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Graves v. Lioi

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

July 16, 2019

EUNICE GRAVES, Plaintiff - Appellant,
v.
DANIEL A. LIOI; MELVIN RUSSELL, Major, Defendants - Appellees and CARLIN ROBINSON, individually, as Guardian and next Friend of I.Y., M.Y. and A.Y., and as Personal Representative of the Estate of Veronica Williams, Deceased, Plaintiff, and BALTIMORE CITY POLICE DEPARTMENT, Defendant, CLEAVEN L. WILLIAMS, JR., Defendant. CARLIN ROBINSON, individually, as Guardian and next Friend of I.Y., M.Y. and A.Y., and as Personal Representative of the Estate of Veronica Williams, Deceased, Plaintiff - Appellant, and EUNICE GRAVES, Plaintiff,
v.
DANIEL A. LIOI; MELVIN RUSSELL, Major, Defendants - Appellees, and BALTIMORE CITY POLICE DEPARTMENT, Defendant, CLEAVEN L. WILLIAMS, JR., Defendant.

          Argued: September 26, 2018

          Appeals from the United States District Court for the District of Maryland, at Baltimore. Catherine C. Blake, District Judge. (1:12-cv-00192-CCB).

         ARGUED:

          Cary Johnson Hansel, III, HANSEL LAW, P.C., Baltimore, Maryland, for Appellants.

          Elisabeth Susanne Walden, BALTIMORE CITY LAW DEPARTMENT, Baltimore, Maryland, for Appellees.

         ON BRIEF:

          Daniel L. Cox, THE COX LAW CENTER, LLC, Emmitsburg, Maryland, for Appellants.

          Suzanne Sangree, Senior Public Safety Counsel, Daniel C. Beck, Chief of Police Legal Affairs, Kara K. Lynch, Assistant Solicitor, BALTIMORE CITY LAW DEPARTMENT, Baltimore, Maryland, for Appellees.

          Before GREGORY, Chief Judge, and NIEMEYER and AGEE, Circuit Judges.

          Agee, Circuit Judge.

         Cleaven Williams stabbed his pregnant wife, Veronica ("Mrs. Williams"), outside a Baltimore, Maryland, courthouse where she had just obtained a protective order against him. Mrs. Williams and her unborn child died from their injuries a few days later. Carlin Robinson, the Personal Representative of Mrs. Williams' estate and Guardian and Next Friend of her children, and Eunice Graves, Mrs. Williams' mother, filed federal and state claims against Baltimore City Police Department (BCPD) officer Daniel A. Lioi. The Complaint alleged that Lioi was responsible for Mrs. Williams' death because he enabled Williams to postpone his self-surrender on a misdemeanor arrest warrant, which provided Williams the opportunity to murder his wife.

         We previously affirmed, on interlocutory appeal, the district court's denial of Lioi's motion to dismiss the claims against him as being barred by qualified immunity. Robinson v. Lioi, 536 Fed.Appx. 340 (4th Cir. 2013). Thereafter, Robinson and Graves (collectively "Robinson") amended their complaint to add another BCPD officer, Major Melvin Russell, as a defendant. Following discovery, the district court granted summary judgment to both officers, Robinson v. Lioi, No. 1:12-cv-00192-CCB, 2017 WL 2937568 (D. Md. June 30, 2017), concluding that the evidence was not sufficient to allow a verdict in Robinson's favor and, in the alternative, the officers were entitled to qualified and public official immunity.

         Robinson now appeals. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm the judgment of the district court.

         I.

         In reviewing the propriety of granting summary judgment, we consider the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, here, Robinson, and draw all reasonable inferences in her favor. See Doe v. Rosa, 795 F.3d 429, 436 (4th Cir. 2015).

         A.

         In the summer of 2008, Williams met Deputy Major Lioi and Major Russell of the BCPD's Eastern District in the course of Williams' role as the president of a Baltimore-area community association. The men interacted at a handful of civic events that summer and fall.

