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United States District Court for the District of Columbia

June 8, 2005.

TREALETHA ROBERTSON, as the next friend of TALISA ROBERTSON, Plaintiff,
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al., Defendants.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: DEBORAH ROBINSON, Magistrate Judge


The court (Penn, J.) entered a default judgment against defendant Dorothy Shepherd, and thereafter, with the consent of the parties, referred this action to the undersigned for an evidentiary hearing to determine the amount of the judgment to be entered. See February 11, 2004 Memorandum Order (Docket No. 57) at 1; January 12, 2004 Order (Docket No. 55) at 1; January 12, 2004 Order (Docket No. 55) at 1; January 4, 2004 Memorandum Order (Docket No. 82) at 1; December 19, 2003 Order (Docket No. 54) at 1; November 21, 2003 Order (Docket No. 53) at 1; October 31, 2003 Order (Docket No. 52) at 1.*fn1 The evidentiary hearing was scheduled for May 10, 2004, then continued to May 27, 2004 upon the motion of Plaintiff. Plaintiff filed a trial brief in advance of the hearing;*fn2 no trial brief was filed on behalf of defendant Shepherd.

At the hearing, Plaintiff testified and offered the testimony of her daughter and defendant Shepherd. The Attorney General, D.C., elicited rebuttal testimony from defendant Shepherd. Plaintiff offered evidence that defendant Shepherd authored the memorandum through which the jail visits were requested; that defendant Shepherd took a group of girls to the D.C. Jail on the day after she accompanied a group of boys, some of whom were strip-searched; that Plaintiff's daughter was shackled by a correctional officer in the presence of defendant Shepherd; that defendant Shepherd agreed to take the group of girls, including Plaintiff's daughter, to the "men's side" of the jail; that defendant Shepherd was present when a male inmate called out to Plaintiff's daughter to get her attention, then masturbated after she turned toward him in response to his call; and that defendant Shepherd rode back to school on the van with the girls, all of whom talked about their experiences at the jail during their ride. Both plaintiff and her daughter testified regarding the devastating effects of the jail visit upon the daughter's sense of worth, relationships with family and friends, motivation, and performance in school.

  In response to the questions of an Assistant Attorney General, D.C., defendant Shepherd denied that she rode in the van with the group of girls on the way back to school, and stated that a friend of Plaintiff's daughter was shackled, but that Plaintiff's daughter was not. Defendant Shepherd also testified that plaintiff's daughter was "in trouble a lot" because of her "cursing" and her violations of the school's dress code. In response to the questions of Plaintiff's counsel, defendant Shepherd conceded that she was present when a male inmate masturbated in the presence of Plaintiff's daughter. Defendant Shepherd denied having ever spoken to Plaintiff regarding a prior incident unrelated to the one at issue here which could render Plaintiff's daughter particularly vulnerable.

  Counsel for Plaintiff, in his closing argument, maintained that defendant Shepherd's actions on the day she accompanied Plaintiff's daughter to the D.C. Jail were particularly egregious because she took a group of boys to the jail the day before, and knew of the abuse to which they were subjected.*fn3 Plaintiff requested judgment in the amount of "several hundred thousand dollars." The Attorney General, D.C., maintained that Plaintiff and her daughter had been impeached; disputed the proposition that Plaintiff's daughter suffered any injury; and asked that Plaintiff be awarded "nothing."

  Plaintiff, in her post-hearing submission, states as a conclusion of law that "[a]s [defendant Shepherd's] employer, the District of Columbia is liable under the theory of respondeat superior for the tortious acts of Dorothy Shepherd." Plaintiff's Proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law ("Plaintiff's Proposed Findings and Conclusions") (Docket No. 63) at 4. Plaintiff further states that "[b]ecause the District of Columbia's liability is vicarious, a finding of liability against Ms. Shepherd is tantamount to liability against the District of Columbia and therefore, the damages awarded in this matter are to be entered jointly and severally as to Dorothy Shepherd and the District of Columbia on plaintiff's common law claims." Id. at 4.*fn4

  The Attorney General, D.C., in a written submission filed on behalf of both the District of Columbia and defendant Shepherd, submits that "the District of Columbia is no longer a party to this case[,]" and that the doctrine of res judicata "bar[s] [plaintiff] from seeking monetary relief against the District of Columbia[.]" Proposed Findings of Fact by Defendant Dorothy Shepherd and Response of District of Columbia to Plaintiff's Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law ("Defendants' Response") (Docket No. 67) at 3. Plaintiff, in her reply, asserts that the court, in the memorandum opinion and order granting summary judgment in favor of defendant District of Columbia with respect to plaintiff's common law claims, "[made] no finding . . . regarding the District of Columbia's vicarious liability for the actions of defendant Shepherd for which the doctrine of res judicata could apply." Reply of the Plaintiff to the Response of the District of Columbia and Dorothy Shepherd to Her Proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law ("Plaintiff's Reply") (Docket No. 68) at 2.

