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Byrd v. District of Columbia

December 29, 2003

ROBERT F. BYRD, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ellen Segal Huvelle United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff has sued the District of Columbia and Terrance Gainer, the former Executive Assistant Chief of Police for the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), alleging civil rights violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and various common law torts. Plaintiff, an MPD officer, alleges that several MPD officers violated his constitutional rights by assaulting him after apparently misidentifying him as a carjacking suspect. For the reasons given below, the Court will grant defendants' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment as to the § 1983 claims.

BACKGROUND

According to plaintiff's allegations, on March 7, 2001, plaintiff was on his way to work at the First District Police Station in Southwest Washington, D.C. While stopped at the Exxon Mini-Market at Pennsylvania and Branch Avenues in Southeast D.C., he witnessed an armed robbery and carjacking taking place near one of the gasoline pumps. Plaintiff called the MPD dispatcher on the police radio in his vehicle, described the crime that was in progress, and identified himself and his vehicle, since he was not in uniform or in a police vehicle. As the perpetrator drove away in the stolen car, plaintiff pursued him, while continuously updating the dispatcher on the hijacked vehicle's direction and speed of travel.

The perpetrator, after getting stuck in traffic at a stop light at 42nd Street and Benning Road, N.E., started to ram into the vehicle in front of him. Plaintiff got out of his car with his radio in hand and directed the marked police cars that were approaching the scene to the stolen vehicle. Instead of pursuing the carjacker, however, the on-duty officers "wrestled the plaintiff and pointed guns at him" until one of the "attacking officers" discovered plaintiff's police badge. (Compl. ¶ 12.)

Meanwhile, the carjacker escaped the traffic jam and continued to flee. Plaintiff returned to his vehicle and resumed assisting in the pursuit over his radio. As he began to leave the scene, a second group of officers approached him. They "snatched him out of his then moving vehicle, pointed guns at his head and face, and repeatedly shouted vile obscenities at him." ( Id. ¶ 14.) Despite plaintiff's attempts to identify himself as a police officer, he was "repeatedly struck about the face and the body," and after he fell to the ground, the officers "punch[ed] and stomp[ed] plaintiff all about the head and body," until one of them recognized him as a fellow officer. ( Id.)

The complaint, as it now stands, alleges three counts: Assault and Battery against the District of Columbia (Count II), Deprivation of Civil Rights against the District of Columbia and defendant Gainer in his individual capacity (Count III), and Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress against the District of Columbia (Count V). Plaintiff's § 1983 civil rights claim has been limited to an allegation that defendants engaged in a pattern and practice of failing to investigate and discipline MPD officers for their use of excessive force. ( See Order July 14, 2003.)

Defendants have now moved for partial summary judgment seeking dismissal of all claims against defendant Gainer and the § 1983 and emotional distress claims against the District. Because the Court will grant defendants' summary judgment motion with respect to the § 1983 claims, it will not exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining common law claims, and plaintiff's complaint will therefore be dismissed.

ANALYSIS

In this somewhat unusual case, there is no real dispute between the parties as to either the facts or the law. Rather, the only issue is whether plaintiff has adduced sufficient facts to hold the District and Gainer liable under § 1983 for the failure to investigate and discipline MPD officers for their alleged use of excessive force. Each defendant will be considered seriatim.

I. Municipal Liability

Plaintiff attempts to hold the District liable for constitutional violations allegedly committed by its police officers. Under Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978), a city may be held liable under § 1983 for the deprivation of a plaintiff's constitutional rights, not under principles of respondeat superior, but instead only where its own "policy or custom... inflicts the injury." Id. at 694. "Proof of a single incident of unconstitutional activity is not sufficient to impose liability under Monell, unless proof of the incident includes proof that it was caused by an existing, unconstitutional municipal policy...." Parker v. Dist. of Columbia, 850 F.2d 708, 711-12 (D.C. Cir. 1988) (quoting Okla. City v. Tuttle, 471 U.S. 808, 823-24 (1985)). The failure to train, supervise or discipline city employees can constitute such a policy or custom if it amounts to "'deliberate indifference' towards the constitutional rights of persons in its domain." Daskalea v. Dist. of Columbia, 227 F.3d 433, 441 (D.C. Cir. 2000) (quoting City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 388-89 & n.7 (1989)); see also Carter v. Dist. of Columbia, 795 F.2d 116, 122 (D.C. Cir. 1996) (a municipality's failure to adequately train, supervise, investigate, and discipline police officers can give rise to municipal liability if that failure represents city policy and reflects deliberate indifference). Deliberate indifference is determined objectively, "by analyzing whether the municipality knew or should have known of the risk of constitutional violations," and yet failed to respond as necessary. Baker v. Dist. of Columbia, 326 F.3d 1302, 1307 (D.C. Cir. 2003). To prevail, plaintiff must show more than simple or even heightened negligence; the District's indifference must be conscious, or at least reckless. See Canton, 489 U.S. at 389.

Plaintiff argues that the District failed to properly investigate incidents of excessive force, rendering the District unable to adequately discipline those officers and creating an "environment within the MPD where reckless conduct and the violation of the individual rights of citizens are the norm." (Pl.'s Opp. at 13.) Plaintiff further claims that the defendant's "deliberate indifference" regarding the issue of excessive force caused his injury.

In support of his claim, plaintiff recounts the facts surrounding his claim of excessive force and then, without citation, claims that "it is without question a fact that no real investigation of the facts surrounding his beating ever took place." ( Id. at 4.) While the District appears not to dispute plaintiff's claim that the incident at issue here was not properly investigated, that does not resolve the matter. For, even assuming the truth of plaintiff's claim, which one must do at this stage, that is not sufficient under the law for purposes of imposing liability on a municipality, since ...


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