         The events forming the basis of Robinson's claims occurred over a nine-day period from Sunday, November 9, 2008, when a misdemeanor arrest warrant was issued for Williams' arrest, to Monday, November 17, 2008, when Williams fatally stabbed his pregnant wife.

         On the evening of Sunday, November 9, Mrs. Williams obtained a temporary protective order against Williams based on an assault that occurred the prior month in which he physically restrained her and cut off some of her hair. Based on the same incident, the Baltimore City Court Commissioner also issued an arrest warrant for Williams charging him with the misdemeanor offenses of second-degree assault and unauthorized removal of property.

         Minutes after the warrant issued, a police dispatcher notified BCPD Officer Jose Arroyo that a misdemeanor warrant was ready to be picked up from the Court Commissioner's office.[1] Had Arroyo followed normal procedure, he would have taken the warrant directly to the "hot desk" at Central Records to have it logged into the police computer database. J.A. 575. Instead, Arroyo took the warrant to the BCPD's Eastern District office. Arroyo indicated that he sometimes bypassed the normal procedure if a supervisor ordered him to do so, but he could not remember whether anyone had issued such an order regarding this warrant. Nor could he provide any explanation for why he deviated from the procedure this time.

         After Arroyo arrived at the Eastern District, an unidentified person instructed him to leave the arrest warrant on the desk handling the Sector 1 region. Arroyo could not recall who told him to leave the warrant there, or why, but the address listed on the warrant for Williams was located in Sector 1. Arroyo knew both Lioi and Russell, and when he was specifically asked if Russell or Lioi had instructed him to bring the warrant to the Eastern District, Arroyo testified that he "d[id]n't recall." J.A. 578. He then clarified that, given the chain of command, he would not have received an order directly from either officer and that he "d[id]n't know" whether either of them had given such an instruction to someone else. J.A. 579-80.

         At some point over the weekend, Williams contacted Russell and was concerned that his wife "got papers on him." J.A. 706. Williams asked Russell if he could find out what happened.[2] In his deposition, Russell stated that he first learned of the arrest warrant when he returned to work on Monday or Tuesday (November 10 or 11) and Officer Adrienne Byrd showed it to him.[3] Russell had observed Byrd holding the warrant for Williams in her hands, but he testified that he never took physical possession of the warrant at that time or later.

         Russell later spoke with Williams, confirming that there was a warrant for his arrest and encouraging him to turn himself in. J.A. 451-54, 707. Russell advised that Williams should not wait to turn himself in because if he were arrested on a Friday and his arraignment were to be delayed, he could be detained over the weekend.

         Beginning on Monday, police officers attempted to arrest Williams at his residence, but were unsuccessful. J.A. 112, 451-52, 485, 707-08, 762, 815. Russell said he personally went by Williams' residence to arrest him "once, maybe twice," but it was dark and no one answered the door. J.A. 451.

         On Wednesday (November 12), Williams texted Russell to say that he would like to turn himself in the following Tuesday in order to have time to raise sufficient bond money. Russell called Williams and encouraged him to turn himself in without delay. J.A. 451-52, 482-83. Later that afternoon, Russell informed Lioi-who was the next senior officer in the Eastern District-that Williams would be turning himself in the next evening. Russell asked Lioi to oversee the process because Russell was not scheduled to work Thursday evening.[4]

         On Thursday afternoon (November 13), Williams texted Russell that he was "running behind," but "should be there in 15." J.A. 480. Russell replied, "K." J.A. 480. Both men stated in their depositions that the texts referred to Williams self-surrendering, but Williams did not show up at the station that afternoon.

         Instead, at about 9:00 p.m., Williams arrived at the Eastern District to self-surrender. Lioi called Central Records to get the arrest warrant and learned that it had not been logged into their database and they did not have the warrant. Lioi enlisted help in searching for the warrant at the Eastern District and in calling other possible locations, but no one could locate it. For example, Lioi called Russell to see if he could help them locate the warrant, but Russell did not answer his phone, so Lioi left him a voice mail message. And when Lioi called the court commissioner, he was told "that the warrant possibly could be at the North Avenue Courthouse," which he also tried to reach, but it was closed for the night. J.A. 562.

