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Mills v. Hassan

United States District Court, D. Maryland

December 23, 2019

ANTHONY HASSAN, et al., Defendants.


          George L. Russell, III United States District Judge.

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff Lawrence Mills' Rule 60(b)(6) Motion (ECF No. 30) and Rule 59(e)(3) Motion (ECF No. 31). 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 deny both Motions.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         On March 13, 2015, Defendant Senior Trooper Anthony Hassan (“Hassan”) arrested Mills for Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol (“DUI”), (Compl. ¶ 26, ECF No. 1), as well as negligent driving, reckless driving, failure to obey a properly placed traffic control device, driving or attempting to drive while impaired by alcohol (“DWI”), driving or attempting to drive a vehicle not equipped with an ignition interlock, and failure to obey designated lane directions, (Defs.' Mot. Dismiss Compl. Altern. Summ. J. [“Defs.' Mot.”] Ex. 6 [“Court Records for Mar. 13, 2015 Stop”] at 2-4, ECF No. 11-8). On June 30, 2015, Mills was convicted of DUI in the District Court for Howard County, Maryland.[2] (Compl. ¶ 35). Mills was sentenced to two years and sixty days in prison with all but sixty days suspended. (Id.). Later that day, Mills posted bond and immediately appealed his conviction. (Id. ¶ 36). On February 19, 2016, a jury in the Circuit Court for Howard County, Maryland found Mills guilty of negligent driving and failure to obey lane directions but not guilty of DUI, DWI, and the other minor traffic offenses. (Court Records for Mar. 13, 2015 Stop at 2-4). He was fined $230.00. (Id. at 3-4). On March 10, 2016, Mills was also convicted of the ignition interlock offense, which had been severed from the other charges in the Circuit Court trial, and he was sentenced to one year in prison with all but seventy-five days suspended. (Id. at 2-4).

         On February 23, 2018, Mills sued Hassan, Corporal James Lantz (“Cpl. Lantz”), Trooper Matthew Dull (“Tpr. Dull”), [3] the Maryland State Police (“MSP”), and the State of Maryland, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (2018) for unlawful arrest, search, and seizure in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. (ECF No. 1). Mills also asserted various state law claims, including malicious prosecution. The Complaint generally alleged that there was no probable cause for Mills' arrest, and that Hassan fabricated evidence and committed perjury to secure his conviction.

         On May 17, 2018, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alterative, Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 11). Defendants argued, among other points, that Mills was improperly challenging his convictions in violation of Heck v. Humphry[4]and that his conviction in Circuit Court established probable cause as a matter of law. They further argued that the probable cause finding was not negated by Hassan's alleged falsehoods. On November 7, 2018, Mills filed an Opposition, (ECF No. 24), and a Cross Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, (ECF No. 23). In his Opposition, Mills asserted that Heck did not preclude him from asserting claims under § 1983, because Heck did not require favorable termination-i.e., reversal on appeal-of all convictions. He argued that the requirement was satisfied where some of the convictions, here DUI and DWI, were not upheld on appeal. Mills also argued that Hassan falsified his police report and committed perjury at various proceedings, [5] thereby invalidating any subsequent findings that probable cause existed for his arrest. Mills further argued that his § 1983 claims were viable because he was not only deprived of his right to a fair trial but also subject to a loss of liberty as a direct result of Hassan's dishonesty.

         After the motions were fully briefed, [6] this Court issued a Memorandum Opinion and Order on September 30, 2019, granting the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss and denying Mills' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment as moot. (ECF Nos. 28, 29). The Court concluded that Mills' Fourth Amendment claims for false arrest and unreasonable search and seizure failed because “[u]nder Maryland law, a conviction determines conclusively the existence of probable cause, regardless of whether the judgment is later reversed in a subsequent proceeding, ” unless the conviction was secured through “fraud, perjury, or other corrupt means.” (Sept. 30, 2019 Mem. Op. at 14, ECF No. 28) (internal quotations and citations omitted). The Court found that probable cause had been established because Mills was convicted of three offenses on appeal: negligent driving, failure to obey lane directions, and driving or attempting to drive a vehicle not equipped with an ignition interlock. The jury's decision to acquit Mills of DUI and DWI on appeal was inconsequential, because “Hassan had probable cause to arrest based on Mills' negligent driving, failure to obey lane directions, and driving without an interlock device, ” thereby justifying Mills' arrest “even if convictions stemming from the same arrest were later overturned.” (Id. at 15-16). Accordingly, Mills' § 1983 claim was barred by Heck because, in challenging whether Hassan had probable cause for his arrest, Mills was collaterally attacking the conviction resulting from that arrest.

