Shenk v. Humane Soc'y of Carroll Cnty., Civil Action ELH-20-443

CourtUnited States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Maryland)
Writing for the CourtEllen L. Hollander United States District Judge
PartiesLAURA SHENK, Plaintiff, v. HUMANE SOCIETY OF CARROLL COUNTY, INC., et al. Defendants.
Decision Date27 January 2022
Docket NumberCivil Action ELH-20-443


LAURA SHENK, Plaintiff,


Civil Action No. ELH-20-443

United States District Court, D. Maryland

January 27, 2022


Ellen L. Hollander United States District Judge

Laura Shenk, the self-represented plaintiff, has filed suit against the Humane Society of Carroll County, Inc. (“HSCC”); Carroll County, Maryland (the “County”); Edward Smith, an animal control officer for HSCC; Charles Brown, the former Executive Director of HSCC; Karen Baker, the Executive Director of the HSCC; Gail Kessler, Deputy County Attorney; and Timothy Burke, County Attorney. ECF 1 (the “Complaint”); ECF 24 (the “Amended Complaint”).[1] The Amended Complaint lodges a staggering number of counts under federal and State law. The claims are rooted in the seizure of plaintiff's eleven dogs and other property in February and March of 2017 and the filing of criminal charges against Shenk that were subsequently dismissed. See ECF 24. In addition to compensatory and punitive damages, plaintiff includes a request for relief entitled “Injunctive(?), ” in which she states that if it is possible for her dogs to be returned, she would “very much like for that to happen.” ECF 24 at 60.

Defendants moved to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment as to the original Complaint. ECF 13. Plaintiff subsequently moved to amend her Complaint. ECF 21.


By Order of April 15, 2021 (ECF 23), I granted plaintiff leave to amend, with comments as to the requirements for a viable complaint. For example, the Court noted that, under Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(d)(1), each allegation in a complaint should be “simple, concise, and direct.” ECF 23 at 2 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(d)(1)). Furthermore, the Court stated that, under Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a), a pleading must “‘give the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'” ECF 23 at 2 (quoting Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N. A., 534 U.S. 506, 512 (2002)).

Plaintiff subsequently filed an Amended Complaint, containing 65 counts. ECF 24. The Amended Complaint also includes several exhibits. ECF 24-1. As defendants note, many of the claims are duplicative. See ECF 29-2 at 2 n.1; id. at 3 n.2.

Defendants have moved to dismiss or, alternatively, for summary judgment. ECF 29. The motion is supported by a memorandum (ECF 29-2) (collectively, the “Motion”) and several exhibits. ECF 29-4 to ECF 29-12. Plaintiff opposes the Motion (ECF 32, the “Opposition”), supported by several exhibits. ECF 32-1. And, defendants have replied. ECF 34 (the “Reply”).[2]

For the reasons that follow, I shall grant the Motion in part and deny it in part.

I. Overview of the Complaint

The Amended Complaint consists of 53 handwritten pages attached to the Court's general civil complaint form. As noted, it contains 65 counts, lodged under both federal and Maryland


law. With the exception of counts 5, 30, and 40, all counts against the individual defendants are brought “personally and professionally.”[3]

Each count generally consists of a caption followed by between one sentence and several paragraphs of factual allegations. Although the body of a count will occasionally make reference to a constitutional provision or some legal terminology, in general the only reference to the legal theory supporting any particular claim is the caption itself. The captions include, among others: “Illegal Search and Seizure” (counts 1, 3, 4, and 14); “Destruction of Property” (counts 10, 15, 16, and 57); “Harassment” (counts 17, 19, 21, 23, 31, 32, 33, and 49); “Nonfeasance” (counts 50, 52, 53, 54, and 55); “Misfeasance” (counts 51 and 58); “Malfeasance” (counts 59, 60, and 61); “Bad Faith” (counts 2, 18, 20, 22, and 24); “Defamation” (counts 7, 46, and 47); and “Fraudulent Misrepresentation” (counts 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 34, 35, 36, 37, and 38). Some counts simply refer to other counts, but for a different defendant, and sometimes with a different caption. For example, Count 17 lodges a claim of “harassment” against HSCC. ECF 24 at 22-23. Counts 18 through 24 contain claims of harassment and bad faith about other defendants merely by reference to Count 17. Id. at 24-25.

Because the Amended Complaint contains no overall narrative, but simply factual allegations for each count, it is difficult to draw a coherent picture of the case from the Amended Complaint Nevertheless, I shall attempt to summarize the facts on the basis of what I glean from the Amended Complaint and documents that I may consider at the Rule 12(b)(6) stage.[4]


In February 2017, plaintiff was a resident of New Windsor, Maryland. ECF 24 at 9. HSCC is alleged to be the “Appointed Local ‘Animal Control Authority'” for Carroll County. Id. at 1.[5]As mentioned, Baker is alleged to be the current director of HSCC; Brown is the former director of HSCC; and Smith is an animal control officer for HSCC. ECF 24 at 1, 2, 8, 10; ECF 1 at 9, 10. Burke is the “County Attorney” for Carroll County, and Kessler is the “Deputy County Attorney.” ECF 24 at 8, 22.

