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Sanders v. District of Columbia

November 8, 2007

CHRISTOPHER SANDERS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Paul L. Friedman United States District Judge

AMENDED OPINION*fn1

This matter is before the Court on defendants' motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.*fn2 Plaintiff Christopher Sanders was a Sergeant in the Metropolitan Police Department. He has sued former Chief of Police Charles H. Ramsey in his individual and official capacities. He has sued Captain Jeffrey Herrold and "John Doe" in their individual capacities.*fn3 Plaintiff alleges that the defendants violated his First Amendment rights as well as his substantive and procedural due process rights. Upon consideration of the entire record in this case, the Court will grant defendants' motion to dismiss in part and will deny it in part.

I. BACKGROUND

Christopher Sanders became a police officer with the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department ("MPD") in 1990. See Complaint ("Compl.) ¶¶ 3, 8. In 1996, Sanders was selected to oversee a division called the Special Emphasis Unit ("SEU"), a unit within the Narcotics and Special Investigations Division. See id. ¶ 9. During his time with the SEU, Sanders noticed a pattern of certain employees abusing time and attendance policies. See id. ¶ 11. Concerned that these abuses were resulting in a loss of taxpayer money, Sanders reported the matter to his superiors and testified before the City Council; his statements were covered in the local media. See id. After he made his statements and the matter became public, Sanders alleges that he was deprived of overtime pay, reassigned to a lesser assignment and physically threatened by his fellow officers. See id. ¶ 12. Sanders sued the MPD for violations of his rights to free speech (Civil Action No. 97-2398). Id. ¶ 13. The parties settled that suit in August 2002; under the terms of the settlement, the District was required to promote plaintiff to Lieutenant. See id. ¶ 16.

Shortly after the settlement, Sanders contemplated pursuing an MBA degree at Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia. See Compl. ¶ 17. Sanders maintains that MPD officials assured him that even if he resigned from the Department to pursue his education, he was free to come back within one year. See id. ¶¶ 18, 19. Plaintiff resigned in September 2002. See id. ¶ 21. Shortly after resigning from the Department, Sanders had a change of heart and attempted to rescind his resignation. See id. ¶ 23. Sanders alleges that he contacted the District on several occasions to confirm whether the request to rescind his resignation had been approved, but received no response. See id. ¶¶ 25, 26.

During this time period, the MPD began an investigation into Sanders' conduct. See Compl. ¶ 27. Sanders contends that the investigation took place without his knowledge and was a disingenuous attempt based on false allegations to find a reason to deny his request to rescind his resignation. See id. ¶¶ 27, 28. Plaintiff alleges that the investigation was conducted by defendant Herrold and/or Doe. See id. ¶ 31. On August 15, 2003, defendants informed Sanders that the MPD had decided not to reinstate him to his position, but provided Sanders with no additional explanation. See id. ¶ 33. In late 2005, Sanders learned that the MPD denied the request to rescind his resignation because the MPD had concluded that he had made an untrue statement regarding the date he planned to return from leave, and because he was absent for more than four consecutive hours. See id. ¶¶ 29, 33. According to Sanders, the MPD did not interview him during the investigation, disclose the results of the investigation to him, or give him an opportunity to respond to the charges. See id. ¶ 30.

Sanders alleges that defendants violated his First Amendment rights by retaliating against him for speaking out on a matter of public concern. In addition, he alleges that defendants violated his procedural and substantive due process rights by failing to give him notice and an opportunity to be heard. He brings both claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violation of his civil rights. Sanders has filed this suit against the District of Columbia as well as against former Police Chief Charles Ramsey (sued in his individual and official capacities), MPD Captain Jeffrey Herrold (sued in his individual capacity only), and John Doe.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Standard for Motion to Dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6)

Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows dismissal of a complaint if a plaintiff fails "to state a claim upon which relief may be granted." FED. R. CIV. P.

12(b)(6). In Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955 (2007), the Supreme Court clarified the standard of pleading that a plaintiff must meet in order to survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). The Court noted that "Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires only '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[.]'" Id. at 1965 (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)); see also Erickson v. Pardus, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 2200 (2007). 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." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1964-65; see also Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986). The Court stated that there was no "probability requirement at the pleading stage," Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1965, but "something beyond . . . mere possibility . . . must be alleged[.]" Id. at 1966. The facts alleged in the complaint "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level," id. at 1965, or must be sufficient "to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 1274. The Court referred to this newly-clarified standard as "the plausibility standard." Id. at 1968 (abandoning the "no set of facts" language from Conley v. Gibson).

On a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court "must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint." Erickson v. Pardus, 127 S.Ct. at 2200; see also Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1965; Summit Health, Ltd. v. Pinhas, 500 U.S. 322, 325 (1991). The complaint "is construed liberally in the plaintiffs' favor, and [the Court should] grant plaintiffs the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged." Kowal v. MCI Communications Corp., 16 F.3d at 1276; see also Browning v. Clinton, 292 F.3d at 242; Sparrow v. United Air Lines, Inc., 216 F.3d 1111, 1113 (D.C. Cir. 2000). While the complaint is to be construed liberally in plaintiff's favor, the Court need not accept inferences drawn by the plaintiff if those inferences are unsupported by facts alleged in the complaint; nor must the Court accept plaintiff's legal conclusions. See Kowal v. MCI Communications Corp., 16 F.3d at 1276; Browning v. Clinton, 292 F.3d at 242.

B. Claims Against the District of Columbia

In order to hold a municipality liable for civil rights violations of its employees under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the municipality must have acted in accordance with a "government policy or custom, whether made by its lawmakers or by those whose edicts or acts may fairly be said to represent official policy." Monell v. Dep't of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978); see Feirson v. District of Columbia, -- F.3d --, 2007 WL 3145355, at * 3 (D.C. Cir. October 30, 2007) ("To impose liability on the District under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, [plaintiff] must show 'not only a violation of his rights under the Constitution or federal law, but also that the [District's] custom or policy caused the violation.'") (citing Warren v. District of Columbia, 353 F.3d 36, 38 (D.C.Cir.2004)). Proof of a single incident of unconstitutional activity is insufficient to impose liability unless there was proof that there was a policy in place that was unconstitutional. See Monell v. Dep't of Social Servs., 436 U.S. at 694. Defendants contend that ...


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