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Maniaci v. Georgetown University

September 10, 2007

WILLIAM MANIACI, PLAINTIFF,
v.
GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Colleen Kollar-kotelly United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

On September 20, 2006, Plaintiff, William Maniaci, filed suit against Georgetown University, various Georgetown officials, and a Georgetown University Public Safety Officer for damages related to injuries he sustained upon being removed from the Palestinian Solidarity Conference held at Georgetown on February 18, 2006. Presently before the Court are Plaintiff's [18] Motion for Leave to File Amended Complaint and [17] Defendants' Motion for Partial Judgment on the Pleadings. After considering the aforementioned motions and the filings related thereto, as well as the relevant statutes and case law, the Court shall GRANT Plaintiff's [18] Motion for Leave to File Amended Complaint, DISMISS WITH PREJUDICE George W. Taylor and Eric Smulson from the instant action, and GRANT IN PART and DENY IN PART [17] Defendants' Motion for Partial Judgment on the Pleadings. The Court shall GRANT Defendants' Motion for Partial Judgment on the Pleadings with respect to Count II as it pertains to Defendants Olson, Morrell, and Harrison. Furthermore, the Court shall permit Plaintiff to amend Count III (and only Count III) of the Amended Complaint to clarify the basis for Plaintiff's claims with respect to both Georgetown University and Defendants Olson, Morrell, and Harrison by September 21, 2007, with an opportunity for Defendants to file an appropriate response with respect thereto by October 5, 2007. If Plaintiff does not amend Count III of his Amended Complaint to more clearly set forth the basis for both Defendant Georgetown University's and the Administrator Defendants' liability, the Court shall dismiss Count III with respect to both Georgetown University and the Administrator Defendants. At present, the Court shall DENY Defendants' Motion in all other respects.

I. BACKGROUND

On February 18, 2006, Plaintiff, a 64-year old man wearing a business suit and walking with a cane, attended the Palestinian Solidarity Conference held at Georgetown University. Am. Compl. ¶ 2. Georgetown University is a non-profit corporation organized under the laws of the District of Columbia. Id. ¶ 8. Plaintiff paid a fee to register as a participant in the Conference. Id. ¶ 2. He was given a document entitled "Speech and Expression at Georgetown University," stating a ban on "unlawful activity, actions that endanger or imminently threaten others, or activities that disrupt or obstruct the functions of the University." Id.

Plaintiff attended a program in Gaston Hall on the topic of "divestment by Georgetown University of investments connected in some manner with Israel." Id. At the end of the panelists' presentations, the panel took questions from the audience. Id. ¶ 3. Plaintiff asked the panel the following question: "If you approve or disapprove of the use of suicide bombers who murder innocent Israeli citizens as a means to accomplish your goals?" Id. Plaintiff asked the question approximately three times (without hearing what he considered to be a responsive answer). Id. Defendant Todd Olson, Vice President for Student Affairs of Georgetown University (hereinafter, "Defendant Olson"), "indicated that he wanted Georgetown University Police . . . to remove the Plaintiff." Id.

Georgetown University Public Safety Officers Roy Eddy (hereinafter, "Defendant Eddy") and Larry Salley (hereinafter, "Defendant Salley") approached Plaintiff and allegedly "violently jerked [Plaintiff] from his seat. . . ." Id. ¶ 4. Plaintiff allegedly "felt a blow to his right side," was "thrown onto the aisle floor and dragged down the aisle," and consequently hit his head and limbs. Id. During this period, bystanders allegedly requested that Defendant David F. Morrell, Vice President for Campus Safety (hereinafter, "Defendant Morrell") intervene; Defendant Morrell allegedly "refused." Id. "An University official approached [Plaintiff] and told him to leave and walked with him out to the main entrance." Id. ¶ 5.

Plaintiff, accompanied by two other individuals, then approached the Georgetown University Inter-Cultural Center. Id. ¶ 6. Plaintiff was then "surrounded by six campus police officers and was pushed against a glass window." Id. Though Plaintiff asked if he was being arrested and was told "no," Plaintiff alleges that he was "blocked" and "was told not to go anywhere." Id. Plaintiff allegedly told the officers that he was not feeling well and needed to use the restroom (in part due to a medical condition). Id. "An officer stepped towards [Plaintiff], forcing him to back up and making it impossible to move past the officer." Id. Defendant Morrell then informed Plaintiff that he was being "barred from the conference." After Plaintiff repeatedly asked to use the restroom, he was permitted to do so by an officer who kept the door to the restroom open while Plaintiff relieved himself. Id. Plaintiff was then approached by an officer of the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department, who had been called by Georgetown University to escort Plaintiff off of the campus. Id.

The following day, Plaintiff "blacked out" and was brought to Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Id. ¶ 7. Plaintiff was informed that he had "suffered a concussion, sprain of the right ankle, contusions to the right abdomen, right upper arm, right wrist, and abrasions to the legs." Id.