         As to Mills' Fourteenth Amendment claims, the Court concluded that Mills had failed to adequately plead facts establishing a loss of liberty-i.e., conviction and incarceration-resulting from fabricated evidence. Mills was convicted of the ignition interlock offense in Howard County District Court, sentenced to jail, and then released on bond pending his appeal. However, the Court noted that Mills did not allege that “Hassan fabricated this charge or that his Ignition Interlock System was in place as required” and commented that “Mills does not even mention the Ignition Interlock charge in the Complaint.” (Id. at 18). Having concluded that Mills failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, the Court did not reach Defendants' alternative arguments for dismissal and declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Mills' state law claims.

         On October 9, 2019, Mills filed timely Rule 60(b)(6) and Rule 59(e)(3) Motions, seeking reconsideration of the Court's September 30, 2019 Order dismissing his Complaint. (ECF Nos. 30, 31). Defendants filed an Opposition on October 22, 2019. (ECF No. 32). Mills filed a Reply on October 29, 2019. (ECF No. 33). Before this Court could rule on the merits of the pending motions, Mills filed a Notice of Appeal on October 30, 2019. (ECF No. 34). The Court addresses both Motions in turn.


         A. Rule 59(e)(3) Motion

         1. Standard of Review

         Although the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not expressly recognize motions for “reconsideration, ” Rule 59(e) authorizes a district court to alter or amend a prior final judgment in three circumstances: “(1) to accommodate an intervening change in controlling law; (2) to account for new evidence not available at trial; or (3) to correct a clear error of law or prevent manifest injustice.” United States ex rel. Carter v. Halliburton Co., 866 F.3d 199, 210 (4th Cir. 2017) (citing Zinkand v. Brown, 478 F.3d 634, 637 (4th Cir. 2007)); see also Katyle v. Penn Nat'l Gaming, Inc., 637 F.3d 462, 470 n.4 (4th Cir. 2011). The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has held that Rule 59(e) may also be used to “correct manifest errors of . . . fact upon which the judgment is based.” Md. Elec. Indust. Health Fund v. Kodiak Util. Const., Inc., JFM-02-3662, 2004 WL 112722, at *1 (D.Md. Jan. 20, 2004) (quoting Small v. Hunt, 98 F.3d 789, 797 (1996)) (internal quotations omitted). The party seeking post-judgment relief under Rule 59(e) must file the appropriate motion within 28 days of the final judgment, specifically identifying the basis for reconsideration. Bolden v. McCabe, Weisberg & Conway, LLC, No. DKC 13-1265, 2014 WL 994066, at *1 n.1 (D.Md. Mar. 13, 2014). The court may properly deny the motion if a movant fails to establish one of the criteria. See, e.g., Jarvis v. Enter. Fleet Servs. & Leasing Co., No. DKC-07-3385, 2010 WL 1929845, at *2 (D.Md. May 11, 2010), aff'd, 408 Fed.Appx. 668 (4th Cir. 2011) (denying motion to reconsider because the plaintiff failed to identify valid circumstances that would cause the district court to alter or amend its prior opinion). Furthermore, “[a] motion for reconsideration is ‘not the proper place to relitigate a case after the court has ruled against a party, as mere disagreement with a court's rulings will not support granting such a request.'” Lynn v. Monarch Recovery Mgmt., Inc., 953 F.Supp.2d 612, 620 (D.Md. 2013) (quoting Sanders v. Prince George's Pub. Sch. Sys., No. RWT 08CV501, 2011 WL 4443441, at *1 (D.Md. Sept. 21, 2011)). A Rule 59(e) amendment is “an extraordinary remedy which should be used sparingly.” Pac. Ins. Co. v. Am. Nat'l Fire Ins. Co., 148 F.3d 396, 403 (4th Cir. 1998) (internal quotations and citation omitted).

         2. ...

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