Hamilton v. Mayor & City Council of Baltimore, Civil Action No.: ELH-10-241

CourtUnited States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Maryland)
Writing for the CourtEllen Lipton Hollander
Docket NumberCivil Action No.: ELH-10-241
Decision Date03 August 2011


Civil Action No.: ELH-10-241


Date: August 3, 2011


Frances Hamilton, plaintiff, a police officer with the Baltimore City Police Department ("BPD") from October 2001 until January 2007, was discharged from employment after a trial board hearing concerning allegations that she had falsified certain paperwork. See First Amended Complaint And Demand For Jury Trial ("Am. Compl.," ECF 3) ¶¶ 9, 23. On January 29, 2010, Hamilton filed suit in this Court against the Mayor and City Council of Baltimore ("Baltimore City"); the BPD; former Police Commissioner Leonard Hamm; and Maria Korman and Joann Woodson-Branche, both of whom were legal counsel to the trial board.1 The suit, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleges that plaintiff's termination from the BPD violated her rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution.2 See id. ¶ 1.

On June 18, 2010, plaintiff voluntarily dismissed her claims against Baltimore City and the BPD. (ECF 4.) The remaining defendants have filed a Motion To Dismiss Or In The

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Alternative Motion For Summary Judgment ("Motion," ECF 12), which plaintiff opposes. Memorandum Of Law In Support Of Plaintiff's Opposition To Defendant's Motion To Dismiss Or In The Alternative, Motion For Summary Judgment ("Opp'n," ECF 15). After the issues were briefed, the Court held a hearing on July 6, 2011.3

Factual and Procedural Background 4

As noted, plaintiff joined the BPD in 2001. In September 2005, plaintiff "was transferred to the Accident Investigation Unit ('AIU') of the Traffic Section, Special Operations Division." Am. Compl. ¶ 7.5 In November 2005, she "lodged a written internal complaint" with the Internal Affairs Division of the BPD, stating that "several police officers within the AIU were submitting falsified overtime slips to be paid for hours that they did not work."6 Id. ¶ 8. In addition, she included "documentation . . . clearly demonstrating that several police officers regularly falsified their overtime sheets, and several supervisors within the AIU were complicit in the approval of the overtime abuse." Id.7

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Plaintiff was served with disciplinary charges on November 9, 2005. Id. ¶ 9.8 She claims that her commanding officer, Colonel Scott Williams, called her into his office and served her with "disciplinary charges alleging that at least two of the officers involved in the widespread overtime abuse scheme had accused Plaintiff of falsifying 'Citizen Contact Sheets' in order to pad her monthly statistics." Id. According to defendants, plaintiff "was observed transferring information from traffic citations issued in the year 2003 to citizen stop receipts dated in the year 2005." Memorandum of Law in Support of Defendants' Motion to Dismiss or in the Alternative Motion for Summary Judgment ("Mot. Memo.," ECF 12-1) 2.9

Hamilton complains that "the Internal Affairs Division 'administratively closed' the overtime abuse investigation without taking any action whatsoever including interviewing the Plaintiff." Am. Compl. ¶ 11. In contrast, asserts plaintiff, the allegations against her "were investigated by a 'command' investigator." Id. ¶ 13. During that investigation, "Plaintiff was involuntarily transferred out of the AIU and assigned to the Inner Harbor Patrol." Id. ¶ 14.

The Command investigator subsequently "recommended that plaintiff be brought to a BPD departmental trial board with a view towards termination." Id. ¶ 17. On or about October 9, 2006, plaintiff was formally notified that "BPD intended to terminate her employment based upon the results of the command investigation." Id. ¶ 18. According to plaintiff, the recommendation to terminate her by way of a "'command investigation,' rather than an

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investigation conducted by the Internal Affairs Division, contravenes the policies, practices, rules and regulations" of the BPD. Id.

On or about December 16, 2006, Hamm attended plaintiff's birthday celebration at a "local bar and lounge in East Baltimore." Id. ¶ 19. There, he "approached the Plaintiff and began discussing the pending trial board hearing. During the discussion, Defendant Hamm acknowledged to the Plaintiff that the charges [against her] were minor in nature, and he assured her that she would not be terminated." Id. Nevertheless, "Defendant Korman then scheduled a trial board hearing with a view toward terminating the Plaintiff's employment."10 Id. ¶ 20.

