Heron v. Strader

Decision Date17 October 2000
Docket NumberNo. 13,13
Citation761 A.2d 56,361 Md. 258
PartiesDavid Reginald HERON v. Veronica STRADER, et al.
CourtMaryland Court of Appeals

Philip B. Zipin (Stephani L. Hillman of Gagliardo & Zipin, on brief), Silver Spring, for petitioner.

Marc E. Curry, Associate County Atty. (Sean D. Wallace, County Atty., and John A. Bielec, Deputy County Atty., on brief), Upper Marlboro, for respondents.

Argued before BELL, C.J., and ELDRIDGE, RODOWSKY, RAKER, WILNER, CATHELL and HARRELL, JJ.

RAKER, Judge.

Petitioner, David Reginald Heron, filed suit against Prince George's County, Maryland under the Local Government Tort Claims Act (hereinafter "LGTCA"), Maryland Code (1987, 1998 Repl.Vol., 2000 Supp.) § 5-301 of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article 1 for malicious prosecution, false arrest, and false imprisonment. The Circuit Court for Prince George's County dismissed all of the claims on the ground that the Notice of Claim was untimely and that there was no good cause that would excuse the late filing. The Court of Special Appeals, in an unreported opinion, affirmed the judgment. We shall hold that Petitioner's Notice of Claim was timely as to his malicious prosecution claim, but that it was not timely as to his claims of false arrest and imprisonment and that he lacked good cause for late filing. Accordingly, we affirm in part and reverse in part.

I.

On August 24, 1997, Petitioner was arrested and charged with resisting arrest, obstructing the police in the performance of their duties, and disorderly conduct. On March 3, 1998, he was acquitted of all charges. On April 30, 1998, pursuant to the LGTCA, Petitioner sent a Notice of Claim to Prince George's County notifying the county of his intention to file a civil complaint against Respondents, the arresting officers. In the Notice, Petitioner alleged that he had been injured when Respondents "assaulted and battered him, falsely imprisoned him, violated his civil rights, and committed numerous other wrongs against him." He identified the time and place of injury as "[o]n or about August 24, 1997" at the Landover Metro Station.

On June 1, 1998, Petitioner filed a complaint in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County alleging multiple claims against Respondents, Corporals Veronica Strader and Todd Nalley of the Prince George's County Police Department, in their individual and official capacities. The Complaint included the claims of false imprisonment, false arrest, and malicious prosecution.2

On August 18, 1998, Respondent Strader filed a Motion to Dismiss asserting that the Complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted and that Petitioner had failed to provide the timely written notice required by § 5-304(a) of the LGTCA. On September 2, 1998, Petitioner filed a Response to the Motion to Dismiss asserting that his failure to provide the County with the required notice was excusable under § 5-304(c) because he had been working on his criminal defense to the charges against him arising out of the events of August 24, 1997 and that Respondents had not proven prejudice from the delay. On January 27, 1999, the court dismissed the case on the grounds that the notice was untimely, stating that Petitioner was required to exercise "reasonable ordinary care" and that the pendency of a criminal case did not constitute good cause for his failure to provide notice within the statutory period of time.

Petitioner noted a timely appeal to the Court of Special Appeals. The intermediate appellate court, in an unreported opinion, affirmed the trial court, holding that the notice period for Petitioner's claims of false arrest, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution began to run on the date of his arrest and that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in finding that no good cause existed to excuse the notice requirements of the LGTCA. This Court granted certiorari to determine whether the trial court erred in dismissing Petitioner's claims of false arrest, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution.

II. Timeliness

In order to assess the timeliness of Petitioner's Notice of Claim under the LGTCA, it is necessary, first, to determine the time of his alleged injury for each of the appealed claims. Petitioner contends that his injury in this case occurred when his causes of action accrued for malicious prosecution, false arrest, and false imprisonment, which he asserts was after his acquittal. Section 5-304 of the LGTCA provides that "an action for unliquidated damages may not be brought against a local government or its employees unless the notice of the claim required by this section is given within 180 days after the injury.... The notice shall be in writing and shall state the time, place, and cause of the injury." § 5-304(a)-(b).

