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Santos v. Frederick County Board of Commissioners

United States District Court, D. Maryland

September 27, 2018

ROXANA ORELLANA SANTOS
v.
FREDERICK COUNTY BOARD OF COMISSIONERS, et al.

          MEMORANDUM

          Catherine C. Blake United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Roxana Orellana Santos sued several municipal and federal defendants for civil rights violations stemming from her arrest and detention based on a civil immigration warrant on October 7, 2008. Initially, defendants were granted summary judgment on all claims. Ms. Orellana Santos appealed as to the two arresting deputies, the Sheriff, and the Frederick County Board of Commissioners ("BOCC"). The Fourth Circuit held that her seizure was unconstitutional, but because the Deputies and Sheriff were eligible for qualified immunity in their individual capacities, it affirmed in part the summary judgment ruling. The claims made against the Deputies and Sheriff in their official capacities and against the BOCC were remanded for determination of municipal liability. Now pending are Ms. Orellana Santos's motion for summary judgment as to Counts III and IV (ECF No. 182) and the defendants' cross-motion for summary judgment on all counts (ECF No. 183). The issues in this case have been fully briefed, and oral argument was heard on July 10, 2018. For the reasons stated below, Ms. Orellana Santos's motion for summary judgment will be granted on the issue of the County's liability for the final policy decision made by the Sheriff.

         BACKGROUND

         The factual and procedural background of this case has been discussed at length in prior opinions, so this abbreviated summary includes only facts directly relevant to the pending motions. See Santos v. Frederick Cnty. Bd. of Comm'rs, 725 F.3d 451 (4th Cir. 2013) cert. denied, 134 S.Ct. 1541 (2014); June 6, 2016 Mem. Order (ECF No. 162); Aug. 26, 2015 Mem. Op. (ECF No. 148); Feb. 7, 2012 Memo. (ECF No. 98).

         On February 5, 2008, the Frederick County Sheriffs Office ("FCSO"), through Sheriff Charles Jenkins, entered into an agreement under 9 U.S.C. § 1357(g) with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement ("ICE") to have certain FCSO employees assist in immigration enforcement. (See Ex. H, Memo. Of Agreement, ECF No. 183-11.) Only those personnel trained and certified under the agreement were permitted to participate in immigration enforcement. Deputies Openshaw and Lynch were not participants in the program. The Deputies were, however, subject to a General Order issued by Sheriff Jenkins, entitled "41.2 Patrol Operations," and dated June 23, 2008, permitting patrol deputies to stop individuals "when the deputy has in their possession or is aware of an outstanding arrest warrant for the individual." (Pl.'s Appx., Ex. 4 to Jenkins Dep. (Dec. 5, 2016) at ¶ 067, Section 41.2.3(B), ECF No. 182-3.) The deputies could become aware of an outstanding warrant by running a check in the National Crime Information Center database ("NCIC"). (Pl.'s Appx., Jenkins Dep. (Dec. 5, 2016) at ¶ 036. 44:17-21, ECF No. 182-3.) This database contains criminal arrest warrants, as well as ICE civil immigration removal warrants.[1] When a NCIC check identified a warrant, Sheriff Jenkins testified that "[c]ommon practice would be to detain that individual while you confirm the warrant." (Pl.'s Appx. Jenkins Dep. (Dec. 5, 2016) atPA039, 56:12-17, ECF No. 182-3; see also Pl.'s Appx, Lynch Dep. (Feb. 23, 2017) at ¶ 398, 20:2-6, ECF No. 182-3.) Deputy Openshaw . testified that once an active warrant is confirmed by dispatch, they are required to arrest the individual. (Pl.'s Appx, Openshaw Dep. (Feb. 23, 2017) at ¶ 380, 14:10-15:12, ECF No. 182-3 ("If you come in contact with somebody who has an active warrant, once you identify that that person has an active warrant you have to take action."); Pl.'s Appx, Openshaw Dep. (Jan. 1, 2011) at ¶ 392, 78:19-21, ECF No. 182-3 ("Unfortunately, once we verified that she had a warrant my hands are tied. I mean I have to take action.").)

         On October 7, 2008, while on patrol, Deputy Sheriffs Jeffrey Openshaw and Kevin Lynch of the Frederick County Sheriffs Office stopped and asked Ms. Orellana Santos for identification. After approximately twenty minutes, Ms. Orellana Santos moved to leave, but Deputy Openshaw indicated that she should stay while he waited to see whether a civil ICE warrant for removal was active.[2] Ultimately, the deputies arrested and detained Ms. Orellana Santos on the basis of that civil warrant. Ms. Orellana Santos was brought to a Maryland detention center, turned over to ICE, and ultimately held in a jail in Cambridge, Massachusetts until her supervised release on November 13, 2008. See generally Santos, 725 F.3d at 457-58; June 6, 2016 Mem. Order at 1-2.

