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Hedgepeth v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit

September 30, 2003



I. Introduction

Plaintiff Tracey Hedgepeth, as best friend to Ansche Hedgepeth, brings this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983"), against defendants Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority ("WMATA"), Richard A. White, and Officer Jason Fazenbaker (collectively, the"WMATA defendants") and the District of Columbia ("D.C." or"the District"), alleging violations of her daughter's Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights under the Constitution.

Plaintiff alleges that Ms. Hedgepeth suffered violations of her rights to equal protection and freedom from unreasonable search and seizure when she was arrested by Officer Fazenbaker of WMATA's Metro Transit Police in accordance with a policy that she contends impermissibly discriminates against children by mandating the arrest of children suspected of violating the provision of the D.C. Code prohibiting consumption of food or drink in a Metrorail Station. Plaintiff asks the Court to enter judgment declaring WMATA's policy unconstitutional and enjoining WMATA defendants from enforcing the policy in violation of the U.S. Constitution. In addition, she asks the Court to award nominal damages and to grant equitable relief declaring the arrest to have been a"detention" and directing expungement of any reference to this incident from Ansche Hedgepeth's record.

The District of Columbia maintains that (1) Ms. Hedgepeth's Fifth Amendment equal protection rights were not violated; (2) Ms. Hedgepeth's Fourth Amendment rights were not violated; (3) the District cannot be held liable for WMATA's unilateral conduct; and (4) the plaintiff's claims for equitable relief are moot and, therefore, not subject to this Court's jurisdiction. The WMATA defendants advance similar claims, but maintain that they were merely following the District's policies. They further submit that, while the Constitution protects citizens from arrest without probable cause, it does not–and cannot–prescribe rules for the exercise of discretion that rigidly bind law enforcement throughout time and without exception.

Pending before the Court are plaintiff's motions for summary judgment against WMATA, the WMATA defendants and the District of Columbia, as well as cross motions for summary judgment by WMATA, the WMATA defendants and the District of Columbia.

Upon consideration of the cross-motions for summary judgment, the responses and replies thereto, as well as the statutory and case law governing the issues, the Court concludes that plaintiff's motions for summary judgment should be denied and that defendants' cross-motions should be granted.

II. Factual Background

Section 35-251(b) of the District of Columbia Code provides, in relevant part, that"[i]t is unlawful for any person...while within a rail transit station owned and/or operated by [WMATA] which is located within the corporate limits of the District of Columbia to...[c]onsume food or drink..." With respect to adults, a"[v]violation of § 35-251(b) shall be punishable by a fine of not less than $10 nor more than $50 for a 1st offense and by a fine of not less than $50 nor more than $100 or by imprisonment for not more than 10 days or both for each 2nd or subsequent offense." D.C. Code § 35-253. With respect to individuals under the age of 18, however, the violation of § 35-251(b) is a"delinquent act," § 16-2301(7), for which the Code provides for arrest, but not citation, as a means of enforcement. D.C. Code § 16-2309(a)(2) (enforcement officers who have"reasonable grounds to believe that [a] child has committed a delinquent act" may arrest the child, or"take[] [the child] into custody.").*fn1 The Court has taken judicial notice of the fact that, under the law of the District of Columbia, juveniles may not be issued a citation in lieu of arrest for a violation of D.C. Code § 35-251. See Order of July 11, 2002, at 2. In justifying its stance on citations, the District of Columbia has asserted that

[t]he rationale for the [District of Columbia's policy at issue] is that the government has an interest in the rehabilitation of youthful offenders. In addition, the government seeks parental involvement to intervene and assist in rehabilitating juveniles who commit delinquent acts. The government also recognizes that most juveniles are not similarly situated to adults in their ability to access funds to pay fines imposed for offenses. Also, there would be an absence of enforcement powers over citations issued to juveniles because juveniles cannot be held responsible to pay the money fine pursuant to the issued citation."

The District has provided the following rationale regarding its failure to allow for citations:

Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) General Order 305.1, sets forth policy and procedures for handling juveniles who commit delinquent acts. There is no statute that provides the government with the authority to issue citations to juveniles. Therefore, MPD does not issue citations to minors (except in traffic offenses where the juvenile is sixteen years to seventeen years of age, a notice of infraction may be issued.)

While WMATA is responsible for formulating its own policies, it may not enact policies that violate the District's"no citation" policy or that are otherwise in contravention of District of Columbia law.

During the week of October 23, 2000, WMATA implemented a"zero tolerance" policy aimed at addressing violations of D.C. Code § 35-251, governing quality of life offenses. The policies adopted by the Metro Transit Police during the week-long sting, or undercover, operation were reflected in the D.C. Code handout distributed during officer training. Participating Metro Transit Police officers were instructed that action was to be taken to enforce all Section 35-251(b) violations.

On October 23, 2000, Ansche Hedgepeth was twelve years old and a student at Alice Deal Junior High School. On her way home from school that day, she purchased an order of french fries from a restaurant in close proximity to the school. While in the Tenleytown/American University ("Tenleytown, AU") Metrorail ("Metro") station, Ms, Hedgepeth ate a single french fry in violation of D.C. Code § 16-2309(a)(2). Ms. Hedgepeth was approached by Officer Jason Fazenbaker of the Metro Transit Police Department, who identified himself and informed her that she was being arrested for eating within a Metrorail station. Ms. Hedgepeth had never eaten in the station prior to this incident and had received no warnings related thereto.

As Officer Fazenbaker informed Ms. Hedgepeth that she was being arrested, another Metro Transit Police officer performed a search of her person and possessions. The child's jacket and backpack were confiscated, her hands placed in handcuffs and secured behind her back, and her shoelaces removed from her shoes at the time of arrest. Officer Fazenbaker handcuffed Ms. Hedgepeth's hands behind her back. The handcuffs were not removed, except for the purpose of fingerprinting, until Ms. Hedgepeth was returned to the custody of her mother several hours later. Ms. Hedgepeth fully complied with Officer Fazenbaker's commands and did not resist at any time.

Ms. Hedgepeth was placed in the windowless rear compartment of a Metro Transit Police Vehicle and transported to the District of Columbia's Juvenile Processing Center, located at 501 New York Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C., where she was booked and fingerprinted. Frightened and embarrassed, Ms. Hedgepeth cried during, and as a result of, the arrest. Some three hours after she was arrested, Ms. Hedgepeth was released to the custody of her mother.

III. Standard of Review

Summary judgment should be granted pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P.56 only if the moving party has demonstrated that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 2553 (1986). When ruling upon a motion for summary judgment, the Court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S. Ct. 1348, 1356(1986); Bayer v. United States Dep't of Treasury, 956 F.2d 330, 333 (D.C. Cir. 1992). Likewise, when ruling on cross-motions for summary judgment, the court shall grant summary judgment only if one of the moving parties is entitled to judgment as a matter of law upon material facts ...

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