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Johnson v. Maryland Department of Transportation

United States District Court, D. Maryland

November 21, 2018

REGINALD JOHNSON Plaintiff,
v.
MARYLAND DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, et al. Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ELLEN L. HOLLANDER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Reginald Johnson has filed a civil rights suit against five defendants: the Maryland Department of Transportation (“MDOT” or the “Department”), doing business as the Maryland Transit Administration (“MTA”); “John Doe #1, ” a Maryland Transportation Authority (“MDTA”) officer; “John Doe #2, ” an MDTA supervisor; “Jane Doe #3, ” an MDTA employee; and “John Doe #4, ” an MDTA commissioner (collectively, the “Doe Defendants”). ECF 1 (the “Complaint”).[1] Johnson alleges that on May 13, 2015, MDTA officers stopped him for speeding (ECF 1, ¶¶ 15, 16) and then unlawfully detained and arrested him because he was “a possible fugitive from Albuquerque, New Mexico.” Id. ¶ 26.

         The suit was filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, asserting violations of Johnson's Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures; his Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights to equal protection and substantive due process; and his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. Id. ¶¶ 50-60. Moreover, plaintiff asserts that the MTA is liable because it maintains unconstitutional customs and policies that led to the violation of plaintiff's constitutional rights. See ECF 1, ¶¶ 4, 50-54.

         Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), MDOT, MTA, and MDTA (collectively, the “State”) have moved to dismiss (ECF 3), supported by a memorandum of law (ECF 3-1) (collectively, the “Motion”).[2] The State asserts that the Eleventh Amendment bars this suit, and that Johnson fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. ECF 3 at 3-6. Johnson opposes the Motion. ECF 7 (the “Opposition”). He also seeks “limited discovery” to identify the Doe Defendants. The State has replied. ECF 17 (the “Reply”).

         No hearing is necessary to resolve the Motion. See Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons that follow, I shall grant the Motion in part and deny it in part.

         I. Factual Background [3]

         On May 13, 2015, at approximately 4:30 p.m., Johnson was driving on Interstate 95 when he was stopped by John Doe #1, an officer employed by MDTA. ECF 1, ¶ 15. According to the Complaint, John Doe #1 told plaintiff that he was speeding, and that “he would need to see [plaintiff's] license and registration.” Id. ¶ 16. Johnson “complied with John Doe #1's request.” Id. ¶ 17. About three minutes later, “John Doe #1 came back to Plaintiff's car and asked him to step out.” Id. ¶ 18. Again, Johnson “complied with John Doe #1's request.” Id. ¶ 19.

         John Doe #1 then “ask[ed] Plaintiff if he had ever been to New Mexico.” Id. ¶ 20. Johnson responded that “he had not been to New Mexico.” Id. ¶ 21. Johnson “proceeded to ask John Doe #1 if this was about another individual named Reginald Johnson.” Id. ¶ 22. Johnson explained that “he had a similar problem trying to get his passport approximately four (‘4') years before the stop.” Id. Further, Johnson told John Doe #1 that the previous mix-up was resolved when he “brought documentation showing who he was, and the [official] had a picture of the ‘other' Reginald Johnson.” Id. ¶ 23. To this, John Doe #1 allegedly responded, “‘Ok' or something to that effect and told Plaintiff to get back into the car.” Id. ¶ 24.

         Shortly thereafter, John Doe #1 “called for backup.” Id. ¶ 25. After additional officers arrived at the scene, “Plaintiff was placed in handcuffs, ” and Johnson was told that “he was a possible fugitive from Albuquerque, New Mexico.” Id. ¶ 26. Johnson “asked John Doe #1 if there [was] any way to get a picture of the ‘other' Reginald Johnson because he believed that would clear everything up.” Id. ¶ 27. Thereafter, Johnson was transported to the Baltimore City Central Booking and Intake Center (“Central Booking”). Id. ¶ 29.

         Before Johnson was taken inside to Central Booking, “John Doe #1 said that if plaintiff's finger prints [sic] displayed ‘no hits' that they would not hold him and that he would take Plaintiff back to his car.” Id. ¶ 30. At Central Booking, Johnson “was fingerprinted and the monitor showed no hits.” Id. ¶ 31. Nevertheless, John Doe #2, a supervisor, told Johnson that “they would have to keep him.” Id. ¶ 32. Johnson avers that he again “asked officials to get the picture of the ‘other' Reginald Johnson.” Id. ¶ 33. According to Johnson, Jane Doe #3 then told him “something to the effect of ‘It is you and you are a fugitive from New Mexico and you will see the commissioner after 12:00AM, so you can take it up with him.'” Id. ¶ 34.