In preparation for the trial board hearing, scheduled for January 26, 2007, plaintiff requested discovery and the appearance of certain defense witnesses, pursuant to the Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights ("LEOBOR"), Md. Code (2003), § 3-101 et seq. of the Public Safety Article ("P.S."), and BPD rules and regulations. Id. ¶ 21. Plaintiff also provided Korman with documentation from plaintiff's doctor, recommending that plaintiff not be required to participate in the trial board hearing, as she was on prescription pain medication. Id.11 According to plaintiff, Korman did not provide complete discovery or insure the appearance of witnesses, and "ignored" the recommendations of plaintiff's doctor. Id.

Plaintiff's counsel sought a continuance of the trial board, but Korman refused to consent. Id. ¶¶ 22-23. When the trial board proceeding went forward on January 26, 2007, plaintiff did not appear. Id. ¶ 23. The hearing board recommended plaintiff's termination. Id. On January 30, 2007, Hamm ratified the hearing board's recommendation, and plaintiff's

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termination was effective as of that date.12 Id. Plaintiff then filed a "Petition for Judicial Review" in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City.

In April 2007, plaintiff was hired by the Baltimore City School Police ("BCSP"). Id. ¶ 25. However, "approximately two weeks after [plaintiff] was hired, Korman, on her own initiative, forwarded an e-mail to officials at the [BCSP] force," which "contained disparaging remarks about the Plaintiff."13 Id. Plaintiff avers that she was terminated from her position at BCSP because of that email. Id.

In October 2007, plaintiff filed suit in federal court against Baltimore City, the BPD, and Hamm (Case No. WDQ-07-2952), alleging employment discrimination and retaliation on the basis of race. See Opp'n Ex. 1. On April 23, 2008, Judge Quarles dismissed the suit against Baltimore City. See Hamilton v. Mayor & City Council of Balt., No. WDQ-07-2952, ECF 8, slip op. at 5 (D. Md. Apr. 23, 2008). Plaintiff and the remaining defendants stipulated to a dismissal of that case, with prejudice, on April 9, 2009. Id. at ECF 22.

As noted, plaintiff also pursued remedies in the Maryland state judicial system. With respect to plaintiff's "Petition for Judicial Review," the Circuit Court for Baltimore City heard argument on May 27, 2008. Am. Compl. ¶ 24. In a written opinion issued on June 3, 2008, the circuit court held that plaintiff's termination was "arbitrary and capricious," and that she had not been afforded the due process guaranteed by law and by the LEOBR. Id. ¶ 28; see Opp'n Ex. 3. The circuit court remanded for a new hearing by the trial board.

In the months that followed, "Plaintiff, through her counsel, sought reinstatement to her former position as police officer." Am. Compl. ¶ 29. According to plaintiff, "Defendant

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Woodson-Branche resisted these efforts and flatly failed and refused to facilitate the Plaintiff's reinstatement in defiance of the Circuit Court's ruling." Id.

The trial board rehearing was held on October 6, 2009. Again, plaintiff did not appear. Balt. Police Dep't v. Hamilton, No. 1794, slip op. at 7 (Md. Ct. Sp. App. May 23, 2011) (unpublished).14 The trial board again found plaintiff guilty and recommended termination of her employment. Id.

On December 30, 2009, plaintiff sought judicial review of the trial board rehearing.15 Id. At a hearing held in August 2010, the Circuit Court for Baltimore City concluded that the BPD had, inter alia, violated plaintiff's due process rights. Again, it remanded for a new trial board proceeding. Id. at 10. The BPD succeeded in obtaining a stay of that decision, pending appeal. Id. On appeal, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals considered whether "the Circuit Court err[ed] by holding that Hamilton was denied procedural protections afforded by the Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights ("LEOBR") and the BPD's Disciplinary Rules?" Id. at 11 (citation omitted). In reversing the circuit court, the Maryland appellate court stated that plaintiff "was not entitled to be reinstated to active duty," and it was "not persuaded that [plaintiff] was denied due process and other basic rights during the disciplinary process." Id. at 18.

Plaintiff subsequently filed a Petition for Writ of Certiorari in the Maryland Court of Appeals, which is now pending. See Deft. Supp. Ex. 1. There, plaintiff avers, inter alia, that she

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"was denied due process rights," and that the "Court of Special Appeals erred in its decision that [she] was not denied her rights under the LEOBR." Deft. Supp. Ex. 1, at 9, 10, 12.16

Additional facts will be included in the discussion, as relevant.



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