United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division
FRANCES J. BELISLE, Plaintiff,
LAURA BAXTER, et al, Defendants.
matter comes before the Court on two motions: (1) Defendants
Laura Baxter,  Michael Whittington, and Lawrence
Costello's (collectively with Baxter and Whittington, the
"Officer Defendants") Motion to Dismiss (the
"Officer Defendants' Motion to Dismiss"), (ECF
No. 8); and, (2) Defendant Donald Kyles's Motion to
Dismiss (the "Kyles's Motion to Dismiss"), (ECF
No. 10). Plaintiffs Frances Belisle and Pierre
Belisle (collectively with Frances,
"Plaintiffs") responded in a single filing to both
the Officer Defendants' Motion to Dismiss and the
Kyles's Motion to Dismiss. (ECF No. 12.) The Officer
Defendants and Kyles replied. (ECFNos. 15, 16).
Court dispensed with oral argument because the materials
before it adequately presented the facts and legal
contentions, and argument would not aid the decisional
Court exercises jurisdiction over Plaintiffs' federal
claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and supplemental
jurisdiction over Plaintiffs' state law claims pursuant
to 28 U.S.C. § 1367.
bring this eight-count Complaint seeking both compensatory
and punitive damages, pre-judgement and post-judgment
interest, attorneys' fees, and costs, for events
occurring in March and September 2017 that began when Frances
interacted with members of the City of Hopewell Police
Department (the "Hopewell PD") at a school function
held at Hopewell High School. Frances interacted primarily
with Baxter and Whittington and the exchange resulted in
Frances's arrest for disorderly conduct. Frances brings
claims against both Baxter and Whittington.
Frances's trial for disorderly conduct in the City of
Hopewell General District Court-Criminal Division (the
"Hopewell General District Court"), Pierre had a
separate interaction with Kyles, a school bus driver who
testified against Frances at trial. This interaction led to
Pierre's arrest for obstruction of justice. Pierre brings
claims against Kyles and Costello, the Hopewell PD officer
who issued the warrant for Pierre's arrest. Frances also
brings a claim against Kyles and Costello.
Factual Background Pertaining to Frances's
arrested Frances for disorderly conduct following an
interaction between Frances and members of the Hopewell PD.
The Hopewell General District Court later convicted Frances
of this charge and she appealed her conviction to the City of
Hopewell Circuit Court. Before Frances's trial on appeal,
the Commonwealth Attorney dismissed the charge by nolle
prosequi. Frances brings her six counts based on events
that occurred between the time leading up to her arrest and
the eventual dismissal of her charge.
Allegations Leading to Frances's Arrest
March 25, 2017, Hopewell City Public Schools held an event at
the Hopewell High School in which Plaintiffs' minor
daughter participated. The Hopewell City Public School Board
asked the Hopewell PD to assist with "the event to
ensure the safety and welfare of the attending public."
(Not. Removal Ex. A "Complaint" ¶ 13, ECF No.
1-1.) In doing so, the Hopewell PD established an entry
point "inside the [h]igh [s]chool to
block" entrance into the hallway. (Id. ¶
14.) "The police randomly allowed some to enter the
hallway through the [entry point]. Others were stopped and
denied entry." (Id. ¶ 15.)
morning of the event, Frances brought both her daughters to
the Hopewell High School and planned to escort her younger
daughter to the classroom where the instructor had told the
students to meet. Officers working at the hallway entrance
initially told Frances that she could not accompany her
daughter to the classroom, but eventually allowed her to do
returning to the hallway entrance, Frances noticed that
Hopewell PD officers, specifically Baxter, had stopped
another mother from escorting her child. Plaintiffs claim
that Frances told Baxter "that 8 and 9-year-old children
'can't be unsupervised and out of the line of sight
of their parents. It is both a safety and liability
issue.'" (Id. ¶ 19 (quoting Frances).)
Frances then "opined that either parents be allowed to
escort their children to a specific classroom or, in the
alternative, that one of the many officers present escort
the children to their required location." (Id.)
