Estate of Anderson v. Strohman, Civil Action No. GLR–13–3167.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Maryland)
Writing for the CourtGEORGE L. RUSSELL
Citation6 F.Supp.3d 639
PartiesESTATE OF Anthony ANDERSON, Sr., et al., Plaintiffs, v. Todd STROHMAN, et al., Defendants.
Docket NumberCivil Action No. GLR–13–3167.
Decision Date19 March 2014

6 F.Supp.3d 639

ESTATE OF Anthony ANDERSON, Sr., et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
Todd STROHMAN, et al., Defendants.

Civil Action No. GLR–13–3167.

United States District Court,
D. Maryland.

Signed March 19, 2014.


[6 F.Supp.3d 640]


J. Wyndal Gordon, The Law Office of J. Wyndal Gordon PA, Baltimore, MD, for Plaintiffs.

Peter Woodward Sheehan, Whiteford Taylor and Preston LLP, Suzanne Sangree, City of Baltimore Law Department, Baltimore, MD, for Defendants.


MEMORANDUM OPINION

GEORGE L. RUSSELL, III, District Judge.

Pending before the Court are Defendant Mayor and City Council of Baltimore's (the “City”) and Defendant Baltimore City Police Department's 1 (“BPD”) respective Motions to Dismiss. (ECF Nos. 9, 15).

[6 F.Supp.3d 641]

Plaintiffs, the Estate of Anthony Anderson, Sr., and seven surviving immediate family members,2 are suing Officers Todd Strohman, Michael Vodarick, and Greg Boyd (collectively, the “Officers”), the City, and the BPD, for civil and constitutional violations stemming from the violent death of Anthony Anderson, Sr., while in police custody.

This case presents two prevailing threshold issues. The first is whether the BPD may assert sovereign immunity to shield itself from Plaintiffs' state law actions. The second is one often visited but recently muddled by this Court: whether the City sufficiently controls the BPD to be subject to § 1983 liability for constitutional violations by Baltimore police officers.

Having reviewed the pleadings and supporting documents, the Court finds no hearing necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D.Md. 2011). For the reasons outlined below, the Motions will be granted.

I. BACKGROUND3

Anderson was returning home from a local corner store on September 21, 2012, when Officer Strohman approached him from behind in a vacant lot, lifted Anderson from his knees, and threw him to the ground head and neck first. Officer Strohman handcuffed Anderson while he lay on the ground. Moments later, Officers Vodarik and Boyd approached. The three officers proceeded to kick Anderson repeatedly in his ribs, stomach, back, and chest, causing him significant injuries from which he later died.

On October 24, 2013, Plaintiffs filed this survival and wrongful death action in this Court against the three officers, the City, and the BPD. Their eighty-six-page Complaint alleges forty causes of action, including twenty-eight counts against the three officers for violating Articles 24 and 26 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights, claims for constitutional violations asserted under § 1983, and claims for battery. The remaining twelve counts allege the BPD is liable because it inadequately trained, supervised, and disciplined the three officers. They also allege the BPD maintains a policy of using excessive force during criminal investigations. Despite listing the City as a defendant, the Complaint contains no substantive cause of action against it.

The City moved to dismiss the Complaint against it on November 22, 2013. (ECF No. 9). On December 3, 2013, the BPD moved to dismiss all but the two counts against it asserting § 1983 claims. (ECF No. 15). Although Plaintiffs filed a joint response to the Motions (ECF No. 19), only the City filed a reply. (ECF No. 20). Nevertheless, the Motions are ripe for review.

II. DISCUSSION
A. Standard of Review

To survive a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) motion, the complaint must allege enough facts to state a plausible claim for relief. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). A claim is plausible when “the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the Court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is

[6 F.Supp.3d 642]

liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556, 127 S.Ct. 1955). Legal conclusions or conclusory statements do not suffice and are not entitled to the assumption of truth. Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955).

