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Daskalea v. Washington Humane Society

March 13, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: John Garrett Penn United States District Judge


Plaintiffs are pet owners whose pets were temporarily seized by the Washington Humane Society when it determined the animals were neglected within the meaning of the District of Columbia's animal cruelty statute. See D.C. Code § 22-1001. They bring this putative class action on behalf of all similarly situated pet owners who have had an animal seized by the Washington Humane Society, alleging that the Freedom From Cruelty to Animal Protection Act of 2000, June 8, 2001, D.C. Law § 13-303, § 2, 47 DCR 7307 (codified at D.C. Code § 22-1001 et seq.), is unconstitutional, as written and customarily enforced, because it fails to provide due process of law, is unconstitutionally vague, and is arbitrarily and capriciously enforced. They also allege a number of District of Columbia common law tort claimsagainstthe Washington Humane Society, its employees, and the District of Columbia.

This matter comes before the Court on the Humane Society Defendants'*fn1 Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim Upon Which Relief Can Be Granted [16], a Motion to Dismiss [17] filed by Defendants Sonya Scnoor and H.O. Boozer,*fn2 and the District of Columbia's Motion to Dismiss Or, In The Alternative, For Summary Judgment [18].*fn3

Upon consideration of the parties' motions and related filings, and for the reasons explained below, the motions are granted in part and denied in part.


Plaintiffs' amended complaint alleges the following facts.*fn4

On May 17, 2002, Plaintiff Sunday Daskalea left her dog unattended in her vehicle while "she went up to her apartment to get some things." First Am. Compl. at ¶¶ 31, 33. The dog, "a full-bred, pedigreed 'Dogo Argentino,'" which she had purchased "for breeding, as well as companionship" purposes, "had just been walked, watered and fed, and was in absolutely no danger." Id. at ¶ 31. It is not clear from the amended complaint how long the animal was left unattended; however, while Ms. Daskalea was in her apartment, Defendant Sonya Scnoor, a Humane Society law enforcement officer, seized the dog from the car. Id. at ¶ 36. Ms. Daskalea's "[r]epeated efforts . . . to retrieve [her dog] from the Washington Humane Society were unsuccessful," as the Humane Society "refused to return" the animal. Id. at ¶ 39. While in custody of the Humane Society, the dog was "forcibly sterilized . . . against the will of [Ms. Daskalea]." Id. at ¶ 41. Ms. Daskalea was never given an opportunity to contest the "seizure, detention, sterilization [or] return of her pet." Id. at ¶ 42. Although the animal was eventually returned to Ms. Daskalea, it was "permanently prevented from breeding" and its "personality ha[d] changed." Id. at ¶¶ 43, 45.

On July 19, 2002, Plaintiff Frances Norris left her dog unattended in her car while she "went to [a] nearby sports club." Id. at ¶ 46. Dr. Norris "parked her car under a large shade tree . . . cracked all four car windows, [and] left food and water for [the animal]." Id. Upon returning to her car, "Dr. Norris found that officer H.O. Boozer . . . of the Humane Society had entered her car and seized [her dog] without her permission, knowledge or consent." Id. at ¶ 48. Dr. Norris maintains that her dog "was perfectly fine and in absolutely no danger" at the time of the seizure. Much like Ms. Daskalea, Dr. Norris "was denied the right to notice and hearing to contest the seizure, detention, [and] terms of release" of her pet, and her "[e]fforts . . . to retrieve [her dog] from the Washington Humane Society were [initially] unsuccessful." Id. at ¶ 54. The Humane Society eventually "agreed to return [the dog], but only if Dr. Norris agreed to pay . . . [for] unnecessary medical treatment." Id. at ¶ 55. Dr. Norris "reluctantly agreed" to the treatment, realizing it was the "only way" the Humane Society would return her pet. Id. The dog "was in terrible condition" when released. Id. at ¶ 56.