Plaintiffs allege that "Baxter told Fran[ces] that no
parents were allowed in the hallway and it was not her
'job to escort children.'" (Id.
(quoting without attribution, presumably Baxter).)
"countered that safety of the children was exactly
Baxter's job and the main reason she was in the [h]igh
[s]chool for this event was student safety."
(Id. ¶ 20.) Baxter then purportedly
"demanded that Fran[ces] leave the [s]chool or be
arrested." (Id.) According to Plaintiffs,
Frances "calmly demanded to know upon what grounds she
was being evicted and, immediately upon asking that question,
Baxter arrested Fran[ces], with
handcuffs." (Id. ¶ 21.)
alleges that "Baxter never informed [her]... that she
(Baxter) believed that Fran[ces]'s conduct was
unlawful." (Id. ¶ 22.) Frances avers that
the exchange between herself and Baxter, which "lasted
less than one minute" left her "profoundly
insulted, embarrassed, humiliated, shocked[, ] and
dismayed." (Id. ¶¶ 23, 25.)
Allegations Arising After Frances's
her arrest, until Baxter identified herself as an attorney,
Baxter allegedly "refused to tell" Frances why
Baxter arrested her, despite Frances's repeated
questions. (Id. ¶ 27.) Then, "in front of
many people," Baxter said that she arrested Frances
"for 'disorderly conduct in a public
place.'" (Id. (quoting without
attribution, presumably Baxter).) However, "Baxter
refused to tell Fran[ces] what Fran[ces] had done that
supposedly constituted 'disorderly conduct.'"
(Id. (quoting without attribution).)
Court will not resolve this factual dispute when deciding the
Officer Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. See Republican
Party of N.C. v. Martin, 980 F.2d 943, 952 (4th Cir.
1992) ("A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests
the sufficiency of a complaint; importantly, it does not
resolve contests surrounding the facts."). The Court
must give all reasonable factual inferences to Frances at
this procedural posture. See Kensington, 684 F.3d at
467 (finding that when deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to
dismiss, the court "must accept as true all of the
factual allegations contained in the complaint' and
'draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the
plaintiff' (quoting Kolon Indus., Inc., 637 F.3d
Baxter placed Frances in handcuffs, Frances "went
limp." (Id. ¶ 34.) Plaintiffs contend that
Baxter and Officer Michael Redavid "dragged
Fran[ces]... outside like a common criminal while Fran[ces]
cried out for Pierre." (Id.) Frances adds
that "Costello was also present" during this part
of the interaction. (Id.)
Baxter, Redavid, and Frances arrived outside of the high
school, "Baxter told [Hopewell Police Captain]
Whittington that she was taking Fran[ces] to jail."
(Id.) Whittington, however, "told Baxter to
take Fran[ces to] the principal's office. Baxter said
'no' and argued with Whittington for about a
minute." (Id. (quoting Baxter).) Whittington
ultimately ordered Officer Redavid to take Frances to the
principal's office. Frances alleges that the police
officers kept her in handcuffs for thirty minutes
while holding her in the principal's office. She claims
that due to her arrest, her eleven-year-old daughter was left
unaccompanied during this time.
alleges that after witnessing the officers take Frances
outside of the high school, he learned that Baxter and
Whittington had taken Frances to the principal's office.
Pierre went to the office. Pierre avers that he could see
Frances in the office, still in handcuffs. Plaintiffs state
that "[a]fter almost twenty (20) minutes,"
Whittington entered the main office. (Id. ¶
41.) "Pierre asked him why Fran[ces] was still
hand-cuffed since the situation had been under control for a
long time. Whittington told Pierre that Fran[ces] was still
handcuffed because she was * still under arrest.'"
(Id. (quoting Whittington).)
Allegations Following Frances's Release
talking to Pierre, Whittington presumably returned to the
conference room where the officers held Frances. When
Whittington emerged from the conference room, he told Pierre
that Frances "was going to be released on a summons and
that she and Pierre would be able to attend their
9-year[-]old's pre-performance." (Id.
