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Latimer v. Jones

United States District Court, D. Maryland

May 16, 2019

ANTHONY LEON LATIMER, a/k/a Gerrald Smith, SID #1956719 Plaintiff
v.
BEN JONES, et al., Defendants

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          PAULA XINIS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Anthony Leon Latimer has filed a civil rights Complaint alleging that a law enforcement officer, prosecutor, and judge involved in his state criminal proceedings violated his constitutional rights by failing to grant Latimer immunity under Maryland's Good Samaritan Statute. ECF No. 1 at 2-5. Defendants Dwyer and Hansen have moved to dismiss the Complaint, ECF No. 21, and Defendant Jones has filed a Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 33. Latimer has responded to both motions, ECF Nos. 34, 38, and has separately moved for appointment of counsel and for summary judgment in his favor. ECF Nos. 39, 40. The Court has reviewed the pleadings and finds no hearing is necessary. See D. Md. Loc. R. 105.6. For the following reasons, Dwyer and Hansen's Motion to Dismiss is granted; Jones' Motion, construed as a Motion for Summary Judgment, is granted; and Plaintiff's motions are denied.

         I. Background

         On the evening of April 11, 2016, Latimer was locked out of his house that he shared with his then girlfriend (“Jane Doe” or “Doe”). Latimer tried to reach Doe by phone but received no response. ECF No. 1 at 1; ECF No. 38 at 1. Latimer then called 911 for assistance. Deputies Peyton and Angelini of the Washington County Sheriff's Department responded in person to the residence. ECF No. 1 at 1; ECF No. 33-6. The deputies told Latimer that they could not force entry into the home because the deputies had no basis to justify the intrusion. ECF No. 1 at 1; ECF No. 33-6 at 1. Latimer and the deputies found an unlocked window through which Latimer climbed into the home and then opened the front door, as instructed. ECF No. 1 at 2; ECF No. 33-6 at 1. After entering the apartment, Latimer “observed his girlfriend deceased from an apparent overdose.” ECF No. 1 at 2.[1]

         The Complaint provides few details about what happened next. Latimer contends that he was ultimately arrested for “contraband later found on his late girlfriend's person and effects” and was held without bail for nine months as the result of a fraudulently obtained search warrant. Id. The Complaint avers that Detective Jones supposedly falsified two controlled purchases and fabricated an investigation against Latimer in the affidavit to obtain the search warrant. Id.

         The record evidence submitted by Jones reflects the following series of events. After arriving at the scene, Officer Peyton first “scanned the room for evidence of the cause of death, ” but did not find anything of evidentiary value. ECF No. 33-6 at 2. Peyton continued to search the bedroom where he found in plain view “a twisted corner of a clear sandwich baggie on the nightstand that contained a thumb-size portion of a white substance” consistent with cocaine or heroin. Id. Peyton then asked for a detective to respond to the scene. Sergeant Howard assumed responsibility for the investigation. Id.; ECF No. 33-7.

         Howard found an empty cellophane wrapper and credit card, both with white powder residue, near Doe's body, leading him to believe that Doe had overdosed. Howard contacted the Washington County Narcotics Task Force and Officer Shifflett responded to the scene. ECF No 33-7 at 2. In the interim, an investigator for the Office of the Medical Examiner discovered “two large plastic bags containing a whitish powdery substance in the pocket of the sweat shirt that [Doe] was wearing.” Id.

         Based on the evidence gathered, Shifflett obtained permission from the State's Attorney's office to seek a search warrant for the entire residence. Shifflett and Howard secured the residence while Jones took next steps regarding the warrant. Id.; see also ECF No. 33-3. Specifically, Jones summarized the evidence in a probable cause affidavit supporting the search warrant. The affidavit stated that Jones “avers that based upon the two (2) above described controlled purchases as well as other investigation by your Affiant that there is probable cause to believe that” drugs and related evidence were being concealed at Doe and Plaintiff's apartment. ECF No. 33-3 at 7 (strike-through in original). Next to the stricken portion of the affidavit, Jones placed his initials and badge number. Id. Jones attests that he presented the warrant application to the Honorable M. Kenneth Long, Jr. of the Circuit Court for Washington County at his residence at 2:42 a.m. on April 12, 2016. ECF No. 33-2 at 2. It was Judge Long who noted the erroneous reference to two purchases and other investigation in the affidavit and instructed Jones to strike through the reference which had been included in “inadvertent error.” Judge Long then authorized the warrant. ECF No. 33-2 at 3 (internal citations omitted).

