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SHEEHAN v. UNITED STATES

May 28, 1993

ELIZABETH A. SHEEHAN, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOHN H. PRATT

 This Federal Tort Claims Act case was tried to the Court in a four day bench trial on December 15, 16, 17 and 21, 1992. Seven witnesses, in addition to the plaintiff, testified on the plaintiff's behalf. Defendant's case was presented through five witnesses. Over forty documentary exhibits were presented on behalf of each side. At the conclusion of the evidentiary phase the parties were requested to submit findings of fact and conclusions of law.

 Pursuant to Rule 52 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Court now enters the following findings of fact and conclusions of law.

 I. Findings of Fact

 1. Plaintiff is a fifty-three year old, single female. At the time of trial, plaintiff was a third year law student at the University of the District of Columbia Law School, which she had attended since the fall of 1990.

 2. Plaintiff filed the present action under the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2771, et seq., seeking relief for injuries she sustained from a fall when she was placed under arrest on December 8, 1989.

 3. Plaintiff was stopped by an officer of the United States Capitol Police on the night of December 8, 1989, at the corner of Maryland Avenue and 2nd Street, N.E. in Washington, D.C., for operating her motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol. The lawfulness of plaintiff's arrest is not at issue. The parties have stipulated that plaintiff was lawfully arrested for operating her motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol.

 4. When she was stopped, plaintiff advised the arresting officer, United States Capitol Police Officer Thomas M. Knock, that she was disabled and normally used a crutch. That evening, however, plaintiff did not have a crutch or cane in her car.

 5. Officer Knock therefore proceeded to administer the sobriety tests to plaintiff while she remained seated in her car. Plaintiff failed two of these tests and refused to take a roadside breathalizer test.

 6. Following the tests, plaintiff got out of her car and began to walk away. Officer Knock thereupon decided to arrest plaintiff for driving under the influence of alcohol. Observing no difficulty in her walking, the officer decided to handcuff plaintiff's hands behind her back.

 7. Plaintiff was subsequently transported by United States Capitol Police Officer Kenneth Weaver and Detective Mary Powers in their transport vehicle to the United states Capitol Police headquarters, located three blocks away at 119 D St., N.E. in Washington, D.C.

 8. Plaintiff, her arms still handcuffed behind her, was led by the officers to the entrance to the building on D Street, which is the only entrance secured for processing prisoners. A plywood ramp leads up to that entrance.

 9. While walking up the ramp, plaintiff was supported by at least one of the two transporting officers. A third officer held open the door to the headquarters.

 10. Upon reaching the top of the ramp, plaintiff claims that she tripped at the threshold of the door because the ramp was not flush with the floor. She fell forward into the building, striking the right side of her head on the floor. Detective Powers, who testified that she was supporting plaintiff from one side, further testified that she herself fell off the ramp in trying to break plaintiff's fall.

 11. Plaintiff was transported by ambulance to Georgetown University Hospital's emergency room. She was admitted with a diagnosis of a right orbital fracture (a fracture of the right eye socket), a hematoma behind her right eye, and two facial lacerations which required thirteen stitches. She remained in the hospital overnight and was released the following day.

 12. Plaintiff claims that, as a result of this accident, she sustained visual problems and facial asymmetry, as well as symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder including memory loss, inability to concentrate, severe headaches, ...


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