Hunter v. Snee

Docket NumberCivil Action ADC-21-402
Decision Date24 January 2022
PartiesCHRISTOPHER HUNTER, et al., Plaintiffs, v. SEAN SNEE, JR., Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Maryland

A David Copperthite, United States Magistrate Judge

Defendant Sean Snee, Jr. ("Defendant"), moves this Court for summary judgment (the "Motion") (ECF No. 24) on the Complaint (ECF No. 4) brought by Plaintiffs Christopher Hunter and S.H., a minor (collectively "Plaintiffs"). Plaintiffs responded in opposition (ECF No. 34). After considering the Motion and response thereto, the Court finds that no hearing is necessary.[1]Loc.R. 105.6 (D.Md. 2021). In addition, having reviewed the pleadings of record and all competent and admissible evidence submitted, Defendant's Motion is GRANTED with respect to Counts I, IV, V, and VIII and DENIED with respect to Counts II, III, VI, and VII.

Factual and Procedural Background

Defendant is a police officer with the Baltimore County Police Department. ECF No. 4 ¶¶ 2-3. On May 20, 2019, [2] Defendant was in pursuit of a gold Ford Explorer (license plate 2CV3508) with suspended registration. ECF No. 24-4; ECF No. 24-2 at 2. The Ford Explorer drove off when the driver identified that Defendant approached. ECF No. 24-4. Defendant pursued the Ford Explorer but eventually lost sight of it. Id. While in pursuit in the same area, Defendant encountered Plaintiffs in a silver Mercury Mountaineer with a different license plate than the Ford Explorer, and mistakenly thought it was the Ford Explorer. Id. ECF No. 24-2 at 2. Defendant contends that Plaintiffs' car was being operated "like the suspect's vehicle, without the headlights activated," but Plaintiffs contend that the headlights were always on as they were set in the automatic position. ECF No. 24-2 at 2; ECF No. 34 at 6.

Defendant approached Plaintiffs' car from a head on position, parked directly in front of Plaintiffs' car, and exited his car with his gun pointed toward Mr. Hunter. ECF No. 24-4. Mr. Hunter and S.H. were in the car. ECF No. 4 ¶ 6. Defendant instructed Plaintiffs to get out of the car, and Mr. Hunter opened the door as Defendant approached. ECF No, 24-4. Defendant repeatedly told Mr. Hunter to get out of the car while he pulled Mr. Hunter's arm to remove him from the car. Id. Mr. Hunter was stuck in his seatbelt as Defendant pulled him out of the car. Id. ECF No. 4 ¶ 6. Defendant told Mr. Hunter to put his hands behind his back, while tugging his wrists together. ECF No. 24-4. Defendant then realized that he had misidentified Plaintiffs' car as the Ford Explorer. Id. As this was happening, S.H. also exited the car, was standing with his hands over his head, and crying, stating, "I'm scared." Id. Defendant explained the error to Plaintiffs and told them they were free to go; he provided his name and contact information if they needed further assistance. Id. Plaintiffs allege that they "[s]uffered serious, painful and possibly permanent bodily injuries, great physical pain and mental anguish, severe and substantial emotional distress and loss of the capacity for the enjoyment of life" as a result of the incident. ECF No. 4 ¶¶ 13, 18, 23, 28, 33, 38, 43, 48.

Plaintiffs brought the present action in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County, and Defendant removed the action to this Court on February 17, 2021. ECF No. 1-1. Plaintiffs' Complaint raises the following counts on behalf of Mr. Hunter: violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count I); battery (Count II); false imprisonment (Count III); intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count IV); and the following counts on behalf of S.H.: violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count V); assault and/or battery (Count VI); false imprisonment (Count VII); and intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count VIII). ECF No. 4. On October 26, 2021, Defendant moved for summary judgment on Plaintiffs' claims. ECF No. 24. Plaintiffs responded in opposition on November 24, 2021. ECF No. 34.

