Cunningham v. Balt. Cnty., No. 3461, Sept. Term, 2018

CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland
Writing for the CourtGraeff, J.
Parties Corey CUNNINGHAM, et al. v. BALTIMORE COUNTY, Maryland, et al.
Docket NumberNo. 3461, Sept. Term, 2018
Decision Date01 July 2020

246 Md.App. 630
232 A.3d 278

Corey CUNNINGHAM, et al.
v.
BALTIMORE COUNTY, Maryland, et al.

No. 3461, Sept. Term, 2018

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland.

July 1, 2020
Reconsideration Denied August 26, 2020


Argued by: Jon Wyndal Gordon (Law Office of J. Wyndal Gordon, PA), Baltimore, MD, (Kenneth Ravenell, Ravenell Law), Baltimore, MD, (Leslie D. Hershfield, Schulman, Hershfield & Gilden PA), Baltimore, MD (Landon M. White, Law Office of Landon M. White), Baltimore, MD, all on the briefs. for Appellant

Argued by: James Stewart Ruckle (Jordan V. Watts, Jr., Michael Raimondi, James R. Benjamin, Jr., County Attorney), Towson, MD., all on the brief. for Appellee

Panel: Meredith, Graeff, James R. Eyler, Senior Judge, Specially Assigned, JJ.*

Graeff, J.

246 Md.App. 640

On August 1, 2016, two Baltimore County police officers attempted to serve arrest warrants on Korryn Gaines and Kareem

232 A.3d 285

Courtney at Ms. Gaines’ apartment. The warrant for Ms. Gaines was for failure to appear for a misdemeanor trial,

246 Md.App. 641

and the warrant for Mr. Courtney was for second-degree assault. The officers testified that they repeatedly knocked on the door, and although they heard movement inside, no one opened the door. They ultimately kicked the door open, and when they entered the apartment, they saw Ms. Gaines siting on the floor with a pistol grip shotgun.

The officers retreated and called for back-up. This led to a six-hour stand-off between Ms. Gaines, positioned in the apartment with her five-year-old son Kodi, and multiple law enforcement officers stationed outside the apartment. Kareem Courtney, Ms. Gaines’ fiancé and Karsyn Courtney, the daughter of Mr. Courtney and Ms. Gaines, left when the police arrived.

Corporal Royce Ruby testified that, after hours of requests for Ms. Gaines to put down the gun, she moved to the kitchen, raised her shotgun to firing position, and pointed it toward the officers positioned by the doorway. At that point, Corporal Ruby fired a shot that killed Ms. Gaines, and a bullet exited her body and injured Kodi.

A lawsuit in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County ensued. Rhanda Dormeus (mother of Ms. Gaines), individually and as personal representative of Ms. Gaines’ estate, Mr. Courtney, individually and on behalf of minor child Karsyn Courtney, Corey Cunningham (father of Kodi Gaines), on behalf of minor child Kodi Gaines, and Ryan Gaines (father of Ms. Gaines), appellants, sued Baltimore County, Corporal Ruby, and other law enforcement officers on numerous grounds related to Ms. Gaines’ death. On January 29, 2018, the court granted a motion for summary judgment and dismissed the claims against all defendants except Baltimore County and Corporal Ruby, appellees.

On February 16, 2018, after a three-week trial, a jury returned a verdict in favor of appellants, awarding more than $38 million in combined economic and non-economic damages. Appellees filed a Motion for Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict, for a New Trial and for Remittitur of Judgment. On February 14, 2019, the circuit court issued an Order and a 75-page

246 Md.App. 642

Memorandum Opinion that, among other things, granted appellees’ motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict. In the alternative, the court granted the defendants’ motion for a new trial on the ground that the verdict was defective because it "did not specify the apportionment, if any, of the total jury award between the [s]tate and [f]ederal [c]laims." The court further found that the non-economic damages awarded were "excessive and shocked the conscience," and "but for" the other rulings, it "would remit the [jury's] award."

On appeal, appellants present multiple questions for this Court's review,1 which we have consolidated and rephrased as follows:

1. Did the circuit court err in granting the motion for summary judgment on the ground that the initial entry into the apartment by the police officers was constitutional?
232 A.3d 286
2. Did the circuit court err in finding that appellees’ post-trial motions were timely filed?

3. Did the circuit court err in granting appellees’ Motion for Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict ("JNOV") and vacating the damage awards for appellants on the basis that Corporal Ruby was entitled to qualified immunity?

4. Did the circuit court err in finding that the jury verdict was irreconcilably inconsistent, requiring a new trial if the grant of JNOV was reversed?

5. Did the circuit court err in finding, in the alternative, that remittitur was an appropriate remedy?

For the reasons set forth below, we conclude that the court properly granted the motion for summary judgment regarding

246 Md.App. 643

the initial entry, but it improperly granted the motion for JNOV and, in the alternative, the motion for new trial based on an inconsistent verdict. Accordingly, we shall affirm, in part, and reverse/vacate, in part, the judgments of the circuit court and remand for further proceedings.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

I.

August 1, 2016

A.

Initial Entry

The evidence elicited at trial established that, on August 1, 2016, at approximately 9:00 a.m., Officer John Dowell and Officer Allen Griffin, members of the Baltimore County Police Department, traveled to the Carriage Hill Apartments, 4 Sulky Court, Apartment T-4 to execute arrest warrants for Korryn Gaines and Kareem Courtney. The officers had a bench warrant for Ms. Gaines, age 23, for failing to appear for a misdemeanor trial, and an arrest warrant for Mr. Courtney, her fiancé, age 40, for a second-degree assault resulting from an alleged domestic incident involving Ms. Gaines.