¶ 42.) "Pierre advised Whittington to inform his
Chief to save some money from the budget because Pierre was
'going to sue your (meaning [the] Hopewell [Police
Department]) a** off.'" (Id. (quoting
Pierre).) Pierre alleges that Whittington then "became
highly disrespectful, took a step back[, ] and nervously
tried to activate his 'bodycam,' asking Pierre to
wait a minute because he needed to record Pierre's
'threat.'" (Id. (quoting without
attribution, presumably Whittington).)
the officers released Frances, "Baxter and Whittington
... refused to disclose what was the 'disorderly
conduct' that Fran[ces] had displayed to justify her
arrest. Whittington told Fran[ces] that he did not have to
tell her anything and that she would be informed in Court
about these details." (M¶43.)
Publication of the Interaction Between Frances and Members of
the Hopewell PD
March 27, 2017, two days after the event described above,
"the Petersburg Progress-Index published an
online article entitled 'Hopewell parent handcuffed after
incident at Fine Arts Festival.'" (Id.
¶ 44.) The article said, "Hopewell Police Capt.
Mike Whittington said that he understood that [Frances] had
'started getting disorderly with the officers' and
yelling while they were engaged in closing off restricted
areas. However, he noted that he had not personally witnessed
the incident and that officers would have to review the body
camera footage of the incident." (Id.
¶ 45 (quoting Whittington).)
March 29, 2017, four days after the interaction between
Frances and members of the Hopewell PD and two days after the
Progress-Index article, "WTVR.com published an
online article entitled 'Chesterfield mom arrested at
school event says "excessive force"
used.'" (Id. ¶ 47.) The WTVR.com
article quoted Hopewell PD Chief, John Koehane,
as saying that he
had heard from Baxter and Whittington ... [that] Fran[ces]
was very loud, very aggressive[, ] and belligerent to the
officers. They gave her several opportunities to leave the
area and to calm down and that just didn't happen. If she
just listened to the Officers, the arrest would have never
Frances's Trial in the City of Hopewell General
six months after Frances's arrest for disorderly conduct,
the Hopewell General District Court heard Frances's case.
Kyles, a school bus driver, testified during Frances's
trial that "Fran[ces] was belligerent, loud[, ] and used
curse words in the direction of the police officers
involved." (Id. ¶ 58.) He also testified
that "Fran[ces] and Pierre's daughter, who witnessed
Fran[ces]'s ... arrest, had rolled her eyes and stated
that she was embarrassed by Fran[ces]'s actions."
(Id. ¶59.) Baxter also testified during
Frances's trial. According to Plaintiffs, Baxter's
testimony was in one part credible: when Baxter testified
that Frances did not use curse words and "that Kyles
was, in fact, lying to the Court," which contradicted
Kyles's testimony. (Id. ¶ 60.) Otherwise,
Plaintiffs challenge Baxter's testimony.
Hopewell General District Court convicted Frances of
disorderly conduct. Frances appealed her case to the
Hopewell Circuit Court. Nearly three months later, "the
Commonwealth dismissed the charge against Fran[ces] by nolle
prosequi." (Id. ¶ 83.)
Factual Background Pertaining to Pierre's
claims stem from an interaction with Kyles at the Hopewell
High School after Frances's trial in the Hopewell General
District Court. The afternoon after Frances's trial,
Pierre, a member of the Hopewell High School staff,
confronted Kyles, a school bus driver for Hopewell High
School, while Kyles sat behind the wheel of a bus parked
outside of the Hopewell High School. Standing in the open
doorway of the bus, Pierre had the following exchange with
Pierre: "You should be ashamed of yourself. You're a
Kyles: ("in a defiant tone") "I'm proud of
myself." Pierre: "You are proud to be a liar?"
Kyles: "Don't threaten me." Pierre:
"I'm not threatening you, I'm telling you that
you are a liar."
Kyles: ([S]tarted to gesticulate and told Pierre that if he
did not leave and stop talking to him[, ] he (Kyles) would)
"make a complaint to [Hopewell High School
Superintendent Dr. Melody] Hackney.'"