Much like Ms. Daskalea and Dr. Norris, Plaintiff Willie Jackson also had his dog seized by the Humane Society. Mr. Jackson alleges that on October 11, 2003, members of the Humane Society "entered [his] family['s] home and illegally seized [his dog]," which had "developed terminal cancer." Id. at ¶¶ 59, 61. "[D]espite numerous demands" to free the animal, the Humane Society "refused to return [his dog]" until Mr. Jackson would "consent to, and pay for . . . major cancer surgery." Id. at ¶¶ 61, 64. In an attempt to appease the Humane Society, Mr. Jackson provided his pet's veterinary records "for the prior four years, [which] document[ed the animal's] exemplary medical treatment." Id. at ¶ 61. The Humane Society was not satisfied, however, and demanded that the animal undergo "radical treatment." Id. at ¶ 64. "[U]nder compulsion from the Humane Society, Mr. Jackson was compelled to agree to the cancer surgery." Id. at ¶ 65. The treatment was unsuccessful and the animal died. Id. at ¶ 64. At no time during this process was Mr. Jackson given an opportunity to contest the seizure and terms of release of his pet, including the reasonableness of the cancer treatment.*fn5 Id. at ¶ 70.


This matter comes before the Court on Defendants' motions to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) for "failure to state claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). "When adjudicating a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the Court must view all the allegations and facts in the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs, and it must grant the plaintiffs the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from those facts." Lindsey v. United States, 448 F. Supp. 2d 37, 44 (D.D.C. 2006) (citing Barr. v. Clinton, 361 U.S. App. D.C. 472, 475, 370 F.3d 1196, 1199 (D.C. Cir. 2004)). "However, the court need not accept inferences drawn by plaintiffs if such inferences are unsupported by the facts set out in the complaint. Nor must the court accept legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations." Kowal v. MCI Commc'n Corp., 305 U.S. App. D.C. 60, 65, 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1994) (citing Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286, 106 S.Ct. 2932, 2944 (1986)). "The court 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." Johnson v. Long Beach Mortg. Loan Trust 2001-4, 451 F. Supp. 2d 16, 27 (D.D.C. 2006) (citing EEOC v. St. Francis Xavier Parochial Sch., 326 U.S. App. D.C. 67, 70, 117 F.3d 621, 624 (D.C. Cir. 1997)) (other citation omitted). "[A] complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff[s] can prove no set of facts in support of [their] claim which would entitle [them] to relief." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S.Ct. 99, 102 (1957) (footnote omitted). "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." Runkle v. Gonzales, 391 F. Supp. 2d 210, 220 (D.D.C. 2005) (citations omitted).

Because the District of Columbia has moved to dismiss the amended complaint or, in the alternative, for summary judgment, the Court is mindful of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b) ("If . . . matters outside the pleading are presented to and not excluded by the court, the motion shall be treated as one for summary judgment and disposed of as provided in Rule 56, and all parties shall be given reasonable opportunity to present all material made pertinent to such a motion by Rule 56."). The Court will grant a motion for summary judgment "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, 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 a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). "Rule 56 also mandates summary judgment if a party fails to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. In such a situation, there is no genuine issue of material fact since there is a failure of proof concerning an essential element of the non-moving party's case that renders all other facts immaterial." Hazward v. Runyon, 14 F. Supp. 2d 120, 122 (D.D.C. 1998) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2552 (1986)). "When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, this Court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Am. Cargo Transp. v. Natsios, 429 F. Supp. 2d 139, 145 (D.D.C. 2006) (citing Bayer v. United States Dep't of Treasury, 294 U.S. App. D.C. 44, 47, 956 F.2d 330, 333 (D.C. Cir. 1992)). "The court must accept evidence provided by nonmovants as true, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in their favor." Hazward, 14 F. Supp. 2d at 122 (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510 (1986)). "[T]he judge's function is not himself to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249; 106 S.Ct. at 2511. "[T]here is no issue for trial unless there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party." 477 U.S. at 249; 106 S.Ct. at 2510 (citing First Nat'l Bank of Arizona v. Cities Serv. Co., 391 U.S. 253, 288-89, 88 S.Ct. 1575, 1592 (1968)).*fn6


