United States District Court, D. Columbia
September 16, 2005.
Keith O. Stoddard, Plaintiff,
John Trainum, Defendant.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: ROYCE LAMBERTH, District Judge
This matter is before the Court on defendant's motion for
summary judgment. Upon consideration of the parties' submissions
and the entire record, the Court will grant defendant's motion
and dismiss the case.
In his amended complaint allowed by Order of November 21, 2003,
plaintiff alleges that defendant, a Deputy United States Marshal,
violated his Fifth Amendment "procedural" right to due process
when he publicly accused plaintiff of being a child molester
while executing an arrest warrant, knowing it to be
false.*fn1 First Amended Complaint ("Amd. Cplt.") at 1-3.
Plaintiff alleges that as a result of defendant's actions,
community residents hurled rocks and other objects at him,
children were afraid to go to school because of him, "mobs of
angry parents" accosted him, and "local gang members" threatened
his life. Id. at 4. Plaintiff also alleges that his
then-fiancee (now his wife) was "confronted and accosted by angry
parents," who "threatened to do bodily harm for [her] association with the Plaintiff." Id.
Plaintiff allegedly experienced "limited" job prospects, "lost
his ability to practice as a Certified Addiction Specialist and a
Licensed Addiction Counselor," and was "refused job interviews,"
all as a result of defendant's actions. Id. at 5. Plaintiff
alleges that he sustained physical injury and "severe and
permanent emotional distress." Id. at 4, ¶ 17.
Plaintiff sues defendant in his individual capacity pursuant to
Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of
Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971). Defendant asserts that plaintiff
has failed to establish a due process violation and that he is
entitled to qualified immunity. The Court previously rejected the
immunity defense. See Memorandum Opinion (Nov. 21, 2003) at 6.
There is no need to revisit the issue here.
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
Summary judgment is appropriate only when the "pleadings [and
discovery], together with the affidavits, if any, show that there
is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving
party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). As a general rule, "[i]n deciding whether there is a
genuine issue of fact before it, the court must assume the truth
of all statements proffered by the party opposing summary
judgment." Greene v. Dalton, 164 F.3d 671, 674 (D.C. Cir.
1999). Summary judgment is inappropriate if "the evidence is such
that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving
party." Aka v. Washington Hospital Center, 156 F.3d 1284, 1288
(D.C Cir. 1998) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,
477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). Under Rule 56(e) of the Federal Rules of
When a motion for summary judgment is made and
supported as provided in this rule, an adverse party
may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials in
the adverse party's response, but the adverse party's
response by affidavits or as otherwise provided in this rule, must set forth
specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue
for trial. If the adverse party does not so respond,
summary judgment, if appropriate, shall be entered
against the adverse party.
In order to establish his Bivens claim, plaintiff must show
that defendant deprived him of a constitutional right. In the
amended complaint, plaintiff alleges that he was deprived of "his
5th amendment procedural due process right to challenge and
be heard on these false accusations made by the Defendant." Amd.
Cplt. at 1-2. He maintains in his opposition that he is not
claiming that he was "deprived of a `property interest' in
private employment [but rather that] he was not provided any
constitutionally guaranteed forum in which to prove his
innocence." Plaintiff's Memorandum in Opposition to the
Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment ("Pltf's Opp.") at 2. He
therefore appears to assert the deprivation of a liberty
interest.*fn2 Plaintiff's premise is fatally flawed because
defendant, a Deputy U.S. Marshal, has absolutely no control over
the presentment and prosecution of criminal charges. He therefore
cannot possibly be liable for this deprivation under Bivens,
which requires a showing that the alleged wrongdoer "was
personally involved in the illegal conduct." Simpkins v.
District of Columbia Government, 108 F.3d 366, 369 (D.C. Cir.
1997). In addition, due process attaches when the government
"seeks to remove or significantly alter [a] protected status."
Paul v. Davis, 424 U.S. 693, 711 (1979). Under the
circumstances presented, the right of due process would be
triggered by the filing of criminal charges, but plaintiff's own
theory belies this possibility. He alleges that "[d]efendant knew that upon uttering these false
accusations, Plaintiff would not have an opportunity to contest
these charges . . . in any Court of law" because he was never
accused of child molestation.*fn3 Amd Cplt. ¶ 12.
Plaintiff asserts that because of defendant, he "has
essentially been tried and convicted in the eyes of his community
for a heinous act, for which he was never convicted, and has had
no procedurally safeguarded opportunity to contest." Pltf's Opp.
at 5. He has stated, at best, a claim of defamation. Defendant
asserts that plaintiff has not established his Bivens claim
because he has not satisfied the test necessary for a defamation
claim to rise to the level of a constitutional violation.
"Defamation, by itself, is a tort actionable under the laws of
most States, but not a constitutional deprivation." Siegert v.
Gilley, 500 U.S. 226, 233 (1991). "[R]eputation alone does not
constitute a liberty interest," and "District of Columbia law
provides no special protection for reputation beyond the general
protection of tort law." Mosrie v. Barry, 718 F.2d 1151, 1159
(D.C. Cir. 1983). Defamatory statements may be elevated to a
constitutional violation, however, if it is shown that they
resulted in "a removal, extinguishment, or significant alteration
of an interest recognized and protected by state law." Id. at
1160-61 (discussing Paul v. Davis, 424 U.S. 693 (1976)).
Defamation along with the loss of present or future employment
may satisfy the test required by the Constitution and the case
law. Id. As the District of Columbia Circuit stated:
For a defamation to give rise to a right to
procedural due process, it is necessary . . . that
the defamation be accompanied by a discharge from
government employment or at least a demotion in rank and pay.
The latter, more general category requires that the
government either have formally deprived one of a
legal right, such as the right to purchase liquor or
to drive, or have so severely impaired one's ability
to take advantage of a legal right, such as a right
to be considered for government contracts or
employment or a right to seek non-government
employment, that the government can be said to have
`foreclosed' one's ability to take advantage of it
and thus extinguished the right.
Mosrie v. Barry, 718 F.2d at 1161 (footnote omitted).
Plaintiff has not countered with any evidence of his own
defendant's well-documented evidence demonstrating that, contrary
to the complaint allegations, the alleged defamatory statement
had no adverse effect on plaintiff's employment and employment
opportunities. See Deft's Facts ¶¶ 4, 7-11 (citing record
exhibits). Nor has plaintiff proffered any evidence establishing
that the statement resulted in the deprivation of any other legal
right. See Siegert v. Gilley, 500 U.S. at 234 ("Our decision in
Paul v. Davis did not turn ? on the state of mind of the
defendant, but on the lack of any constitutional protection for
the interest in reputation."). The alleged statement was made in
June 2001, three months before plaintiff surrendered to
authorities in September 2001. Plaintiff therefore does not, and
can not, argue that the defamation was accompanied by his loss of
liberty as defined by the Constitution.*fn4 In sum, plaintiff has not "set forth specific facts showing
that there is a genuine issue for trial" on the existence of a
constitutional violation. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). The Court
therefore finds that defendant is entitled to judgment as a
matter of law.*fn5
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