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David v. District of Columbia

June 30, 2006

DARLENE DAVID ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION

On April 29, 2005, a jury returned a verdict for plaintiff Darlene David on her claims of assault and battery against the District of Columbia and Children's National Medical Center ("CNMC"), deprivation of her constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Metropolitan Police Department Officer Andre Davis, and against all defendants for negligent infliction of emotional distress and false arrest and imprisonment. The jury also found for plaintiff Monica Pourshayegan on her claim of negligent infliction of emotional distress against all defendants, and awarded compensatory and punitive damages to both plaintiffs. Defendants District of Columbia and Davis have renewed their motion for judgment as a matter of law, arguing that no reasonable jury could have found for David on her claims of deprivation of her constitutional rights, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and false arrest and imprisonment against Davis, nor for Pourshayegan on her claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress. Defendants also argue that the jury had no reasonable basis to award punitive damages. Because a reasonable jury could have found for the plaintiffs on all of these claims and awarded punitive damages, defendants' motion for judgment as a matter of law will be denied.

BACKGROUND

David sued the District of Columbia, Officer Davis and CNMC for assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and false arrest and imprisonment and Officer Davis for deprivation of her constitutional rights under color of state law. Pourshayegan sued each of the defendants for negligent infliction of emotional distress. The evidence at trial, viewed in the light most favorable to the prevailing plaintiffs, revealed the following. On June 11, 2001, Davis and a female detective took Pourshayegan to CNMC after Pourshayegan reported that she had been the victim of a sexual assault. Davis asked Pourshayegan for her mother's name and number so that he could contact her. Pourshayegan refused to give him this information because she did not want her mother to see her in the condition she was in after the assault. The police department managed to contact David anyway and informed her that her daughter had been sexually assaulted and taken to CNMC. David arrived at the hospital accompanied by her mother Joyce Lathon, sought out Pourshayegan and immediately embraced her daughter upon locating her daughter's room. At that time, Metropolitan Police Department officers and CNMC security pulled David from Pourshayegan and forcibly removed David from the room over objections by Pourshayegan. Lathon testified that David was talking to Pourshayegan when the officers and security guards approached David, and that David had not physically or verbally provoked them. Pourshayegan testified that she could not remember exactly who among the officers and the security guards forcibly removed David from the hospital room. Davis's testimony implied that he played a role in the decision to arrest David, but he denied physically removing David from the room. In any event, once outside the room, David was thrown against the wall and fell to the floor. Pourshayegan remembered seeing David on the floor in the hallway. David woke up in a hospital examination room handcuffed to the bed, having been arrested for disorderly conduct. Pourshayegan testified about the incident, "[i]t affects me to this day. I dream about it. I can't sleep." (Trial Tr. at 21, Apr. 27, 2005.) In addition, David testified that Pourshayegan "cries a lot" because of the incident. (See Plaintiffs' Opp'n at 13.) No expert testimony was offered at trial to substantiate Pourshayegan's emotional distress. Before the case was submitted to the jury, defendants moved for judgment as a matter of law as to all claims except assault and battery. The court reserved ruling on the motion and submitted the case to the jury.

The jury returned a verdict for David on her claims against CNMC and the District of Columbia for assault and battery, against Davis for deprivation of her constitutional rights under color of state law, and against all the defendants for negligent infliction of emotional distress and false arrest and imprisonment. The jury awarded David $32,001 in compensatory damages and $1 in punitive damages. On Pourshayegan's claim of negligent infliction of emotional distress, the jury found each defendant liable and awarded Pourshayegan $25,001 in compensatory damages and $1 in punitive damages. The jury found for defendant Davis on David's assault and battery claim and for all defendants on David's intentional infliction of emotional distress claim.

The District of Columbia and Davis now renew their motion for judgment as a matter of law. They argue the jury's verdict for Davis on assault and battery precludes Davis's liability on David's constitutional and false arrest claims and that, in any event, Davis is entitled to qualified immunity from those claims. Defendants also maintain that the evidence presented at trial was insufficient for a reasonable jury to have found defendants liable for punitive damages or liable to Pourshayegan for negligent infliction of emotional distress. Plaintiffs oppose the motion.

DISCUSSION

A party "may renew its request for judgment as a matter of law by filing a motion no later than 10 days after entry of judgment[.]" Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(b). Judgment as a matter of law is appropriate only where "a party has been fully heard on an issue and there is no legally sufficient evidentiary basis for a reasonable jury to find for [the nonmoving] party on that issue." Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(a)(1). When considering such a motion, a district court should review all of the evidence in the record and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, but may not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence. Thomas v. Mineta, 310 F. Supp. 2d 198, 203 (D.D.C. 2004) (citing Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Products, Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 149-50 (2000)). "Accordingly, the court 'must disregard all evidence favorable to the moving party that the jury is not required to believe.'" Thomas, 310 F. Supp. 2d at 203 (quoting Reeves, 530 U.S. at 151).

I. FALSE ARREST AND IMPRISONMENT

"The unlawful detention of a person without a warrant for any length of time whereby he is deprived of his personal liberty or freedom of locomotion . . . by actual force, or by fear of force, or even by words constitutes false imprisonment." Weishapl v. Sowers, 771 A.2d 1014, 1020 (D.C. 2001) (quoting Dent v. May Dep't Stores, Co., 459 A.2d 1042, 1044 (D.C. 1982).

The only evidence produced at trial tying Davis to David's arrest to which defendants cite is David's testimony that Davis and a CNMC security officer grabbed her. (Defs.' Mot. for J. as a Matter of Law at 8.) Because the jury found for Davis with respect to assault and battery, defendants contend that the jury's verdict in favor of David's false arrest claim "is inconsistent with the evidence and cannot stand." (Defs.' Mot for J. as a Matter of Law at 8-9.) This argument does not recount fully the evidence produced at trial viewed in the light most favorable to plaintiffs. When asked to identify who pulled her mother from the examination room, Pourshayegan responded, "I can't -- I don't remember. It was -- it was between the detective. It was between a security guard. It was between the hospital staff and the police or Detective Davis." (Trial Tr. 16:3-6, Apr. 27, 2005.) In addition, Davis testified about David's arrest:

Q: And you told Grier what to arrest [David] for, right?

A: No. I told Detective Grier and Sergeant Simms what I was going ...


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