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Scott v. District of Columbia

May 23, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Richard W. Roberts United States District Judge


Defendants Odie Washington and the District of Columbia ("the District") each filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Plaintiff Mary R. Scott opposed the District's motion and opposed defendant Washington's motion in part only. Because the complaint serves adequate notice under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8 of the claims asserted against the defendants and they have not shown beyond doubt that there is no set of facts in support of plaintiff's claims which would entitle plaintiff to relief, the motion by the District has been denied, and the motion by Washington has been granted in part and denied in part. Washington's motion to dismiss the medical negligence claim has been granted, his motion to dismiss claims against him in his official capacity will be granted, and his motion to dismiss has been denied in all other respects.*fn1


Scott is the mother of Jonathan Magbie, who was a 27-year-old paraplegic with serious systemic infections when he began serving a 10-day jail term for possession of marijuana. Magbie died while serving his jail term. Scott filed suit against Washington and the District, among others, asserting claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (2000) for Eighth Amendment violations, and claims for common law medical negligence. In addition, she asserts claims for violations of the American with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12132 and 12182, and the D.C. Human Rights Act ("DCHRA"), D.C. Code §§ 2-1402.67, 2-1402.73, and 2-1402.16 (2001 & 2005 Supp.), against the District.

The District moved to dismiss the complaint. First, the District argued that Monell v. Dep't of Social Servs. of the City of New York, 436 U.S. 658 (1978), requires Scott to establish municipal liability by showing that the District had either a policy or custom that violated Magbie's civil rights, or that it showed deliberate indifference to his civil rights, and contended that Scott's complaint fails to allege facts sufficient to plead municipal liability under Monell. (District's Mot. to Dismiss ("District's Mot.") at 1, 6-18.) Second, the District argued that Scott's ADA and DCHRA claims should be dismissed because she has not alleged facts to suggest either that the District failed to provide reasonable accommodations to Magbie or acted with ill will toward Magbie. (Id. at 1, 19-22.) Third, the District argued that Scott's medical negligence claim should be dismissed because Scott's factual allegations implicate only the standard of care given by those directly providing the care. (Id. at 1, 23-33.) Scott opposed the District's motion, arguing that her complaint provides the notice pleading required by Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and that the District's motion implicitly attempts to impose a heightened standard of pleading.

Washington, the District's former Director of the Department of Corrections, who was sued in both his official and personal capacities, also filed a motion to dismiss. Washington sought to dismiss all claims against him in his official capacity. (Washington's Motion to Dismiss ("Washington's Mot.") at 1 n.1.) In addition, Washington argued that the constitutional claim against him in his personal capacity should be dismissed because Scott has not alleged facts to show that Washington was personally involved in the events that led to the death of Magbie or that he had the requisite mental intent. (Washington's Mot. at 6-10.) He also argued that he is entitled to qualified immunity for discretionary acts taken within the scope of his official duties. (Id. at 10-14.)*fn2 Scott countered that Washington's conduct could have been a proximate cause of Magbie's death without Washington having had any direct interaction with Magbie, and that personal liability could attach if Washington's conduct demonstrated deliberate indifference to known risks to persons in Magbie's situation. (Id. at 2-15.)


A Rule 12(b)(6) motion is intended to test the legal sufficiency of the complaint. But the complaint need only set forth 'a short and plain statement of the claim, . . . giving the defendant fair notice of the claim and the grounds upon which it rests. . . . 'Such simplified "notice pleading" is made possible by the liberal opportunity for discovery and the other pretrial procedures established by the Rules to disclose more precisely the basis of both claim and defense and to define more narrowly the disputed facts and issues.' . . . In light of these liberal pleading requirements, '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 his claim which would entitle him to relief.'" Kingman Park Civic Ass'n v. Williams, 348 F.3d 1033, 1040 (D.C. Cir. 2003) (citations omitted).

In considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court must accept all the allegations in a plaintiff's complaint as true and construe them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Jungquist v. Sheikh Sultan Bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, 115 F.3d 1020, 1027 (D.C. Cir. 1997). "Rule 12(b)(6) is not a device for testing the truth of what is asserted or for determining whether a plaintiff has any evidence to back up what is in the complaint. . . . The issue is not whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims. Indeed it may appear on the face of the pleadings that a recovery is very remote and unlikely but that is not the test. . . . Rule 12(b)(6) does not countenance . . . dismissals based on a judge's disbelief of a complainant's factual allegations . . . or, we add, a judge's belief that the plaintiff cannot prove what the complaint asserts." ACLU Foundation of So. Cal. v. Barr, 952 F.2d 457, 467 (D.C. Cir. 1992) (quotations and citations omitted). "Dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) is proper when, taking the material allegations of the complaint as admitted, and construing them in plaintiff's favor, the court finds that the plaintiff has failed to allege all the material elements of his cause of action." Weyrich v. The New Republic, Inc., 235 F.3d 617, 623 (D.C. Cir. 2001) (internal citations omitted).


To state her § 1983 claim against the District for the actions of its agents, Scott had to "allege not only a violation of [Magbie's] rights under the Constitution . . . but also that the municipality's custom or policy caused the violation." Warren v. District of Columbia, 353 F.3d 36, 38 (D.C. Cir. 2004) (citing Collins v. City of Harker Heights, 503 U.S. 115, 123-24 (1992)). Scott's complaint describes in detail acts and omissions by District employees that she faults as leading to Magbie's death, and alleges both that these were the product of the District's policies and customs and that they violated his Eighth Amendment rights. (Compl. ¶¶ 4, 22-24, 28-29, 38-39, 47-48, 51-52, 60-62.) Scott has met Rule 8 standards for stating a claim against the District under § 1983.

To state a medical negligence claim against the District, Scott was required to allege that the District owed a duty of medical care to Magbie, that the care provided fell short of the prevailing standard existing at the time of the events, and that the substandard care was the proximate cause of the injury. Eibl v. Kogan, 494 A.2d 640, 642 (D.C. 1985). In her complaint, Scott asserts that the District owed a duty of medical care to Magbie, details several instances where medical care was required but not provided, and alleges that the District's negligence or failure to act was a proximate cause of Magbie's death. (Compl. ¶¶ 22-24, 28-42, 51-52, 60, 68-69.) Thus, the complaint states a claim for medical negligence against the District.

With respect to the ADA and DCHRA claims against the District, Scott was required to allege that Magbie was disabled, that the District knew or should have known that Magbie was disabled, and that Magbie was denied reasonable accommodations that would enable him to more fully participate in the services, programs and activities provided prisoners. 42 U.S.C. § 12132; Pennsylvania Dep't of Corrections v. Yeskey, 524 U.S. 206, 210 (1998) (applying the ADA to state prisoners and expressly finding that medical services, as well as other programs and activities, are benefits within the act); cf. Sampson v. Citibank, 53 F. Supp. 2d 13, 17 (D.D.C. 1997) (stating elements in disability discrimination in employment setting); see also Regan v. Grill Concepts-DC, Inc., 388 F. Supp. 2d 131, 134 (D.D.C. 2004) (explaining that the requirements for pleading violations of the DCHRA are flexible and vary depending on the facts and circumstances involved, and that the DCHRA follows the ADA and its jurisprudence with respect to disability discrimination); Mitchell v. Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp., 407 F. Supp. 2d 213, 240-41 (D.D.C. 2005) (discussing borrowing, where appropriate, jurisprudence relating to analogous federal claims when applying the DCHRA). Scott's complaint alleges that Magbie was disabled, that ...

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