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Media Alerts - Ghazzaoui v. Anne Arundel County, et al. -- Fourth Circuit
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November 7, 2016
  Ghazzaoui v. Anne Arundel County, et al. -- Fourth Circuit
Headline: The Little Pro Se Litigant that Could: Fourth Circuit Rules that District Court Should Resolve Claims of Excessive Force and False Arrest

Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Civil Procedure, Civil Law

Issue Presented: Whether the district court erred in granting the defense motion for summary judgment or erred in denying the plaintiff's motion for recusal.

Brief Summary: The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held the district court improperly dismissed Ramez Ghazzaoui's excessive force and false arrest claims against Officer Dwayne Raiford because the parties disputed material issues of fact. The Fourth Circuit found the competing account of events, photographs, and video evidence was sufficient to send the case to a jury. The Fourth Circuit also remanded the case back to the district court because the court failed to rule on Ghazzaoui's claim that police unreasonably searched his bedroom. The court upheld the summary judgment motion again Corporal Doyle Holquist because he was not present at the start of the altercation and only assisted Raiford with the arrest. The court also dismissed Ghazzaoui's motion for recusal and request for a different judge, finding the request was unfounded.

Extended Summary:
Ramez Ghazzaoui filed a complaint alleging that police used excessive force and falsely arrested him after an altercation in Ghazzaoui's home. In the original complaint, Ghazzaoui claimed that on April 26, 2013, Officer Dwayne Raiford and Corporal Doyle Holquist entered his home shortly before midnight, after a community security guard notified the police, that Ghazzaoui's garage door was open. Ghazzaoui alleges that while he was sleep, police officers searched the first floor of his home before going to the second floor of the home where police found Ghazzaoui sleeping. In the complaint, Ghazzaoui says the officers requested to see his identification. However, once he produced his Maryland Driver's License the officers did not leave the home.

After an altercation with police, Ghazzaoui was arrested, and charged with: obstructing a police officer in the performance of his lawful duties, resisting arrest, failing to obey orders, and injuring a law enforcement officer engaged in the performance of his duties. All the charges were resolved in Ghazzaoui's favor. Ghazzaoui's complaint alleged he was falsely arrested, and police used excessive force in violation of 42 U.S.C § 1983, the Maryland Declaration of Rights, and Maryland tort law. The district court granted the defense motion for summary judgment and dismissed all of Ghazzaoui's claims.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, reviewing Ghazzaoui's excessive force claims de novo, found the district court correctly dismissed some claims on summary judgment, but improperly dismissed the entire suit. The Fourth Circuit analyzed the force a police officer uses under the Fourth Amendment's objective reasonableness standard to determine if the force was excessive. The Fourth Circuit ruled that the excessive force claim against Holquist could not survive summary judgment because Holquist only assisted Raiford with the arrest and did not see the initial altercation.

However, the court held that Ghazzaoui's excessive force claims against Raiford should proceed to a jury. Ghazzaoui contended that he complied with the officer's command to sit down, but was still thrown against a wall and then to the floor smashing his head on the ground, before he was arrested. Raiford contended that Ghazzaoui poked him with a pen, disobeyed orders to sit down, and fell to the ground while resisting arrest. The Fourth Circuit found the competing accounts of what happened, paired with photographs supporting Ghazzaoui's version of events, meant the disputed facts at issue should be resolved by a jury, not on summary judgment.

The Fourth Circuit also concluded that the district court improperly dismissed Ghazzaoui's false arrest claim on summary judgment. Under Maryland law, a false arrest claim can only survive summary judgment if the plaintiff can prove there was no probable cause for the arrest. Under Maryland law, a conviction is sufficient to prove probable cause, even if the judgment is reversed. However, Maryland law also recognizes that a conviction does not demonstrate probable cause if it was obtained by fraud, perjury, or other corrupt means. Similarly, under federal law, a § 1983 false arrest claim requires the plaintiff to establish the defendant caused the arrest without probable cause and that all the criminal charges were resolved in the plaintiff's favor. The Fourth Circuit noted that Ghazzaoui had photographs, and video footage that may suggest he was falsely arrested and that Raiford may have perjured himself in state court. Therefore, the Fourth Circuit ruled that Ghazzaoui's claim should proceed to a jury.

Finally, the Fourth Circuit found the district court ruling on the summary judgment motion did not address Ghazzaoui's claim that police conducted an unreasonable search of his bedroom. While Ghazzaoui won most of his claims on appeal regarding his summary judgment, the Fourth Circuit quickly dismissed his motion for a new judge, finding that Ghazzaoui's request for recusal based on claims of bias and corruption were unfounded.

To read the full opinion, click here.

Panel: Judges Niemeyer, Shedd, and Harris

Argument Date: 8/26/2016

Date of Issued Opinion: 9/8/16

Docket Number:
No. 15-2581

Decided: Affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded by unpublished per curiam opinion.

Case Alert Author: Fernando Kirkman, Univ. of Maryland Carey School of Law

Ramez Ghazzaoui, Appellant Pro Se. Hamilton F. Tyler, ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY OFFICE OF LAW, Annapolis, Maryland, for Appellees.

Author of Opinion:
Per Curiam

Case Alert Supervisor: Professor Renée Hutchins

    Posted By: Renee Hutchins @ 11/07/2016 02:05 PM     4th Circuit  

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