  Defendant Shepherd also suggests that the court find that "Defendant Shepherd testified, without being impeached, that no such shackling of Plaintiff occurred[,]" and that Plaintiff's daughter "[found] the incident involving the inmate's exposure . . . `funny.'" Defendant's Response at 1-2. Plaintiff maintains that defendant Shepherd "[has] no right to challenge any of the allegations of plaintiff's complaint[.]" Plaintiff's Reply at 2.*fn5

  Plaintiff submits that an award "in an amount of at least $500,000.00 is warranted" for her assault, battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress claims. Plaintiff further submits that for her constitutional claim, an award of "at least a nominal amount" is warranted. Plaintiff's Proposed Findings and Conclusions at 5. Defendant, modestly retreating from the announced position that Plaintiff should recover "nothing[,]" now submits that "only a nominal award, if any, is appropriate." Defendants' Response at 3.


  The undersigned finds that the sole issue for determination herein is the amount of the award which will fairly compensate Plaintiff for the tortious conduct of defendant Shepherd.*fn6 The findings with respect to the damages proximately caused by defendant Shepherd's tortious conduct are necessarily predicated upon the allegations of Plaintiff's complaint, as to which a default against defendant Shepherd has been entered.*fn7

  The undersigned regards as entirely specious Defendant Shepherd's contention that Plaintiff offered no evidence with respect to damages, and that Plaintiff's daughter at one time characterized certain of her observations at the jail as "funny." See Defendants' Response at 2-3. The District of Columbia Circuit has held that expert testimony is not required to prove damages for injuries such as humiliation, anguish and suffering, or to show the causal link between the conduct which was the subject of the civil action and the plaintiff's injuries. Daskalea v. District of Columbia, 227 F.3d 433, 444 (D.C. Cir. 2000). The undersigned credits the testimony of Plaintiff and her daughter that the child experienced — and continues to experience — humiliation and anguish as a consequence of defendant Shepherd's tortious conduct. The Attorney General, D.C., offers no reason why the testimony of Plaintiff and her daughter should be discredited, and simply asserts that Plaintiff did not seek counseling for her daughter, or inform "the school" of her daughter's suffering. Defendants' Response at 2. However, during the evidentiary hearing, Plaintiff offered an exceedingly credible explanation for her decision to forego counseling. Defendant Shepherd's suggestion that Plaintiff should have informed "the school" of her daughter's suffering is disingenuous, since it was "the school" which sponsored the course of conduct which gave rise to the child's injuries. The undersigned finds the injuries of which Plaintiff's daughter complains


are hardly surprising or unexpected in light of the abuse [Plaintiff's daughter] suffered, and it does not take an expert to confirm the [finder of fact's] common sense with respect to both their existence and cause.
Daskalea, 227 F.3d at 443.

  Additionally, the undersigned finds that Defendant Shepherd's reference to evidence that Plaintiff's daughter laughed at some point during her visit to the jail in no way undermines her claim that she experienced humiliation, anxiety and suffering. No one can credibly contend that any humor could have been found in the shackling of young girl by a jail guard, or in the exposure of the same young girl to the sight of a masturbating inmate. The undersigned finds that any laughter during the course of these events was a coping mechanism intended to difuse the tension which the events wrought. The undersigned finds that the testimony of Plaintiff and her daughter, coupled with the reasonable inferences to be drawn therefrom, compel the conclusion that Plaintiff's daughter suffered anguish and humiliation as a proximate result of defendant Shepherd's tortious acts, and that her suffering continues. Upon consideration of the entire record herein, the undersigned finds that a judgment in the amount of $45,000.00 will fairly compensate the child on whose behalf this action was brought for the injuries proximately caused by defendant Shepherd's assault, battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The undersigned further finds that a judgment in the amount of $100.00 will fairly compensate the child for the alleged violation by defendant Shepherd of the child's constitutional rights.

  The Clerk of the Court is directed to enter judgment against defendant Shepherd in favor of Plaintiff in the sums for which this Memorandum and Order provides.

  It is


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