Pierre: "Go ahead, please go ahead."
Kyles: "I feel threatened." ("[A]nd waving his
right hand upward like a duster, added") "[S]tep
away from my bus."
Pierre: "[Y]ou had your 15 minutes of glory under the
sun, but you are a low life liar."
(Compl. ¶¶ 63-68 (quoting Pierre and Kyles as
Pierre and Kyles reported the interaction to their
supervisors. Kyles also filed a complaint with the Hopewell
PD. That evening, Hopewell City Public Schools
"suspended [Pierre] with pay until further notice."
(Id. ¶ 71.)
on Kyles'[s] complaint, Costello sought and obtained a
warrant for Pierre's arrest on a charge
of'obstruction of justice.'" (Id.
¶ 72.) Pierre's legal counsel then called the
Chesterfield County Police (the "Chesterfield PD")
and informed them that "Pierre would turn himself in
voluntarily to the Hopewell [PD] with his attorney escorting
him on Monday, September 25, 2017." (Id. ¶
73.) On September 22, 2017, four days after the interaction
between Pierre and Kyles (and three days before Pierre
planned to turn himself in), officers from the Chesterfield
PD came to Pierre and Frances's home to arrest Pierre.
Pierre contends that the Chesterfield PD did so at
Costello's urging. Pierre was not home when the officers
arrived, but Frances later informed him that the officers had
visited. The next day, Saturday, September 23, 2017, Pierre
turned himself in to the Chesterfield PD.
Chesterfield PD transferred Pierre to the custody of Hopewell
PD. The Hopewell PD detained Pierre and took him before a
magistrate. The magistrate released Pierre on a recognizance
bond, "the terms of [which] were such that he was
prohibited from traveling outside the Commonwealth of
Virginia during the pendency of his case." (Id.
¶ 75.) The Commonwealth later dismissed the obstruction
of justice charge against Pierre.
and Pierre filed their eight-count Complaint in the Circuit
Court for the County of Chesterfield (the "Chesterfield
Circuit Court"). The Officer Defendants, with
Kyles's consent, timely removed the case to this Court.
In the Complaint, Plaintiffs allege:
Count I: Baxter and Whittington maliciously prosecuted
Frances, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (the
"Federal Malicious Prosecution claim");
Count II: Baxter and Whittington maliciously prosecuted
Frances, in violation of Virginia law (the "Virginia
malicious prosecution claim");
Count III: Baxter and Whittington falsely imprisoned Frances,
in violation of Virginia law;
Count IV: Baxter and Whittington uttered defamatory per se
words about Frances, in violation of Virginia law;
Count V: Baxter and Whittington uttered insulting words about
Frances, in violation of § 8.01-45 of the Virginia Code;
Count VI: Costello and Kyles maliciously prosecuted Pierre,
in violation of Virginia law;
Count VII: Costello and Kyles uttered defamatory per se words
about Frances and Pierre, in violation of Virginia law; and,
Count VIII: Costello and Kyles uttered insulting words about
Pierre, in violation of § 8.01-45 of the Virginia Code.
and Pierre seek compensatory and punitive damages,
pre-judgment and post-judgment interest, attorneys' fees,
Officer Defendants filed, in this Court, their Motion to
Dismiss. Kyles filed, in this Court, his Motion to Dismiss.
Plaintiffs jointly responded to the two motions. The Officer
Defendants and Kyles replied. The matter is now ripe for
Standard of Review: A Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to
motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency
of a complaint; importantly, it does not resolve contests
surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the
applicability of defenses." Republican Party of N.C.
v. Martin, 980 F.2d 943, 952 (4th Cir. 1992) (citing 5 A
Charles A. Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal
Practice and Procedure § 1356 (1990)). To survive
Rule 12(b)(6) scrutiny, a complaint must contain sufficient
factual information to "state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face." BellAtl Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007); see also
Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2) ("A pleading that states a claim
for relief must contain ... a short and plain statement of
the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to
relief.") Mere labels and conclusions declaring that the
plaintiff is entitled to relief are not enough.