I pause to note that “[s]ince 1900, Maryland law has authorized members of humane societies to serve as animal control units and to help carry out the State's laws concerning the protection of animals from abuse or neglect.” Rohrer v. Humane Society of Wash. Cty., 454 Md. 1, 9, 163 A.3d 146, 150-51 (2017). For example, “the criminal statutes concerning animal cruelty delegate to humane societies certain powers to carry out the State's policy against animal cruelty.” Id. The Carroll County Code provides that the County Commissioners shall designate an “organization, agency, or corporation” to supervise the Code's provisions regulating animals and to operate the County's animal shelter. County Code § 90.01. Pursuant to this provision, the County Commissioners have designated HSCC. See ECF 29-12 (Memorandum of Understanding).[6]

In February and March 2017, Smith executed search and seizure warrants at plaintiff's house, seizing three of plaintiff's dogs on February 21, 2017, and plaintiff's eight remaining dogs


on March 3, 2017, as well as other property. ECF 24 at 9-13; see also ECF 32-1 at 34-43 (Smith's applications for the warrants, and the approved warrants). The warrants stemmed from Smith's purported concerns as to plaintiff's care and treatment of her animals, and followed what was apparently an acrimonious relationship between plaintiff, HSCC, and Smith. ECF 1 at 11; ECF 24-1 (Letter from Carroll County State's Attorney Brian DeLeonardo to Brown) at 2; ECF 32-1 at 29-30, 39.[7]

After these seizures, Smith filed an application for a statement of charges against plaintiff. Shenk was charged with 24 criminal violations, principally animal cruelty. ECF 24 at 16; ECF 29-4 at 11-14 (Smith's application for a statement of charges); ECF 29-6 (public docket for State criminal case against plaintiff). However, on May 23, 2017, the charges were nol prossed by the Carroll County State's Attorney's Office. ECF 24 at 16; ECF 29-6. The letter from State's Attorney DeLeonardo to Brown, which is attached to the Amended Complaint, explained that this was because of difficulties related to Smith's involvement in the case, including his adversarial relationship with plaintiff; his failure to follow policy that required a co-affiant from the Sheriff's Office on the second warrant application; and statements Smith made to the press and on social media following his application for charges. ECF 24-1 at 1-5.

In March 2017, plaintiff, then represented by counsel, filed a replevin action to recover her dogs and other property. ECF 1 at 12; ECF 24 at 18; ECF 29-7 (docket for replevin action in District Court for Carroll County); ECF 29-8 (docket for replevin action in Circuit Court for Carroll County). Her petition was denied by the District Court for Carroll County and then, on


appeal, by Judge J. Barry Hughes of the Circuit Court for Carroll County in a written opinion issued May 16, 2019. See ECF 29-9 (circuit court opinion). In his 23-page ruling, Judge Hughes found that both warrants were supported by probable cause and were properly executed. ECF 29-9 at 3-15, 23. In addition, he ruled that even after the dismissal of the criminal charges against plaintiff, the dogs were lawfully held by HSCC under the provisions of Md. Code (2021 Repl. Vol.), § 10-615 of the Criminal Law Article (“C.L.”). Id. at 15-24. That statute “authorizes an officer of a humane society to take possession of an animal from its owner ‘if necessary to protect the animal from cruelty' or ‘if necessary for the health of the animal.'” Rohrer, 454 Md. at 5, 163 A.3d at 148 (quoting C.L. § 10-615).

After the dogs were seized in February and March 2017, and throughout plaintiff's replevin proceedings, HSCC continued to hold plaintiff's dogs. ECF 24 at 10-12, 17-18, 35-38. Negotiations to return plaintiff's animals to her were unsuccessful. Id. at 11-12, 17-18. Plaintiff alleges that, during this time, four of her dogs were euthanized: “Missy” in August 2017 (id. at 18-19); “Tisha” and “Smiley” in the “fall of 2017” (id. at 21); and “Sassy” at an unspecified time. Id. at 48-51.

In August 2019, plaintiff filed a second replevin action. ECF 21 at 32; ECF 29-10 (public docket). She alleges that her suit was combined with two lawsuits filed against her in May 2019 by HSCC to recover the cost of caring for her dogs. ECF 24 at 31-32. The District Court for Carroll County ordered the return of plaintiff's dogs, conditioned on plaintiff's payment of $29, 921.13 in costs incurred by HSCC. ECF 29-11 (circuit court opinion of September 17, 2020, in second replevin case, describing the procedural history) at 1-2. However, HSCC allegedly gave away plaintiff's dogs to “other organizations, ” without notice to plaintiff. ECF 24 at 33, 34. The District Court for Carroll County found that HSCC had done so without providing plaintiff...

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