United States District Court, D. Maryland
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
XINIS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
in this civil rights case is a motion for summary judgment
filed by Defendants Anthony Pierelli and the United States of
America. ECF No. 53. The issues are fully briefed and the
Court now rules pursuant to Local Rule 105.6 because no
hearing is necessary. For the following reasons, the motion
PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND
facts as summarized are taken from the record and construed
in the light most favorable to Plaintiff Holly Ann Williams
(“Williams”). On January 14, 2014, United States
Park Police Officer Anthony Pierelli (“Pierelli”)
pulled over a car registered to Williams on Suitland Parkway
in Maryland. ECF No. 53-3 at 29; ECF No. 53-2 at 16 (Williams
Dep. 60:7- 11). Williams, who is legally blind, was sitting
in the back seat between her two daughters, while her father
sat in the front passenger seat. ECF No. 53-2 at 15 (Williams
Dep. 56:13-19). Another person was driving the family to a
doctor's appointment for Williams' father. ECF No.
53-2 at 11 (Williams Dep. 39:3-40:19). One of Williams'
daughters was nine months pregnant at the time. ECF No. 53-2
at 13 (Williams Dep. 48:6-20).
pulled the car over because he observed a problem with the
validation stickers (or “tabs”) affixed to the
vehicle's license plate. ECF No. 53-3 at 29; ECF No. 53-2
at 16 (Williams Dep. 60:7-11). The tabs on the license plate
of the vehicle-one of which is supposed to reflect the month
and the other the year of the vehicle registration's
expiration date-appeared to be improper. As Pierelli
explained, the “10” sticker and the
“14” sticker on the license plate both had white
backgrounds, which indicated to Pierelli that both were year
tabs, and so the license plate did not have a valid month tab
affixed to it. ECF No. 53-3 at 28-29; ECF No. 53-3 at 6
(Pierelli Dep. 17:1-14). Pierelli confirmed during the stop
that the vehicle was validly registered, but that the correct
registration expiration date was June 2014. This meant that
the “14” sticker reflected the correct year, but
the “10” sticker, in fact, did not reflect the
correct month. ECF No. 53-3 at 18 (Pierelli Dep. 66:15-21);
ECF No. 53-5 at 1.
to pulling over the vehicle, Pierelli also ran the
vehicle's license plate number through a law enforcement
database accessible via his patrol car's laptop. This
search alerted Pierelli to a Frederick County arrest warrant
that was keyed to the car's registration. The warrant was
for a Holly Ann Williams, which matched the name of the
vehicle's registered owner. ECF No. 53-3 at 5, 9
(Pierelli Dep. 14:11-14, 19:2-20:11); see ECF No.
53-3 at 29. No. other biographic information was available to
Pierelli through this database. ECF No. 53-3 at 8-9 (Pierelli
Dep. 28:10-32:3); ECF No. 53-3 at 21 (Pierelli Dep.
the traffic stop, Pierelli called Frederick County to confirm
that the warrant was still outstanding and for “Holly
Ann Williams.” ECF No. 53-3 at 12-13 (Pierelli Dep.
44:9- 45:2); ECF No. 56-8; see ECF No. 53-3 at 20-21
(Pierelli Dep. 76:19-77:22). Pierelli was not provided
additional information about the wanted individual while on
the phone with Frederick County. ECF No. 53-3 at 12-13
(Pierelli Dep. 44:20-47:3).
Pierelli confirmed that a Holly Ann Williams was in the
vehicle and was the vehicle's registered owner, he
requested a female officer to respond as backup to assist
with Williams' arrest. ECF No. 53-3 at 7 (Pierelli Dep.
22:22-23:9). An unidentified Prince George's County
female officer responded. ECF No. 53-3 at 20 (Pierelli Dep
76:6-18); see also ECF No. 53-3 at 11 (Pierelli Dep.
37:6-20). According to Williams, the female officer asked
Williams if someone was suing her in Washington County. ECF
No. 53-2 (Williams Dep. 119:12-121:11). Williams further
notes that a second warrant had been active for a
“Holly Ann Williams” in Washington County, but
Pierelli attested that he based his arrest only on the
Frederick County warrant connected to the vehicle
registration, and that he did not know of a Washington County
warrant at the time of the arrest. ECF No. 53-3 at 25-26
(Pierelli Dep. 96:18-98:8, 99:8-99:19).
testified that Pierelli never told her about a warrant, but
she nonetheless protested generally that he had the wrong
person. Pierelli did not attempt to verify Williams'
claims of mistaken identity. ECF No. 53-3 at 21-22 (Pierelli
Dep. 79:19-81:10). When Pierelli handcuffed Williams, she
asked to be handcuffed with her hands in front of her instead
of behind her back because she suffers from arm and shoulder
pain due to a stroke. ECF No. 53-2 at 20 (Williams Dep.
74:6-11). Pierelli refused, and the pain caused Williams to
collapse. ECF No. 53-2 at 20 (Williams Dep. 74:12-20);
see ECF No. 53-3 at 22 (Pierelli Dep. 83:12-18).
Pierelli pulled Williams to her feet and put her in the back
of his police car. ECF No. 53-2 at 20 (Williams Dep.
74:17-75:1). Pierelli then drove Williams to the Upper
Marlboro Detention Center (“Upper Marlboro”), and
reported their arrival at 3:14 p.m. ECF No. 53-5 at 2.
Williams was being held, full warrant information was faxed
from Frederick County to Upper Marlboro. ECF No. 53-2 at 23
(Williams Dep. 87:6-8); see ECF No. 53-2 at 23
(Williams Dep. 86:9-18). This information revealed that the
Frederick County warrant was issued for a white woman born in
1984. ECF No. 56-14. Williams is African American and more
than twenty years older than the individual identified in the
warrant. ECF No. 53-3 at 1. Williams estimates that she was
detained for two hours before she learned the warrant was for
another “Holly Ann Williams, ” and was not
released until an additional two hours had passed. ECF No.
53-2 at 24, 26 (Williams Dep. 92:6-11, 100:5-18). Since
having mistakenly arrested Williams, Pierelli now takes
additional measures to verify the identity of a suspect prior
to arresting the person on a warrant. ECF No. 53-3 at 12
(Pierelli Dep. 42:22-43:3).
result of this unfortunate incident, Williams has sued
Pierelli and the United States Park Police, alleging false
arrest (Count I), false imprisonment (Count II), a Fourth
Amendment claim of unlawful arrest and detention under
Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Fed. Bureau of
Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971) (Count III), and
respondeat superior (Count IV). Defendants previously moved
to dismiss the action in its entirety, which this Court
denied. ECF No. 32 at 10-12 ECF No. 33.
now move for summary judgment on all claims. See ECF
No. 53. Defendants principally argue that Pierelli is
entitled to qualified immunity as to the Bivens
cause of action, and that Williams failed to establish
successful tort claims. Williams counters that genuine issues
of disputed fact preclude immunity, and that Pierelli acted
with malice during her stop and arrest. For the reasons
below, the Court GRANTS Defendants' motion.