Plaintiffs filed suit against the District of Columbia,*fn7 the Washington Humane Society, and various Humane Society employees, including John Does 1-10, individually and in their capacity as agents of the Humane Society, alleging an assortment of constitutional and common law violations in connection with the District of Columbia's animal cruelty statute, D.C. Code § 22-1001 et seq. See First Am. Compl. ¶¶ at 1, 6-17. Plaintiffs claim "that the Freedom From Cruelty to Animal Protection Act of 2000 is unconstitutional for its failure to provide due process rights to pet owners" because the "statutory language of the Act does not provide for notice and a hearing . . . to contest the seizure, detention, and terms of release" of animals seized. Id. at ¶¶ 19-20. Plaintiffs "further allege that the Act is unconstitutionally vague, and that the defendants enforcement of the act is arbitrary and capricious," id. at ¶2, and "that the due process provided in their individual cases was inadequate, and that the actions of defendants . . . were arbitrary and capricious," id. at ¶ 3. Plaintiffs seek a declaratory judgment that the Freedom From Cruelty to Animal Protection Act of 2000 is unconstitutional, an injunction barring Defendants from enforcing it, and damages. Id. at ¶ 4. In their respective motions, Defendants seek dismissal of each count contained in the amended complaint. The Court will examine Defendants' arguments in turn.

A. The Washington Humane Society is Not a Suable Entity

As a preliminary matter, before turning to Defendants' specific arguments pertaining to the eight counts in the amended complaint, the Court will address the principle, and potentially decisive, argument raised by the Humane Society that it is "not a suable entity." Wash. Humane Soc. Mot. To Dismiss at 2. Specifically, the Humane Society asserts that "the Complaint should be dismissed in its entirety as it relates to the Humane Society" because as an "entity formed by Congress" it "may not be sued unless Congress [] authorizes [it] explicitly" or, in some circumstances, "impliedly[,] if the entity derived its existence from a suable entity." Id. at 6. Because its Congressional charter "does not [explicitly] provide that it can be sued," the Humane Society reasons that it is "immune from suit." Id. (citing Ardon v. Washington Humane Soc., 1997 WL 527336, *1 (D.D.C. 1997)). The Court agrees that the Washington Humane Society is non sui juris.

In Blackmar v. Guerre, the Supreme Court held that the United States Civil Service Commission was not a suable entity because it was "not a corporate entity which Congress ha[d] authorized to be sued." Blackmar v. Guerre, 342 U.S. 512, 514, 72 S.Ct. 410, 411 (1952). The Court reasoned that "[w]hen Congress authorizes one of its agencies to be sued eo nominee, it does so in explicit language, or impliedly because the agency is the offspring of such a suable entity." 342 U.S. at 515; 72 S.Ct. at 412 (citing Keifer & Keifer v. Reconstruction Fin. Corp., 306 U.S. 381, 390, 59 S.Ct. 516, 519 (1939)). Since Blackmar, courts in this jurisdiction have routinely "applied this reasoning to agencies of the District of Columbia established by Congress." Thompson v. District of Columbia, 1980 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11452, *5 (D.D.C. 1980) (citing Braxton v. Nat'l Capital Hous. Auth., 396 A.2d 215 (D.C. 1978)). See Kundrat v. District of Columbia, 106 F. Supp. 2d 1, 5 (D.D.C. 2000) (listing various District of Columbia agencies, including the Office of Inspector General, Department of Health, Department of Administrative Services, Department of Human Services, Department of Corrections, Fire Department, Office of Personnel, Office of Human Rights, and Department of Sanitation, among others, that are non sui juris). See also 3 MCQILLIAN MUN. CORP. § 12.40 (3rd Ed. 1990) ("In the discharge of a duty primarily resting upon the municipality, generally the rule is that a department acts as its agent although the department may have full power in the particular matter involved. However, the department may be made responsible as a corporation, and not the city, where the charter or a legislative act may so provide.") (citations omitted) (emphasis added). Indeed, "the overwhelming weight of precedent in this Circuit . . . holds that 'in the absence of explicit statutory authorization, bodies within the District of Columbia government are not suable as separate entities.'" Kundrat, 106 F. Supp. 2d at 7 (quoting Milliner v. District of Columbia, 1993 WL 837384, *1 (D.D.C. 1993)) (other citation omitted).*fn8 "This means that a Congressionally created entity is not suable eo nomine unless Congress has constituted it as a corporate entity and, in addition, authorized it to sue and be sued." Id. at 6 n.9.