On September 20, 2006, Plaintiff filed a four-count Complaint against Defendants. Defendants filed an Answer on October 12, 2006. On November 21, 2006, the Court held an Initial Scheduling Conference, at which time a deadline of March 1, 2007 was set for the filing of any motion to amend the pleadings. However, on January 15, 2007, Defendants filed [17] Defendants' Motion for Partial Judgment on the Pleadings ("Defs.' Mot. for Part. J."), pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c), which is now fully briefed. On January 25, 2007, Plaintiff filed a [18] Motion for Leave to File Amended Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15, with the Amended Complaint attached thereto. Plaintiff's Amended Complaint, which is referenced in the background section of this Memorandum Opinion, identifies (and thus adds) Defendants Eddy and Salley as the Georgetown Public Safety Officers who removed Plaintiff from the conference; Plaintiff states that the original Complaint identified "George W. Taylor as one of the Officers . . . in error." Pl.'s Mot. to Amend at 1. Furthermore, the original Complaint had identified a Defendant Eric Smulson; however, "[b]ased upon the deposition testimony, Plaintiff has concluded that [] Defendant Eric Smulson's connection to the occurrence was solely in a public relations function and that he exercised no supervisory power over the Public Safety Officers." Id. Plaintiff therefore requested that the Court allow the Amended Complaint to be filed, Mr. Taylor and Mr. Smulson be "dismissed without prejudice" as defendants, and that the briefing schedule with respect to Defendants' Rule 12(c) Motion be modified. Id. at 2. Defendants consented to Plaintiff's request to amend the complaint, but contested (1) the dismissal without prejudice (as opposed to with prejudice) of Mr. Taylor and Mr. Smulson and (2) any modification of the briefing schedule. The Court notes that Plaintiff adhered to the original briefing schedule such that Defendants' second concern is moot. With respect to whether Mr. Taylor and Mr. Smulson should be dismissed from this action with or without prejudice, the Court notes that Plaintiff never filed any Reply indicating why Mr. Taylor and Mr. Smulson should be dismissed without prejudice in light of Plaintiff's own admissions that said individuals were included in error in the original Complaint. Accordingly, the Court shall GRANT with Defendants' written consent Plaintiff's [18] Motion for Leave to File Amended Complaint and DISMISS WITH PREJUDICE George W. Taylor and Eric Smulson from the instant action.

In Count I of Plaintiff's Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleges the torts of assault and battery under the common law of the District of Columbia against Defendant Georgetown University, Defendant Morrell, Defendant Olson, Defendant Eddy, Defendant Salley, and Defendant Darryl K. Harrison, Georgetown University Director of the Department of Public Safety (hereinafter, "Defendant Harrison"), who was allegedly also present during the incident. Am. Compl. ¶ 11. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants Morrell, Olson, and Harrison (collectively, the "Administrator Defendants") ordered Plaintiff's removal, had authority over Defendants Eddy and Salley (collectively, the "Safety Officer Defendants"), and failed to prevent harm to Plaintiff. Id. ¶¶ 9, 11, 12, 13. Furthermore, the Safety Officer Defendants "placed Plaintiff in apprehension of commission of a battery" and struck and inflicted injuries upon Plaintiff. Id. ¶ 11. Count I further states that "[a]s a direct and proximate consequence of the reckless and excessive conduct of the Defendant's employees and/or agents, including Officers Roy Eddy and Larry Salley, which was ratified and is implied by law to the Defendants, Georgetown University, David F. Morrell, Darryl Harrison, and Todd Olson, the Plaintiff suffered physical injuries . . . which have been accompanied by great pain and suffering, humiliation and embarrassment . . . ." Id. ¶ 13. In Count II, Plaintiff alleges that the Safety Officer Defendants restrained Plaintiff against his will and without probable cause, committing the tort of false arrest. Id. ¶ 15. Count II further alleges that Defendant Georgetown and the Administrator Defendants are "vicariously liable" for the Safety Officer Defendants' actions and consequently Plaintiff's injuries and "mental anguish." Id. ¶ 16. In Count III, Plaintiff alleges that the Safety Officer Defendants violated Plaintiff's First and Fourth*fn1 Amendment rights by accosting, assaulting, and falsely arresting Plaintiff, preventing Plaintiff from using the restroom, using force against Plaintiff, and harassing, humiliating, and embarrassing Plaintiff. Id. ¶ 18. Count III further alleges violation of Section 1983 for preventing Plaintiff from participating in the conference and "[f]ailing to act and stop the Officers from applying excessive force." Id. Count III further states that the Safety Defendant Officers' conduct is "implied by law" to the remaining Defendants. Id. ¶ 19. In Count IV, Plaintiff requests punitive damages. Id. ¶¶ 20, 21.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c), "[a]fter the pleadings are closed but within such time as not to delay the trial, any party may move for judgment on the pleadings." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c). The appropriate standard for reviewing a motion for judgment on the pleadings is virtually identical to that applied to a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). See Haynesworth v. Miller, 820 F.2d 1245, 1254 (D.C. Cir. 1987), abrogated on other grounds by Hartman v. Moore, 547 U.S. 250 (2006); Jung v. Ass'n of Am. Med. Colleges, 339 F. Supp. 2d 26, 36 (D.D.C. 2004) ("[T]he standard of review for motions for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is essentially the same as that for motions to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6)."). Because a Rule 12(c) motion "would summarily extinguish litigation at the threshold and foreclose the opportunity for discovery and factual presentation," the Court must treat Defendants' motion "with the greatest of care" and deny it "if there are allegations in the complaint which, if proved, would provide a basis for recovery." Haynesworth v. Miller, 820 F.2d at 1254.