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Thus, "naked
assertions of wrongdoing necessitate some factual enhancement
within the complaint to cross the line between possibility
and plausibility of entitlement to relief." Francis
v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 193 (4th Cir. 2009)
(internal quotation marks omitted).
complaint achieves facial plausibility when the facts
contained therein support a reasonable inference that the
defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556; see also Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009). This analysis is
context-specific and requires "the reviewing court to
draw on its judicial experience and common sense."
Francis, 588 F.3d at 193. The Court must assume all
well-pleaded factual allegations to be true and determine
whether, viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff,
they "plausibly give rise to an entitlement to
relief." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 676-79; see
also Kensington, 684 F.3d at 467 (finding that the court
in deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss "must
accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in
the complaint' and 'draw all reasonable inferences in
favor of the plaintiff (quoting Kolon Indus., Inc.,
631 F.3d at 440)).
Court addresses each count below.
Analysis: § 1983 Malicious Prosecution
Count I, Frances claims that Baxter and Whittington
maliciously prosecuted her, in violation of 42 U.S.C. §
1983. Because of the favorable reading
afforded to Plaintiffs' complaint at this stage of the
litigation, the Court allows Frances to pursue this claim
against Baxter, but not against Whittington.
Plaintiffs Allege Sufficient Facts for Frances to State a
Claim of Federal Malicious Prosecution Against
succeed on a § 1983 claim, a plaintiff must prove by a
preponderance of the evidence that: (1) the defendant engaged
in conduct which deprived plaintiff of a federal
constitutional or statutory right, (2) that the defendant was
acting under color of law, and (3) that the acts of that
defendant proximately caused the plaintiffs damages."
Daniczek v. Spencer, 156 F.Supp.3d 739, 747 (E.D.
Va. 2016) (citing Amato v. City of Richmond, 875
F.Supp. 1124, 1132-33 (E.D. Va. 1994)).
arrested Frances for disorderly conduct, a Class 1
Misdemeanor, following an encounter between Frances and
Baxter at the Hopewell High School. During the interaction,
Frances confronted Baxter when Baxter would not allow another
parent to accompany a student through a Hopewell PD entry
point after Baxter had allowed Frances to do so. Frances
argues that her arrest violated her Fourth and Fourteenth
Amendment rights and that § 1983 allows her
to challenge the propriety of her arrest. The Officer
Defendants challenge Frances's ability to sustain this
cause of action. For the reasons stated below and at this
procedural stage, the Court finds that Frances states a
plausible claim for relief against Baxter in Count I.
Frances Plausibly Establishes that Baxter Seized Her Pursuant
to a Legal Process Not Supported by Probable Cause,
Satisfying the First Prong of the $ 1983
the first prong of the § 1983 analysis in a Fourth
Amendment claim, Frances must show that (a) Baxter seized her
"pursuant to legal process that was not supported by
probable cause and [(b)] that the criminal proceedings have
terminated in [Frances's] favor." Massey v.
Ojaniit, 759 F.3d 343, 356 (4th Cir. 2014) (citing
Durham v. Horner, 690 F.3d 183, 188 (4th Cir.
2012)). The Officer Defendants challenge Frances's
ability to show that Baxter seized her "pursuant to a
legal process not supported by probable cause" because,
they argue, Baxter had probable cause to effectuate the
arrest. Id. Although "[p]robable cause 'is
not a high bar, '" Spivey v. Norris, 731
Fed.Appx. 171, 175 (4th Cir. 2018) (quoting Dist. of
Columbia v. Wesby, 138 S.Ct. 577, 586 (2018)), Frances
pleads sufficient facts for her claim that Baxter lacked
probable cause to survive a motion to dismiss.
cause sufficient to justify an arrest exists when the
"facts and circumstances within the officer's
knowledge ... are sufficient to warrant a prudent person ...
in believing, in the circumstances shown, that the suspect
has committed, is committing, or is about to commit an
offense." Spivey, 731 Fed.Appx. at 176 (quoting
United States v. Gray, 137 F.3d 765, 769 (4th Cir.
