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SAIDI v. WASHINGTON METRO. AREA TRANSIT AUTH.

May 30, 1996

ESMAT SAIDI, Plaintiff,
v.
WASHINGTON METROPOLITAN AREA TRANSIT AUTHORITY, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: ATTRIDGE

 This matter was tried to the Court without a jury after the parties waived their right to a jury trial and consented to proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge for all purposes pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). Based on the evidence submitted at trial, the Court makes the following findings of fact and conclusions of law pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 52(a).

 Findings of Fact And Conclusions

 On July 14, 1995, the plaintiff Esmat Saidi, a 67 year old Iranian woman, boarded a Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority ("WMATA") bus in Falls Church, Virginia, with the intention of traveling to 11th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., in the District of Columbia. Her journey required her to transfer to a second bus at Rosslyn, Virgina and transfer to yet a third bus some place in the area of the George Washington University Hospital in northwest Washington D.C. Either as she entered the bus at Falls Church or as she boarded the second bus at Rosslyn, Saidi requested and was given a transfer which she believed would enable her to board a third bus near GW Hospital which would take her to her ultimate destination - Pennsylvania Avenue and 11th Street in northwest Washington. Upon boarding the third bus Saidi gave her transfer to the driver, Warren Matthews ("Matthews"), and proceeded to her seat without paying any fare. The bus continued on its route as Matthews informed Saidi that the transfer was "no good" and that she would have to pay the fare or leave the bus. They argued about her refusal to pay the fare until the bus reached the 1700 block of H Street NW Washington. At that point Matthews stopped the bus and directed Saidi to exit the bus because she refused to pay the fare. As she was about to leave by the front exit, Saidi directed a racial epithet ("stupid nigger") at Matthews and spat in his face. Saidi began to descend the front steps of the bus and quickly flee through the front door. Matthews rose to his feet, grasped Saidi as she exited the bus, and restrained her by placing his forearm around her shoulders and beneath her chin. He forced her to sit on the steps of the bus and stood on the street in the front doorway of the bus with his arms extended across the entrance with one leg on the first step so as to prevent Saidi from leaving. Matthews directed one of the passengers to request assistance from the Secret Service officers on duty across the street from the stopped bus so that they could handle the matter, but they did not respond. Some minutes later Fire Department medics arrived on the scene, however, Saidi declined medical assistance. After the departure of the medics Sergeant Timothy Mallory ("Mallory") and Officer Richard Ray ("Ray") of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority police arrived. Following inquiry of Matthews and some of the passengers Mallory concluded that Saidi had assaulted Matthews by spitting in his face. Saidi denied that she spat in Matthews' face and refused to respond to Mallory's request for her identification. Saidi was thereupon charged with simple assault, handcuffed, and placed in the rear of a scout car for transport to a nearby police precinct. Upon entering the vehicle Saidi complained of back pain so Mallory directed Ray to take her to the hospital for examination and treatment. Following her discharge from the hospital Saidi was released from police custody, given a citation, and took a taxicab to the northwest Washington police precinct where she retrieved some personal items and from there she took a taxicab to her home in Fairfax. Saidi continued to experience pain over the weekend so that on Monday, July 17, she decided to go to the emergency room at Fairfax Hospital for further examination and treatment. Following examination, she was referred to a private physician who treated her on two or three occasions and then referred her to an orthopedic physician. However she waited until January 1996, six months after her referral, before visiting the orthopedist. He, in turn, referred her for physical therapy which she did not attend. In April 1996, on the eve of trial, Saidi went to yet another physician who referred her for physical therapy which she attended on the two Fridays immediately preceding our trial on May 7, 1996.

 Saidi had initially sued Warren Matthews individually; however, after WMATA conceded that at all times Matthews was acting within the scope of his employment and that if Matthews was found to have committed any tortious conduct it would be liable for his tortious actions under the doctrine of respondeat superior, Saidi dismissed her complaint against him. She has also sued Sgt. Mallory and Officer Ray individually for false arrest and false imprisonment, malicious prosecution and for violations of 42 U.S.C.§ 1983. Saidi also seeks recovery from WMATA for slander and defamation, false imprisonment, assault and battery, and breach of legal duties to provide safe transport and for failure to protect her from excess force and intentional wrongful acts.

