French v. Hines

Citation182 Md. App. 201,957 A.2d 1000
Decision Date03 October 2008
Docket NumberNo. 970 September Term, 2006.,970 September Term, 2006.
PartiesJohn FRENCH v. Mary Ann HINES, et vir.
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland

Karen J. Kruger (Sean P. Carven, Robert S. McCord, County Atty., on the brief), Bel Air, MD, for Appellant.

Michael P. Tanczyn, Towson, MD, for Appellee.



This matter, which is before us for the second time, arises from a suit filed by Mary Ann Hines and her husband, Leon Hines, appellees (collectively, "the Hines"), against John French, appellant, a former Harford County Sheriff's Deputy.1 They alleged various common law and constitutional torts stemming from appellant's roadside arrest of Ms. Hines. See Hines v. French, 157 Md.App. 536, 852 A.2d 1047 (2004) ("Hines I"). In December of 2006, a jury in the Circuit Court for Harford County found appellant liable for use of excessive force in his arrest of Hines, in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. It awarded Ms. Hines a total of $50,000 in compensatory damages and $10,000 in punitive damages, and awarded Mr. Hines $5,000 for loss of consortium. The trial court subsequently denied appellant's motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict ("JNOV").

Appellant presents two questions, which we quote:

1. Did the circuit court commit error when it refused to set aside a verdict that held a law enforcement officer liable for a violation of the fourth amendment for using force during a lawful arrest where (a) the plaintiff suffered only minor, trivial injuries and (b) the officer's use of force was privileged under State law?

2. When a jury returns a verdict specifying that a law enforcement officer acted without malice, must a circuit court set aside a companion verdict that required the officer to pay punitive damages.

For the reasons that follow, we shall affirm.


On August 29, 1998, appellant stopped Ms. Hines's truck along the side of Route 40 in Harford County on suspicion that she was involved in a hit-and-run accident in Baltimore County, and subsequently arrested her. As it turned out, the dispatch that led to the stop incorrectly identified Ms. Hines's vehicle. As we recounted in Hines I,2 157 Md.App. at 547-48, 852 A.2d 1047, after Ms. Hines was arrested, she

was transported to the Harford County Sheriff's Department where she was issued three citations, charging her with failure to drive in designated lane, eluding police, and negligent driving. She was released later that evening, after it was determined that she was not involved in a hit-and-run accident.

* * *

On December 14, 1998, proceedings were conducted in the District Court of Maryland for Harford County regarding appellant's three traffic citations. Pursuant to an agreement between [Ms. Hines] and the prosecutor, the charge of eluding police was placed on the stet docket, a nolle prosequi was entered on the negligent driving charge, and a not guilty agreed statement of facts was presented on the charge of failure to drive in designated lane. Based on the not guilty agreed statement of facts, the district court found [Ms. Hines] guilty of failure to drive in designated lane.

On August 21, 2001, appellees filed an eight-count complaint against appellant and several other governmental defendants, including the State of Maryland, the Sheriff of Harford County, and other law enforcement officers, alleging assault, battery, false arrest, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, malicious prosecution, negligence, and loss of consortium arising out of the events of the traffic stop. After the circuit court dismissed and/or granted summary judgment in favor of all defendants, Mr. and Ms. Hines lodged an appeal to this Court.

In Hines I, 157 Md.App. 536, 852 A.2d 1047, we affirmed in part, but reversed as to the dismissal of certain counts against French. Of import here, we reversed on the issues of malicious prosecution, negligence, and loss of consortium, holding that because the complaint sufficiently alleged that French had acted with malice, he was not necessarily shielded from liability under the grant of qualified immunity embodied in the Maryland Tort Claims Act ("MTCA"), presently codified at Md.Code (2006, 2007 Supp.), § 5-522(b) of the Courts & Judicial Proceedings Article ("C.J.").3 See Hines I, 157 Md.App. at 553-57, 560-65, 578-79, 852 A.2d 1047. Moreover, we recognized that the complaint "implicitly raised the issue of excessive force," although an excessive force claim was not set forth in a separately numbered count. Id. at 574, 852 A.2d 1047. We pointed out that the complaint "use[d] language ... to suggest that Deputy French used excessive force," in violation of the federal and State constitutions. Id. Therefore, we instructed the circuit court, on remand, to permit the Hines to amend their complaint to separately allege a claim of excessive use of force. Id. at 574 n. 12, 852 A.2d 1047.

