United States District Court for the District of Columbia
February 26, 2004.
EDWARD DWAYNE ASHFORD, Plaintiff,
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al, Defendants
The opinion of the court was delivered by: ROSEMARY COLLYER, District Judge
Edward Ashford, a pro se plaintiff, is presently
incarcerated at Pleasant Valley State Prison in Coalinga, California,
where he is serving a lengthy sentence for crimes committed in the
District of Columbia. Mr. Ashford was arrested, jailed, and tried in D.C.
in 1985-86 prior to his transfer to various State prisons and transfer to
the care of the Federal Bureau of Prisons ("BOP"). This lawsuit alleges
that the District and two employees of the D.C. Department of Corrections
are liable to Mr. Ashford for injuries resulting from an attack on him by
other D.C. inmates at the United States Penitentiary in Beaumont, Texas
("USP Beaumont"), in 2001.
On April 8, 2003, the District of Columbia filed a motion to dismiss,
which Mr. Ashford opposes.*fn1 A little over two months later, Mr.
Ashford filed a motion for partial
summary judgment on the issue of liability. The District opposes
this motion. Having carefully considered the complaint, as amended, the
parties' briefs, and the entire record, the Court will grant in part and
deny in part the motion to dismiss and deny the motion for partial
On October 21, 1985, Mr. Ashford was a pretrial detainee in the custody
of the D.C. Department of Corrections. He was being held in protective
custody in the D.C. Jail because his father worked there as
Officer-in-Charge of the SW-1 housing unit, which housed inmate Kelvin
"Hollywood" Smith. See Am. Compl. ¶¶ 4-6. Nonetheless, Mr.
Ashford asserts that he was not kept separate from Mr. Smith and that he
was attacked by Mr. Smith and other inmates on a "court bus" en
route from D.C. Superior Court to the B.C. Jail. Id. ¶
5. Mr. Smith later got into a "physical altercation" with the Mr.
Ashford's father and vowed to "get even[.]" Id. ¶ 6. As a
result, a second separation order was issued ("Separation Order") and
made a permanent part of Mr. Ashford's file. Id. ¶¶ 6-7. The
exact cause of the hostility between Messrs. Ashford and Smith is not
stated in the amended complaint.
In August 1997, Mr. Ashford was transferred to the care of the BOP. He
eventually wound up at the United States Penitentiary in Terre Haute,
Indiana, in 1998. Apparently, Mr. Smith was also placed at that facility
and was "attempting to rally other B.C. Offenders to attack plaintiff[.]"
Id. ¶ 12. Mr. Ashford claims to have notified his
correctional counselor of this threat, but nothing happened.
On November 14, 2001, Mr. Ashford was transferred to USP Beaumont from
the Federal Correctional Complex at Beaumont. Id. ¶ 14.
Unbeknownst to Mr. Ashford, Mr. Smith was already at USP Beaumont.
Id. On November 16, 2001, as Mr. Ashford exited the prison
commissary, he was approached by D.C. inmates Kobi Mowatt and Mark Bundy,
who allegedly attacked him with homemade knives after stating, "`[Y]our
[sic] about to get paid, Hollywood (Smith's nickname) sent
us[.]'" Id. ¶ 15. Mr. Ashford was stabbed 13 times,
requiring a three-week hospitalization to recover from his injuries. Some
of his wounds appear to be permanent and may require additional medical
treatment. Id. ¶¶ 15, 16.
II. Legal Standards
A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) of
the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure tests the legal sufficiency of a
complaint. The Court must accept as true all of the plaintiff's well-pled
factual allegations and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the
plaintiff; however, the Court does not need to accept as true any of the
plaintiff's legal conclusions. See Alexis v. District of
Columbia, 44 F. Supp.2d 331, 336-37 (D.D.C. 1999). "[A] complaint
should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears
beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of
[her] claim which would entitle [her] to relief." Conley v.
Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957).
Summary judgment is appropriate when there is no genuine issue as to
any material fact and the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a
matter of law. FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). This procedural device is not a
"disfavored legal shortcut" but a reasoned and careful way to resolve
cases fairly and expeditiously. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett,
477 U.S. 317, 327 (1986). In determining whether a genuine issue of
material fact exists, the Court must view all facts and reasonable
inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.
Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio, 475 U.S. 574, 587
(1986); Tao v. Freeh, 27 F.3d 635, 638 (D.C. Cir. 1994). To be
"material" and "genuine," a factual dispute must be capable of affecting
the substantive outcome of the case. Anderson, 477 U.S. at
247-48; Laningham v. United States Navy, 813 F.2d 1236, 1242-43
(D.C. Cir. 1987).
