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PARKER v. GRAND HYATT HOTEL

September 18, 2000

MICHAEL PARKER, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
V.
THE GRAND HYATT HOTEL, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Urbina, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Granting in Part and Denying in Part the Defendants' Motions for Summary Judgment

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiffs Michael Parker and Yvette Robinson Parker (the "plaintiffs" or the "Parkers"), common-law husband and wife, filed the instant action against The Hyatt Corporation, Square 345 Limited Partnership, Centerock Limited Partnership, Washrock Realty Associates and Mr. Russell Ricalde (collectively, "Hyatt" or the "Hyatt defendants"), as well as the District of Columbia and Metropolitan Police Department Officers Darnell Houston and Hector Lugo ("D.C." or the "D.C. defendants"). The plaintiffs assert claims for negligent supervision, intentional infliction of emotional distress, conversion, excessive force, false arrest and imprisonment, malicious prosecution, conspiracy, negligent infliction of emotional distress and violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981. The Hyatt and D.C. defendants move for summary judgment.

For the following reasons, the court will: (a) grant the defendants' motions for summary judgment on the counts of negligent supervision, conspiracy and violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981; (b) deny the defendants' motions for summary judgment on the counts of conversion, excessive force, false arrest and imprisonment, and malicious prosecution; and (c) grant the defendants' motions for summary judgment on the counts of intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent infliction of emotional distress with respect to Ms. Parker only.

II. BACKGROUND

This case arose from events that transpired on July 6, 1997, when the plaintiffs dined at the Grand Slam Restaurant at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Washington, D.C. Upon entering the restaurant, the plaintiffs sat at a table, and Mr. Parker, a paraplegic, moved from his wheelchair to a chair at the table. See Hyatt's Mot. for Summ. J. at 1; D.C.'s Mot. for Summ. J. at 1; Opp'n to Mot. for Summ. J. at 3. Shortly thereafter, the plaintiffs noticed an eyeglass case that a previous restaurant patron had left, either at the table at which the plaintiffs were seated or at a nearby table. The plaintiffs moved the eyeglass case, either close to Mr. Parker or into the pouch on Mr. Parker's wheelchair. See Hyatt's Mot. for Summ. J. at 1; D.C.'s Mot. for Summ. J. at 1-2; Opp'n to Mot. for Summ. J. at 3. The plaintiffs' waitress, Ms. Anita Garner, saw the plaintiffs' actions and summoned the Assistant Director of Hyatt Security, Russell Ricalde, who approached the plaintiffs. Mr. Ricalde asked if the plaintiffs had the eyeglass case, and the plaintiffs handed it over. See Hyatt's Mot. for Summ. J. at 2-3; D.C.'s Mot. for Summ. J. at 2; Opp'n to Mot for Summ. J. at 3-4.

Mr. Parker then became agitated that Mr. Ricalde had approached him, and Mr. Ricalde and Mr. Parker exchanged words. Mr. Parker's tenor during this exchange is in dispute. Mr. Ricalde then called for additional security. See Hyatt's Mot. for Summ. J. at 4-5; D.C.'s Mot. for Summ. J. at 2; Opp'n to Mot. for Summ. J. at 4-5. The plaintiffs and the Hyatt defendants disagree about whether Hyatt security asked the plaintiffs to leave the restaurant and the plaintiffs refused to comply, or whether Hyatt security never asked the plaintiffs to leave. Hyatt security then withdrew from the scene, leaving the plaintiffs at the table, and called for the Metropolitan Police Department. See Hyatt's Mot. for Summ. J. at 5-6; D.C.'s Mot. for Summ. J. at 2; Opp'n to Mot. for Summ. J. at 5.

Shortly thereafter, officers Darnell Houston and Hector Lugo arrived at the scene. The officers briefly questioned Mr. Ricalde, and then approached the plaintiffs' table and asked them to leave the restaurant. The parties differ on what happened next. The plaintiffs state that Mr. Parker agreed to leave and told the officers that he needed his wife's assistance in transferring him back to his wheelchair, but that before she could help him the officers violently grabbed him, put him in a choke-hold, and struck him. See Opp'n to Mot. for Summ. J. at 5-6. The plaintiffs assert that the officers then dropped him to the ground and kicked him. See Opp'n to Mot. for Summ. J. at 6.