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require that a complaint contain "'a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,' in order to 'give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. ___, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)); accord Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. ___, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 2200 (2007) (per curiam). Although "detailed factual allegations" are not necessary to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, to provide the "grounds" of "entitle[ment] to relief," a plaintiff must furnish "more than labels and conclusions" or "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Id. at 1964-65; see also Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986). Instead, the complaint's "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact)." Bell Atl. Corp., 127 S.Ct. at 1965 (citations omitted). Hence, although "a well-pleaded complaint may proceed even if it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of those facts is impossible, and 'that a recovery is very remote and unlikely,'" id. (quoting Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)), the "threshold requirement" of Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2) is "that the 'plain statement' possess enough heft to 'sho[w] that the pleader is entitled to relief,'" id. at 1966 (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2)).

In evaluating either a Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings or a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the court must not rely on facts outside of the pleadings, must construe the complaint in a light most favorable to the plaintiff, and must accept as true all reasonable factual inferences drawn from well-pleaded factual allegations. See Jung, 339 F. Supp. 2d at 36. See also In re United Mine Workers of Am. Employee Benefit Plans Litig., 854 F. Supp. 914, 915 (D.D.C. 1994); Schuler v. United States, 617 F.2d 605, 608 (D.C. Cir. 1979) ("The complaint must be 'liberally construed in favor of the plaintiff,' who must be granted the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged."). While the court must construe the complaint in the Plaintiff's favor, 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 Comm'ns Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1994). Moreover, the court is not bound to accept the legal conclusions of the non-moving party. See Taylor v. FDIC, 132 F.3d 753, 762 (D.C. Cir. 1997). 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. See E.E.O.C. v. St. Francis Xavier Parochial Sch., 117 F.3d 621, 624 (D.C. Cir. 1997); Marshall County Health Care Auth. v. Shalala, 988 F.2d 1221, 1226 n.6 (D.C. Cir. 1993).*fn2

III. DISCUSSION

A. Defendants' Rule 12(c) Motion Is Not Premature

Parties are entitled to pretrial judgment on the pleadings, "only if, after the close of the pleadings, no material fact remains in dispute, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Transworld Prods. Co. v. Canteen Corp., 908 F. Supp. 1, 1 (D.D.C. 1995) (citing Peters v. Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp., 966 F.2d 1483, 1485 (D.C. Cir. 1992)). Pleadings are closed within the meaning of Rule 12(c) if no counter or cross claims are at issue when a complaint and an answer have been filed. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 7(a) ("There shall be a complaint and an answer; a reply to a counterclaim denominated as such; an answer to a cross-claim, if the answer contains a cross-claim; a third-party complaint, if a person who was not an original party is summoned under the provisions of Rule 14; and a third-party answer, if a third-party complaint is served. No other pleading shall be allowed, except that the court may order a reply to an answer or a third-party answer.").

Plaintiff filed his original complaint on September 20, 2006, answered by Defendants on October 12, 2006. However, at the Initial Scheduling Conference on November 21, 2006, the Court set a deadline of March 1, 2007, by which date Plaintiff would be permitted to submit a motion to amend his Complaint pursuant to Rule 15(a). Accordingly, Plaintiff argues that the pleadings were not "closed" until the deadline by which Plaintiff could file a motion to amend his complaint had passed such that Defendant's Motion for Partial Judgment on the Pleadings was filed prematurely. See Pl.'s Opp'n at 2.

The Court concludes that the pleadings were in fact "closed" such that a Rule 12(c) motion could be appropriately filed and considered by the Court when Defendants filed their Answer--not when Plaintiff's court-imposed deadline to file a motion for leave to amend his complaint had passed. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 7(a). In circumstances analogous to those in the instant case, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas expressly rejected the plaintiff's contention that a Rule 12(c) motion was premature solely because there existed an outstanding scheduling order deadline. See Nortel Networks Ltd. v. Kyocera Wireless Corp., Civ. Action No. 02-CV-0032-D, 2002 WL 31114077 (N.D. Tex., Sept. 20, 2002). The court held that once the defendant had filed an answer, the pleadings were ...


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