The amended complaint sets forth two causes of action: (1) a claim
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging violations of the Eighth and
Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, and (2) a common law
negligence claim. Mr. Ashford asserts that the District and its
"Interstate Compacts Administrators," Ms. Britton and Mr. Mathews, had a
duty to relay any information about threats to the personal safety of
inmates who were transferred elsewhere to serve their sentences.*fn2
See Compl. ¶ 17. He also contends that the failure of the
D.C. Department of Corrections to notify receiving institutions that
there was a permanent separation order in his file resulted from "a local
Municipal custom, policy and practice . . . to effect the objectives of
the District . . . to effect the transfers of inmates outside the ambit
of the D.C. Department of Corrections" who otherwise would
not have been accepted by a State prison system or the BOP.
Id. ¶ 18. This local custom, policy and practice was
allegedly "based on negligence and recklessness pursuant to an official
policy of the District of Columbia." Id. ¶ 19.
A. Section 1983
The District of Columbia argues for dismissal of the § 1983 claim
on the grounds that Mr. Ashford "cannot prove the actions attributed to
Defendants were a custom or policy of the District to violate plaintiff's
constitutional rights . . .[and that] plaintiff has no constitutional
right to be segregated." Def's Mot. to Dismiss at 4. Basically, the
District asserts that any cognizable claim by Mr. Ashford if one
exists lies only in common law negligence, not the U.S.
Constitution. See Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S. 327, 328 (1986)
("[T]he Due Process Clause is simply not implicated by a
negligent act of an official causing unintended loss of or
injury to life, liberty, or property.") (emphasis in original);
Davidson v. Cannon, 474 U.S. 344, 347 (1986) ("[W]here a
government official is merely negligent in causing injury, no procedure
for compensation is constitutionally required.").
Section 1983 provides:
Every person who, under color of [state law]
subjects, or causes to be subjected, any
citizen . . . to the deprivation of any rights,
privileges, or immunities secured by the
Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the
party injured in an action at law, suit in equity,
or other proper proceeding for redress. . . .
42 U.S.C. § 1983. A municipality, such as the District of
Columbia, may be he Id. liable under § 1983 "only when the
execution of its official policy or custom is responsible for the
deprivation of constitutional rights." Morgan v. District of
Columbia, 824 F.2d 1049, 1058 (D.C. Cir. 1987); see also
Daskalea v. District of Columbia, 227 F.3d 433
, 441 (D.C. Cir.
2000). Courts "have
consistently refused to hold municipalities liable under a theory
of respondeat superior." Bd. of County Comm'rs v. Brown,
520 U.S. 397
, 403-04 (1997) ("Locating a `policy' ensures that a municipality
is held liable only for those deprivations resulting from the decisions
of its duly constituted legislative body or of those officials whose acts
may fairly be said to be those of the municipality."); see also
Triplett v. District of Columbia, 108 F.3d 1450, 1453 (D.C. Cir.
1997) ("Although Monell allows claims based upon a well-settled
municipal custom . . . plaintiff `must show fault on the part of the city
based on a course its policymakers consciously chose to pursue[.]'"). To
prevail on a § 1983 claim against the District, therefore, Mr.
Ashford "must show a course deliberately pursued by the city, `as opposed
to an action taken unilaterally by a nonpolicymaking municipal
employee,' . . . and `an affirmative link between the [city's] policy and
the particular constitutional violation alleged.'" Carter v. District
of Columbia, 795 F.2d 116, 122 (D.C. Cir. 1986) (quoting
Oklahoma City v. Tuttle, 471 U.S. 808
The District asserts that Mr. Ashford has "failed to allege any policy,
practice or custom followed or instituted by the District of
Columbia. . . ." Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss at 7 (emphasis added). It is
clear from Mr. Ashford's opposition brief that he seeks to hold the
District liable based on his belief that "defendants Britton and Matthews
[sic] unconstitutionally promulgated policies and customs as
decisionmakers during their respective tenures as Interstate Compacts
Administrators." Pl.'s Opp. at 4. The District argues that neither of
these individuals had final policymaking authority under D.C. law so that
their alleged conduct could not subject the municipality to § 1983
liability. Defense counsel's statement that Ms. Britton and Mr. Mathews
"obviously had no policymaking authority" is insufficient to counter the
complaint allegations, which, at this juncture, are presumed to be true.
