Smith v. Bortner

Decision Date07 July 2010
Docket Number2008.,No. 2667,2667
Citation998 A.2d 369,193 Md.App. 534
PartiesEyrania SMITHv.Michael BORTNER.
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland

Paul Hollifield (Karl H. Goodman, on the brief) of Baltimore, MD, for appellant.

Adam Rodenblatt (John E. Beverungen, County Atty., Jeffrey G. Cook, Asst. County Atty., on the brief) Towson, MD, for appellee.

Panel: DAVIS, WOODWARD and ZARNOCH, JJ.

ZARNOCH, J.

In this appeal, we are asked to determine the appropriate State constitutional standard for a claim that police used excessive force on a citizen in custody following a valid arrest. The unfortunate circumstances described below led Eyrania Smith, appellant, to file suit in January 2008 in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County against Michael Bortner, appellee, an officer of the Baltimore County Police Department. In that suit, she alleged that the officer mistreated her following her arrest while she was in custody at a Baltimore County police station awaiting transfer to the Baltimore City Police Department. The complaint alleged that Bortner violated Smith's rights under Articles 24 and 26 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights, and that he committed several common law torts. In December 2008, the circuit court granted summary judgment to Bortner on all counts of the complaint. In this appeal, Smith challenges only the rejection of one of her constitutional claims and contends that the circuit court failed to apply the correct standard for determining whether the officer's conduct violated Article 24. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the circuit court's order granting summary judgment.

FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

On Saturday morning, March 26, 2005, Smith was driving with her children on Interstate 83 in Baltimore County, when Officer Gibbons of the Baltimore County Police Department stopped her for speeding. The officer learned that there was an outstanding warrant for Smith's arrest that had been issued by the District Court for Baltimore City in 2001.1 Despite Smith's protests that the police record of a warrant was mistaken, at 9:08 a.m., the officer arrested and handcuffed Smith and transported her to the Cockeysville precinct station. Smith's car was left at a Park-and-Ride near I-83. Smith's two daughters, who were seventeen and eight or nine, respectively, were left alone in the car.2 At approximately 9:20 a.m., Officer Michael Bortner, the booking officer at the station, fingerprinted and photographed Smith. Bortner then had Smith sit down on a bench near a wall in the fingerprinting room, handcuffed her left wrist to a pole above her seat, and shackled her ankles to a pole running parallel near the bottom of the wall.

The Baltimore County police then notified the Baltimore City Police Department that Smith was in custody and requested that the City police pick her up. However, City police officers did not arrive. According to the arrest report, at 2:15 p.m., the County police contacted the City police, who said its 4 p.m. to midnight shift would handle the matter. At 5 p.m., the County contacted the City again to obtain an estimated time when police would arrive and were told that the City's midnight shift would handle the matter. Around midnight, after City police still had not come, County officers transported Smith to Baltimore City police custody.

During most of her stay at the Cockeysville station, appellant remained handcuffed and shackled to the wall. According to Smith, she repeatedly told Bortner and other officers that the warrant was a mistake. Appellant said at her deposition that the police told her that she could not be placed in a cell because all three of the station's cells were occupied by men. Appellant also stated that an officer called a nearby prison that houses women to inquire if there were empty cells, but was informed that there were none. Appellant was diabetic and a number of times asked about obtaining the insulin she had left in her car so she could inject herself. Her requests were denied, and appellant testified that an officer told her that she would “be fine” without her insulin for a day. In her deposition, appellant recounted a phone conversation one officer had with her husband about getting her insulin: “What I heard him say to my husband was, we're not a hospital facility, and we can't allow her to inject herself here.” Smith also complained about the shackles cutting into her ankles, but she said that her complaint was ignored. According to appellant, police officers' children were at the station that day for an Easter party, and they ran into the room in which she sat and called her a “jailbird.” Around 5:15 p.m., she was moved from the fingerprinting room to the hallway of the station and remained handcuffed there. The record is silent on whether she was handcuffed and shackled to a pole as in the fingerprint room. The arrest report indicates that appellant used the restroom twice and was fed at 5 p.m. According to appellant, she was offered a sandwich, but was so disgusted that she gave it to a prisoner who was being held in a nearby cell. She accepted the drink the police offered her. Police records indicated that Bortner worked a 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. shift that day, and thus, at most, was involved with appellant for about four and a half hours.