         During the execution of the search warrant, officers recovered a larger quantity of controlled substances in a Louis Vuitton travel bag located in the master bedroom's closet. ECF No. 33-4; ECF No. 33-5; ECF No. 33-6 at 2, 4. Also located in the master bedroom were a dozen cell phones, a digital scale, and a cutting agent. Latimer was arrested and charged with four counts of possession with intent to distribute controlled substances, four counts of simple possession of controlled substances, and one count of possession of drug paraphernalia. ECF No. 38-2 at 3-4. Latimer was detained pending trial. On September 15, 2016, the presiding Judge (not Judge Dwyer) dismissed the simple possession and paraphernalia charges (Counts 5 through 9 of the Indictment) pursuant to section § 1-210 of the Maryland Code of Criminal Procedure, known as the “Good Samaritan Statute.” Id. at 5-6. The Court denied dismissal of the remaining counts and the matter was set for trial. Id. at 6.

         On December 15, 2016, a jury trial was held on the remaining four charges over which Judge Dwyer presided. Defendant Hansen, an Assistant State's Attorney, prosecuted the case. Ultimately, the jury acquitted Latimer of all charges. Id.

         On July 19, 2018, Latimer filed suit in this Court against Jones, Hansen, and Dwyer, alleging that because he was immune from criminal prosecution under the Good Samaritan Statute, the Defendants collectively violated his Fifth Amendment Due Process rights by trying him criminally. Latimer avers that Jones lied about two controlled substance purchases to obtain the warrant and did so knowing that Latimer was immune from prosecution. Id. at 2-3. Latimer does not dispute that Jones had stricken the reference to “purchases, ” but nonetheless maintains that the stricken language renders the warrant “fraudulently obtained” and evinces “malicious and sadistic intent.” ECF No. 1 at 3; ECF No. 38 at 2-3.

         II. Standard of Review

         Reviewing a motion to dismiss brought pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Court accepts all well-pleaded allegations of the complaint as true and construes the facts and reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Venkatraman v. REI Sys., Inc., 417 F.3d 418, 420 (4th Cir. 2005) (citing Mylan Labs., Inc. v. Matkari, 7 F.3d 1130, 1134 (4th Cir. 1993)). To survive dismissal, the plaintiff must do more than aver bare legal “conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quotation marks and brackets omitted). “Once a claim has been stated adequately, it may be supported by showing any set of facts consistent with the allegations in the complaint.” Id. at 563. “A claim has facial plausibility 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. at 678. “But where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged -- but it has not ‘show[n]' -- ‘that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” Id. at 679 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). Although pro se pleadings are construed liberally to allow for the development of a potentially meritorious case, Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5, 9 (1980), a court cannot ignore a clear failure to allege facts setting forth a cognizable claim. See Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387, 391 (4th Cir. 1990) (“The ‘special judicial solicitude' with which a district court should view such pro se complaints does not transform the court into an advocate.”).

         The Court may alternatively convert a motion to dismiss into one for summary judgment when considering evidence outside the four corners of the Complaint. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d). Before doing so, the nonmoving party must be given “a reasonable opportunity to present all the material that is pertinent to the motion.” Id. Where the nonmoving party opposes the Court's treating the motion as one for summary judgment, the party must submit by declaration the “specified reasons” for needing additional factual development or otherwise put the district court on notice of the reasons why summary judgment is premature. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(d). See also Harrods, Ltd. v. Sixty Internet Domain Names, 302 F.3d 214, 244-45 (4th Cir. 2002). “[T]o justify a denial of summary judgment on the grounds that additional discovery is necessary, the facts identified in a Rule 56 affidavit must be ‘essential to [the] opposition.'” Scott v. Nuvell Fin. Servs., LLC, 789 F.Supp.2d 637, 641 (D. Md. 2011) (alteration in original) (citation omitted). However, the Court ...


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