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Burno-Whalen v. State

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

July 23, 2019

STATE OF MARYLAND, et al., Defendants.


          Honorable Gina L. Simms United States Magistrate Judge.

         Pending before this Court, by the parties' consent, is a Motion to Dismiss, or in the alternative, a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendants, the State of Maryland and Senior Trooper Oliver Okafor and Trooper First Class Robert Hobbs of the Maryland State Police, and the responses thereto. (ECF Nos. 125, 131 and 135). The issues having been fully briefed, the Court finds that no hearing is necessary. Local Rule (L.R.) 105.6. For the reasons set forth more fully below, Defendants' motion is DENIED.

         I. Factual Background

         An exhaustive factual background is set forth in the Court's memorandum opinion from the first consideration of Defendants' motion to dismiss, or alternatively, a motion for summary judgment.[1] (ECF No. 30 at pp. 2-4). At this juncture, the facts alleged by the parties remain relatively the same.

         According to Alexis Burno-Whalen (“Plaintiff), on the morning of February 26, 2012, she ended her work shift and proceeded to drive along Route 5 in Prince George's County toward her sister's residence. (ECF No. 16, ¶ ¶ 7-8). As Plaintiff drove onto an exit ramp toward Route 495, another vehicle drove up next to her vehicle and struck the front passenger side. ECF Nos. 16, ¶ 8; 131-2, Exh. B, “Burno-Whalen Depo.”, pp. 30-31.[2] Both drivers then proceeded to pull over to the side of the road. (ECF No. 16, ¶ 8). At that time, the driver of the other vehicle called for police assistance while Plaintiff remained in her vehicle. (ECF Nos. 16, ¶ 8; 125-3, p. 33). Maryland State Trooper Oliver Okafor (“Okafor”) responded to the call, and first spoke with the other driver upon arriving at the scene. (ECF Nos. 16, ¶ 9; 125-3, p. 34). Okafor then approached Plaintiff's vehicle, asked her to step out of her vehicle, and proceeded to administer a breathalyzer test. (ECF Nos. 16, ¶ 9; 131-2, p. 39). While Plaintiff attempted to perform the breathalyzer test, Okafor became angry and yelled at her, demanding that she blow harder. ECF Nos. 16, ¶ 9; 131-2, p. 45. After Plaintiff's additional attempts failed, Okafor informed Plaintiff that she was under arrest and placed her in handcuffs without performing any field sobriety tests or making further inquiry about how the accident occurred. (ECF Nos. 16, ¶ 9; 131-2, p.44). Plaintiff was placed in the passenger seat of Okafor's patrol vehicle to be driven to the College Park Police Barracks (“Police Barracks”). (Id.)

         Unaware of “why . . . Okafor was taking her to College Park, ” Plaintiff started “screaming, ” “rocking back and forth, ” and “kicking her feet.” (Id.) Okafor then began grabbing Plaintiff. (Id.) At this time, Plaintiff's “nose and mouth were filled with mucus, ” and she began spitting on the floor of the patrol car. (Id.); see also, Exh. F, Dashcam Video.[3] Upon arriving at the Police Barracks, Okafor grabbed Plaintiff, pulled her out of the patrol car, and struck her in the mouth with his metal baton, as her hands were handcuffed behind her back. (ECF Nos. 16, ¶ 9; 131-2, pp. 54-55). Plaintiff could feel her upper and lower teeth were broken while blood began “gushing” from her nose and mouth. (Id.) In response, Plaintiff screamed several times: “You knocked all my teeth out of my mouth.” (Id.); see also, Exh. F, Dashcam Video. Okafor then drove Plaintiff to a hospital Emergency Room. (ECF Nos. 16, ¶ 10; 131-2, p. 66). After she was treated, Okafor drove Plaintiff back to the Police Barracks, where Trooper First Class Hobbs (“Hobbs”) and an additional unidentified Trooper met them. (ECF Nos. 16, ¶ 10; 131-2, p. 68). While Plaintiff was still handcuffed, Hobbs placed Plaintiff in the backseat of his patrol car, lying face up and “‘hogtied' [her] by tying a rope around her legs and pulling and wedging the rope between the door of the patrol car and the door jamb of the patrol car.” (ECF Nos. 16, ¶ 10; 131-2, p. 71). During this time, Plaintiff was not resisting arrest or trying to escape, but remained in a “hogtied” position for approximately forty minutes while being transported to a jail in Upper Marlboro.[4] (Id.)

         II. Procedural History

         On February 27, 2015, the case was removed to this Court. (ECF No. 1). A series of procedural events preceded the June 4, 2015 filing of Plaintiff's Amended Complaint. (ECF No. 16). Plaintiff's Amended Complaint asserts four counts: two tort claims arising under State law, and two constitutional claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Id.) On June 18, 2015, Defendants filed an amended motion to dismiss, or in the alternative, motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (“Fed. R. Civ. P.”) 12(b)(6) and 56. (ECF No. 17). Plaintiff's Opposition thereto was filed on June 21, 2015. (ECF No. 19). In a Memorandum Opinion and Order, the Honorable George J. Hazel denied Defendants' motion. (ECF Nos. 30 and 31).

         With the parties' consent, the instant case was transferred to the undersigned for all further proceedings. (ECF No. 79). Following the close of discovery, the Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss/Motion for Summary Judgment (the “Motion”). (ECF Nos. 94, 104, and 108). After referring the parties to mediation, the undersigned terminated the motions without prejudice, giving the parties the opportunity to re-file in the event mediation was unsuccessful. (ECF No.120). Because mediation was unsuccessful, the parties refiled their motions. (ECF Nos. 125, 131, and 135). Defendants' motion is ripe for disposition.

         III. Standard of Review

         A court can grant summary judgment only when, construing the evidence as a whole and in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, no genuine issue of material fact exists such that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 331 (1986). A material fact is one that “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A genuine issue over a material fact exists “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id.

         After a moving party has established the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, the nonmoving party must present evidence in the record demonstrating an issue of fact to be resolved at trial. Pension Ben. Guar. Corp. v. Beverly, 404 F.3d 243, 246-47 (4th Cir. 2005) (citing Pine Ridge Coal Co. v. Local 8377, UMW, 187 F.3d 415, 422 (4th Cir. 1999)). The burden can be satisfied through the submission of discovery materials. Barwick v. Celotex Corp., 736 F.2d 946, 958 (4th Cir. 1984).

         In considering a motion for summary judgment, a court's role is limited to determining whether sufficient evidence exists on a claimed factual dispute to warrant submission of the matter to a jury for resolution at trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. A court must construe the facts and documentary materials submitted by the parties, including the credibility and weight of particular evidence, in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. Masson v. N.Y. Magazine, Inc., 501 U.S. 495, 520 (1991) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255). A court “may not ‘weigh the evidence or make credibility determinations,' and is not in the position ‘to disregard stories that seem hard to believe.'” Harris v. Pittman, 927 F.3d 266, 272 (4th Cir. 2019) (quoting Gray v. Spillman, 925 F.2d 90, 95 (4th Cir. 1991)) (internal citations omitted).

         IV. Analysis

         A. Common Law Tort Claims: Battery and False Arrest (Counts I and II)

         Plaintiff alleges common law tort claims for battery (Count I) and false arrest (Count II) against Okafor and Hobbs in their official capacity as Maryland State Troopers, and also against the State of Maryland through the doctrine of respondeat superior, as their employer.[5] (ECF No. 16).

         Defendants seek dismissal of both counts, claiming that the doctrine of state sovereign ...

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