See Def.'s Reply at 3 n.2. For purposes of
withstanding a motion to dismiss, Mr. Ashford has adequately
averred that "failures [of the defendants] . . . to notify those
[transferee] penal and correctional entities . . . of those threats to
the plaintiff's personal safety . . . was [sic] based on a local
Municipal custom, policy and practice . . . to effect the transfers
of inmates. . . ."*fn3 Am. Compl. ¶ 18 (emphasis added); see
also Atchinson v. District of Columbia, 73 F.3d 418, 421-24 (D.C.
Cir. 1996) ("[A] complaint alleging municipal liability under section
1983 . . . is to be judged not by the standards that would govern a
decision on the merits, but by the liberal standard of Rule 8.").
The District of Columbia's next area of contention relates to
causation. The District argues that "the Defendants did not act to
deprive plaintiff of any constitutional rights." Def.'s Mot. to
Dismiss at 9 (emphasis in original). According to the District, the
alleged constitutional violations are "too far remote in time to hold
Defendants responsible under 42 U.S.C. § 1983." Id. (citing
Martinez v. California, 444 U.S. 277 (1980)). Because Mr.
Ashford is a D.C. prisoner who was sent to serve his sentence in other
prisons pursuant to agreements with the District, and because D.C. knew
that he faced a specific danger from Mr. Smith, this case is not
necessarily answered by Martinez, where the passage of time and
other factors made the "decedent's death . . . too remote a consequence
of the parole officers' action to hold them responsible under the federal
civil rights law."*fn4 Id. at 285. Accepting the facts of the
amended complaint as true and drawing all reasonable inferences in his
favor, Mr. Ashford's injuries could be considered a foreseeable result of
policy or custom of transferring inmates without also informing the
transferee correctional institutions about active separation orders.
In addition, the fact that Mr. Ashford himself may have told federal
prison officials about the separation orders does not necessarily vitiate
the purported causal link between the alleged policy or custom and the
attack on Mr. Ashford. An official separation order no doubt would
receive more consideration and attention than a prisoner's complaint.
Notwithstanding Mr. Ashford's own warning to federal authorities, a
reasonable jury might find that the District's alleged policy or custom,
if proven, was a "moving force" behind Mr. Ashford's alleged injuries.
See Monell v. Dep't of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978).
The District's third point on causation is that the failure to relay
the separation orders did not bring about Mr. Ashford's injuries because
the target of the separation orders, Mr. Smith, did not physically attack
him. The District argues, the "Defendants [sic] alleged failure
to notify USP Beaumont of the separation was not a substantial factor in
bringing about the attack on plaintiff because even if there was
an order of separation between plaintiff and Smith, it would not have
done plaintiff any good because he was not attacked by Smith." Def.'s
Reply at 8 (emphasis in original). On a motion to dismiss, the Court
cannot rule on this argument. The complaint alleges that Mr. Smith
incited other D.C. inmates against Mr. Ashford in Terre Haute. It may be
that the presence of Mr. Smith and Mr. Ashford in the same prison
population which a separation order might have avoided is
the only causal connection needed.
Contrary to the District's assertion that Mr. Ashford alleges only
negligent conduct, the amended complaint sets forth a factual predicate
that his constitutional rights may have been violated, as well. "Although
the state is not obligated to insure an assault-free environment, a
prisoner has a constitutional right to be protected from the
unreasonable threat of violence from his fellow inmates." Morgan v.
District of Columbia, 824 F.2d 1049, 1057 (D.C. Cir. 1987). In most
instances, "deliberate indifference to a prisoner's serious illness or
injury states a cause of action under § 1983." Estelle v.
Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 105 (1976). If, as Mr. Ashford claims, the
District had a policy or custom of not reporting separation orders for
the purpose of insuring that its prisoners would be accepted for transfer
at other correctional institutions without problems or delay, then a
reasonable jury might find that the municipality acted with deliberate
indifference to the safety and well-being of its inmates. See
Am. Compl. ¶¶ 18, 22. Unlike Davidson v. Cannon,
474 U.S. 344, 348 (1986), Mr. Ashford does not merely aver that the District
and its employees "mistakenly believed that the situation was not
particularly serious . . .[or] simply forgot" about the separation
As to Ms. Britton the remaining individual defendant in this
case Mr. Ashford must show that she "kn[e]w of and disregard[ed]
an excessive risk to [his] health or safety[.]" Farmer v.
Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 837 (1994). For the reasons already discussed
above, the § 1983 claim against Ms. Britton will not be dismissed at
this stage of the litigation. The amended complaint alleges, in relevant
part, that Ms. Britton acted with deliberate indifference toward Mr.