Congress created the Washington Humane Society in 1870. See Act of June 21, 1870, ch. 135, 16 Stat. 158, § 1 (codified at D.C. Code § 44-1501 et seq. (2001)). Under the terms of the Congressional charter, the Humane Society was a "body corporate . . . to be known as the Association for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals," which was intended to prevent cruelty to animals. Id. Notably absent from the Congressional charter, however, is an explicit authorization that the Washington Humane Society is a suable entity. There is no indication in the enabling statute, or any later amendments, that Congress intended the Washington Humane Society to be sui juris. "When Congress [intends] to authorize a federally created entity to sue and be sued in its own name, it knows how to so and does so explicitly." Kundrat, 106 F. Supp. 2d at 7. Congress has not done so here. Moreover, Plaintiffs have not alleged, and the Court can not infer from the factual record, that the Humane Society "is the offspring of [] a suable entity." Blackmar, 342 U.S. at 515, 72 S.Ct. at 411. Because "Congress did not authorize [the Washington Humane Society] to be sued by explicit language or by implication . . . the Court concludes that the [Humane Society] is not a suable entity." Thompson, 1980 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11452 at *6.

The Court's conclusion is supported by Ardon v. Washington Humane Soc., 1997 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 12612 (D.D.C. 1997). In Ardon, a pro se plaintiff sued the Washington Humane Society, alleging "that an employee of the Humane Society wrongly confiscated certain religious articles from his home." Id. at *1. The court dismissed plaintiff's complaint, concluding, inter alia, that the Washington Humane Society was not a suable entity. Id. at *4. In reaching this decision, the Ardon court noted that the "Humane Society is a District of Columbia corporate body created by Congress," that an "entity formed by Congress may not be sued unless Congress so authorizes explicitly, " and that its "statutory provisions do not provide [that it can] sue or be sued." Id. at *3-4 (citations omitted). For these reasons, the Humane Society was non sui juris.*fn9

Although Plaintiffs do not directly challenge the substance of the Ardon decision, they do point to another case in which the Washington Humane Society was captioned in the litigation, see Nathaniel Dugar, Pastor v. Washington Humane Soc., et al., No. 95-0173 (D.D.C. March 12, 1997) (order denying motion to dismiss), for the proposition that "at least one judge of this Court has . . . held that the Washington Humane Society and its officers can be sued for monetary damages." Plts.' Opp'n. at 12. A review of the Dugar case does not support this proposition. While it is true that the Washington Humane Society was a named defendant in the action, it does not appear that the Dugar Court actually considered the precise question at issue here, i.e., whether the Humane Society is sui juris. The interim order cited by Plaintiffs in their opposition brief addresses a separate legal question; that is, whether the Executive Director of the Washington Humane Society "was entitled to qualified immunity from suit" "in her individual capacity for the constitutional violations alleged in the complaint." Id. at 1-2. The court did not consider (and it appears the issue was not raised) whether the Humane Society was a suable entity. The Dugar order cited by Plaintiffs is therefore of little precedential value here, especially in light of the express reasoning contained in Ardon, supra.*fn10

Finally, Plaintiffs argue that whether "the Washington Humane Society is a department or other body within [the District of Columbia]" is "a material issue of fact precluding dismissal or summary judgment." Plts.' Opp'n. at 13. They claim that "[f]urther discovery is necessary to explore the relationship between [the District of Columbia and the Washington Humane Society]." Id. Plaintiffs' contention is misplaced. Whether an entity like the Humane Society is amenable to suit does not turn on whether it falls under the umbrella of the District of Columbia government. While many entities held to be non sui juris are in fact departments within the District of Columbia, such as the Department of Sanitation and the Department of Corrections for example, see Kundrat, supra, 106 F. Supp. 2d at 5, this is not dispositive of the issue. The deciding question is whether Congress authorized suit, for "[a]n entity formed by Congress may not be sued unless Congress so authorizes explicitly." Braxton, 396 A.2d at 216. Here, the plain language of the Washington Humane Society's enabling statute shows that Congress did not authorize it to be sued. See Act of June 21, 1870, ch. 135, 16 Stat. 158, § 1. Accordingly, the Court will grant the motion to dismiss the amended complaint, as it pertains to the Washington Humane Society, because the Humane Society is non sui juris.

B. Counts I & III: Violation of Due Process

In Count I of the amended complaint, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants' conduct violated their Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See First Am. Compl. at ¶¶ 71-74. They "allege that the defendants are state actors, acting under color of law, [who] have adversely deprived plaintiffs of their personal and property rights by illegally seizing their pets, illegally detaining them, by forcibly sterilizing pets, extorting unjustified fees and expenses from owners, [and] compelling unwanted medical treatment. . . ." Id. at ¶ 71. Similarly, in Count III, Plaintiffs allege that they were deprived of "property without due process ...

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