         Johnson states that his photo and additional fingerprints were taken, and he was then placed in a jail cell with another person. Id. ¶ 35. At approximately 1:00 a.m., Johnson met with the commissioner, John Doe #4, and Johnson asked him about the photo and the social security number. Id. ¶ 36. In response, John Doe #4 allegedly said “that he could not do anything about it and Plaintiff was a fugitive from New Mexico.” Id. ¶ 37. Johnson asserts that John Doe #4 then asked Johnson “several questions about his occupation, marital status, income, and living arrangement.” Id. ¶ 38. “John Doe #4 indicated that plaintiff would go before a judge in the morning at around 8:30AM to be extradited back to New Mexico.” Id. ¶ 39. Johnson was then placed in a group cell “with about ten (‘10') other inmates for several hours.” Id. ¶ 40.

         Later, Johnson “was given a psychological test, a prison suit, and breakfast.” Id. ¶ 41. Then, he was taken to another area of Central Booking, where he was “placed in another cell with another person who had multiple convictions for drugs, armed robbery, and gun possession for the rest of the night.” Id. ¶ 42.

         In the morning, when Johnson was “supposed to appear before a judge, ” court officials told him that he “was not on the list.” Id. ¶ 43. No. one was able to explain to Johnson why his hearing was canceled. Id. ¶ 45. For several more hours, Johnson sat in the holding cell “until he was called out for officials to draw his blood for a syphilis determination.” Id. ¶ 46. Once again, Johnson asked when he would see a judge, “but no one could tell Plaintiff anything.” Id. ¶ 47.

         The next day, on May 15, 2015, at approximately 8 p.m., Johnson was released, “without an apology.” Id. ¶ 49. This suit followed on April 12, 2018. ECF 1.

         Additional facts are included in the Discussion.

         II. Legal Standard

         As noted, the State has moved to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), for failure to state a claim. However, it also contends that plaintiff's claims are barred by sovereign immunity. See ECF 3-1. The Fourth Circuit recently reiterated that the defense of sovereign immunity is a jurisdictional bar, stating that “‘sovereign immunity deprives federal courts of jurisdiction to hear claims, and a court finding that a party is entitled to sovereign immunity must dismiss the action for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.'” Cunningham v. Gen. Dynamics Info. Tech., Inc., 888 F.3d 640, 649 (4th Cir. 2018) (quoting Ackerson v. Bean Dredging LLC, 589 F.3d 196, 207 (5th Cir. 2009)); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(h)(3) (stating that a court must dismiss an action if it lacks subject matter jurisdiction). Therefore, the State should have also brought the Motion under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

         Accordingly, the standards of review for Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) and Rule 12(b)(6) are relevant.

         A. Rule 12(b)(1)

         A test of subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1) may proceed “in one of two ways”: either a facial challenge, asserting that the allegations pleaded in the complaint are insufficient to establish subject matter jurisdiction, or a factual challenge, asserting “‘that the jurisdictional allegations of the complaint [are] not true.'” Kerns v. United States, 585 F.3d 187, 192 (4th Cir. 2009) (citation omitted); accord Durden v. United States, 736 F.3d 296, 300 (4th Cir. 2013). “When a defendant makes a facial challenge to subject matter jurisdiction, ‘the plaintiff, in effect, is afforded the same procedural protection as he would receive under a Rule 12(b)(6) consideration.'” Kerns, 585 F.3d at 192 (quoting Adams v. Bain, 697 F.2d 1213, 1219 (4th Cir. 1982)).

         A factual challenge, on the other hand, can also assert that facts outside the four corners of the complaint preclude the exercise of subject matter jurisdiction. Durden, 736 F.3d at 301. In considering a factual challenge, “the district court is entitled to decide disputed issues of fact with respect to subject matter jurisdiction.” Kerns, 585 F.3d at 192. In that circumstance, the court “may regard the pleadings as mere evidence on the issue and may consider evidence outside the pleadings without converting the proceeding to one for summary judgment.” Velasco v. Gov't of Indonesia, 370 F.3d 392, 398 (4th Cir. 2004); see also United States ex rel. Vuyyuru v. Jadhav, 555 F.3d 337, 347-48 (4th Cir. 2009) (“Unless ‘the jurisdictional facts are intertwined with the facts central to the merits of the dispute,' the district court may . . . resolve the jurisdictional facts in dispute by considering evidence . . . such as affidavits.” (citation omitted)).

         Here, with respect to the contention that plaintiff's claims are barred by Eleventh Amendment immunity, the Department seems to raise a facial challenge. Therefore, I shall assume the truth of Johnson's allegations.

         B. ...


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