Although this Court has not previously interpreted the definition of an "injury" under the LGTCA, we have considered the question of when an injury arises in the context of the Maryland Tort Claims Act ("MTCA"), Maryland Code (1984, 1999 Repl.Vol., 2000 Supp.) § 12-106 of the State Government Article. The MTCA provides: "A claimant may not institute an action under this subtitle unless ... the claimant submits a written claim to the Treasurer or a designee of the Treasurer within 1 year after the injury to person or property that is the basis of the claim...." § 12-106(b). In Haupt v. State, 340 Md. 462, 667 A.2d 179 (1995), we considered the question of when an injury arises pursuant to the notice requirement of the MTCA for third party claims.3 We held that notice had to be given when the "legally operative facts" permitting the filing of the claim came into existence. Haupt, 340 Md. at 474, 667 A.2d at 185. We concluded that the 180-day clock began to run at the moment that the plaintiff was able to bring her claim. See id. at 477, 667 A.2d at 186. Similarly, in Lopez v. Maryland State Highway Admin., 327 Md. 486, 610 A.2d 778 (1992), we considered the question of when an injury had occurred under the MTCA for the purposes of a wrongful death suit by a child that had not yet been born at the time of the accident. In Lopez, we held that the injury that the child had suffered, for the purposes of the statute, could not have occurred until he "became a statutory claimant," which we equated with the time at which "his cause of action arose." Id. at 491, 610 A.2d at 780. We now adopt the same interpretation of the time of the injury for the purposes of the notice requirement of the LGTCA.

Petitioner's injury, therefore, occurred, pursuant to § 5-304, when his causes of action arose, i.e., when the legally operative facts permitting the filing of his claims came into existence. In order to determine when Petitioner's causes of actions arose, we must examine the elements of the cause of action, since, under this Court's precedents, a cause of action is said to have arisen "`when facts exist to support each element.'" Owens-Illinois v. Armstrong, 326 Md. 107, 121, 604 A.2d 47, 54 (1992) (quoting Owens-Illinois v. Armstrong, 87 Md.App. 699, 724-25, 591 A.2d 544, 556 (1991)); Owens Corning v. Bauman, 125 Md.App. 454, 726 A.2d 745 (1999) (citing Owens-Illinois, 326 Md. at 121, 604 A.2d at 54).

The elements of malicious prosecution are: 1) a criminal proceeding instituted or continued by the defendant against the plaintiff; 2) without probable cause; 3) with malice, or with a motive other than to bring the offender to justice; and 4) termination of the proceedings in favor of the plaintiff. See DiPino v. Davis, 354 Md. 18, 59, 729 A.2d 354, 373 (1999)

; Montgomery Ward v. Wilson, 339 Md. 701, 714, 664 A.2d 916, 922 (1995).

The elements of false arrest and false imprisonment are identical. Those elements are: 1) the deprivation of the liberty of another; 2) without consent; and 3) without legal justification. See Manikhi v. Mass Transit Admin., 360 Md. 333, 364, 758 A.2d 95, 2000 Md. LEXIS 517, at *44 (2000)

; Montgomery Ward, 339 Md. at 721, 664 A.2d at 925-26. Petitioner argues that the third element, legal justification, does not come into existence until after acquittal. He is wrong. The test of legal justification, in the context of false arrest and false imprisonment, is "`judged by the principles applicable to the law of arrest.'" Montgomery Ward, 339 Md. at 721, 664 A.2d at 926 (quoting Ashton v. Brown, 339 Md. 70, 120, 660 A.2d 447, 472 (1995)). Therefore, "where the basis of a false imprisonment action is an arrest by a police officer, the liability of the police officer for false imprisonment will ordinarily depend upon whether or not the officer acted within his legal authority to arrest." Montgomery Ward, 339 Md. at 721, 664 A.2d at 926.

Petitioner's causes of action for false arrest and false imprisonment arose, and his injuries for the purposes of the LGTCA therefore occurred, on August 24, 1997, the date that he was arrested and detained by the police. The facts alleged to support each element of his claim were in existence at that time. Therefore, his Notice of Claim, with respect to his claims of false arrest and false imprisonment, was not timely.

Malicious prosecution, however, is a different case. The tort of malicious prosecution includes not only the initiation of criminal proceedings against the plaintiff, but also the termination of those proceedings in the defendant's favor as a necessary element of the cause of action. Petitioner was lacking the facts to support that element until his acquittal on March 3, 1998. Therefore, his Notice of Claim, with respect to his claims of malicious prosecution, was timely, and it was error for the trial court to dismiss those counts of the Complaint. This holding is in accord with the law of other jurisdictions. While the public entity tort claim statutes of many other states specify that notice must be given within a designated period of time after the claimant's cause of action has "arisen" or "accrued," these precedents are...

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