1998)). "While probable cause requires more than bare
suspicion, it requires less than that evidence necessary to
convict." Id. at 175-76 (quoting Gray,
137 F.3d at 769). Two factors guide a court's probable
cause inquiry: "the suspect's conduct as known to
the officer, and the contours of the offense thought to be
committed by that conduct." Id. (quoting
Graham v. Gagnon, 831 F.3d 176, 184 (4th Cir.
2016)). In this case, the Court looks to Frances's
conduct as known to Baxter at the time of France's
arrest, and to the contours of the Virginia disorderly
claim that throughout the interaction between Frances and
Baxter, which "lasted less than one minute,"
(Compl. ¶ 25), Frances
was not intoxicated.... never raised her voice.... never
threatened Baxter or anyone else.... never approached Baxter
or made any gestures towards her.... did not incite Baxter or
anyone else to violence.... did nothing to disrupt the
[school] event and, indeed, the event was never disrupted[, ]
(id. ¶ 24). Rather, Frances states that after
Baxter "demanded that Fran[ces] leave the
[s]chool," (id. ¶ 20), "Fran[ces]
calmly demanded to know upon what grounds she was being
evicted and, immediately upon asking that question, Baxter
arrested Fran[ces], " (id. ¶ 21).
Virginia, it is a Class 1 Misdemeanor
if, with the intent to cause public inconvenience, annoyance
or alarm or recklessly creating a risk thereof... [she or] he
... [w]illfully or while intoxicated ... disrupts the
operation of any school or any activity conducted or
sponsored by any school, if the disruption ... prevents or
interferes with the orderly conduct of the operation or
activity or... has a direct tendency to cause acts of
violence by the person ... at whom, individually, the
disruption is directed.
Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-415(C).
on these allegations and the contours of the Virginia
disorderly conduct statute, the Court permits Frances, for
purposes of a motion to dismiss, to maintain her § 1983
malicious prosecution claim against Baxter. In Virginia a
person violates the disorderly conduct statute when she or he
"disrupts the operation of any school or any activity
conducted or sponsored by the school." Va. Code Ann.
§ 18.2-415(C). Plaintiffs allege that the encounter
between Frances and Baxter transpired in less than one minute
and that "the [school] event was never disrupted,"
(Compl. ¶ 24). At this early stage, taking as true the
factual allegations and drawing all reasonable inferences in
Frances's favor, Frances alleges facts showing that she
plausibly did not violate Virginia's disorderly conduct
statute. She also demonstrates, albeit marginally, that the
facts and circumstances within Baxter's knowledge did not
suffice to support probable cause for her arrest. Because
Frances may show that Baxter seized Frances without probable
cause, she plausibly satisfies the first prong of the §
Frances Sufficiently Alleges that Baxter Hid Evidence of
Frances's Innocence, So Baxter's Actions Constitute
the Proximate Cause of Frances's Arrest Meeting the
Third Prong of the $ 1983 Analysis
found that Frances pleads minimally sufficient factual
allegations to satisfy the first prong of the § 1983
analysis and with the parties conceding that Baxter acted
under color of law,  the Court turns to the third prong of
that test: whether Baxter's actions proximately caused
Frances's arrest. See Daniczek, 156 F.Supp.3d at
747. Frances also meets this prong of the § 1983
analysis for purposes of this motion to dismiss.
officer may avoid liability for malicious prosecution by
showing that the "subsequent acts of independent
decision-makers (e.g., prosecutors, grand juries, and
judges)... constitute intervening superseding causes that
break the causal chain between a defendant-officer's
misconduct and a plaintiffs unlawful seizure." Evans
v. Chalmers, 703 F.3d 636, 647 (4th Cir. 2012). The
actions of the independent decision-makers will not insulate
the officer from liability, however, if an officer
"present[s] false evidence, hide[s] evidence of
innocence, or unduly pressure[s] a prosecutor into pressing
charges." Copenny v. City of Hopewell, 7
F.Supp.3d 635, 640 (E.D. Va. 2014) (citing Evans,
703 F.3d at 647-48). "In these circumstances, an officer
can still be liable for a wrongful prosecution, even though a
prosecutor or grand jury makes the final decision to
prosecute." Id. (citing Willis v.
