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Edwards v. Okie Dokie

February 6, 2007

MARK PRINCE EDWARDS, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
OKIE DOKIE, INC., ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rosemary M. Collyer United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This lawsuit arises from an altercation outside the Dream Nightclub after Plaintiffs Mark Prince Edwards, Onoriode Egbeju, and Anita M. Mungal were denied admission. Plaintiffs brought suit for violations of the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and for numerous torts, all essentially alleging excessive use of force and false arrest. The Amended Complaint names the following defendants: the District of Columbia, Mayor Anthony Williams, Police Chief Charles Ramsey, and D.C. Police Officer Charles Whiteside (collectively, the "D.C. Defendants") as well as Okie Dokie, Inc., the owner and operator of the Dream Nightclub. Okie Dokie and the D.C. Defendants have filed motions for summary judgment.

Plaintiffs oppose Okie Dokie's motion and seek summary judgment in their favor, but their arguments are without merit. Since Plaintiffs do not allege that Okie Dokie was acting under color of state law or pursuant to any government custom or policy, their section 1983 claims against it must fail. Further, Plaintiffs' common law tort claims cannot go forward because Plaintiffs have failed to name an expert to establish the applicable standard of care and because there was probable cause to arrest Messrs. Edwards and Egbeju. Plaintiffs filed no opposition to the motion filed by the D.C. Defendants, and thus it is conceded.*fn1 Even if they had responded, the Court has determined as a matter of law that Plaintiffs' claims are infirm and must be dismissed. Okie Dokie and the D.C. Defendants' motions for summary judgment will be granted, and Plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment will be denied.

I. BACKGROUND FACTS

The underlying facts are gleaned from those portions of the trial transcript of Messrs. Edwards and Egbeju's criminal trial that the Plaintiffs have submitted with their cross motion for summary judgment,*fn2 see United States v. Edwards, M50-04 & M40-04 (D.C. Sup. Ct.), Trial Tr. Mar. 15, 2004 (filed here as Dkt. # 21, attachments 1 & 2 and Dkt. # 22) (hereinafter cited as "Tr."), together with the allegations set forth in the Amended Complaint.

Messrs. Edwards and Egbeju and Ms. Mungal approached the Dream Nightclub at 1350 Okie Street, N.E., Washington, D.C., at about 12:45 a.m. on January 2, 2004. Am. Compl. ¶ 12. Mr. Edwards presented a discount voucher for entry without payment of a cover charge. Id. ¶ 14. The security officer at the door of the Nightclub refused to honor the voucher, id. ¶ 15, and the General Manager of the Dream Nightclub, Makan Shirafkn, was called over. Tr. at 12. Mr. Shirafkn informed Mr. Edwards that the voucher was not authorized by the Nightclub and that he would have to pay five dollars to enter. Id. at 12-13. In response, Mr. Edwards "start[ed] getting loud and just, you know, the conversation start[ed] getting louder and louder and he said that's not happening." Id. at 13. To avoid a problem in front of other customers, Mr. Shirafkn asked the group to step outside where they could talk. Id.

Outside the Nightclub, Mr. Edwards stepped to the far side of the rope barrier that the Nightclub uses to line up patrons waiting for entry. Id. at 15. He continued to complain about the failure to honor his voucher. Mr. Shirafkn testified:

Then the discussion further went on saying, you know, why is this happening, why can't I get in. I said you know what, at this point I don't feel safe having you in the club. We're just not going to let you in. He said I'm going to sue you for this, this pass is no good. I'm going to sue you. I said you can do what you want to do if that's the case that's fine. But based on the behavior that I [saw] at the front door, based on the altercation you've already had with our security and the temper that you have, I don't feel safe allowing you to go in there dealing with people who are drinking inside. They might say something less [sic] to you and it might upset you. He said I'm standing for my rights. I remember specifically, he said I'm standing for my rights, why is that a problem. I said that's not a problem, but my problem is if for $5 there's going to be such issues that you're going to get upset, you're going to curse out the security and other customers, our water inside is $5, my cheapest shot is $5. I'm sure I don't want to take that risk of having you go inside putting my security, yourself, and other customers in danger, so we're not doing it.

Id. at 15-16.