         After concluding that they were not going to promptly locate the arrest warrant, Lioi allowed Williams to leave the Eastern District station so long as he agreed to return once they found the warrant. Williams agreed and asked if he could self-surrender after the weekend. He mentioned having several things to do and not wanting to risk being detained if the arraignment was delayed on Friday. It's not clear from the record what agreement Lioi and Williams reached at that time, but Williams departed the police station.

         Shortly thereafter, Russell returned Lioi's call and recommended that Lioi contact Byrd because he had seen her with the warrant earlier that week and believed she had attempted to arrest Williams. In addition, Russell suggested that Lioi search Byrd's patrol car for the paperwork.

         After Russell's call, Sergeant Todd Tugya, who was helping Lioi search for the warrant, telephoned Byrd. She "advised that she did, indeed, have possession of the warrant . . . and that she had attempted to serve it. However, she advised that she left the warrant in the visor of her patrol car because she intended to continue her attempts to serve it on her next shift." J.A. 112. She told Tugya which patrol car she had used, so that they could search it.[5] Just after midnight on Friday (November 14), officers located the warrant over the visor of Byrd's patrol car.

         Later that day, Lioi "confirmed" with Russell that Williams could self-surrender after the weekend. J.A. 277. Russell indicated to Lioi that was "fine." J.A. 277. Lioi also called Williams to let him know they had found the warrant and he needed to turn himself in. Williams indicated he would self-surrender on Tuesday, and Lioi agreed.

         Later that evening, Williams contacted Lioi and said that he was meeting with his lawyers to prepare for his criminal case. Williams suggested that having a letter explaining that he had attempted to self-surrender, but that the warrant could not be located, may help him in court. Lioi agreed to write the letter because those were "the facts." J.A. 285. His letter explained that Williams had been "very cooperative and willing to turn himself in" but that Central Records did not have the warrant on file and had "advised that the warrant was being held at North Avenue Court House, which was closed for the night." J.A. 631.

         Williams later asked Lioi for a second letter because his lawyers had discovered an arrest warrant from another Maryland locality charging a "Cleaven Williams" with offenses unrelated to those known to be pending against him. Williams asked Lioi to write about that warrant, too; Lioi provided a letter stating that he had reviewed the other arrest warrant and observed that it contained minimal identifying information about the named individual, referenced an address that "[t]o [Lioi's] understanding[, ] [Williams] had never resided at," and that the wanted individual "should not be considered to be [Williams] based on the name alone." J.A. 632. In texting about the letters, Williams asked Lioi for "an overview of the night" and "not too much detail." J.A. 101. When Lioi agreed, Williams expressed his appreciation, texting "There is a method to my madness:/," to which Lioi replied, "That's what I'm afraid of." J.A. 101.

On Monday afternoon (November 17), Williams and Lioi exchanged another set of text messages-
[Williams:] . . . I just left my home 2 meet w/my lawyer…I saw my wife drive by…can I go home or what?
[Lioi:] I wouldn't be alone with her. She could say you did anything. Have a witness with you if you meet.
[Williams:] Thanks Dan[.]
[Williams:] Can she do another protection order & try 2 keep me from the house?
[Lioi:] She could. I would avoid her. She could call the police and say u have the warrant and she is afraid of you. It would force our hand to serve the warrant.

J.A. 559. Williams later called Lioi from his lawyer's office to discuss the two warrants again, at which time Lioi "t[old] him that he should, you know, turn himself in, the weekend's over, let's get this taken care of today." J.A. 286. Williams indicated Tuesday was still better, and Lioi told him to call after leaving the lawyer's office.

         A few hours later, Williams stabbed his wife, which resulted in her death and that of her unborn child.[6]

         B.

