United States District Court, D. Columbia
August 22, 2005.
JAMES W. GEE, Plaintiff,
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al., Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: RICHARD LEON, District Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION (August 19th 2005)[# 6, # 7]
Plaintiffs James and Sherry Gee, each proceeding pro se,
filed suit separately against several defendants alleging that
District of Columbia police officers, led by Officer Mark
Schaeffer, violated § 1983 when they used excessive force during
an arrest of Mr. Gee. The Court consolidated the two actions
based on a consent motion. Now before the Court are defendants'
motion to dismiss Sherry Gee's complaint and a motion for
judgment on the pleadings in James Gee's case. For the following
reasons, the Court GRANTS defendants' motion to dismiss and
motion for judgment on the pleadings.
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides that a
district court should dismiss a complaint for failure to state a
claim upon which relief can be granted when it is clear that no
relief could result under any facts consistent with the
complaint's allegations. Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-47
(1957); EEOC v. St. Francis Xavier Parochial School,
117 F.3d 621, 624 (D.C. Cir. 1997). The Court must consider all well-pleaded allegations to be true.
Warren v. D.C., 353 F.3d 36, 39 (D.C. Cir. 2004). Additionally,
the Court reads pro se pleadings more liberally than those
filed by attorneys, and the Court tries to discern a cause of
action from the record presented. Haines v. Kerner,
404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972).
Plaintiffs bring this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which
provides in pertinent part:
Every person who, under color of any statute,
ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage of any State
or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects,
or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United
States or other person within the jurisdiction
thereof 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
42 U.S.C. § 1983. This provision allows citizens to bring actions
against the government or government officials when their
constitutional rights have been violated. In cases alleging
excessive use of force incident to arrest, the constitutional
right called into question is the Fourth Amendment right to be
free from unreasonable seizures.*fn1
See Graham v. Connor,
490 U.S. 386
, 394-395 (1989). The Supreme Court has held that
this right is violated when the amount of force used is
objectively unreasonable under the circumstances.*fn2
id. Although § 1983 opens the door to private litigation against
the government, some governmental entities and individuals
employed by the government may be immune from liability. First, a
municipal government is not vicariously liable under § 1983 for
the unconstitutional excessive use of force by its agents.
Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658
that municipal governments cannot be held liable under § 1983
absent a plan, policy, or deliberate indifference). Second, an
officer accused of using excessive force in violation of § 1983
may raise qualified immunity as a defense. Saucier v. Katz,
533 U.S. 194
, 200 (2001) (discussing when individual officers are
entitled to qualified immunity in § 1983 actions). Finally,
government officials responsible for the supervision of an
officer who allegedly violated § 1983 may also raise qualified
immunity as a defense. Int'l Action Ctr. v. United States,
365 F.3d 20
(D.C. Cir. 2004) (discussing when superior officers are
entitled to qualified immunity in § 1983 actions).
I. The District of Columbia Government is Not Vicariously
Liable Under § 1983
Section 1983 "imposes liability on a government that, under
color of some official policy, `causes' an employee to violate
another's constitutional rights." Monell, 436 U.S. at 692. For
a government to be held liable there must be: (1) a
constitutional violation; and (2) a link between a municipal
policy or custom and the violation. See, e.g., City of Canton v.
Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 385 (1989); Warren v. District of
Columbia, 353 F.3d 36, 38 (D.C. Cir. 2004). The failure to allege a policy or custom may not be detrimental if the
plaintiffs can demonstrate that there was a failure to supervise
that constituted a "deliberate indifference towards the
constitutional rights of persons in its domain." Qutb v.
Ramsey, 285 F. Supp. 2d 33, 44 (2003).
The complaints filed by the Gees do not allege sufficient facts
to impose vicarious liability upon the District of Columbia
government under § 1983. First, neither Mr. Gee nor his wife
alleges that there was any relevant policy or custom of the
District of Columbia. Therefore, plaintiffs' complaints fail to
satisfy the standard set forth in City of Canton. Second, the
Gees have not alleged any deliberate indifference by the
government. The allegations in the complaint amount to no more
than a handful of isolated incidents that do not rise to the
level of a policy, custom, or deliberate indifference.
Accordingly, the District of Columbia municipal government cannot
be held liable under § 1983 and the complaints against the
District of Columbia government are dismissed.