In contrast, the Hyatt defendants claim that Mr. Parker refused to leave the premises voluntarily, so the officers attempted to move Mr. Parker to his wheelchair. The D.C. defendants claim that Mr. Parker agreed to leave and asked the officers to help him into his wheelchair. See Hyatt's Mot. for Summ. J. at 6-7; D.C.'s Mot. for Summ. J. at 3. According to both defendants, while the police were in the process of lifting Mr. Parker, he began to violently resist them, which made it impossible to move him to the wheelchair. The D.C. defendants claim that, upon being struck by Mr. Parker, officer Lugo stepped back, and because officer Houston could not hold Mr. Parker by himself, Mr. Parker was dropped to the ground accidentally. The Hyatt defendants claim that, upon violent resistance from Mr. Parker, the officers placed him back in the dining chair, but that Mr. Parker purposely slid to the ground and complained of injuries. See Hyatt's Mot. for Summ. J. at 7-8; D.C.'s Mot. for Summ. J. at 3.

At this point someone called for an ambulance, and when it arrived, Mr. Parker was taken to George Washington Hospital, where he was treated for alleged pain and abrasions. See Hyatt's Mot. for Summ. J. at 8; Opp'n to Mot. for Summ. J. at 6. After his discharge from the hospital, Mr. Parker was taken to the police station and was charged with unlawful entry and disorderly conduct. Ultimately, Mr. Parker was not convicted of the charges. According to the plaintiffs, the charges were dismissed, while the defendants maintain that the proceedings were "no-papered."*fn1 See Hyatt's Mot. for Summ. J. at 8; Opp'n to Mot. for Summ. J. at 8.

On October 15, 1998, the plaintiffs filed their complaint, which they have twice amended. The second amended complaint contains nine counts, asserting claims for: 1) negligent supervision, against D.C. and Hyatt; 2) intentional infliction of emotional distress, against D.C., Hyatt and Mr. Ricalde; 3) conversion, against Hyatt and Mr. Ricalde; 4) excessive force in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against Officers Houston and Lugo; 5) false arrest and imprisonment in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against Officers Houston and Lugo; 6) malicious prosecution in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against Officers Houston and Lugo; 7) conspiracy in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against Mr. Ricalde and Officers Houston and Lugo; 8) negligent infliction of emotional distress, against D.C., Hyatt and Mr. Ricalde; and 9) violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981, against Hyatt and Mr. Ricalde. See Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 28-67.

Defendants Hyatt and D.C. filed separate motions for summary judgment, to which the plaintiffs responded with one opposition. The defendants then filed separate replies.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Legal Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate upon a finding that "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The substantive law upon which a claim rests determines which facts are "material." See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). If a fact bears upon an essential element of the legal claim, then it is material; otherwise, it is not. See id.; Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). Only disputes over facts that can establish an element of the claim, and thus those that might affect its ultimate resolution, can create a "genuine issue" sufficient to preclude summary judgment. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505; Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548.

To prevail on a motion for summary judgment, the moving party must establish that there are no genuine issues of material fact and that the non-moving party has failed to offer sufficient evidence to support a valid legal claim. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256, 106 S.Ct. 2505; Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325, 106 S.Ct. 2548. In ruling on the motion, the court must accept the evidence of the non-moving party as true and must draw all justifiable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505. It is not sufficient, however, for the non-moving party to establish "the mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [non-moving party's] position . . .; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [non-moving party]." Id. at 252, 106 S.Ct. 2505. If the evidence in favor of the non-moving party "is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted." Id. at 249-50, 106 S.Ct. 2505 (internal citations omitted).

B. Hyatt's Motion for Summary Judgment

1. Statute of Limitations

In its motion for summary judgment, Hyatt argues that the plaintiffs' claims of negligent supervision, intentional infliction of emotional distress, conversion, excessive force, false arrest and imprisonment, malicious prosecution and violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 are intentional tort claims that the plaintiffs have masked as sections 1981 and 1983 claims to avoid the one-year statute of limitations applicable to intentional tort claims under local District of Columbia law. See Hyatt's Mot. for Summ. J. at 21-22. Specifically, Hyatt contends that the plaintiffs' action arises from an alleged assault and battery, false arrest and malicious prosecution, that each of these are common-law claims that have a one-year statute of limitations under D.C.Code section 12-301, and that plaintiffs cannot rename their common-law claims as section 1983 claims to avoid the statute of limitations. See id. Hyatt cites Maddox v. B.A. Bano, 422 A.2d 763 (D.C. 1980), in which the court held that the plaintiff's negligence claim was barred by a one-year statute of limitations because the substance of the plaintiff's complaint pled the intentional torts of assault and battery and false arrest. See Hyatt's Mot. for Summ. J. at 21-22. Hyatt also contends that an intentional infliction of emotional distress claim is clearly barred by the District of Columbia's one-year statute of limitations. See id. at 22.