         Robinson filed a complaint in Maryland state court alleging that Lioi was liable for Mrs. Williams' death under several state and federal laws. Lioi removed the case to the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland and moved to dismiss on the basis of qualified immunity.[7] The district court denied Lioi's motion. He appealed, and we affirmed in an unpublished decision. Robinson, 536 Fed.Appx. at 340.

         Critically, our decision on the motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) necessarily accepted as true all of the allegations in Robinson's Complaint. Id. at 341. On that basis, we concluded that the Complaint adequately alleged that Lioi engaged in affirmative acts that could make him liable to Robinson for a violation of Mrs. Williams' due process rights under the state-created danger doctrine. Id. at 343-44 (discussing the development of the doctrine that had its genesis in DeShaney v. Winnebago Cty. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 489 U.S. 189 (1989)). Robinson alleged that Lioi "withheld the warrant [from the unit that should have served it] so that [the Eastern District] could retain control over whether it would be served or not;" "warned Mr. Williams of the warrant and their feigned efforts to serve him;" "purposefully refused to serve or arrest [Williams when he self-surrendered], falsely claiming instead that the warrant allegedly could not be found. This was an intentional and malicious act . . . for the purpose of allowing Mr. Williams to remain free despite the warrant;" and "placed Mrs. Williams in a police-created zone of danger by intentionally conspiring with Mr. Williams to permit him to remain free despite ample opportunity to arrest him." Complaint at 4-5, 9, Robinson v. Lioi, No. 1:12-cv-00192-CCB, 2012 WL 2992251 (D. Md. July 18, 2012), ECF No. 2.

         When we considered whether Lioi was entitled to dismissal of the claims against him, we specifically pointed to these allegations as the basis for our decision. Robinson, 536 Fed.Appx. at 341, 344. We concluded that, as a whole, these allegations encompassed affirmative acts that could have "directly enabled" Williams to harm Mrs. Williams. Id. at 345. Accordingly, we held that the Complaint adequately alleged a due process violation for Rule 12(b)(6) purposes.

         In so doing, we rejected Lioi's reliance on Town of Castle Rock v. Gonzales, 545 U.S. 748 (2005), in which the Supreme Court held that no due process violation occurred when police officers failed to enforce a restraining order. Robinson, 536 Fed.Appx. at 345. We explained that "Lioi's alleged conduct in this case was not confined to a failure to execute [an] arrest warrant," but rather included allegations that he "affirmatively acted to interfere with execution of the warrant by conspiring with Cleaven Williams to evade capture and remain at large." Id.

         C.

         After Lioi's prior appeal, Robinson amended her Complaint to add Russell as a defendant. She alleged the following claims against both officers: violation of Mrs. Williams' due process rights, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983; conspiracy to violate Mrs. Williams' constitutional rights, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1985; and numerous Maryland state law claims.[8] The alleged factual basis of the claims remained substantively the same as in her original Complaint.

         After discovery, Lioi and Russell moved for summary judgment, challenging the substantive claims and arguing that they were entitled to qualified immunity on the federal claims and to public official immunity on the state claims. In addition to deposition statements, affidavits, and other records from the participants in the events described above, Lioi and Russell submitted an affidavit from an expert witness, Stanford O'Neill Franklin, an officer with thirty-four years of law enforcement experience in Maryland, including time with the BCPD. In relevant part, Franklin stated that, in his experience, if Williams had "been arrested and processed" following his Thursday evening self-surrender, "he would have been released within 24 hours on his personal recognizance, or required to post minimum bail, which means he would have been back on the street by Saturday morning, November 15, 2008." J.A. 127-28.

         The district court awarded summary judgment to Lioi and Russell. Robinson, 2017 WL 2937568, at *14. It concluded that a jury could not find in favor of Robinson on the substantive question of whether the officers' conduct constituted a state-created danger because Robinson's evidence did not show that Lioi and Russell "committed affirmative acts that created or enhanced the danger to" Mrs. Williams. Id. at *9. The district court held in the alternative that Lioi and Russell were entitled to qualified immunity because, even if a violation had occurred, it was not clearly established. The court explained: "the facts are not sufficient to show that a reasonable officer in either defendant's position would have understood he was violating" Mrs. Williams' rights by "using [his] discretion not to aggressively serve an arrest warrant and instead allow Mr. Williams to delay his date of voluntary surrender by several days." Id. at *10.