According to appellant's complaint, after being transferred to Baltimore City, the police advised her that there was no outstanding warrant for her arrest. She was released at approximately 12:54 a.m. on March 27, 2005. On Monday, March 28, 2005, appellant went to the District Court for Baltimore City and informed the judge who had sentenced her in 2001 about the weekend's events. The judge recognized the mistake and, that day, issued an order recalling the bench warrant.

Appellant was examined by a physician on April 6, 2005. In a report, the doctor diagnosed her as suffering from strains to her left shoulder, spine, hips, and chest, a sprain to several areas of her left arm, and a left ankle contusion/sprain. He also wrote that Smith suffered post-traumatic headaches and anxiety. The doctor recommended physical therapy and referred Smith to an orthopedic surgeon. He ordered Smith to refrain from working, but did not indicate a time frame for her return to work. At her deposition, appellant said that she went back to her job as a cashier at Walmart shortly after the incident, but nearly “had a nervous breakdown at the [cash] register.” According to appellant, she was unable to return to work thereafter.

On January 2, 2008, appellant filed a complaint against Bortner, individually and in his official capacity, alleging counts of: (1) battery; (2) false arrest; (3) false imprisonment; and (4) violations of Articles 24 and 26 the Maryland Declaration of Rights.3 The complaint stated that Bortner shackled her “to a pole with her left wrist above her head and both ankles shackled for 12 1/2 hours,” and that she “repeatedly advised Officer Bortner and others that there was no warrant against her and that she was diabetic and could not remain in [the] position” in which she was placed. She alleged that she suffered “serious, painful and permanent bodily injuries, great physical pain and mental anguish, severe and substantial emotional distress and loss of the capacity for the enjoyment of life,” and incurred medical expenses as a result. The complaint sought $1 million compensatory and $1 million punitive damages.

On May 14, 2008, Bortner moved for summary judgment on all counts, arguing that the basis of the complaint was that the police acted without an arrest warrant, but in fact the police acted on a facially valid outstanding bench warrant, which was not recalled until two days after the arrest. On May 30, 2008, appellant filed a response, countering that the warrant “was an error and ultimately quashed,” and that appellant repeatedly advised the police that there was a mistake. Appellant further stated that her claims did not arise from the arrest itself, but from the manner in which the officer treated her while holding her at the station.

In a ruling dated August 8, 2008, Judge John F. Fader II denied the motion, noting that “there is much more in the Complaint filed than an allegation that [appellant] was arrested without a warrant,” including allegations about the amount of time and the manner in which the Baltimore County police held her. He ruled that “summary judgment [was] inappropriate on the facts presented by the motion[.]

Subsequently, Smith was deposed. On September 26, 2008, Bortner moved a second time for summary judgment, arguing that appellant could not prevail on her claims of battery, false arrest, and false imprisonment, because the warrant provided legal justification for the arrest. Bortner further argued that he enjoyed public official immunity unless he acted with malice, and there was no evidence of malice. Lastly, Bortner argued that the claims of violations of Articles 24 and 26 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights should fail because the conduct complained of did not “shock the conscience” or amount to “punishment.” 4 Judge Judith Ensor heard oral argument on the motion on December 18, 2008. That day, she granted appellee's motion as to counts 1, 2, and 3, but reserved judgment on count 4, the constitutional claims. On December 30, 2008, she granted summary judgment to appellee on count 4, explaining that in order for appellant to prevail on her claim that Bortner committed constitutional torts by using excessive force against her, Bortner's conduct must “shock the judicial conscience.” The court found that Bortner's conduct did not rise to that level and was also “objectively reasonable.”

Smith timely noted an appeal on January 30, 2009.

QUESTION PRESENTED

We have slightly rephrased the single question appellant has presented:

Whether the circuit court applied the correct standard for determining whether appellee's conduct violated appellant's constitutional rights? 5
DISCUSSION

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