With respect to Ms. Hines's implied claim of excessive force, we said, id. at 574-75, 852 A.2d 1047 (internal citations omitted):

The standards for analyzing claims of excessive force are the same under ... the Maryland Constitution as that under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. "The test for whether police officers have used excessive force is `whether the officers' actions are objectively reasonable in light of the facts and circumstances confronting them.'"

Applying that standard, we opined that appellees "provided sufficient support for the assertion that Deputy French used unreasonable force." Id. at 578, 852 A.2d 1047. We stated, id. (internal citation omitted):

Had Deputy Sheriff French been confronted with several occupants of the vehicle or had there been an indication that appellant harbored a weapon or had resistance been offered once [Ms. Hines] alighted from the truck, the reasonableness of the force exerted would be cast in a different light. Viewing the alleged facts in a light most favorable to [Ms. Hines], a jury could conclude that Deputy French used excessive force when he pointed his gun at [Ms. Hines], "grabbed her and threw her up against the side of her truck," and "slamm[ed] her head into the side of the truck." Although Deputy French gives an entirely different account of the events, the resolution of any factual disputes are for trial and not summary judgment.

However, we affirmed the circuit court's dismissal of the other claims against French, including the claim of battery. Id. at 550-53, 852 A.2d 1047. As to Ms. Hines's battery claim, the Hines I Court observed that French had initiated the stop of Ms. Hines because he had received information from a dispatcher that mistakenly identified her vehicle as one involved in an earlier hit-and-run accident. Id. at 552, 852 A.2d 1047. We stated: "[B]attery `can only occur when there is no legal authority or justification for the arresting officer's actions.'" Id. at 551, 852 A.2d 1047 (citations omitted). In our view, "Deputy French had legal justification to arrest" Ms. Hines because "the information issued by the 911 dispatch [erroneously] included the make and model of [Ms. Hines's] truck, her Maryland license tag number, and her approximate location on Route 40. Deputy French had no reason to disbelieve the information and ... he had sufficient probable cause to stop and place her under arrest." Id. at 552, 852 A.2d 1047.

The Hines I Court concluded that the legal justification for arrest did not shield French from all liability for the manner in which the arrest was conducted. As to the allegations of negligence, we said, id. at 564-65, 852 A.2d 1047 (internal citations and footnote omitted):

[Ms. Hines has] sufficiently alleged facts that create an inference of malice concerning Deputy French's actions. Based on [Ms. Hines's] version of her traffic stop and arrest, Deputy French, without provocation, grabbed her and intentionally injured her face despite having noticed that she had recent TMJ surgery. [Ms. Hines] reported that Deputy French laughed and told her it must have hurt as he forced her face into the side of her vehicle. The allegations essentially suggest that Deputy French deliberately and willfully targeted [Ms. Hines's] preexisting injury and that he laughed or made other verbal statements indicating an intent to harm her. Assuming a jury found these allegations to be true, Deputy French's conduct would constitute malice and, thus, qualified immunity would not be available to him as a defense.

In ruling that Deputy French's alleged conduct did not constitute malicious behavior, the trial court apparently disregarded [Ms. Hines's] version of events and found Deputy French's story to be more credible. Summary judgment is not a substitute for trial because it does not provide the proper opportunity for the trial court to give credence to certain facts and refuse to credit others. Consequently ... we hold that summary judgment was not the correct disposition of [Ms. Hines's] negligence claim against Deputy French.

Following our decision in Hines I, appellees filed an Amended Complaint on July 22, 2005, which included four counts: malicious prosecution, negligence, excessive force (citing both federal and state constitutional grounds), and loss of consortium. The Amended Complaint contained a separate ad damnum clause for each count. Ms. Hines requested $500,000 in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages for malicious prosecution, and appellees sought $1 million compensatory and $1 million punitive damages for loss of consortium. Notably, Ms. Hines did not request punitive damages for either the negligence count or the excessive force count; instead, she requested compensatory damages of $750,000 for each of those counts.

Appellant filed his Answer on July 29, 2005. On August 5, 2005, he filed a Supplemental Motion and Memorandum for...

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