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Stutzman v. Krenik

United States District Court, D. Maryland

October 10, 2018




         Plaintiff Arthur Stutzman of St. Mary's County, Maryland has filed a civil action against Maryland State Police Troopers Evan Krenik and Marcus Manning alleging that during a traffic stop on the night of January 7, 2016, Defendants arrested him without legal justification and used excessive and unreasonable force in handcuffing, moving, and transporting him after that arrest. Stutzman asserts claims for violations of his rights under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article 26 of the Maryland State Constitution, as well as state common law claims of false arrest, battery, and gross negligence. Presently pending before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment. Upon review of the submitted materials, the Court finds that no hearing is necessary. See D. Md. Local R. 105.6. For the reasons set forth below, the Defendants' motion is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.


         On January 7, 2016, Stutzman was driving on Maryland State Route 5 south of its junction with Maryland State Route 231. He noticed Manning in a police car zigzagging through traffic, tailgating another vehicle, and speeding at approximately 90 miles per hour, even though the posted speed limit was 55 miles per hour. The police car's emergency lights were not activated. After Manning drove by him, Stutzman called the Maryland State Police ("MSP") barracks in La Plata, Maryland and reported Manning's apparently reckless driving. Stutzman then followed Manning, catching up to him at a red traffic light. He got Manning's attention by flashing his headlights and asked Manning to pull into a nearby gas station, where he confronted Manning peacefully about his driving. Manning "acted dismissively" and drove away from the gas station. Am. Compl. ¶ 13, ECF No. 12.

         As Stutzman drove home from the gas station, Manning pulled behind him and activated his police lights to signal for Stutzman to pull over. Stutzman asserts that he "had not been speeding or breaking any traffic laws" and that the stop was in retaliation for his "reprimand" of Manning. Id. ¶¶ 15-16. Rather than stopping at Manning's signal, Stutzman continued driving toward his home and called the MSP barracks to report where he was driving and to "request assistance." Id. ¶¶ 18-20. Because of Manning's "aggressive behavior," Stutzman believed that Manning was angry that Stutzman had confronted him and was therefore afraid to be alone with Manning. Id. ¶ 17.

         After Stutzman and Manning arrived at Stutzman's home, Manning got out of his vehicle and began to yell at Stutzman. Other state and county police officers arrived as well, including Krenik. Both Defendants were visibly angry at Stutzman. At that point, Defendants decided to arrest Stutzman for fleeing or eluding the police.

         Stutzman is 59 years old and suffers from a severe physical disability due to spinal conditions and multiple surgeries and thus walks and moves "in a way manifesting genuine physical disability." Id. ¶ 29. When Krenik arrested him, Stutzman requested that Krenik handcuff him with his hands in front of his body because he has "metal and screws" in his lower back, "thoracic issues," and he had had two prior cervical surgeries. Id. ¶ 30. Krenik refused. Stutzman explained that he could not physically put his hands behind his back, stated that doing so would injure him, and again asked to be handcuffed in front. Krenik again refused. As Krenik went to handcuff Stutzman with his hands behind his back, Stutzman screamed in pain. Stutzman remained "in visibly obvious and severe pain" as they walked to Krenik's vehicle. Id. ¶ 30. When Krenik ordered him to sit in the front passenger seat, Stuzman told Krenik that he would not be able to get into the front seat with handcuffs behind his back without incurring injury and asked to be transported in the backseat of another police cruiser. Although another police officer offered to have Stutzman transported while lying down in the back of his police cruiser, Krenik refused to allow it. When Stutzman tried to get into Krenik's vehicle, he physically could not place his legs into the car and was in obvious and severe pain. Krenik then tried to force Stutzman's legs into the car, injuring Stutzman and causing him to scream out in pain and begin to cry. Krenik then took Stutzman out of the vehicle, applied a second set of handcuffs to him from behind, and placed Stutzman in the back of another police cruiser, lying down, to be transported to the police station.

         During the ride, Stutzman was in such "excruciating pain" that the police car stopped at one point. Id. ¶¶ 35-38. When Stutzman told Krenik that the transport was causing him such pain, Krenik yelled at him and ordered that the car to continue. At the station, Krenik booked Stutzman. Booking took several hours, during which Stutzman was seated on a stool and handcuffed in a way that caused severe pain in his arms. Although Stutzman told Krenik about the pain caused by the stool and handcuffing, Krenik refused to allow him to sit elsewhere and slowed down the booking process. Krenik used "a sarcastic and intimidating tone of voice" throughout booking and ordered a drug test that Stutzman considered frivolous. Id. ¶ 40. Stutzman was charged with fleeing or eluding a police officer, in violation of Md. Code Ann., Transp. § 21-904(c) (West 2010). He was fined $500, received a suspended sentence of 180 days of imprisonment, and received a disposition of probation before judgment.