Ms. Gaines’ apartment was the address listed on both arrest warrants, although Mr. Courtney did not permanently reside there. Officer Griffin testified that, as part of the normal background check procedure, he had visited the rental office the prior week and discovered that Ms. Gaines was the sole lease holder of the apartment. He also conducted an MVA records check on Mr. Courtney, which showed that Mr. Courtney resided at a different address.

When the officers went to serve the arrest warrants, they were not dressed in uniform, but they had badges on lanyards around their necks that were plainly visible.2 They arrived at

246 Md.App. 644

the address listed on the warrants and located apartment T-4 on the lower-level of the building. Officer Griffin positioned himself on the knob side of the door, and Officer Dowell positioned himself on the hinge side.3 They briefly listened to determine if they could hear anyone inside.

Officer Griffin testified that he knocked on the door. At first, the officers did not identify themselves as police officers. They heard a cough inside the apartment, but no one answered the door. Officer Griffin remained on the knob side of the door while Officer Dowell exited the building and

232 A.3d 287

went out front to the patio to ensure that no one left the apartment through the sliding glass door.

Officer Griffin continued to knock on the door at a volume that Officer Dowell could hear from his position outside. Officer Griffin heard movement inside that sounded like someone coming up to the door, looking out the peep hole, and then walking away. He also heard other movement, such as "things being picked up and moved around." After hearing this movement, he identified himself as Baltimore County Police and directed the occupants to open the door. He did not state the police purpose.

Officer Griffin then instructed Officer Dowell to get the key to the apartment from the rental office. Officer Dowell did not want to leave the patio door unattended, so he radioed for a nearby patrolman, Officer Kemmerer, to retrieve the key. While Officer Griffin was waiting for the key, he continued to knock and could hear a child crying inside. Officer Kemmerer then arrived and gave the key to Officer Dowell, who returned to the apartment door to give the key to Officer Griffin.

Officer Griffin unlocked and opened the door, but it only opened approximately four inches because a security chain was fastened on the inside of the door. Through the gap, Officer Griffin could see inside the apartment, and he saw a

246 Md.App. 645

female sitting on the dining room floor. He testified that he recognized her as the subject of the warrant based on a photo they had of Ms. Gaines. He again identified himself as Baltimore County Police and asked her to open the door. She did not move or respond to his directions.

Officer Griffin then attempted to "put his shoulder into the door" to try to break the...

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4 practice notes
  • Estate of Hammond v. Cox, No. 781
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • September 24, 2020
    ...194 Md. App. 375, 387 (2010) (quoting Lovelace v. Anderson, 366 Md. 690, 695 (2001)).Excessive Force In Cunningham v. Baltimore County, 246 Md. App. 630 (2020), reconsideration denied (Aug. 26, 2020), Judge Graeff wrote for this Court:In determining whether a police officer has used excessi......
  • Worsham v. Eaves, No. 654
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • July 15, 2021
    ...conferred by those parts of the United States Constitution and federal statutes that it describes.'" Cunningham v. Baltimore County, 246 Md. App. 630, 655 n.17, cert. denied, 471 Md. 268 (2020) (quoting City of Monterey v. Del Monte Dunes at Monterey, Ltd., 526 U.S. 687, 749 n.9 (1999) (Sou......
  • Jordan v. Romani, No. 1655
    • United States
    • Maryland Court of Special Appeals
    • January 29, 2021
    ...judgment on the law is de novo, that is, whether the trial court's legal conclusions were legally correct.Cunningham v. Baltimore Cty., 246 Md. App. 630, 668, reconsideration denied (Aug. 26, 2020), cert. denied, 471 Md. 268 (2020) (quoting Koste v. Town of Oxford, 431 Md. 14, 24-25 (2013))......
  • Gardner v. Kayser, No. 1193
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • January 19, 2021
    ...ed. 2019). Ms. Gardner notes that a court can order a remittitur and reduce an excessive verdict. See Cunningham v. Baltimore County, 246 Md. App. 630, 703-04 (2020) (discussing court's ability, in its discretion, to reduce a damages award on the ground that it was excessive), cert. denied,......
4 cases
  • Estate of Hammond v. Cox, No. 781
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • September 24, 2020
    ...194 Md. App. 375, 387 (2010) (quoting Lovelace v. Anderson, 366 Md. 690, 695 (2001)).Excessive Force In Cunningham v. Baltimore County, 246 Md. App. 630 (2020), reconsideration denied (Aug. 26, 2020), Judge Graeff wrote for this Court:In determining whether a police officer has used excessi......
  • Worsham v. Eaves, No. 654
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • July 15, 2021
    ...conferred by those parts of the United States Constitution and federal statutes that it describes.'" Cunningham v. Baltimore County, 246 Md. App. 630, 655 n.17, cert. denied, 471 Md. 268 (2020) (quoting City of Monterey v. Del Monte Dunes at Monterey, Ltd., 526 U.S. 687, 749 n.9 (1999) (Sou......
  • Jordan v. Romani, No. 1655
    • United States
    • Maryland Court of Special Appeals
    • January 29, 2021
    ...judgment on the law is de novo, that is, whether the trial court's legal conclusions were legally correct.Cunningham v. Baltimore Cty., 246 Md. App. 630, 668, reconsideration denied (Aug. 26, 2020), cert. denied, 471 Md. 268 (2020) (quoting Koste v. Town of Oxford, 431 Md. 14, 24-25 (2013))......
  • Gardner v. Kayser, No. 1193
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • January 19, 2021
    ...ed. 2019). Ms. Gardner notes that a court can order a remittitur and reduce an excessive verdict. See Cunningham v. Baltimore County, 246 Md. App. 630, 703-04 (2020) (discussing court's ability, in its discretion, to reduce a damages award on the ground that it was excessive), cert. denied,......

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