporate authority" under § 5-304(c)(1)(4).&><? ECF No. 19-2.[5] "Corporate authorities are the political officials of a municipal corporation-the mayor and city council-not the administrators charged with carrying out the day-to-day business of the local government." Hanson, 996 A.2d at 890 (citations omitted) (holding that City Administrator is not a "corporate authority"). Therefore, Plaintiff did not strictly comply with the LGTCA. Plaintiff argues that even if he did not strictly comply, he' substantially complied because "Defendants do not allege that their defense [has] been prejudiced for lack of notice." ECF No. 22 at 2.[6] However, Plaintiffs substantial compliance argument is incomplete because Plaintiff has not attempted to demonstrate good cause for its failure to provide notice as required by § 5-304(d). Cf. Moore v. Norouzi, 807 A.2d 632, 643 (Md. 2002) ("substantial compliance requires more than a mere lack of prejudice to the government entity").[7]

&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;Plaintiff also argues that he provided the City with constructive notice pursuant to &sect; 5-304(e) because "to the best of Plaintiff s information and belief, the appropriate internal procedure is that once the Chief of Police receives the notice, he notifies the appropriate county officials that a lawsuit is expected." ECF No. 22 at 3. Section 5-304(e) provides that the LGTCA notice requirements do not apply if, within 1 year after the injury, the defendant local government has actual or constructive notice of the claimant&#39;s injury. Section 5-304(e) was adopted on May 19, 2016 and became effective as of October 1, 2016. See AN ACT concerning &#39; Local Government Tort Claims Act-Notice Requirement-Exception, 2016 Maryland Laws Ch. 624 ("H.B. 637"). Section 2 of H.B. 637 provides that &sect; 5-304(e) "shall be construed to apply prospectively and may not be applied or interpreted to have any effect on or application to any cause of action arising before the effective date of this Act." However, Plaintiff overlooks the fact that his claim accrued before promulgation of the LGTCA's exception for actual or constructive notice provided in ยง 5-304(e). Therefore, even assuming the City had actual notice, Plaintiff has not demonstrated good cause for his failure to strictly comply with the ...

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