 Included within her claim for money damages, Saidi sought compensation for her diminished reputation by reason of her arrest. In order to rebut that claim the defendants were able to bring out, over objection, the fact that Saidi had two convictions in Fairfax County, one of which occurred a few months before the bus incident, for attempting to allude the police while operating her motor vehicle. Saidi admitted these convictions and admitted that she had served thirty days in jail following the second conviction. *fn1"

 Conclusions of Law

 The named defendants in this case are WMATA, Sergeant Timothy Mallory and Officer Ray. The plaintiff dismissed the bus driver Matthews as a defendant in this case and WMATA conceded that Matthews was within the scope of employment. Thus WMATA is directly liable through the doctrine of respondeat superior and the WMATA Compact for the tortious conduct, if an, of Matthews.

 The plaintiff seeks recovery from the various defendants on nine theories: count one (Slander and Defamation by Matthews); count two (False Imprisonment by Matthews); count three (Assault & Battery by Matthews); count four (False Arrest and False Imprisonment by Sgt. Mallory and Officer Ray); count five (Malicious Prosecution by Sgt. Mallory, Officer Ray and Matthews); count six (§ 1983 violations by Sgt. Mallory, Officer Ray and Matthews); count seven (breach of legal duty), count eight (breach of legal II), and count nine (expungement of arrest record).

 Discussion of the Nine Counts

 1. Count One (Slander and Defamation by Matthews)

 The plaintiff contends that the bus driver's statement "your transfer is invalid" and "is no good" is slanderous because she was impliedly charged with the offense of theft of services. However the transfer which she tendered to Matthews, which was received in evidence as defendants' exhibit 2(a) was indeed invalid for transportation upon the third Metrobus that she in the vicinity of George Washington University Hospital - the bus operated by Matthews. The transfer was for passage on a Virginia Metro bus going in an outbound direction and was not valid for use in the District of Columbia. Since the statements "your transfer is invalid" and "is no good" were true, the truthfulness of this factual statement defeats any cause of action for slander and defamation against Matthews and consequently WMATA.

 Slanderous words or false words are a required element of a cause of action for slander. See Farnum v. Colbert, 293 A.2d 279, 282 (D.C. 1072)(citing Rest. 2d of Torts § 569 (1938)); and Tocker v. Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., 190 A.2d 822, 823 (D.C. 1963). As the plaintiff failed to produce evidence of a slanderous or a false statement, this count must fail. As the threshold issue of a cause of action for slander has failed, there is no need for the Court to address the other elements of slander. *fn2"

 2. Count two (False Imprisonment by Matthews)

 The plaintiff also seeks damages for Matthews' detention of her until the WMATA police arrived and arrest her. She contends her detention by the driver constituted false imprisonment. *fn3" False imprisonment occurs when there is unlawful detention. Tocker, 190 A.2d at 824.

 Initial detention before an arrest is permissible in the District of Columbia provided there is a good faith and reasonable belief that a crime was committed or was about to be committed. Curry v. Giant Food Co. of the District of Columbia, 522 A.2d 1283, 1287-88 (D.C. 1987)(detention for shoplifting in a grocery store); see also Stebbins v. WMATA, 495 A.2d 741, 743 (D.C. 1985)(citing a case where security personnel legitimately detained potential shoplifter upon a "good faith, reasonable belief'"), and Lansburgh v. Ruffin, 372 A.2d 561, 565 (D.C. 1977)(permitting a reasonable detention before arrest). I find that Mr. Matthews had a good faith and reasonable belief that a crime had occurred because Saidi spat on him. Spitting on an individual constitutes an assault on that person. D.C. Code § 22-504. Ray v. United States, 575 A.2d 1196, 1199 (D.C. 1990). His knowledge of the commission of a crime enabled him to justifiably detain the plaintiff.

 Moreover, if Matthews had permitted the plaintiff to flee the bus, in all likelihood WMATA would have been unable to locate and charge her for her unlawful act. Matthews only did what was reasonable under the circumstances and did not unnecessarily detain the plaintiff. Accordingly, I find that Matthews' detention of Saidi cannot serve as a basis for a civil action for false imprisonment and the count of false imprisonment against WMATA for Matthews' actions must fail.

 3. Count three (Assault & Battery by Matthews)

 Saidi additionally charged the bus driver, Matthews with common law assault and battery. She contends that Matthews used greater force than necessary to detain her from fleeing the bus. She alleges the bus driver practically choked her when he sought to stop her from exiting the bus and as a consequence broke her necklace by the manner in which he restrained her and caused injuries to her back, shoulders, knees, feet, legs, wrists and arms and that she "was damaged all over."

 Mr. Wilbur Hernandez, an observer 10 feet outside of the bus, also testified that the plaintiff's necklace was broken by Matthews and that the plaintiff was restrained when ...


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