         On November 10, 2009, Ms. Orellana Santos filed this lawsuit alleging civil rights violations related to her arrest and detention. (CompL, (ECF No. 1).) Initially, summary judgment was granted for the defendants on all claims. (Feb. 7, 2012 Order, ECF No. 99.) Ms. Orellana Santos appealed her claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Deputies Openshaw and Lynch, Sheriff Jenkins, and the BOCC. (Notice of Appeal, ECF No. 111.) The Fourth Circuit held that "absent express direction or authorization by federal statute or federal officials, state and local law enforcement officers may not detain or arrest an individual solely based on known or suspected civil violations of federal immigration law." Santos, 725 F.3d at 465. Accordingly, the Fourth Circuit ruled that "the deputies violated Santos's rights under the Fourth Amendment when they seized her after learning that she was the subject of a civil immigration warrant and absent ICE's express authorization or direction." Id. at 468. The Circuit also held that qualified immunity barred claims against the Deputies and the Sheriff in their individual capacities. It remanded the remaining official capacity claims against the Deputies and the Sheriff, and the claim against the BOCC, to this court for determination of "whether the deputies' unconstitutional actions are attributable to an official policy or custom of the county or the actions of a final county policymaker." Id. at 470. The district court then permitted an amended complaint and allowed discovery.

         The claims that remain before the court are as follows: count I for "Unlawful Seizure" against Deputies Openshaw and Lynch in their official capacities, count II for "Unlawful Arrest" against Deputies Openshaw and Lynch in their official capacities, count III for "Supervisory Liability" against Sheriff Jenkins in his official capacity, and count IV for "Entity Liability" against the BOCC. All claims are made pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Third Am. Compl. (ECF No. 150); see also June 16, 2016 Mem. Order.) The plaintiff filed her motion for summary judgment as to counts III and IV, against Sheriff Jenkins in his official capacity and the BOCC respectively, on August 25, 2017. (ECF No. 182.) The defendants filed a cross motion for summary judgment on all counts and opposition to plaintiffs motion on September 22, 2017. (ECFNo. 183.)

         ANALYSIS

         I. Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) provides that summary judgment should be granted "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a) (emphases added). "A dispute is genuine if a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.'" Libertarian Party of Va. v. Judd, 718 F.3d 308, 313 (4th Cir. 2013) (quoting Dulaney v. Packaging Corp. of Am., 673 F.3d 323, 330 (4th Cir. 2012)). "A fact is material if it 'might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.'" Id. (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). Accordingly, "the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment[.]" Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48. The court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, Toldn v. Cotton, 134 S.Ct. 1861, 1866 (2014) (per curiam), and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor, Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007) (citations omitted); see also Jacobs v. N.C. Admin. Office of the Courts, 780 F.3d 562, 568-69 (4th Cir. 2015). At the same time, the court must "prevent factually unsupported claims and defenses from proceeding to trial." Bouchat v. Bait. Ravens Football Club, Inc., 346 F.3d 514, 526 (4th Cir. 2003) (quoting Drewitt v. Pratt, 999 F.2d 774, 778-79 (4th Cir. 1993)).

         II. Municipal Liability

         Municipalities may be held liable for constitutional violations committed by their employees or agents when an official custom, policy, or practice of the municipality, or the decision of a final policymaker for the municipality, is responsible for causing the deprivation. Monell v. New York City Dep't of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978). There are various avenues by which a plaintiff might attempt to establish the requisite municipal action needed to sustain Section 1983 liability. See Pembaur v. City of Cincinnati, 475 U.S. 469, 480-84 (1986). One such avenue-and the primary route attempted by the plaintiff in this case-is by showing that the decision was rendered by an individual with final policymaking authority over a particular subject matter in the given municipality. Id. at 483-84. In Pembaur, the Court reasoned, "municipal liability under § 1983 attaches where-and only where-a deliberate choice to follow a course of action is made from among various alternatives by the official or officials responsible for establishing final policy with respect to the subject matter in question." 475 U.S. at 483-84.

         In Praprotnik, the Court clarified that the determination of an individual's final policymaking authority is a question of state law. City of St. Louis v. Praprotnik, 485 U.S. 112, 124 (1988). This is not to say that courts look for a state-law test for final policymaking; rather, courts must look to the details of state and local law to assess the distribution of policymaking authority under such laws. Id. at 124-25. It is about power. McMillian v. Monroe Cty., Ala., 520 U.S. 781, 785-86 (1997). And the Court has repeatedly declared it to be a question of law reserved for the court. See id.; Jett v. Dallas Independent School District, 491 U.S. 701, 737 (1989);. As Justice O'Connor explained in Praprotnik, "state law (which may include valid local ordinances and regulations) will always direct a court to some official or body that has the responsibility for making law or setting policy in any given area of a local government's business." Id. at 125. "[C]ustom and usage having the force of law" is also relevant. Jett, 491 U.S. at 737. The inquiry is issue-specific and concerns not the mere "technical characterization of an official as a state or county employee," but centers on a functional assessment of "final policymaking authority" in the relevant "area of the city's business." Dotson v. Chester, 937 F.2d 920, 924 (4th Cir. 1991) (quoting, in part, Praprotnik, 485 U.S. at 123-24). Thus the crux of the matter is whether, under close scrutiny of state and local laws and customs, the "governmental official... is the final policymaker[] for the local government in a particular area, or on a particular issue." McMillian, 5 20 U.S. at 7 8 5.

