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Baltimore asks high court to combine 2 GTTF cases on scope of employment

Baltimore will ask the Court of Appeals to fast-track a recent decision finding the city responsible for a Gun Trace Task Force lawsuit judgment and consolidate it with a question already before the high court in a similar case.

The Court of Appeals agreed to hear arguments in January to answer a question certified to it by a federal judge about whether former members of the corrupt Baltimore Police Department unit were acting within the scope of their employment when plaintiff Ivan Potts was arrested.

On Tuesday, the city asked the court to review a trial judge’s ruling in a similar case that found the police officers were acting within the scope of their employment during plaintiff William James’ arrest, making the city responsible for a $32,000 judgment under state law and a memorandum of understanding with the police union.

Both Potts and James were arrested and charged based on fabricated evidence and false statements of the officers, who are now in federal prison for various crimes. Plaintiffs want the city to be required to indemnify the officers against any civil judgments. City Solicitor Andre M. Davis wants an appellate ruling on the issue.

When claims started to be filed, Davis announced that the city would not pay for any of the officers’ actions during their racketeering conspiracy.

In July, Potts accepted the offer to settle his claims against the officers in a federal civil rights lawsuit, with the understanding that the parties would jointly ask the court to certify a question to the Court of Appeals. The court is permitted to answer questions of Maryland law that will help resolve litigation in other courts.

In James’ case, the parties agreed to a $32,000 judgment and then the estate of James — who died during the litigation — filed an action to collect from the city. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment on the city’s liability and a judge ruled on Oct. 7 that the city must indemnify the officers. The city is asking the Court of Appeals to take the case directly, bypassing the Court of Special Appeals.

With the city facing dozens of lawsuits over the Gun Trace Task Force officers’ conduct, its petition to the Court of Appeals asks for “critically important” guidance on the issue of scope of employment in James’ case.

“Because of the sheer volume of cases flooding the courts, and because law enforcement officers hold a unique position of power in society, this Court should grant certiorari to provide the lower courts much-needed guidance on when a police officer’s abuse of that power falls outside the scope of his employment,” the city writes. “The current lack of precedent on this issue makes clear that certiorari is desirable and in the public interest.”

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