         The district court also granted Lioi and Russell summary judgment on Robinson's other claims. Id. at *10-14. In relevant part, it held that the conspiracy claims could not survive because Robinson produced no evidence of a conspiracy to violate Mrs. Williams' constitutional rights and no evidence that Lioi's and Russell's conduct caused her death. Id. at *10-11. Similarly, the court held that the officers were entitled to summary judgment on the gross negligence claim because Robinson produced no evidence that they intended to injure Mrs. Williams or were so utterly indifferent to her rights that they acted as if her rights did not exist. Id. at *11-12. In addition, it held that the causation element had not been satisfied. Id. at *12-13. The district court also granted Lioi and Russell summary judgment on the wrongful death and survival actions because they were entitled to public official immunity under Maryland law for any negligent conduct and no evidence supported intentional misconduct or gross negligence. Id. at *14. It further concluded those claims would also fail on causation grounds. Id.

         Robinson noted a timely appeal, and the Court has jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291.

         II.

         Robinson's appeal focuses on the district court's award of summary judgment to Lioi and Russell on her § 1983 substantive due process claim. She contends the record adequately demonstrates that Lioi and Russell committed various affirmative acts that could make them liable under the state-created danger doctrine. Robinson further challenges the district court's alternative holding that the officers were entitled to qualified immunity on the due process claim. Lastly, she challenges its judgment in favor of Lioi and Russell on her state-law claims.

         This Court reviews de novo the district court's grant of summary judgment. Doe, 795 F.3d at 436. Summary judgment is appropriate if the evidence shows that "there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact," Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a), such that "'a reasonable jury could [not] return a verdict for the nonmoving party, '" Doe, 795 F.3d at 436 (alteration in original) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)).

         Stating the standard of review is usually a fairly rote practice, but it has particular significance in this case given the contrast that it signals between this appeal and our prior review of Robinson's allegations. In this case, we are confronted with the view proposed in Robinson's briefs and adopted by the dissenting opinion that the outcome of this appeal should be dictated by our prior decision. E.g., Opening Br. 19 (asserting the district court's opinion "virtually ignored" the Court's prior decision, which had "already held" that Lioi and Russell's conduct fell within the state-created danger theory). Relying on the law-of-the-case doctrine, the dissent accuses us of "rescind[ing] our prior holding, shielding [this] decision . . . with the defense that we are now at the summary judgment stage." Infra at 64-65. But there is nothing remarkable in the black-letter law understanding that plaintiffs are held to different standards at different stages of the proceedings in the district court, or that appeals from those decisions are also subject to different standards.

         It cannot be put more plainly: we previously considered whether Robinson's allegations stated a claim against Lioi because we were considering only the district court's decision to deny a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). Now, we are reviewing whether Robinson's evidence supports a claim against Lioi and Russell because we are considering the district court's decision to grant a motion for summary judgment under Rule 56(a). Bennet v. Spear, 520 U.S. 154, 168 (1997) (contrasting the pleading stage, where "on a motion to dismiss [courts] presume that general allegations embrace those specific facts that are necessary to support the claim" with the summary judgment stage, where "a plaintiff must set forth [specific facts] by affidavit or other evidence" (internal quotation marks and alterations omitted)). This "wholly different substantive and procedural context" matters when analyzing Robinson's claim. See SD3 II LLC v. Black & Decker (U.S.) Inc., 888 F.3d 98, 109 (4th Cir. 2018). Unlike the first time this case came before us, we are no longer obliged to accept Robinson's allegations as true. While Robinson is still entitled to have the record viewed in the light most favorable to her, we can no longer simply accept her characterizations of what occurred. Now that the parties have completed discovery, we have a "fully-developed record" to apply "to those allegations upon a motion for summary judgment," id., and Robinson must present more than a "scintilla" of evidence to support her allegations, Sylvia Dev. Corp. v. Calvert Cty., 48 F.3d 810, 818 (4th Cir. 1995) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         There is also nothing remarkable in concluding that some plaintiffs whose claims survive a motion to dismiss are unable to meet their burden to survive summary judgment. In Behrens v. Pelletier, 516 U.S. 299 (1996), for example, the Supreme Court held that a defendant was entitled to raise the defense of qualified immunity in more than one interlocutory appeal-initially, after denial of a motion to dismiss, and, subsequently, after denial of summary judgment. The Supreme Court explained that more than one appeal was warranted because

