United States District Court, D. Maryland
ALEX O. PEPRAH, Plaintiff,
CPL. G. WILLIAMS, et al., Defendants.
L. RUSSELL, III UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
MATTER is before the Court on Defendants CPL. G. Williams,
PFC. Lux, DFC. Gregory, D/CPL. Zammillo (collectively, the
“Officer Defendants”), and Howard County,
Maryland's Motion to Dismiss Counts I, III, IV, and V
(ECF No. 15) and Motion to Bifurcate Counts III and IV (ECF
No. 16). This 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action arises from the
June 2, 2015 arrest of Plaintiff Alex O. Peprah. The Motions
are ripe for disposition, and no hearing is necessary.
See Local Rule 105.6 (D.Md. 2018). For the reasons
outlined below, the Court will grant in part and deny in part
the Motion to Dismiss and grant in part and deny as moot in
part the Motion to Bifurcate.
is a fifty-one-year-old black man from Ghana. (Compl. ¶
29). At the time of his June 2, 2015 arrest, he occasionally
worked for Uber,  driving a black Volkswagen Passat.
(Id. ¶¶ 18, 29). On June 2, 2015, Peprah
drove a friend and frequent Uber client to Wild Lilac Lane in
Laurel, Maryland. (Id. ¶ 19). After dropping
off his friend, Peprah turned onto Phelps Luck Drive and
proceeded southward. (Id. ¶¶ 22, 31).
Shortly thereafter, three police cruisers began trailing
Peprah. (Id. ¶¶ 31-33). Corporal Williams,
who was driving one of the three cruisers, initiated a
traffic stop of Peprah's car. (Id. ¶ 5).
Corporal Williams ordered Peprah to roll down his window and
stick out his hands. (Id. ¶¶ 5, 33).
Peprah immediately complied. (Id. ¶¶ 5,
33). Two police officers approached the driver's side of
Peprah's car. (Id. ¶ 35). Even though
Peprah was still wearing his seatbelt, an unidentified
uniformed officer, Defendant John Doe, grabbed both of
Peprah's wrists and attempted to pull Peprah out of the
car. (Id.). Another officer in plainclothes, PFC
Lux, put Peprah's car in park and unbuckled Peprah's
seat belt. (Id. ¶ 36). The two officers then
dragged Peprah out of his car to the middle of the
intersection. (Id. ¶ 38). Peprah was then
forcibly struck “on the left side of his lower back by
a hard object, ” which caused him to fall to his knees.
(Id. ¶¶ 40-41). As he was falling, the
uniformed officer jerked Peprah's hands forward, so that
he fell to the ground chest-first. (Id. ¶ 41).
The officers then handcuffed Peprah. (Id. ¶
42). Neither of the arresting officers gave Peprah any verbal
commands or questioned him. (Id. ¶ 37). Peprah
could only hear the commands of a third officer who
repeatedly told him “don't move!”
unidentified officer placed Peprah in a police cruiser, and
he was detained for well over an hour while his car was
searched. (Id. ¶ 45). At an unspecified time,
Detectives Gregory and Zammillo removed Peprah's cuffs.
(Id. ¶ 47). They then interrogated Peprah for
approximately forty-five minutes. (Id.). Eventually,
and without explanation, Peprah was released. (Id.
¶ 50). He was not charged with any crime.
(Id.). The police officers were apparently searching
for a black male suspect who robbed a Verizon store earlier
that day. (Id. ¶¶ 23-28).
April 5, 2018, Peprah sued Defendants. (ECF No. 1).
Peprah's five-Count Complaint alleges: violations of the
Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S.
Constitution against Officer Defendants (Count I); violations
of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution against
Officer Defendants (Count II); a
Monellclaim for violations of the Fourteenth
Amendment against Howard County (Count III); a
Monell claim for violations of the Fourth Amendment
against Howard County (Count IV); and violations of the Equal
Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S.
Constitution (Count V). (Compl. ¶¶ 72-118). Peprah
brings all claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (2018).
(Id.). Peprah seeks monetary relief. (Id.
at 14, 16, 19, 20-22).
filed their Motion to Dismiss Counts I, III, IV, and V on
April 30, 2018. (ECF No. 15). On May 14, 2018, Peprah filed
an Opposition. (ECF No. 19). On May 24, 2018, Defendants
filed a Reply. (ECF No. 21).
filed their Motion to Bifurcate Counts III and IV on April
30, 2018. (ECF No. 16). On May 14, 2018, Peprah filed an
Opposition. (ECF No. 20). On May 29, 2018, Defendants filed a
Reply. (ECF No. 22).
Motion to Dismiss
Standard of Review
purpose of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion is to “test the
sufficiency of a complaint, ” not to “resolve
contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the
applicability of defenses.” King v.
Rubenstein, 825 F.3d 206, 214 (4th Cir. 2016) (quoting
Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th
Cir. 1999)). A complaint fails to state a claim if it does
not contain “a short and plain statement of the claim
showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), or does not “state a claim to
relief that is plausible on its face, ” Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl.
Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is
facially plausible “when the plaintiff pleads factual
content that allows the court to draw the reasonable
inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct
alleged.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550
U.S. at 556). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a
cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do
not suffice.” Id. (citing Twombly,
550 U.S. at 555). Though the plaintiff is not required to
forecast evidence to prove the elements of the claim, the
complaint must allege sufficient facts to establish each
element. Goss v. Bank of Am., N.A., 917 F.Supp.2d
445, 449 (D.Md. 2013) (quoting Walters v. McMahen,
684 F.3d 435, 439 (4th Cir. 2012)), aff'd sub
nom., Goss v. Bank of Am., NA, 546 Fed.Appx.