Mr. Shirafkn then turned away to tend to other customers. Id. at 17. Messrs. Edwards and Egbeju and Ms. Mungal approached Mr. Shirafkn and demanded to speak to David Rafee, who they believed was the Nightclub's General Manager. Id. at 18. They refused to credit Mr. Shirafkn's statements that he was the General Manager. Id. Mr. Shirafkn attempted to reach Mr. Rafee by radio "because I want[ed] him to come and let them know who I am and what I do." Id. There was no response to Mr. Shirafkn's radio call, and Mr. Edwards told him to "stop faking" because Mr. Edwards did not believe any call had been made. Id. At that point, Mr. Shirafkn said, "[T]hat's it, I'm not dealing with this anymore. I can't do anything, I'm sorry." Id. Ms. Mungal asserted that she is a lawyer and would sue. Id. At that point, Mr. Shirafkn replied, "[I]f I don't feel safe with you being in the club, you're not coming in the club. That's just the bottom line," and he walked away. Id. at 18-19.

Mr. Shirafkn then stopped to talk with another patron in line; the patrons stood on one side of a railing-type barrier and Mr. Shirafkn stood on the club side of the railing. Id. at 20. Mr. Edwards came from behind the other patron, reached over his shoulder, and punched Mr. Shirafkn in the side of his head. Id. at 20-21. The energy behind the punch was sufficient to carry Mr. Edwards forward and right over the railing, where he and Mr. Shirafkn landed on the ground. Id. at 21.*fn3

Two or three security personnel, together with Mr. Shirafkn, immediately put Mr. Edwards in a "lock-down, just grabbed his hands because he was trying to fight." Id. at 22. Ms. Mungal "also started with security, so security had to put her down by the car [sic] just having her held tight" until the police arrived. Id. at 24.

The trial record is unclear whether Mr. Egbeju attempted to separate the two men or joined in the melee in support of Mr. Edwards. Mr. Egbeju had started to walk away but, on hearing the commotion, turned around and came back to where Mr. Edwards and Mr. Shirafkn were on the ground. Pls.' Mem. at 4. Mathey Rofougaran, a witness to the incident, testified that Mr. Egbeju had tried to break up the fight between Mr. Edwards and Mr. Shirafkn, see Tr. at 115, until Mr. Egbeju got involved. Id. at 116. "Then once he got involved, they were throwing punches, so when your trying to break up a fight you don't throw punches . . . . You hold people." Id. Mr. Rofougaran stated, "Initially he [Mr. Egbeju] had gone up and tried to hold, pull Makan off or pull somebody off. I'm not sure who. Pull somebody off and then within seconds punches were thrown [by someone]." Id. at 123. "I know there [were] punches thrown, but I don't know exactly who he hit or what he exactly did." Id. Mr. Shirafkn testified that Mr. Egbeju shoved him in the back for two seconds before Mr. Egbeju too was "put down" by security. Id. at 24.

Police were called and officers of the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department ("MPD") responded, including Defendant Officer Whiteside. The police observed Messrs. Edwards and Egbeju "being restrained by club security." D.C. Defendants' Mem. in Supp. of Mot. for Summ. J. ("D.C.'s Mem.") Ex. 1, Statement of Probable Cause. After hearing of the events described above from five witnesses,*fn4 the officers arrested Messrs. Edwards and Egbeju for simple assault and transported them to the police station for processing. Id.; see also id. Ex. 3, Information filed against Mr. Egbeju.

At a joint bench trial before Judge Zinora Mitchell-Rankin in D.C. Superior Court, Mr. Edwards was found guilty of assault and sentenced to 60 days in jail, see id. Ex. 2, Judgment and Commitment Order, and Mr. Egbeju was found not guilty. Id. Ex. 4, Final Disposition.

As a result of the above described events, Plaintiffs brought a ten-count Amended Complaint alleging one federal cause of action and nine common law causes of action as follows:

Count I -- Violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 based on the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure (excessive force) and based on the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment right to be free from deprivation of liberty without due process; Count II -- False Arrest;

Count III -- False Imprisonment;

Count IV -- Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress;

Count V -- Assault;

Count VI -- Battery;

Count VII -- Gross Negligence;

Count VIII -- Negligent Infliction of ...


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