the legally relevant factors . . . will be different on summary judgment than on an earlier motion to dismiss ..... It is no more true that the defendant who has unsuccessfully appealed denial of a motion to dismiss has no need to appeal denial of a motion for summary judgment, than it is that the defendant who has unsuccessfully made a motion to dismiss has no need to make a motion for summary judgment.

Id. at 309.

         Nothing inherent in our prior decision or the law-of-the-case doctrine precludes our conclusion in this appeal that Robinson has failed to meet her burden on summary judgment. The law-of-the-case doctrine recognizes that "when a court decides upon a rule of law, that decision should continue to govern the same issues in subsequent stages in the same case." Arizona v. California, 460 U.S. 605, 618 (1983). But it poses no bar to the assessment of past holdings based on a different procedural posture when, as is the case in the progression from review of a motion to dismiss to a motion for summary judgment, that later review expands the court's inquiry based on development of actual facts underlying a plaintiff's claims. Wiest v. Tyco Elecs. Corp., 812 F.3d 319, 329-30 (3d Cir. 2016) (rejecting the plaintiff's argument that because the court had previously held that her complaint sufficiently alleged a claim, the district court was precluded from granting summary judgment under the law-of-the-case doctrine and describing that argument as resting on a "critical misapplication of the fundamental distinction between a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) and a motion for summary judgment under Rule 56"). Indeed, consistent with this recognition, this Court's articulation of the law-of-the-case doctrine also acknowledges that different facts will lead to a different legal analysis to which the doctrine cannot apply. Sejman v. Warner-Lambert Co., 845 F.2d 66, 69 (4th Cir. 1988) (stating that the law-of-the-case doctrine applies "unless" one of several exceptions applies, including the subsequent development of "substantially different evidence").

         As the dissent acknowledges, nothing in the law-of-the-case doctrine or our prior decision compelled a particular result in this appeal except to the extent the facts remained the same as the allegations. Infra at 64-67. The cases the dissent relies on to support the doctrine's applicability reiterate that when a court is presented with a different record at a new stage of the case, the law-of-the-case doctrine will no longer constrain the court's review. E.g., TFWS, Inc. v. Franchot, 572 F.3d 186, 191 (4th Cir. 2009). But only when the facts alleged in a complaint are subsequently proven during discovery will the law-of-the-case doctrine continue to govern how the law applies to those facts. U.S. ex rel. Oberg v. Pa. Higher Educ. Assistance Agency, 804 F.3d 646, 665-66 (4th Cir. 2005) (holding that the law-of-the-case doctrine was relevant to the Court's review because the case's evidence developed during discovery and considered as part of the motion for summary judgment "confirmed the existence of the[] facts" previously relied on in considering the propriety of a motion to dismiss).

         Discovery produced substantially different facts than Robinson alleged in her Complaint which requires us to alter our understanding of the factual underpinnings of Robinson's claim for purposes of summary judgment. Based on this divergence, the law-of-the-case doctrine does not constrain our review of how the governing legal principles apply to Robinson's claim. At bottom, the evidence that Robinson marshaled during discovery demonstrates that Russell and Lioi's conduct cannot support a state-created danger substantive due process claim and that the officers are entitled to qualified immunity.

         III.