The plaintiffs maintain that a number of their state-law claims also amount to constitutional claims, and are therefore "cognizable" under section 1983. See Second Am. Compl. at 11-17. In their counts of excessive force, false arrest and imprisonment, malicious prosecution and conspiracy, the plaintiffs contend that the defendants violated the plaintiffs' constitutional rights to be free from unreasonable and unlawful seizure, and to be free from arbitrary and unreasonable action under the Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth amendments to the Constitution. See id.

Accordingly, the plaintiffs argue that their claims of excessive force, false arrest, malicious prosecution, conspiracy and violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 are governed by the District of Columbia's three-year residual statute of limitations, which is codified at D.C.Code § 12-301(8). See Opp'n to Mot. for Summ. J. at 11. In addition, the plaintiffs claim that their four common-law claims of negligent supervision, intentional infliction of emotional distress, conversion and negligent infliction of emotional distress are not specifically mentioned in D.C.Code section 12-301(4), which provides a one-year limitation for claims of libel, slander, assault, battery, mayhem, wounding, malicious prosecution and false arrest or false imprisonment. Id. at 9. Thus, the plaintiffs contend that D.C.Code § 12-301(8)'s residual three-year limitation for claims "for which a limitation is not otherwise specifically provided" should apply to their common law claims. See Opp'n to Mot. for Summ. J. at 9.

Lastly, the plaintiffs maintain that the limitations period for their intentional infliction of emotional distress count should be determined on a case-by-case basis, by which the court reviews whether factors other than a specific assault and battery caused the emotional distress. In this case, the plaintiffs allege that their emotional distress was caused not only by the assault and battery, but also by the defendants' allegedly ongoing tort of malicious prosecution. The plaintiffs contend that the limitations, period for an ongoing tort does not begin to run until after the tortious activity has ceased. See Opp'n to Mot. for Summ. J. at 10. The plaintiffs assert that this count of their complaint is based on a "pattern of conduct" that did not cease until February 25, 1998, the date on which the second of the charges against Mr. Parker was dropped. Accordingly, the court concludes that even a one-year statute of limitations would be satisfied, because the instant case was filed on October 15, 1998.

As for Hyatt's argument that the plaintiffs' section 1983 claims should be treated as common-law intentional torts, Hyatt's reliance on the D.C. Court of Appeals's decision in Maddox v. B.A. Bano is misplaced. In Maddox, the court held that the plaintiff's negligence claim should be treated as one for assault and battery because the plaintiff insufficiently pled his claim for negligence, and because the "substance" of the plaintiff's complaint pled the torts of assault and battery. See Maddox, 422 A.2d at 764-765. Thus, Maddox sheds no light on which statute of limitations provision should apply to a section 1983 claim for which there is an available state claim and remedy.

The Supreme Court has held that a section 1983 claim may be brought directly to federal court even though an adequate state remedy exists and that state remedies need not first be exhausted. See Bd. of Regents of the Univ. of the State of New York v. Tomanio, 446 U.S. 478, 493, 100 S.Ct. 1790, 64 L.Ed.2d 440 (1980) (citing Monroe v. Pape, 365 U.S. 167, 183, 81 S.Ct. 473, 5 L.Ed.2d 492 (1961), overruled o.g. by Monell v. Department of Soc. Servs. of City of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978)). But section 1983 does not, in and of itself, provide any substantive basis for a claim or for relief. Rather, it is a procedural device by which a plaintiff may bring a claim for relief based on the deprivation of, or infringement on, a federal constitutional right or statutory right. Thus, a plaintiff who asserts a claim under section 1983 must allege an independent substantive basis for the claim. See Chapman v. Houston Welfare Rights Org., 441 U.S. 600, 617, 99 S.Ct. 1905, 60 L.Ed.2d 508 (1979); Schwartzberg v. Califano, 480 F. Supp. 569, 573 (S.D.N.Y. 1979). Here, the plaintiffs have alleged violations of the Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments in their claims of excessive force, false arrest and imprisonment, malicious prosecution and conspiracy, thereby satisfying the pleading requirement under Chapman. See Chapman, 441 U.S. at 617-18, 99 S.Ct. 1905. Accordingly, the court need not treat the plaintiffs' section 1983 claims as intentional tort claims as a matter of law merely because corresponding state remedies exist.