Ashford's health and safety when she chose not to inform transferee
prisons of the existence of the separation orders. Although Mr. Ashford
will ultimately need to produce evidence in support of this claim, there
is enough in the amended complaint for him to prevail on a motion to
dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
B. Common Law Negligence
The District of Columbia seeks to dismiss the common law negligence
on its belief that the "Defendants owed no legal duty to
plaintiff." Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss at 13. According to the District,
"[o]nce the BOP was informed of this separation order [by Mr. Ashford],
the duty fell upon the BOP to separate plaintiff from Smith."
Id. Assuming, without deciding, that any common law duty owed to
Mr. Ashford shifted from D.C. to the BOP in 1998, when Mr. Ashford told
the BOP about the separation orders, the District still could have
breached its duty of care back in 1997 (or earlier), when Mr. Ashford was
transferred to the BOP.*fn5 The issue here is whether the District was
negligent in transferring Mr. Ashford without also relaying the
separation orders which negligence then allegedly "caused" Mr.
Ashford's injuries, a separate issue not whether the District had
a duty to separate Mr. Ashford from Mr. Smith at the time of the alleged
The District also argues that the alleged policy or custom of not
informing transferee correctional institutions of the existence of
separation orders was not the proximate cause of Mr. Ashford's injuries.
To determine whether a negligent act or omission
is the cause-in-fact of a person's injury, [D.C.
courts use] the "substantial factor" test set
forth in the Restatement of Torts. See, e.g.,
District of Columbia v. Carlson,
793 A.2d 1285, 1288 (D.C. 2002); Lacy, 424 A.2d at
321. In the Restatement, the term "substantial" is
used to "denote the fact that the defendant's
conduct has such an effect in producing the harm
as to lead reasonable [persons] to regard it as a
cause." . . . RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF TORTS §
431, comment a (1965). . . . There is no legal
requirement, however, that a defendant's
negligence be the only substantial factor in
bringing about the harm.
Butts v. United States, 822 A.2d 407
, 417 (D.C. 2003)
(criminal homicide case); see also Majeska
v. District of Columbia, 812 A.2d 948
, 951 (D.C. 2002).
Furthermore, "[a] defendant may not be held liable for harm actually
caused where the chain of events leading to the injury appears `highly
extraordinary in retrospect.'" Morgan v. District of Columbia,
468 A.2d 1306
, 1318 (D.C. 1983). "Although the intervening act of another
makes the causal connection between the defendant[s'] negligence and the
plaintiff's injury more attenuated, such an act does not by itself make
the injury unforeseeable." District of Columbia v. Carlson,
793 A.2d 1285
, 1290 (D.C. 2002).
The earlier analysis on this issue for the § 1983 claim supports
the same conclusion with respect to the claim for negligence. See
supra pp. 7-9. Based solely on the allegations in the amended
complaint which the Court accepts as true in deciding this motion
to dismiss for failure to state a claim-and without the aid of
discovery, a reasonable jury might find that the District's and Ms.
Britton's alleged negligence was a proximate cause of Mr. Ashford's
injuries. See Majeska, 812 A.2d 948, 951 (D.C. 2002) ("[T]he
question should have been one for the jury.").
A summary judgment motion should be "accompanied by a statement of
material facts as to which the moving party contends there is no genuine
issue." LCvR 7(h). Mr. Ashford's motion for partial summary judgment
states his conclusions and not uncontested facts. At a minimum, there is
a genuine and material dispute over whether an official policy or custom
of failing to convey separation orders existed. For this reason, the
motion for partial summary judgment will be denied.
The motion to dismiss will be GRANTED in part and DENIED in part. The
amended complaint against Mr. Mathews will be DISMISSED without
prejudice. The motion for partial
summary judgment will be DENIED. A separate order accompanies this
For the reasons stated in the memorandum opinion that accompanies this
order, it is hereby
ORDERED that the motion to dismiss is GRANTED in
part and DENIED in part. It is
FURTHER ORDERED that the case against Donald Mathews is
DISMISSED without prejudice. It is
FURTHER ORDERED that the motion for partial summary judgment
is DENIED. It is
FURTHER ORDERED sua sponte that pursuant to Local Civil
Rule 83.11, the Clerk is directed to appoint counsel from the Court's Civil
Pro Bono Panel to represent plaintiff in further proceedings. Plaintiff
has ten (10) days from his receipt of this order to object to this
appointment. Otherwise, the proceedings are stayed pending the completion
of the appointment process.