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Hogan v. Carroll County

United States District Court, D. Maryland

December 7, 2018

STEVEN W. HOGAN
v.
CARROLL COUNTY, MARYLAND, et al

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Catherine C. Blake United States District Judge

         A serious altercation transpired between Steven W. Hogan and officers of the Westminster Police Department on July 14, 2016, in the yard outside Mr. Hogan's Westminster home. Subsequently, Mr. Hogan filed suit in this court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, naming Carroll . County, Maryland, Officer Michael Beaumont, and Sergeant Radcliffe Darby as defendants. At issue here are the defendants' motions to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment on Mr. Hogan's Second Amendment claim (Count I), his equal protection claim (Count II), and his excessive use of force claim (Count Hi). See Officer Defendants' Mot. Dismiss / Summ. J., ECF 3; Carroll County's Mot. Dismiss / Summ. J., ECF 4. The parties agree that Count I and Count II should be dismissed, although they disagree over whether that dismissal should be with prejudice. The Fourth Amendment excessive force claim, by contrast, is argued on the merits. Under the Heck doctrine, Count I and Count II will be dismissed without prejudice.[1] Because the officer's actions under the circumstances do not amount to excessive force under the Fourth Amendment, Count III will be dismissed with prejudice.

         BACKGROUND

         While certain aspects of what occurred are very much in dispute, the parties agree on the basic points of how the events of July 14, 2016, unfolded. The month prior; Mr. Hogan had been convicted of a state criminal offense rendering it unlawful for him to possess a firearm. (Compl. ¶ 15.) Mr. Hogan called the Westminster Police Department on the day in question, reporting a broken door. (Compl. ¶ 19.) Sergeant Lambert responded to the call. There ensued an encounter between Mr. Hogan and Sergeant Lambert at Mr. Hogan's doorway in which Mr. Hogan displayed, but did not hand over, a small silver Derringer firearm in his pocket.[2] (Compl. ¶ 20; Officer Defs' Mot. to Dismiss / Summ. J, Ex. A at p. 2, ECF No. 3.) Sergeant Lambert called for backup, and Officer Beaumont and Sergeant Darby, who both knew Mr. Hogan and of his prior conviction, responded. (Compl. ¶ 22.) The radio call specified that Mr. Hogan was armed with a handgun. (Pi's Opp'n Defs' Mot. Dismiss / Summ. J., Ex. 2, ECF No. 7.) While the play-by-play accounts of what happened next markedly diverge, a standoff of sorts came about in which all agree that words were exchanged, Mr. Hogan retreated into his home (perhaps more than once), retained control over the Derringer, and Sergeant Darby and Officer Beaumont each deployed a taser against Mr. Hogan and used force to effectuate his arrest. (Compl. ¶ 31-35.) Mr. Hogan was later convicted of unlawful possession of a firearm in violation of Md. Code of Pub. Safety § 5-133 but was acquitted of resisting arrest. (Pi's Opp'n Defs' Mot. Dismiss / Summ. J. at pp. 2-3, ECF No. 7.) He was sentenced to five years in prison, the statute's mandatory minimum. (Compl. ¶ 40.)

         ANALYSIS

         I. Standard of Review

         The defendants have moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) or, in the alternative, for summary judgment under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. A court considers only the pleadings when deciding a Rule I2(b)(6) motion. Where the parties present matters outside of the pleadings and the court considers those matters, as here, the motion is treated as one for summary judgment. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(d); Gadsby by Gadsby v. Grasmick, 109 F.3d 940, 949 (4th Cir. 1997); Paukstis v. Kenwood Golf & Country Club, Inc., 241 F.Supp.2d 551, 556 (D. Md. 2003). "There are two requirements for a proper Rule 12(d) conversion." Greater Baltimore Ctr. for Pregnancy Concerns, Inc. v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, 721 F.3d 264, 281 (4th Cir. 2013). First, all parties must "be given some indication by the court that it is treating the I2(b)(6) motion as a motion for summary judgment," which can be satisfied when a party is "aware that material outside the pleadings is before the court." Gay v. Wall, 761 F.2d 175, 177 (4th Cir. 1985); see also Laughlin v. Metro. Washington Airports Autk, 149 F.3d 253, 261 (4th Cir. 1998) (commenting that a court has no obligation "to notify parties of the obvious"). "[T]he second requirement for proper conversion of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion is that the parties first 'be afforded a reasonable opportunity for discovery.3" Greater Baltimore, 721 F.3d at 281.

         Here, the plaintiffs had adequate notice that the defendants' motions might be treated as those for summary judgment. The motions' alternative captions and attached materials are in themselves sufficient indicia. See Laughlin, 149 F.3d at 260-61. Moreover, the plaintiffs referred to the motions in their opposition brief as those for summary judgment and submitted additional; documentary exhibits. If the plaintiffs had thought they needed additional evidence to oppose summary judgment, Rule 56(d), which they have not invoked, afforded them the opportunity to seek further discovery through an affidavit. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(d); see also Greater Baltimore, 111 F.3d at 281 ("[The defendant] took 'the proper course' when it filed the Rule 56([d]) Affidavit, 'stating that it could not properly oppose ... summary judgment without a chance to conduct discovery.'") (citation omitted); Laughlin, 149 F.3d at 261 (refusing to overturn district court's grant of summary judgment on assertions of inadequate discovery when the nonmoving party failed to make an appropriate motion under Rule 56([d])). Therefore, the court will consider the affidavits and additional materials submitted by the parties and will treat the motions of the defendants as motions for summary judgment.

         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, Tolan 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. Discussion

         A. Heck Doctrine

         Count I and Count II will be dismissed without prejudice. Heck currently bars Mr. Hogan's claims, but if his conviction should somehow be set aside in the future, he may be permitted to file a new action. See Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 486-87 (1994) (stating that "to recover damages for allegedly unconstitutional conviction or imprisonment, or for other harm caused by actions whose unlawfulness would render a conviction or sentence invalid, a § 1983 plaintiff must prove that the conviction or sentence has been reversed on direct appeal, expunged by executive order, declared invalid by a state tribunal authorized to make such determination, or called into question by a federal court's issuance of a writ of habeas corpus, 28 U.S.C. § 2254. A claim for damages bearing that relationship to a conviction or sentence that has not been so invalidated is not cognizable under § 1983."). The court expresses no opinion on the merits, if any, of those future claims.

         B. Excessive Force

         Qualified immunity is an affirmative defense to liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 815 (1982). Qualified immunity shields government officials from liability for civil damages as long as "their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Harlow, 457 U.S. at 818. "Qualified immunity balances two important interests-the need to hold public officials accountable when they exercise power irresponsibly and the need to shield officials from harassment, distraction, and liability when they perform their duties reasonably." Pearson v. Callahan,555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009). Defendants bear the burden of proving their entitlement to qualified immunity. Danser v. Stansberry,777 F.3d 340, 345 (4th Cir. 2014). To prevail on a qualified immunity defense, a government official must demonstrate either (1) that the facts, construed in the plaintiffs favor, do not constitute ...


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