         According to Stutzman, as a result of his treatment during the arrest, handcuffing, and transport to the station, he has suffered "additional, serious, disabling, and permanent injury to his back and worsening of his pre-existing condition, including but not limited to one disc bulging and another disc pressing on a nerve." Am. Compl. ¶ 38. Since the arrest, Stutzman has experienced deterioration in his mobility, chronic back pain that has not responded to pain management, chronic headaches, and lower neck and shoulder pain.

         On December 29, 2017, Stutzman filed this case in this Court. On March 9, 2018, Stutzman filed an Amended Complaint, in which he alleges that Defendants violated his rights under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution (Count 1) and under Article 26 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights ("Article 26") (Count 5) to be free from an unreasonable seizure and excessive force. He also asserts state law tort claims of false arrest (Count 2), battery (Count 3), and gross negligence (Count 4). Stutzman seeks compensatory and punitive damages.


         In their Motion, Defendants seek dismissal of all counts of the Amended Complaint pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) and 56. First, they argue that Stutzman's claims in Counts 1, 2, and 5 alleging an unreasonable seizure and false arrest fail to state a claim because the facts as stated in the Amended Complaint establish that Manning had probable cause to arrest him. Second, they argue that the probation before judgment disposition of the fleeing-or-eluding charge against Stutzman necessarily established probable cause and thus bars consideration of the unreasonable seizure and false arrest claims. Third, they argue that Stutzman has failed to allege sufficient facts to support the excessive force, battery, and gross negligence claims in Counts 1, 3, 4, and 5 and that the facts as alleged actually establish that Defendants used reasonable force. Finally, Defendants assert the defenses of federal qualified immunity to the claims in Count 1 and Maryland statutory immunity to the claims in Counts 2-5.

         I. Legal Standard

         To defeat a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the complaint must allege enough facts to state a plausible claim for relief. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). A claim is plausible when the facts pleaded allow "the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. Legal conclusions or conclusory statements do not suffice. Id. The 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).

         Courts may consider facts and documents subject to judicial notice without converting a motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment. Clatterbuck v. City of Charlottesville, 708 F.3d 549, 557 (4th Cir. 2013), abrogated on other grounds, Reed v. Town of Gilbert, 135 S.Ct. 2218 (2015). "Under this exception, courts may consider 'relevant facts obtained from the public record,' so long as these facts are construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff along with the well-pleaded allegations of the complaint." Id. (quoting B.H. Papasan v. Allain, 578 U.S. 265, 283 (1986)); see also Zak v. Chelsea Therapeutics Int'l, Ltd., 780 F.3d 597, 607 (4th Cir. 2015) ("[C]ourts at any stage of a proceeding may judicially notice a fact that is not subject to reasonable dispute, provided that the fact is generally known within the court's territorial jurisdiction or can be accurately and readily determined from sources whose accuracy cannot reasonably be questioned." (quoting Fed.R.Evid. 201)). The Court therefore takes judicial notice of the true test copy of Stutzman's plea and sentence in the proceedings before the District Court of Maryland for Saint Mary's County, Case Summ., State v. Stutzman, Mot. Dismiss Ex. 1, ECF No. 16-2, and the audio recording of those proceedings, Audio Recording, State v. Stutzman, Mot. Dismiss Ex. 2, ECF No. 16-3.

         II. Unreasonable Seizure

         In Counts 1, 2, and 5, Stutzman alleges that Defendants arrested him without legal justification, in violation of his federal and state constitutional rights against an unreasonable seizure and his state law right against false arrest. In response, Defendants argue that the facts as alleged in the Complaint establish that Defendants had probable cause to arrest Stutzman for fleeing or eluding a police officer, that the state court's imposition of a probation before judgment disposition in Stutzman's criminal case establishes probable cause as a matter of law, and that Stutzman is judicially estopped from asserting these claims.

         Maryland courts construe Article 26 in para materia with the Fourth Amendment, such that its comparable provisions are essentially equated to the Fourth Amendment's protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. Scott v. State, 782 A.2d 862, 873 & n.2 (Md. 2001). Thus, the resolution of Stutzman's § 1983 claim dictates the outcome of his claim under Article 26. See Mazuz v. Maryland, 442 F.3d 217, 231 (4th Cir. 2006), abrogated on other grounds by Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223 (2009). Accordingly, the Court analyzes the Fourth Amendment and Article 26 claims together.

         A. Constitutional Claims

         The Fourth Amendment protects "[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures." U.S. Const, amend. IV. As a "seizure" of a "person," an arrest of a person must be "reasonable under the circumstances" in order to comply with the Fourth Amendment. District of Columbia v. Wesby, 138 S.Ct. 577, 585(2018).

         1. ...

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