As the plaintiffs correctly contend, where a section 1983 claim overlaps with a state-law claim, the proper statute of limitations is the general or residual limitations period. See Owens v. Okure, 488 U.S. 235, 249-50, 109 S.Ct. 573, 102 L.Ed.2d 594 (1989). In Owens, the Supreme Court reasoned that it is inappropriate to apply the statute of limitations for the "limited category" of intentional torts, given the broad scope of section 1983. See id. at 249, 109 S.Ct. 573. In this case, D.C.Code § 12-301(8)'s three-year limitations period serves as the residual statute of limitations that applies to the plaintiffs' section 1983 claims. Thus, the court holds that the plaintiffs filed their section 1983 claims of excessive force, false arrest, malicious prosecution and conspiracy well within the applicable three-year limitations period.

Hyatt also argues that the claims for negligent supervision, intentional infliction of emotional distress, conversion and negligent infliction of emotional distress are barred by the one-year statute of limitations under D.C.Code § 12-301(4). See Hyatt's Mot. for Summ. J. at 21-22. The court disagrees. This provision sets a one-year statute of limitations for claims of "libel, slander, assault battery, mayhem, wounding, malicious prosecution, false arrest or false imprisonment." Because the plaintiffs' claims are not enumerated in D.C.Code § 12-301(4), the court holds that the three-year residual limitations period also applies to these four claims. See D.C.Code § 12-301(8); Forte v. Goldstein, 461 A.2d 469, 472 (D.C. 1983) ("The statute of limitations governing an action for conversion is three years."); Hunter v. D.C., 943 F.2d 69, 73 (D.C.Cir. 1991) (holding that the three-year residual statute of limitations governs claims for negligent supervision, even if the negligence results in an intentional tort), overruled o.g. by Atchinson v. D.C., 73 F.3d 418 (D.C.Cir. 1996).

Moreover, D.C.Code § 12-301(4) does not specifically mention intentional or negligent infliction of emotional distress. This does not mean, however, that these two claims are automatically governed by the three-year residual statute of limitations. The plaintiffs properly cite Hunter, supra, and Saunders v. Nemati, 580 A.2d 660 (D.C. 1990), which both hold that the appropriate statute of limitations for a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress is the one that applies to the underlying claim. Thus, if the claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress is "intertwined" with a tort enumerated under D.C.Code § 12-301(4) (one-year limitation), such as assault or battery, the one-year limitation also will govern the intentional infliction of emotional distress claim. Otherwise, the three-year D.C.Code § 12-301 (8) limitation applies. See Saunders, 580 A.2d at 665; Hunter, 943 F.2d at 72. This rule applies to claims for negligent infliction of emotional distress as well. See Hawkins v. Greenfield, 797 F. Supp. 30, 34 (D.D.C. 1992).

In this case, Hyatt argues that the plaintiffs' emotional-distress claims are based on an alleged assault and battery, and therefore are barred by the one-year statute of limitations applicable to claims of assault and battery. See Hyatt's Mot. for Summ. J. at 21-22. The plaintiffs counter that the emotional distress is attributable not only to the physical injuries Mr. Parker sustained, but also to the defendant police officers' alleged malicious prosecution of Mr. Parker for disorderly conduct and unlawful entry. See Opp'n to Mot. for Summ. J. at 10-11.

According to D.C.Code ยง 12-301(4), malicious prosecution falls in the category of torts specified as having a one-year statute of limitations. It is well settled in this Circuit that the statute of limitations applicable to a claim for malicious prosecution begins to run when the underlying action against a plaintiff terminates, not when the underlying action is initiated. See Shulman v. Miskell, 626 F.2d 173, 176 (D.C.Cir. 1980). Here, the defendants did not drop the second charge against Mr. Parker until February 1998, and the instant case began on October 15, 1998. Furthermore, for the reasons discussed below in Part C, the plaintiffs' claim of malicious prosecution withstands the defendants' motions for summary judgment. Therefore, the court concludes that the plaintiffs' counts of intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress are not barred by the statute of limitations. The court notes that the D.C. defendants' also challenge the intentional infliction ...


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