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Drumgoole v. Pastorek

United States District Court, D. Maryland

July 20, 2018

RAYMOND DRUMGOOLE, Plaintiff
v.
OFFICER PAUL PASTOREK, Defendant

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Date Paula Xinis, United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Raymond Drumgoole filed a civil rights action challenging his arrest and pre-trial incarceration for unlawful possession of a firearm. ECF No. 1. After the Court informed him of the deficiencies in his original Complaint, Drumgoole filed an Amended Complaint[1]naming Officer Paul Pastorek as the sole Defendant. ECF No. 7. Pastorek moved to dismiss the Complaint, ECF No. 12, which Drumgoole opposed, ECF No. 16. The matter is now ripe for review. For the reasons that follow, Pastorek's Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED.

         I. Background

         On May 15, 2015, Pastorek conducted a traffic stop of a car in which Drumgoole was a passenger. ECF No. 7 at 2. Drumgoole states that the basis for the traffic stop was that there was no license plate affixed to the car's front bumper, which Pastorek says was a violation of Maryland law. See Md. Code Ann. Transp., § 13-411. Id.; ECF No. 12-1 at 4. A license plate was on the car's dashboard. ECF No. 7 at 2; ECF No. 16 at 1-2.

         A second officer appeared on the scene and was standing “at the passenger side window observing [Drumgoole].” ECF No. 7 at 3. While the second officer was observing Drumgoole, the driver of the car, Monique Mason, exited the car to speak with Pastorek. Id. at 2-3; see ECF No. 12-1 at 4 (stating name of driver). Drumgoole states that “[a]ccording to the primary ofc. Paul Pastorek police report he state that the driver told him that I must have put the gun in her purse when she left the vehical [sic] to speak to the primary ofc.” ECF No. 7 at 3.

         Drumgoole was removed from the car. Pastorek then found a gun inside Mason's purse. Both Drumgoole and Mason denied ownership of the gun and both were arrested and charged with possession of a handgun. Id. at 2-4. According to Drumgoole, when Mason was interviewed by another officer following her arrest, she admitted that “she put the gun in the purse, ” but Drumgoole continued to be detained on the handgun charge. Id. at 3. Drumgoole was unable to pay the $500, 000 bail and remained detained for 11 months pending trial. Drumgoole was ultimately acquitted of all charges. Id. at 4.

         Drumgoole has filed suit, asserting that Pastorek violated his constitutional rights by falsely arresting and imprisoning him. Id. at 4-5. At base, Drumgoole challenges the reasonableness of his arrest for handgun possession because Mason could not credibly be believed as to having seen Drumgoole put the gun in Mason's pursue while a fellow officer stood watch. Id. at 2-3. Pastorek moved to dismiss Drumgoole's Complaint, arguing that Drumgoole failed to state a claim because his arrest was plainly supported by probable cause and, in any event, Pastorek was entitled to qualified immunity. ECF No. 12-1.

         II. Standard of Review

         Pastorek moves to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). ECF No. 12. When reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court must determine whether the complaint includes facts sufficient to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007); Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009). A plaintiff must plead facts to support each element of the claim to satisfy the standard. See McCleary-Evans v. Maryland Dep't of Transp., State Highway Admin., 780 F.3d 582, 585 (4th Cir. 2015). In so assessing, the Court takes as true all well-pleaded factual allegations and makes all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Philips v. Pitt Cty. Mem. Hosp., 572 F.3d 176, 180 (4th Cir. 2009). The Court does not credit conclusory statements or legal conclusions, even when couched as allegations of fact. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. 678-79; Giarratano v. Johnson, 521 F.3d 298, 302 (4th Cir. 2008).

         Once a claim has been stated adequately, it may be supported by showing any set of facts consistent with the allegations in the complaint. Id. at 562. The court need not, however, accept unsupported legal allegations, see Revene v. Charles Cty Comm'rs, 882 F.2d 870, 873 (4th Cir. 1989), legal conclusions couched as factual allegations, see Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986), or conclusory factual allegations devoid of any reference to actual events, see United Black Firefighters v. Hirst, 604 F.2d 844, 847 (4th Cir. 1979).

         III. Analysis

         A. Qualified Immunity

         Pastorek argues that this action should be dismissed because he is entitled to qualified immunity. The purpose of qualified immunity is to ensure that government officials performing discretionary functions, like police officers, can “perform their duties free from the specter of endless and debilitating lawsuits.” Torchinsky v. Siwinski, 942 F.2d 257, 260 (4th Cir. 1991). Without qualified immunity, a substantial risk exists that fear of personal liability and desire to avoid harassing litigation will “unduly inhibit officials in the discharge of their duties.” Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 638 (1987). Accordingly, government officials are entitled to qualified immunity for civil damages to the extent that “their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). Accord Pritchett v. Alford, 973 F.2d 307, 312 (4th Cir. 1992).

         The resolution of a qualified immunity defense is a two-pronged inquiry, requiring the court to determine: (1) whether the facts established by the plaintiff make out a violation of a federal right; and (2) “whether the right at issue was ‘clearly established' at the time of defendant's alleged misconduct.” Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 232 (2009). Accordingly, government officials are entitled to qualified immunity for civil damages to the extent that “their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). “[Q]ualified immunity protects law officers from ‘bad guesses in gray areas' and it ensures that ...


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