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Quality Care Daycare BUP, LLP v. Jones

United States District Court, D. Maryland

September 27, 2018

QUALITY CARE DAYCARE BUP, LLP, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
MEL JONES, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Richard D. Bennett United States District Judge

         Plaintiffs Quality Care Daycare BUP, LLP and Natalie Morgan Tao (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) have brought a three-count Complaint against Defendant Mel Jones (“Defendant” or “Jones”) individually and in his official capacity as a Baltimore City police officer in connection with his execution of an arrest warrant for another individual on their property. (Compl. 1, ECF No. 2.) Plaintiffs allege Excessive Force in violation of state and federal constitutions (Count I); Negligence (Count II); and Trespass (Count III). Currently pending before this Court is Defendant Jones' Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 12.) The parties' submissions have been reviewed, and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the reasons stated herein, Defendant Jones' Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 12) is GRANTED.

         BACKGROUND

         In ruling on a motion to dismiss, this Court must accept the factual allegations in the plaintiff's complaint as true and construe those facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See, e.g., Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 244 (4th Cir. 1999); Harris v. Publish Am., LLLP, No. RDB-14-3685, 2015 WL 4429510, at *1 (D. Md. July 17, 2015). On October 21, 2014 Melvin Jones executed an arrest warrant for William G. Smith at 873 and 875 North Howard Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21202, property owned by the Plaintiffs. (Compl. ¶ 1.) Attempting to gain entry to the building, Jones banged on a glass window and fractured it. (Compl. ¶ 2.) Jones also damaged the front door, door frame and electronic security entrance system. (Compl. ¶ 3.) The Defendant has not compensated Plaintiffs for the property damages stemming from his execution of the arrest warrant. (Compl. ¶ 8.) On September 29, 2017, Plaintiffs filed a three-count complaint in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City. On March 15, 2018, Defendant was served with the original summons and complaint. (Def.'s Statement of Removal 1, ECF No. 7.) On April 16, 2018 Defendant Mel Jones removed the case to this Court, based upon the federal constitutional claim asserted in Plaintiffs' complaint. (Def.'s Mot. 1, ECF 12-1.) On May 1, 2018, Defendant moved to dismiss all of Plaintiffs' claims.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Defendant has styled its Motion as a Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment. (Def.'s Mot. 1, ECF No. 12-1.) Defendant has asked the Court to consider matters outside of the pleadings-specifically, an affidavit of Special Investigation Supervisor Aaron Whitcomb-thereby converting the instant Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings into a Motion for Summary Judgment. (Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss 4, ECF No. 12-1.) Rule 12(d) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that: “[i]f, on a motion under Rule 12(b)(6) or 12(c), matters outside the pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the court, the motion must be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d). Rule 12(d) further provides that “the parties must be given a reasonable opportunity to present all the material” pertinent to the motion. Id. A district judge has “complete discretion to determine whether or not to accept the submission of any material beyond the pleadings that is offered in conjunction with a Rule 12(b)(6) motion and rely on it, thereby converting the motion, or to reject it or simply not consider it.” 5 C Wright & Miller, Federal Practice & Procedure § 1366, at 159 (3d ed. 2004, 2011 Supp.).

         Conversion to Summary Judgment is inappropriate in this case. The parties have exchanged only a handful of documents, most of which concern the threshold issue of whether Plaintiffs have met the notice requirements of the Local Government Tort Claims Act, Md. Code, Courts & Jud. Proc. Article, § 5-301 et seq. (“LGTCA”). Plaintiffs have produced a Statement of Claim addressed to the Baltimore City Department of Law, Central Bureau of Investigations, signed and dated February 27, 2015 complaining of the October 21, 2014 incident. (Pl.'s Resp. 4, ECF No. 15.) Defendant contests the authenticity of this document. He has furnished an Affidavit of Special Investigation Supervisor Aaron Whitcomb for the Baltimore City Department of Law, Central Bureau of Investigations, which concludes that there is no record of this claim being received by the Central Bureau of Investigations and that the United States Postal Service tracking service does not yield information concerning the tracking number affixed to the notice of claim. (Aff. of Aaron Whitcomb ¶¶ 4-5, ECF No. 19-1.) As only a very limited form of discovery has taken place and the few documents that have been submitted are in tension, Summary Judgment is not appropriate here. Accordingly, the Court will construe Defendant's Motion as a Motion to Dismiss and analyze Plaintiffs' claims seriatim.

         Under Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a complaint must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure authorizes the dismissal of a complaint if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The purpose of Rule 12(b)(6) is “to test the sufficiency of a complaint and not to resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses.” Presley v. City of Charlottesville, 464 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Cir. 2006).

         The Supreme Court's recent opinions in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), “require that complaints in civil actions be alleged with greater specificity than previously was required.” Walters v. McMahen, 684 F.3d 435, 439 (4th Cir. 2012) (citation omitted). In Twombly, the Supreme Court articulated “[t]wo working principles” that courts must employ when ruling on Rule 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. First, while a court must accept as true all the factual allegations contained in the complaint, legal conclusions drawn from those facts are not afforded such deference. Id. (stating that “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice” to plead a claim); see also Wag More Dogs, LLC v. Cozart, 680 F.3d 359, 365 (4th Cir. 2012) (“Although we are constrained to take the facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, we need not accept legal conclusions couched as facts or unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments.” (internal quotation marks omitted)). Second, a complaint must be dismissed if it does not allege “a plausible claim for relief.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.

         ANALYSIS

         I. Plaintiffs have failed to adequately plead trespass.

         Plaintiffs' complaint alleges that Defendant committed trespass by executing the arrest warrant and damaging his property. (Compl. ¶ 15.) A police officer ordinarily does not commit trespass by entering the property of another to carry out an arrest warrant. See Gardner v. State, 251 A.2d 901, 907 n.8 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 1969) (finding that officers did not trespass when they entered a home with probable cause to make an arrest); Ford v. Baltimore City Sheriff's Office, 149 Md.App. 107, 814 A.2d 127, 144 (Md. Ct. of Spec. App. 2002) (finding that police did not commit trespass by relying on facially valid warrant to enter appellant's home, even though warrant had previously been dismissed). An officer's subsequent conduct, however, may convert a formerly lawful entry into a trespass. Heinze v. Murphy, 180 Md. 423, 24 A.2d 917, 922 (Md. 1942). In this case, Plaintiffs have not alleged, for example, that Defendant attempted to execute the warrant at the wrong address, or made any other factual allegations raising a plausible inference of trespass. Instead, the Complaint only recounts that Detective Jones damaged property when executing an arrest warrant. (Compl. ¶ 1-6.) With such inadequate factual allegations, Plaintiffs' trespass claim (Count III) must be dismissed.

         II. Plaintiffs have failed to adequately plead negligence.

         Plaintiffs allege that Defendant performed his police duties negligently when he executed the search warrant. (Compl ¶ 12.) Defendant replies that common law public official immunity protects him from claims of negligence. (Def.'s Mot. 8, ECF 12-1.) This form of immunity shields public officials who perform negligent acts while performing discretionary duties. Houghton v. Forrest, 989 A.2d 223, 228 (Md. 2010). The doctrine of public official immunity applies “when the actor is (1) a public official, (2) the tortious conduct occurred in the course of the actor's performance of discretionary, rather than ministerial acts, and (3) those acts were within the scope of the actor's official duties.” Id. Common law public official immunity does not shield the public official who has acted with malice. Gray-Hopkins v. Prince George's County, Maryland, 309 F.3d 224, 233 (4th Cir. 2002) citing DiPino v. Davis, 354 Md. 18, 729 A.2d 354, 370 (1999). ...


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