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McDowell v. Grimes

United States District Court, D. Maryland

August 7, 2018

CHARLES GRIMES, et al., Defendants.



         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendants Baltimore Police Department and Former Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts's (collectively, “BPD”)[1]Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 9). The Motion is 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 Motion.

         I. BACKGROUND[2]

         On August 4, 2014, near the intersection of Patterson Park and Ashland Avenue in Baltimore, Maryland, Defendant Baltimore Police Officer Charles Grimes (“Officer Grimes”) and an unidentified female officer were investigating a report of a woman with a gun. (Compl. ¶¶ 15, 17, ECF No. 2). Plaintiff Brenda McDowell's granddaughter was playing near the intersection. (See id. ¶ 13). While walking from her porch to retrieve her granddaughter, Officer Grimes “aggressively grab[bed]” McDowell's arm from behind. (Id. ¶ 15). He then called her a racial slur and told her about the report of a woman with a gun in the area. (Id. ¶ 17). Officer Grimes then ordered a female police officer to search McDowell. (Id. ¶ 18). After the search failed to reveal a weapon or other contraband, Officer Grimes began choking McDowell while yelling “give me the gun, give me the gun.” (Id. ¶¶ 20-21). McDowell escaped Officer Grimes' chokehold, at which point Officer Grimes pushed her onto a parked car, causing her to lose her balance and fall onto the street. (Id. ¶ 22). McDowell stood up and Officer Grimes choked her again to the point that she lost consciousness and had a seizure. (Id. ¶¶ 24, 27). McDowell sustained bruising to her arm and neck and lost her front tooth. (Id. ¶ 28).

         While McDowell was being treated for her injuries in the back of an ambulance, Officer Grimes arrested her. (Id. ¶¶ 31-33). During her arrest, Officer Grimes again called her a racial slur. (Id. ¶ 33). Officer Grimes also told McDowell that he “did not intend to arrest her, but his Sergeant had directed him” to do so. (Id.). McDowell was detained overnight and released on August 5, 2014. (Id. ¶ 35). Officer Grimes later falsified the statement of charges used to charge McDowell with second-degree assault and resisting arrest. (Id. ¶¶ 36-37). In January 2015, the Baltimore City State's Attorney dismissed the charges against McDowell when Officer Grimes failed to show up to McDowell's court proceeding. (Id. ¶ 38).

         On August 3, 2017, McDowell sued Officer Grimes, Batts, the Baltimore Police Department, and the Mayor & City Council of Baltimore in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, Maryland. (Notice Removal ¶ 1, ECF No. 1). On October 30, 2017, Defendants removed the case to this Court. (ECF No. 1).[3]

         In her Complaint, McDowell brings ten counts[4] alleging: (1) Battery against Officer Grimes (Count One); (2) Assault against Officer Grimes (Count Two); (3) Gross Negligence against Officer Grimes (Count Three); (4) Negligence against Officer Grimes (Count Four); (5) False Imprisonment against Officer Grimes (Count Five); (6) Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress against Officer Grimes (Count Six); (7) violations of Articles 16, 19, and 24 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights against Officer Grimes (Count Seven); (8) False Arrest against Officer Grimes (Count Eight); (9) Malicious Prosecution against Officer Grimes (Count Nine); and (10) municipal liability for violations of her constitutional rights under § 1983 against the Baltimore Police Department, Batts, and the Mayor & City Council of Baltimore (Count Ten). (Compl. ¶¶ 43-89). McDowell seeks compensatory and punitive damages and attorney's fees and costs. (See, e.g., id. at 10 ¶¶ (a)-(c)).

         On November 6, 2017, BPD filed a Motion to Dismiss. (ECF No. 9). McDowell filed an Opposition on November 20, 2017. (ECF No. 17). BPD filed a Reply on December 11, 2017. (ECF No. 21).


         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 Fed.Appx. 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

         BPD maintains that McDowell's § 1983 claims against BPD premised on municipal liability fail as a matter of law.

         Under Monell v. Department of Social Services, a municipality, such as the Baltimore Police Department, is subject to suit under § 1983. 436 U.S. 658, 690 (1978). A plaintiff may sue a municipality under § 1983 if she suffered a constitutional violation at the hands of an employee acting under color of a municipal policy. Id. at 692. Under Monell, however, “a municipality is liable only for its own illegal acts.” Owens v. Balt. City State's Attorney's Office, 767 F.3d 379, 402 (4th Cir. 2014). As a result, “[o]nly if a municipality subscribes to a custom, policy, or practice can it be said to have committed an independent act, the sine qua non of Monell liability.” Id. at 402. Respondeat superior liability does not satisfy the Monell standard. Monell, 436 U.S. at 693-94.

         All § 1983 Monell claims have three elements: “(1) identifying the specific ‘policy' or ‘custom'[;] (2) fairly attributing the policy and fault for its creation to the municipality; and (3) finding the necessary ‘affirmative link' between identified policy or custom and specific violation.” Spell v. McDaniel, 824 F.2d 1380, 1389 (4th Cir. 1987), cert. denied sub nom., City of Fayetteville v. Spell, 484 U.S. 1027 (1988); see also Jones v. Chapman, No. ELH-14-2627, 2015 WL 4509871, at *12 (D.Md. July 24, 2015) (“[A] municipality is liable when a policy or custom is fairly ...

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