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O'CALLAGHAN v. DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

June 21, 1990

JOAN C. O'CALLAGHAN, Plaintiff,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: PRATT

 JOHN H. PRATT, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

 I. Introduction

 Plaintiff Joan C. O'Callaghan brings this action for declaratory relief and damages under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 (1982). She alleges that defendants, the District of Columbia ("the District"), Maurice T. Turner, Jr., Charles Samarra, and Edward J. Spurlock, *fn1" approved and implemented an undercover "sting" operation that resulted in the violation of her fifth amendment right to due process. In addition, she asserts a pendent claim of tortious conversion. Presently before the Court is plaintiff's motion for summary judgment on the issue of liability. *fn2"

 II. Background

 The essential facts are not in dispute. In mid-1987, members of the District's Metropolitan Police Department ("MPD") began implementing "Operation Killjoy," a four month undercover "sting" operation designed to combat motor vehicle theft. Under the Operation, undercover MPD officers established an auto body shop where they "purchased" stolen vehicles. *fn3" The transactions, which were recorded by concealed video cameras, led to the apprehension of numerous recidivist auto thieves. The Operation was funded in large part by insurance companies. In particular, they provided the cash with which the "purchases" were made.

 From the outset, Operation Killjoy called for the secret storage of recovered vehicles in Maryland; this storage was designed to prevent "target" sellers from seeing the vehicles on the street again and becoming suspicious. See Spurlock Dep. at 13. Thus, those who planned and approved the Operation anticipated that rightful owners would be deprived of their recovered vehicles for as long as four months. Moreover, it was understood that these owners would not even be notified of the recovery until after the Operation had ended. Those who planned and approved the Operation realized that, absent such notice, most owners would settle their insurance claims regarding the vehicles, since it was "common knowledge" that insurers settle such claims within approximately thirty days of theft. *fn4" See id. at 18-20, 22, 27-28.

 Operation Killjoy was planned and implemented by officers in the MPD's Special Operations Division, Repeat Offenders Project ("ROP"). It was approved by defendant Spurlock, then-Commander of ROP, who in turn sent the proposal through the full chain of command to defendant Turner, then-Chief of the MPD. See id. at 4-5. At the very least, Turner was aware of the specifics of the Operation and acquiesced in its implementation. *fn5"

 Plaintiff alleges that defendants, by adopting an express policy of non-notification and secret storage as part of the Operation, accorded no weight to the owners' legitimate possessory interests in their vehicles. The implementation of this policy, she argues, resulted in: (1) the deprivation of her property rights, both procedural and substantive, in violation of the due process clause of the fifth amendment; and (2) the tortious conversion of her automobile. For the reasons that follow, we hold that plaintiff is entitled to summary judgment on both counts.

 III. Plaintiff's Claim Under Section 1983

 A. Defendants are "Persons" Within the Meaning of Section 1983

 Section 1983 provides:

 
Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States . . . to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the ...

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