A. Standard of Review

Pursuant to Rule 56, a movant is entitled to summary judgment where the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-18 (1986) ("[T]he mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." (emphasis in original)). An issue of fact is material if, under the substantive law of the case, resolution of the factual dispute could affect the outcome. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. There is a genuine issue as to material fact "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmovlng party." Id. See Dulaney v. Packaging Corp. of Am., 673 F.3d 323, 330 (4th Cir. 2012). On the other hand, if after the Court has drawn all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, and "the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50 (citations omitted).

The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of establishing either that no genuine issue of material fact exists or that a material fact essential to the non-movant's claim is absent. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322-24. Once the movant has met its burden, the onus is on the non-movant to establish that there is a genuine issue of material fact. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 415 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). In order to meet this burden, the non-movant "may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of [its] pleadings," but must instead "set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Bouchat v. Bait. Ravens Football Club, Inc., 346 F.3d 514, 522 (4th Cir. 2003) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)).

B. Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment

Defendant argues that there are no genuine issues of material fact, and he is entitled to judgment on all of Plaintiffs' claims. ECF No. 24 at 1. Specifically, Defendant contends that Plaintiffs' 1983 claim based on the Fourteenth Amendment must fail because the Fourth Amendment provides the proper constitutional analysis and because Plaintiffs' allegations do not shock the conscience of the Court as required by the Fourteenth Amendment analysis. Id. at 6-11. Defendant further contends that Plaintiffs' 1983 claims fail because the Defendant had at least reasonable suspicion to stop Plaintiffs, and he is entitled to qualified immunity to bar any 1983 claims against him. Id. at 11-16. Defendant next asserts that he is entitled to judgment on Plaintiffs' claims for battery, false imprisonment, and assault and/or battery because he had legal justification for his stop. Id. at 16-17. And finally, Defendant states that he is entitled to judgment on Plaintiffs' intentional infliction of emotional distress claims because there is no genuine issue of material fact that Defendant did not act intentionally or recklessly to cause Plaintiffs emotional damage, nor was his conduct extreme and outrageous. Id. at 17-18.1 address each argument in turn.[3]

1. Count I and V: 42 U.S.C. S 1983

The Court agrees with Defendant's argument that Plaintiffs' 1983 claims are properly analyzed according to the Fourth Amendment. The Fourth Amendment protects "[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons . . . against unreasonable searches and seizures." U.S. Const. amend. IV. A claim that "law enforcement officials used excessive force in the course of making an arrest, investigatory stop, or other 'seizure' of his person" is "properly analyzed under the Fourth Amendment's 'objective reasonableness' standard, rather than under a substantive due process standard." Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 388 (1989). See Safar v. Tingle, 859 F.3d 241, 245 (4th Cir. 2017) ("[W]e are mindful of the Supreme Court's injunction that the Due Process Clause is not the proper lens through which to evaluate law enforcement's pretrial missteps."). Plaintiffs' opposition offers no response to Defendant's argument, and frames their argument as one of challenging the "legal justification" for Defendant's stop and his "unreasonable use of force" in the stop.[4] See ECF No. 34 at 3. Both contentions are properly analyzed under the Fourth Amendment, made applicable to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment, see Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643, 655 (1961), and do not invoke the substantive due process framework. See Graham, 490 U.S. at 388. Cf. Young v. City of Mount Ranier, 238 F.3d 567, 574 (4th Cir. 2001) (concerning a 1983 claim brought under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment but that was ultimately analyzed under the Fourteenth Amendment because there was no "contention that the law enforcement officers improperly took [the plaintiff] into custody or that they used excessive force when taking him into custody"). Accordingly, Defendant's argument that his conduct was not the type of conduct to "shock the conscious" of this Court with respect to claims for violations of substantive due process is moot.

Reasonable Suspicion

Defendant next asserts that he had at least reasonable suspicion to justify his stop. ECF No. 24-2 at 11. "The principal components of a determination of reasonable suspicion... will be the events which occurred leading up to the stop or search, and then the decision whether these historical facts viewed from the standpoint of an objectively reasonable police officer, amount to reasonable suspicion." Ornelas v. United States, 517 U.S. 690, 696-97 (1996). See United States v....

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