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Jones v. Shanahan

United States District Court, D. Maryland

June 3, 2019

PATRICK SHANAHAN, et al., Defendants.


          Paula Xinis, United States District Judge.

         Pending before the Court are Defendant Henry P. Stawinski, III's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 18) and Defendant Patrick Shanahan's[1] motion to dismiss, or in the alternative, for summary judgment. ECF No. 27. The motions are fully briefed, and no hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6. For the following reasons, the Court grants both motions.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff Andre Jones retired from the Navy in 2003. ECF No. 1 ¶ 7. Three years later, the Navy certified him as a Naval Science Instructor (“NSI”). ECF No. 27-6 at 1. Certification is a prerequisite to teaching in the Naval Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (“NJROTC”). ECF No. 1 ¶ 38. Jones began teaching at the Bowie High School NJROTC in 2007. Id. ¶ 7.

         In October 2015, students broke into Jones' cellphone and discovered a photograph of a young man wearing only underwear.[2] Id. ¶ 17. The students believed the young man was a minor student attending a Prince George's County Public School. Id. ¶ 23. Jones, however, maintains that the young man was an adult and not a student. Id. Based on information learned from the students about the photograph, Detective Carpenter of the Prince George's County Police (“the Police”) arrested Jones, brought him to the precinct, and questioned him for an hour and a half. Id. ¶ 42. The Police also searched Jones' phone. Id. ¶ 19. Shortly thereafter, Jones was placed administrative leave and the Navy decertified Jones as a NSI, which rendered him ineligible to continue serving as an NJROTC instructor. Id. ¶¶ 49, 64.

         After exhausting administrative remedies, Jones filed suit against Dr. Kevin Maxwell as Chief Executive Officer of the Prince George's County Public School, Stawinski as Chief of Police, and the Secretary of Defense. ECF No. 1. Jones alleged violations of Title IX of the Education Amendment Act of 1972 (“Title IX”), 20 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq.; Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.; Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq.; the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution; “Maryland Privacy laws, and BHS Policy”; “Maryland's Human Rights law”; negligent supervision; and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

         Maxwell answered the Complaint. ECF No. 15. However, Stawinski and the Secretary of Defense filed dispositive motions that are now ripe for resolution. ECF Nos. 18, 27. The Court considers each motion separately.


         Failure to State a Claim against Stawinski

         A motion to dismiss brought pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of the complaint. Presley v. City of Charlottesville, 464 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Cir. 2006). The Court accepts “the well-pled allegations of the complaint as true, ” and construes all facts and reasonable inferences most favorably to the plaintiff. See Ibarra v. United States, 120 F.3d 472, 474 (4th Cir. 1997). To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint's factual allegations “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (citations omitted).

         Jones has brought claims against Stawinski in both his personal and official capacities as Chief of Police for allegedly violating Jones' constitutional rights during arrest. ECF No. 21-1 at 8. See Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165 (1985). Jones does not aver that Stawinski was involved in his arrest. Rather, Jones contends more generally that “the Police” arrested and detained him, then conducted a warrantless search of his cell phone without probable cause, all in violation of the Fourth Amendment. ECF No. 1 ¶ 19.

         When viewing the Complaint allegations as true and most favorably to Jones, the claims against Stawinski in his personal capacity must be dismissed. See Krumtum v. Crawford, No. 1:16CV00007, 2016 WL 4468275, at *3 (W.D. Va. Aug. 24, 2016). The Complaint is totally bereft of any facts by which the court could infer Stawinski's involvement. And even though Jones' opposition generally contends that Stawinski directed Detective Carpenter to arrest Jones without probable cause or an arrest warrant (ECF No. 21-1 at 2), the Complaint may not be amended by his brief in opposition to the motion. See Mathis v. McDonough, No. ELH-13-2597, 2014 WL 3894133, at *25 (D. Md. Aug. 7, 2014). Alternatively, even if the Court did consider the additional allegations in Jones' opposition, such allegations are similarly bare and conclusory. Jones provides no facts by which this Court could infer that Stawinski, as Chief of Police, played any part in Jones' arrest. Accordingly, the claims against Stawinski in his personal capacity are dismissed.

         Jones' claim against Stawinski in his official capacity likewise must be dismissed. A suit against an individual in his official capacity is “functionally equivalent to a suit against the municipality.” Flanagan v. Anne Arundel Cty., 593 F.Supp.2d 803, 809-10 (D. Md. 2009). Municipalities may be held liable for only constitutional violations committed pursuant to an official pattern, practice, policy or custom. Hunter v. Town of Mocksville, N.C. , 897 F.3d 538, 554 (4th Cir. 2018); Lytle v. Doyle, 326 F.3d 463, 471 (4th Cir. 2003). “[A] policy or custom may possibly be inferred from continued inaction in the face of a known history of widespread constitutional deprivations . . . .” Milligan v. City of Newport News, 743 F.2d 227, 229-30 (4th Cir. 1984). Mere institutional inaction “in the face of isolated constitutional deprivations by municipal employees, ” however, is insufficient to sustain such a claim against the municipality itself. Garcia v. Montgomery Cty., Md., No. JFM-12-3592, 2013 WL 4539394, at *4 (D. Md. Aug. 23, 2013) (quoting Milligan, 743 F.2d at 230).

         As to the “official capacity” claim, the Complaint asserts only that the Police acted “pursuant to a policy, practice, or custom that violates the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.” ECF No. 1 ¶ 131. The Complaint is devoid of any facts to support this bare contention. Because bare legal conclusions couched as factual allegations will not suffice, Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, dismissal is ...

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