         A. Section 1983 Liability of Deputies Openshaw and Lynch

         Because the Fourth Circuit held that Deputies Openshaw and Lynch violated Ms. Orellana Santos's Fourth Amendment rights, the only remaining question is whether the unlawful seizure and arrest was the result of a municipal policy, practice, or custom, or the decision of a final decisionmaker. The plaintiff advances three, theories in Count HI of the amended complaint under which she seeks to establish such liability: (1) that Sheriff Jenkins promulgated an official policy as a final county policymaker, (2) that the Sheriff failed to adequately train or provide relevant guidance to his deputies, and (3) that the county ratified the Deputies' unlawful actions. Ms. Santos need only surmount the summary judgment threshold for any one of these independent bases for Section 1983 liability. Here, her first theory prevails; the second and third theory need not be addressed. As explained below, this court concludes that the constitutional violations were traceable to Sheriff Jenkins, acting as a final decisionmaker for the county regarding law enforcement policy related to immigration for FCSO. Deputies Openshaw and Lynch also would be liable in their official capacities because they acted as required by the municipal policy set by Sheriff Jenkins as final policymaker.[3] Accordingly, the County is liable for any damages caused by the violation of Ms. Santos's constitutional rights.

         Sheriffs in Maryland may be considered either state or, in limited circumstances, county officials. The defendants contend that Sheriff Jenkins and Deputies Openshaw and Lynch are state employees under Maryland law, and, as a result, are insulated from suit under Section 1983. The plaintiff, by contrast, insists that, for present purposes, Sheriff Jenkins and his deputies are to be considered county employees. In Dotson, a case similarly hinging on the source of a Maryland sheriffs authority, albeit one concerning a sheriffs authority over a local county jail, . the Fourth Circuit concluded that "the Sheriff is not always a state employee or always a county employee. He may, on occasion, be both, or sometimes one and sometimes the other. It all depends on the particular function the Sheriff is performing." Dotson, 937 F.2d at 928. Critically, the Circuit's subsequent determination that the Sheriff was a county employee in that case came only after a searching analysis of Maryland and Dorchester County law regarding the Sheriffs prerogatives and the historical development of his authority over the jail. Id. at 925-27. It reasoned that "[s]tate statutes ... do not specifically empower the Sheriff to . .. operate the County Jail" and that the "precise dimension of sheriffs' duties in Maryland frequently have been established by county codes and other local laws." Id. at 927. The court also surveyed Maryland case law on sheriffs' employment status finding it "not dispositive." Id. at 926.

         Maryland state cases that address a sheriffs employment status go out of their way to forestall any conclusion about a sheriffs status for Section 1983 or Eleventh Amendment purposes. While sheriffs are generally considered state employees under Maryland law, see Rucker v. Harford County, 316 Md. 275, 289 (1989), state courts repeatedly note that the analysis might be different "for the purposes of the Eleventh Amendment or 42 U.S.C. § 1983 [which] are federal law issues." Id. at 280-81; see also Clea v. Mayor & City Council of Baltimore, 312 Md. 662, 670 n.5 (1988); Ritchie v. Donnelly, 324 Md. 344, 357, 597 A.2d 432, 438 (1991) (stating that "[w]hile, under Maryland law, a sheriff is a state official, the state law classification is not dispositive for purposes of §1983."). Even the most recent case the defendants cite to support a sheriffs state-employee designation, in the very passage preceding the citation, expressly differentiates between §1983 and Maryland actions, conspicuously withholding any comment on the former. Penhollow v. Bd. of Comm 'rsfor Cecil Cty., 116 Md.App. 265, 296 (1997). In Rucker, the case the defendants rely on most heavily, the Maryland Court of Appeals noted that "[t]his conclusion does not mean that, for some purposes and in some contexts, a sheriff may not be treated as a local government employee." Rucker, 316 Md. at 280-81, 289. Indeed in Dotson, the Fourth Circuit specifically reasoned that Rucker s conclusion that a sheriff is a state employee for purposes of tort liability, "does not compel the conclusion that the Sheriff, when managing the County Jail, is a state policymaker." Dotson, 937 F.2d.at 926.

         Federal courts have not announced a discrete doctrinal test for final policymaking that is binding in this jurisdiction. McMillian, the most recent Supreme Court case to squarely address the issue, required the Court to conduct a detailed textual analysis of the Alabama Constitution, local history, and the Alabama code to reach the conclusion that the sheriff there was a policymaker for the state. McMillian, 520 U.S. at 785-92. The Court announced no test for its determination. Instead, the design of the Court's local statutory examination mirrored that of the Fourth Circuit in Dotson. The Tenth Circuit, after conducting an extensive survey of cases on this question, declared: "[W]e can identity three elements that help determine whether an individual is a 'final policymaker': (1) whether the official is meaningfully constrained by policies not of that official's own making; (2) whether the official's decisions are ...


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