Blevins, 966 F.Supp.2d 646, 653-54 (E.D. Va. 2013)).
Complaint, Plaintiffs allege that "[i]n procuring
Fran[ces']s arrest, Baxter and Whittington intentionally
falsified evidence and ignored and/or covered-up the CCTV and
bodycam videotapes." (Compl. ¶ 90.) Standing alone,
the Court would not give weight to this conclusory
allegation. But in support of this serious allegation,
Plaintiffs aver that "[t]he incident [between Frances
and Baxter] was captured on [the school's closed circuit
television]... and on bodycams worn by Baxter and
Baxter's fellow officers. The videotapes demonstrate that
there was no probable cause and that Baxter's conduct was
objectively unreasonable." (Id. ¶ 33.)
Plaintiffs also contend that Whittington's statements to
the Progress-Index confirm that video evidence
existed. But Plaintiffs aver that they have never received
the video recordings: "neither Baxter nor Whittington
nor any other Hopewell police officer ever produced the
exculpatory body camera video." (Id.
¶¶ 45-46.) Seemingly, the videos might prove the
truth or falsity of both sides' positions.
any video evidence was withheld, destroyed, lost, faulty, or
nonexistent is a question to be answered later in litigation.
But drawing all reasonable inferences in Plaintiffs'
favor, Plaintiffs sufficiently plead facts to show that
Baxter potentially "hid evidence of innocence"
sufficient to overcome the superseding nature of the
Commonwealth Attorney's decision to prosecute Frances.
Copenny, 7F.Supp.3d at 640. Because Baxter's
actions, as alleged, stand as both the actual and proximate
cause of Frances's allegedly unlawful seizure, Plaintiffs
plausibly satisfy the third and final prong of the §
1983 analysis. Thus, Frances meets all prongs required to
overcome the motion to dismiss her § 1983 claim in Count
I against Baxter.
Qualified Immunity Does Not Protect Baxter's
Baxter contends that even if Frances successfully pleads a
§ 1983 malicious prosecution claim, Baxter cannot be
held liable because qualified immunity protects her from
liability. At the motion to dismiss stage, the contentions
discussed above overcome Baxter's claim of qualified
immunity shields government officials from civil liability
when they perform discretionary functions insofar as their
conduct does not violate clearly established rights of which
a reasonable person would have known. Harlow v.
Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). Qualified immunity
protects "all but the plainly incompetent or those who
knowingly violate the law." Malley v. Briggs,
475 U.S. 335, 341 (1986). The qualified immunity defense
ensures that "officials are not liable for bad guesses
in gray areas; they are liable for transgressing bright
lines." Maciariello v. Sumner, 973 F.2d 295,
298 (4th Cir. 1992).
To overcome qualified immunity a plaintiff must meet a
First, a court must decide whether the facts that a plaintiff
has alleged or shown make out a violation of a constitutional
right. Second, if the plaintiff has satisfied this first
step, the court must decide whether the right at issue was
"clearly established" at the time of
defendant's alleged misconduct.
Pearson, 555 U.S. at 232 (internal citations
solely on the well-pleaded factual allegations in the
Complaint, and disregarding disputed facts, Plaintiffs
plausibly plead sufficient facts to claim that Baxter
arrested Frances without probable cause. Because a reasonable
officer would have known that she or he could not arrest a
person without a warrant or probable cause, Baxter cannot
claim qualified immunity.
the Court will deny the Officer Defendants' Motion to
Dismiss as to Frances's § 1983 malicious prosecution
claim in Count I against Baxter.
Frances Does Not Allege Sufficient Facts to State a Claim of
§ 1983 Malicious Prosecution Against Whittington Because
She Fails ...