165 (4th Cir. 2013).
considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a 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) (citing Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232,
236 (1974)). But, the court need not accept unsupported or
conclusory factual allegations devoid of any reference to
actual events, United Black Firefighters v. Hirst,
604 F.2d 844, 847 (4th Cir. 1979), or legal conclusions
couched as factual allegations, Iqbal, 556 U.S. at
678. Finally, the Court must be “especially
solicitous” of wrongs alleged in § 1983 causes of
action, and should not grant a motion to dismiss in a §
1983 case “unless it appears to a certainty that the
plaintiff would not be entitled to relief under any legal
theory [that] might plausibly be suggested by the facts
alleged.” Harrison v. U.S. Postal Serv., 840
F.2d 1149, 1152 (4th Cir. 1988) (quoting Canty v. City of
Richmond, Va. Police Dep't, 383 F.Supp. 1396, 1399
(E.D.Va. 1974), aff'd sub nom. Canty v. Brown,
526 F.2d 587 (4th Cir. 1975)).
make three arguments in favor of dismissing Peprah's
Complaint. First, they contend that Peprah's Fourteenth
Amendment due process claim fails because he does not state a
claim for violations of substantive due process or procedural
due process. They also contend that he cannot state a claim
for excessive force incident to arrest under the Fourteenth
Amendment. Second, they maintain that Peprah fails to
plausibly allege an equal protection violation. Third, they
assert that Peprah fails to state Monell claims. The
Court considers each argument in turn.
Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Claims
Substantive Due Process
alleges that Defendants violated his Fourteenth Amendment
substantive due process rights to be free from “summary
punishment and excessive and unreasonable force” when
Defendants forcibly detained him on June 2, 2015. (Compl.
¶ 75). Defendants contend that Peprah's substantive
due process claims are properly brought under the Fourth
Amendment, not the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court agrees
U.S. Supreme Court has held that “all claims
that law enforcement officers have used excessive
force-deadly or not-in the course of an arrest, investigatory
stop, or other ‘seizure' of a free citizen should
be analyzed under the Fourth Amendment and its
‘reasonableness' standard, rather than under a
‘substantive due process' approach.”
Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 395 (1989); see
Estate of Armstrong ex rel. Armstrong v. Vill. of
Pinehurst, 810 F.3d 892, 899 (4th Cir. 2016) (analyzing
excessive force claim under Fourth Amendment). Because Peprah
alleges that Defendants used excessive force in the course of
his arrest, his substantive due process claim is properly
brought under the Fourth Amendment, not the Fourteenth
Peprah contends that he states substantive due process claims
under the Fourth Amendment. Peprah cites to Rochin v.
California, 342 U.S. 165 (1952), in support of his
argument that, notwithstanding Graham, the
substantive due process clause provides an independent source
of protection against summary punishment by police officers
in the course of arrest. (Pl.'s Opp'n Defs.' Mot.
Dismiss [“Pl.'s Opp'n”] at 6, ECF No.
19). But Rochin predates Graham, and the
Supreme Court has explicitly stated that under the framework
set forth in Graham, Rochin would be
treated under the Fourth Amendment rather than the Fourteenth
Amendment. Cty. of Sacramento v. Lewis, 523 U.S.
833, 849 n.9 (1998).
remaining cases Peprah cites-Jenkins v. Averett, 424
F.2d 1228 (4th Cir. 1970), and Johnson v. Glick, 481
F.2d 1028 (2d Cir. 1973)-are similarly inapposite.
Jenkins involves a violation of the Fourth
Amendment, not the Fourteenth Amendment. See
Jenkins, 424 F.2d at 1231-32. Johnson deals
with a purported constitutional violation that occurred after
the plaintiff was already in custody, and therefore does not
fit within Graham's framework for excessive
force claims that occur in the course of arrest.
See Johnson, 481 F.2d 1028; see also Orem v.
Rephann, 523 F.3d 442, 449 (4th Cir. 2008) (Shedd, J.,
concurring) (explaining that under Fourth Circuit
jurisprudence, the Fourth Amendment governs excessive force
claims that arise from conduct occurring before and during
arrest, and the Fourteenth Amendment governs excessive force
claims that arise after arrest). Peprah, therefore, fails to
state a summary punishment or excessive force claim under the
Procedural Due Process
alleges that Officer Defendants violated his procedural due
process rights by arresting him on the basis of race and
“subjecting him to physical beating and arrest”
without reasonable suspicion or probable cause. (Pl.'s
Opp'n at 7). But the Supreme Court and the Fourth Circuit
have been clear in holding that the Fourth Amendment not only
“provides an explicit textual source of constitutional
protection against [unreasonable seizures and arrests],
” but also “define[s] the ‘process that is
due' for seizures of persons or property in criminal
cases.” Safar v. Tingle, 859 F.3d 241, 245
(4th Cir. 2017) (first quoting Graham, 490 U.S. at
395, and then quoting Gerstein v. Pugh, 420 U.S.
103, 125 n.27 (1975)). As the Gerstein Court
recognized, the Supreme Court's procedural due process
cases that arise in the civil context, and their progeny,
which Peprah relies upon,  “are inapposite and irrelevant in
the wholly different context of the criminal justice
system.” Gerstein, 420 U.S. at 125 n.27.
Peprah, therefore, fails to state a procedural due process
claim under the Fourteenth Amendment.
the Court concludes that Peprah fails to state a substantive
or a procedural due process claim. Accordingly, the Court,
therefore, will grant Defendants' Motion as to Count I.
Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection Claim
argue that Peprah fails to state a claim for violations of
the Equal Protection Clause of the ...