II. Officer Schaeffer is Entitled to Qualified Immunity
An officer who was acting under color of law when he affected
an arrest may raise qualified immunity as a defense in a § 1983
suit alleging excessive force.*fn3 See, e.g., Saucier,
533 U.S. at 200. To determine whether qualified immunity is available
to an officer, the Court must conduct a two-step inquiry. See id. at 201-202 (citing Siegert v. Gilley, 500 U.S. 226, 232
(1991)); Qutb v. Ramsey, 285 F.Supp.2d 33, 47, 48 (D.D.C.
2003). The first step of the inquiry requires the Court to
determine, when considering the facts in the light most favorable
to the plaintiff, whether a constitutional violation occurred. If
there was no violation, the plaintiff's claim lacks merit under §
1983 and should be dismissed without further inquiry into
qualified immunity. Saucier, 533 U.S. at 201. If, however, the
allegations in the complaint are sufficient to establish that
there was a violation, the Court must then determine if that
right was clearly established. Id. The Supreme Court has held
that an officer's use of force violates a clearly established
right when a reasonable officer would know his use of force was
unlawful. See id. at 202; Graham v. Connor,
490 U.S. at 394-397. If the Court determines that the amount of force applied
was objectively reasonable under the circumstances, the officer
is entitled to qualified immunity. Graham v. Connor,
490 U.S. at 396-397.
The Court finds here that Officer Schaeffer is entitled to
qualified immunity because Mr. Gee does not allege any specific
facts to establish that the force used during the arrest was so
excessive as to violate his constitutional rights.*fn4 When
determining whether the use of force was reasonable, the Court
should consider the severity of the crimes, any threat to the
officers, and the suspect's attempts to evade arrest. Graham, 490 U.S. at 396. Mr. Gee's affidavit
describes the force used in his June 15, 2004 encounter with the
Officer Schaeffer took my right arm, and twisted it
behind my back while Officer #3 took his hand and
forcible [sic] bent my neck forward causing me to
sustain the injuries [to my back, neck, penis, arm,
James Aff. at 3. (parentheticals omitted). Even in the light most
favorable to Mr. Gee, the Court concludes that Officer
Schaeffer's role in the arrest did not amount to an objectively
unreasonable use of force in violation of Mr. Gee's rights, and
the complaint against Officer Schaeffer is thus dismissed.
III. Officer Schaeffer's Direct and Indirect Supervisors Are
Entitled To Qualified Immunity From Plaintiffs' § 1983 Claims
Superior officials not directly involved in allegedly illegal
conduct may also invoke a qualified immunity defense. See, e.g.,
Int'l Action Ctr., 365 F.3d 20. If, however, there is "an
affirmative link between the occurrence of the various incidents
of police misconduct and the adoption of any plan or policy by
[officials] express or otherwise showing their authorization
or approval of such misconduct," the superior officials may be
liable. Id. at 26. Inaction on the part of a supervisor does
not constitute an "affirmative link" to create liability unless
there is a showing that the supervisor knew or should have known
that the harm was likely to occur without supervision, and the
superior officer's failure to supervise resulted in that harm.
See Haynesworth v. Miller 820 F.2d 1245, 1261-1262 (D.C. Cir.
1987). For the following reasons, there is no basis for the
plaintiff's claims against various senior District of Columbia
officials. Mr. and Mrs. Gee seek to hold the Mayor, Police Chief, Chief
Training Officer for DCPD, and the Director of D.C. Public Works
responsible for the injuries inflicted upon Mr. Gee. The Court
finds that these individuals are immune from liability because
the Gees do not allege any facts to demonstrate there was a plan
or policy authorizing any misconduct, much less a specific link
between these individuals and the incident on June 15, 2004.
Moreover, there are no allegations of authorization, approval, or
any other affirmative link between the superiors and the alleged
use of excessive force. Accordingly, these defendants are
entitled to qualified immunity and the claims against them are
Finally, with regard to the Gees' mentions of Captain Scott on
several occasions in their respective complaints relating to
various undated interactions with the police, the Gees fail to
specifically allege that Captain Scott knew or had reason to know
that Officer Schaeffer was highly likely to use excessive force
in the arrest on June 15, 2004. Therefore, the plaintiffs fail to
allege any affirmative link between Captain Scott and the
incident in question. Accordingly, the Court dismisses the claim
against Captain Scott. CONCLUSION
For the foregoing reasons, the Court grants the defendants'
motions and dismisses these cases in their entirety. An order
consistent with this ruling accompanies this Memorandum Opinion.
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