         Individuals can hold state actors liable under § 1983 for deprivations of "any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution," 42 U.S.C. § 1983, including deprivations of a person's "life, liberty, or property, without due process of law," U.S. Const. amend. XIV. Because the Due Process Clause protects individuals "against arbitrary action of government," with "arbitrary" in this context encompassing "only the most egregious official conduct," no constitutional violation occurs where the state actor "negligently inflicted harm." Cty. of Sacramento v. Lewis, 523 U.S. 833, 845- 46, 49 (1998) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Moreover, the Due Process Clause "cannot fairly be extended to impose an affirmative obligation on the State to ensure that those interests do not come to harm through other means." DeShaney, 489 U.S. at 195. And "because 'the Due Process Clause does not require the State to provide its citizens with particular protective services, [state actors] cannot be held liable under the Clause for injuries that could have been averted had it chosen to provide them.'" Doe, 795 F.3d at 437 (quoting DeShaney, 489 U.S. at 196-97).

         Based on this understanding of the Due Process Clause, the Supreme Court held in DeShaney that a county social services department had not violated a four-year-old's substantive due process rights by failing to protect the child from his abusive father. 489 U.S. at 191-94. The department had received numerous reports of abuse but failed to remove the child from his father's custody. Id. at 192-93. The Supreme Court recognized that although "in certain limited circumstances the Constitution imposes upon the State affirmative duties of care and protection" based on a "special relationship," no such relationship existed in this case because the child was not in the State's custody (e.g., through "incarceration, institutionalization, or other similar restraint of personal liberty") when his father harmed him. Id. at 197-200. As part of its due process analysis, the Supreme Court observed that the department was also not liable because, "[w]hile the State may have been aware of the dangers that [the child] faced in the free world, it played no part in their creation, nor did it do anything to render him any more vulnerable to them." Id. at 201. "This language in DeShaney is commonly acknowledged as the genesis of the state-created danger doctrine." Robinson, 536 Fed.Appx. at 343.

         But the state-created doctrine is a "narrow" exception to the general rule that state actors are not liable for harm caused by third parties. Doe, 795 F.3d at 437. It applies only when the state affirmatively acts to create or increase the risk that resulted in the victim's injury. Specifically, "a plaintiff must show that the state actor created or increased the risk of private danger, and did so directly through affirmative acts, not merely through inaction or omission." Id. at 439. A direct, affirmative act is necessary because liability is premised on the understanding that state actors cannot "disclaim liability when they themselves throw others to the lions" and that where they have engaged in affirmative conduct that creates or increases "the dangerous situation that resulted in a victim's injury," "it becomes much more akin to a[ ] [state] actor itself directly causing harm to the injured party." Pinder v. Johnson, 54 F.3d 1169, 1177 (4th Cir. 1995) (en banc). The doctrine's conception of an "affirmative act" is also quite limited: "[i]t cannot be that the state commits an affirmative act or creates a danger every time it does anything that makes injury at the hands of a third party more likely. If so, the state would be liable for every crime committed by the prisoners it released." Id. at 1175 (internal quotation marks omitted). This narrowly confines the scope of qualifying "affirmative acts" to those that directly create or increase, i.e., cause, the risk a third party posed to the victim.

         In this appeal, Robinson argues that the district court erred because the record demonstrates that Lioi and Russell took "affirmative acts" from which a reasonable jury could conclude that they directly increased the risk Williams posed to his wife.[9] To support her argument that the officers are liable for a state-created danger, Robinson relies on the following eight "affirmative acts" that she claims made summary judgment inappropriate:

(1) Lioi "acted affirmatively" to free Williams from the Eastern District station after he could not locate the arrest warrant instead of placing Williams under arrest without the warrant and temporarily detaining him in the holding cell while the search for the missing warrant continued;
(2) Lioi "affirmatively agreed" to permit Williams to remain free between the time Williams tried to self-surrender and the time of Mrs. Williams' stabbing;
(3) Lioi wrote two letters to Williams "in an effort to aid Williams in avoiding lawful arrest on valid warrants";
(4) "Lioi texted Williams regarding when it was safe to return home without fear of arrest and how to avoid service ...

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