Thus, the Court “must determine whether it is plausible that the factual allegations in the complaint are enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Monroe v. City of Charlottesville, 579 F.3d 380, 386 (4th Cir.2009) (quoting Andrew v. Clark, 561 F.3d 261, 266 (4th Cir.2009)) (internal quotation marks omitted). And in doing so, the Court must examine the complaint as a whole, consider the factual allegations in the complaint as true, and construe the factual allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 268, 114 S.Ct. 807, 127 L.Ed.2d 114 (1994); Lambeth v. Bd. of Comm'rs of Davidson Cnty., 407 F.3d 266, 268 (4th Cir.2005) (citing Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236, 94 S.Ct. 1683, 40 L.Ed.2d 90 (1974)).

B. Analysis1. State Law Claims Against the BPD

Plaintiffs bring ten pendant state law claims against the BPD, alleging it caused the unconstitutional actions of the three officers through inadequate training and the practice of condoning inappropriate law enforcement behavior. 4 In seeking to dismiss these claims, the BPD argues it has sovereign immunity as a state agency. Plaintiffs respond that the Local Government Tort Claims Act (“LGTCA”), Md.Code Ann., Cts. & Jud. Proc. §§ 5–301 et seq. (West 2014), bars the BPD from asserting sovereign immunity, thus making it liable for tortious acts committed by Baltimore police officers. In advancing this argument, Plaintiffs make two presumptions. First, they presume the LGTCA allows the BPD to be held vicariously liable for the conduct of Baltimore police officers. Second, they presume the LGTCA bars the BPD from asserting sovereign immunity to avoid that liability. Neither of these presumptions are correct.

State sovereign immunity bars individuals from maintaining an action against the State of Maryland or one of its agencies unless the immunity is waived. Balt. Police Dep't v. Cherkes, 140 Md.App. 282, 780 A.2d 410, 424 (Md.Ct.Spec.App.2001) (citing Catterton v. Coale, 84 Md.App. 337, 579 A.2d 781, 785 (Md.Ct.Spec.App.1990)). In addition, it shields the State and state agencies from actions seeking damages for state constitutional violations and protects them from respondeat superior liability for torts committed by their employees. Cherkes, 780 A.2d at 423–24.

Contrary to commonly held belief, the BPD has long been considered a state agency with sovereign immunity to state law claims. See Mayor & City Council of Balt. v. Clark, 404 Md. 13, 944 A.2d 1122, 1128–30 (2008) (outlining the BPD's history as a state agency); Clea v. Mayor & City Council of Balt., 312 Md. 662, 541 A.2d 1303, 1306 (1988) (“[T]he Baltimore City Police Department is a state agency.”), superseded by statute,Md.Code Ann., State Gov't § 12–101(a) (West 2014), as recognized in D'Aoust v. Diamond, 424 Md. 549, 36 A.3d 941 (2012); Cherkes, 780 A.2d at 428 (concluding the BPD may assert sovereign immunity as a state agency).

This analysis, however, changes slightly for local governments. Years ago, amid a

[6 F.Supp.3d 643]

dramatic increase in tort litigation, the Maryland General Assembly enacted the LGTCA to limit the civil liability of local governments and their employees. Cherkes, 780 A.2d at 430; see alsoMd.Code Ann., Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 5–303(a)(1) (limiting the damages recoverable against local government agencies). Labeled among the “local governments” it safeguards is “[t]he Baltimore City Police Department.” Md.Code Ann., Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 5–301(d)(21). But the LGTCA's application to the BPD extends only so far. The General Assembly merely included the BPD as a local government under the LGTCA to extend its protection to Baltimore police officers, who were otherwise not shielded by the Maryland Tort Claims Act (“MTCA”), Md.Code Ann., State Gov't §§ 12–101 et seq. (West 2014). Cherkes, 780 A.2d at 433–34.

With that purpose in mind, the LGTCA imposes on the BPD the duty to pay judgments entered against its employees, namely, Baltimore police officers, and waives the BPD's sovereign immunity to the extent it conflicts with that responsibility:

(1) [A] local government shall be liable for any judgment against its employee for damages resulting from tortious acts or omissions committed by the employee within the scope of employment with the local government.

