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Johnson v. Dist. of Columbia

August 30, 2006

CHRISTI JOHNSON, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gladys Kessler U.S. District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff, Christi Johnson, brings this action in her individual capacity and on behalf of the estate of her son, Tyrone David Christian. Defendants are the District of Columbia ("the District" or "D.C."), Gayle Turner, the Administrator of the D.C. Youth Services Administration ("YSA"),*fn1 and Dytrad Management Services, Incorporated ("Dytrad"). Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Plaintiff seeks damages for violations of her late son's constitutional rights. Plaintiff also seeks damages under the common law of the District of Columbia for Defendants' alleged negligence.

This matter is currently before the Court on the District Defendants' Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings or, in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment [Dkt. No. 73] and Dytrad's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings [Dkt. No. 81]. Upon consideration of the Motions, Oppositions, and Replies, and the entire record herein, and for the reasons set forth below, the District Defendants' Motion is hereby granted and Dytrad's Motion is hereby granted.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Facts

The tragic facts of this case are for the most part undisputed.*fn2 On October 18, 2001, Tyrone David Christian, sixteen years old, was shot outside his home on Martin Luther King Avenue in the District of Columbia by Paul Andre Coleman, a juvenile whose precise age is not given.*fn3 Am. Compl. ¶ 9. Within minutes of the shooting, he died in the arms of his mother, the Plaintiff. Id. ¶ 11.

Approximately sixty days before the shooting, Paul had escaped from the Gateway IV Group Home, a residential facility for troubled youth in the District of Columbia. Id. ¶ 12. The Gateway IV Group Home is controlled by the YSA, an agency of the District of Columbia, and operated by Dytrad, with which YSA contracted for that purpose. Id. ¶¶ 12-13. Plaintiff claims that Defendants knew that Paul had absconded on two prior occasions and negligently failed to supervise him accordingly, a failure that she argues caused her young son's untimely death. Id. ¶ 12.

At the time of Tyrone's death, Plaintiff was unaware that Paul was a ward of the District and had escaped from its custody. Id. ¶ 15. She learned that fact from a Washington Post reporter who contacted her in January 2003. Id. According to Plaintiff, she also learned that juveniles within the District's custody escaped 782 times during the ten-month period in which her son was killed, id. ¶ 16, and that twenty teenagers committed serious crimes in the District after absconding from group homes or jails between 1998 and 2002. Id. ¶ 17. Furthermore, she alleges, "only two police officers [are] assigned to locate approximately 600 runaways a year." Id. ¶ 19.

B. Procedural History

Plaintiff filed her Complaint in the District of Columbia Superior Court on July 16, 2003. Invoking this Court's jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, Defendants filed a Notice of Removal on December 16, 2003. With leave of the Court, Plaintiff amended her Complaint on May 27, 2004, adding Dytrad as a Defendant. See Dkt. No. 9. On June 21, 2005, the District filed a counterclaim against Dytrad seeking, inter alia, indemnification or contribution for any liability it might incur in this litigation. See Dkt. No. 67.

On July 7, 2005, the District Defendants filed the instant Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings or, in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment [Dkt. No. 73]. Plaintiff opposed that Motion on July 29, 2005 [Dkt. No. 79] and the District Defendants filed their Reply on August 12, 2005 [Dkt. No. 84].

Dytrad filed its Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings [Dkt. No. 81] on August 4, 2005. Plaintiff's Opposition [Dkt. No. 85] and Dytrad's Reply [Dkt. No. 86] were filed August 15, 2005 and August 22, 2005, respectively.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) provides that "[a]fter the pleadings are closed but within such time frame as not to delay the trial, any party may move for judgment on the pleadings." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c). A motion for judgment on the pleadings will be granted if the movant shows, at the close of the pleadings, that no issue of material fact remains to be resolved, and that he or she is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Terry v. Reno, 101 F.3d 1412, 1423 (D.C. Cir. 1996); Haynesworth v. Miller, 820 F.2d 1245, 1249 n.11 (D.C. Cir. 1987); Summers v. Howard University, 127 F. Supp. 2d 27, 29 (D.D.C. 2000).

The standard of review for a Rule 12(c) motion is "virtually identical" to that which governs motions to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). Haynesworth, 820 F.2d at 1254; Robinson v. District of Columbia, 403 F. Supp. 2d 39, 47 (D.D.C. 2005). Accordingly, a motion for judgment on the pleadings may be granted only if it appears, based on the allegations set forth in the complaint, that "the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957); Hishon v. King & Spaulding, 467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984). Because such motions "summarily extinguish litigation at the threshold and foreclose the opportunity for discovery and factual presentation, [they] should be treated with the greatest of care." Haynesworth, 820 F.2d at 1254. The factual allegations of the complaint must be presumed true and liberally construed in favor of the plaintiff. Shear v. Nat'l Rifle Ass'n of Am., 606 F.2d 1251, 1253 (D.C. Cir. 1979).

A court may not consider matters outside the pleadings and is "limited to considering facts alleged in the complaint, any documents attached to or incorporated in the complaint, matters of which the court may take judicial notice, and matters of public record." Robinson, 403 F. Supp. 2d at 47 (citing EEOC v. St. Francis Xavier Parochial School, 117 F.3d 621, 624 (D.C. Cir. 1997)). Although the court must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, it "need not accept inferences drawn by the plaintiff if such inferences are unsupported by the facts set out in the complaint." Kowal v. MCI Communications Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1994).

III. ANALYSIS

A. The District Defendants Are Entitled to Judgment on the Pleadings Because Plaintiff Has Failed to State a Valid Substantive Due Process Claim and Her Negligence Claims Are Barred by the Public Duty Doctrine

1. Plaintiff's Constitutional Claim Fails as a Matter of Law

In Count I of her Complaint, Plaintiff contends that by acting "with deliberate indifference" to his safety, the District Defendants "deprived Tyrone David Christian of his interests in life and property under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983."*fn4 Am. Compl. ¶ 21. Defendants' actions, she argues, not only resulted in her son's death, but also caused her to suffer, inter alia, "mental anguish, emotional pain and suffering, [and] loss of society." Id. ¶ 24.

According to the District Defendants, however, Plaintiff's constitutional claims fail as a matter of law. To establish a substantive violation of the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause, they argue, Plaintiff must demonstrate that Tyrone suffered an unlawful deprivation of either a protected property or liberty interest. See District Defs.' Mot. for Judgment on the Pleadings at 5 (hereinafter ...


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