(2) A local government may not assert governmental or sovereign immunity to avoid the duty to defend or indemnify an employee established in this subsection.

Md.Code Ann., Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 5–303(b).


The LGTCA...

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21 practice notes
  • Middleton v. Balt. City Police Dep't, Civil Action ELH-20-3536
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Maryland)
    • January 28, 2022
    ...the police officers and is not liable for their conduct under state law.'” Id. (citation omitted). In Estate of Anderson v. Strohman, 6 F.Supp.3d 639, 646 (D. Md. 2014), Judge Russell pointedly explained: Try as they may, Plaintiffs cannot avoid the mountain of insisting the City does not s......
  • Washington v. Balt. Police Dep't, Civil Case No. SAG-19-2473
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Maryland)
    • May 6, 2020
    ...both at the federal and state level, "insisting [that] the City does not sufficiently control the BPD or Baltimore police officers." 6 F. Supp. 3d 639, 646 (D. Md. 2014) ; see id. at 643-46. Judge Russell concluded that "Baltimore police officers are state employees free from the City's sup......
  • Johnson v. Balt. Police Dep't, Civil Action No. ELH-19-00698
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Maryland)
    • March 10, 2020
    ...and federal decisions recognizing that the BPD is not a City agency. See id. at 12-13 (citing Estate of AndersonPage 51 v. Strohman, 6 F. Supp. 3d 639 (D. Md. 2014); Chin v. City of Baltimore, 241 F. Supp. 2d 546 (D. Md. 2003); Upshur v. City of Baltimore, 94 Md. 743, 51 A. 953 (1902)). But......
  • McDougald v. Spinnato, Civil No. ELH-17-2898
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Maryland)
    • March 15, 2019
    ...be responsible for Baltimore police officer conduct under § 1983 (i.e., they are not City employees)." Estate of Anderson v. Strohman, 6 F. Supp. 3d 639, 644 (D. Md. 2014); see also Bradley v. Balt. Police Dep't, 887 F. Supp. 2d 642, 646-48 (D. Md. 2012) (dismissing § 1983 suit against the ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
21 cases
  • Middleton v. Balt. City Police Dep't, Civil Action ELH-20-3536
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Maryland)
    • January 28, 2022
    ...the police officers and is not liable for their conduct under state law.'” Id. (citation omitted). In Estate of Anderson v. Strohman, 6 F.Supp.3d 639, 646 (D. Md. 2014), Judge Russell pointedly explained: Try as they may, Plaintiffs cannot avoid the mountain of insisting the City does not s......
  • Washington v. Balt. Police Dep't, Civil Case No. SAG-19-2473
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Maryland)
    • May 6, 2020
    ...both at the federal and state level, "insisting [that] the City does not sufficiently control the BPD or Baltimore police officers." 6 F. Supp. 3d 639, 646 (D. Md. 2014) ; see id. at 643-46. Judge Russell concluded that "Baltimore police officers are state employees free from the City's sup......
  • Johnson v. Balt. Police Dep't, Civil Action No. ELH-19-00698
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Maryland)
    • March 10, 2020
    ...and federal decisions recognizing that the BPD is not a City agency. See id. at 12-13 (citing Estate of AndersonPage 51 v. Strohman, 6 F. Supp. 3d 639 (D. Md. 2014); Chin v. City of Baltimore, 241 F. Supp. 2d 546 (D. Md. 2003); Upshur v. City of Baltimore, 94 Md. 743, 51 A. 953 (1902)). But......
  • McDougald v. Spinnato, Civil No. ELH-17-2898
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Maryland)
    • March 15, 2019
    ...be responsible for Baltimore police officer conduct under § 1983 (i.e., they are not City employees)." Estate of Anderson v. Strohman, 6 F. Supp. 3d 639, 644 (D. Md. 2014); see also Bradley v. Balt. Police Dep't, 887 F. Supp. 2d 642, 646-48 (D. Md. 2012) (dismissing § 1983 suit against the ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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