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Powers-Bunce v. Dist. of Columbia

March 27, 2008


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


On July 15, 2004, Terence Anthony Powers committed suicide in a holding cell at the Metropolitan Police Department's Third District precinct headquarters only hours after he was arrested for possession of cocaine with intent to distribute and driving with a suspended license. Mr. Powers' mother, Plaintiff Patricia Powers-Bunce, has sued the District of Columbia and several individual Metropolitan Police Department ("MPD") and United States Secret Service ("USSS") officers, seeking to hold them legally accountable for her son's suicide.

Before the Court is the Federal Defendants' Renewed Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment [Dkt. # 35], the District of Columbia Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, or Alternatively, for Summary Judgment [Dkt. # 31], and Plaintiff's Motion for Discovery [Dkt. # 41]. The Motions to Dismiss will be granted in part and denied in part and the Motion for Discovery will be denied.


A. Factual Background

The following facts are based on Plaintiff's Amended Complaint. See Dkt. # 26.

Sometime on July 15, 2004, Officer Burdyn and Sergeant Giles of the USSS allegedly saw a car fail to stop at a red light at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Dupont Circle in Northwest Washington, D.C. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 10-11. The precise time of the stop and subsequent arrest is unknown because the officers failed to prepare a traffic violation citation. Id. ¶ 11. After the officers learned that Mr. Powers did not have a valid driver's license, he was arrested. Id. ¶¶ 13, 15. A search of his car incident to the arrest located cocaine and possession with intent to distribute cocaine was added to the charges. Id. ¶¶ 14-15.

Mr. Powers was taken to the Third District precinct of the MPD at around 1:30 a.m. on July 15, 2004. Id. ¶ 16. While there, "Mr. Powers was interrogated by Officers Giles, Brudyn [sic], and other MPD officers, without being apprised of his constitutional rights, without being booked and without being processed." Id. ¶ 17. The Amended Complaint alleges that during the interrogation and at various other times, "Officers Giles, Brudyn [sic] and other officers of the MPD questioned Mr. Powers in an emotionally abusive manner, including leading Mr. Powers to believe that he was going to jail . . . and questioning him in such a way so as to cause Mr. Powers a serious belief that he would be seriously harmed if he were to go to jail." Id. ¶ 18. The Amended Complaint further alleges that at all times during the interrogation, the Watch Commander and Sergeant Gamble of the MPD supervised the interrogation, they were aware of what went on during the interrogation, and knew that Mr. Powers had not been properly booked or entered into the arrest book. Id. ¶¶ 19, 29.

The Amended Complaint alleges that during the interrogation and thereafter, Mr. Powers was "extremely concerned, nervous, worried and anxious, based on the threats of Officers Giles, Brudyn [sic] and other officers of the MPD that he would be going to jail." Id. ¶ 20.

Statements reflecting this fear were allegedly made to Officers Giles and Burdyn in the presence of Sergeant Gamble and the Watch Commander. Id.

The Watch Commander and Sergeant Gamble "either placed or were aware that Mr. Powers had been placed in a separate jail cell, away from the general population." Id. ¶ 27. Plaintiff alleges that this segregation of Mr. Powers was done because, inter alia, Mr. Powers was gay, Defendants knew that he was gay, and the segregation was meant to "intimidate, isolate and scare" Mr. Powers and emphasize that "he would be harmed if he were to go to jail [and] be placed in general population with other inmates." Id. ¶¶ 27-28. Mr. Powers was placed in a jail cell away from other detainees around 2:00 a.m. and he was not permitted to make a phone call or have any other contact with anyone outside the Third District precinct after he was detained. Id. ¶ 32. No one checked on Mr. Powers while he was alone in his cell between 2:30 a.m. and 4:16 a.m. Id. ¶ 34. At around 4:16 a.m., Defendants found Mr. Powers hanging from the bars of the jail cell from a pair of tube socks tied in a knot. Id. ¶ 37. Mr. Powers' body was transported to the Office of the Medical Examiner and his death was recorded at 8:35 a.m. on July 15, 2004; the cause of death was identified as "suicide by hanging." Id. ¶¶ 38-39.

According to the Amended Complaint, excessive force was used on Mr. Powers during his arrest and detention. Id. ¶ 21. An autopsy was conducted on Mr. Powers and contusions and other injuries and bruises were observed. Id. ¶¶ 21, 39-41. Plaintiff alleges that the injuries "were sustained during the arrest and detention [of Mr. Powers] by Officers Giles and/or Brudyn [sic]." Id. ¶ 21. The Complaint alleges that there was no indication that Mr. Powers was combative during the arrest and confinement that ended with his suicide and "[u]nder no circumstances could the officers or other MPD officers have believed that the force used was necessary under the circumstances." Id. ¶¶ 22-24, 26.

B. Procedural Background

Plaintiff first filed suit in D.C. Superior Court on July 14, 2006. Defendants removed the case to this Court on September 13, 2006.

On March 28, 2007, this Court granted in part, and denied in part, the Federal Defendants' and the District Defendants' Motions to Dismiss. See Dkt. ## 24, 25 (hereinafter, "Mem. Op."). Initially, the Federal Defendants included Michael J. Sullivan, Chief of the USSS; Officer Michael Burdyn and Sergeant Benita Giles of the USSS-Uniformed Division; and the USSS-Uniformed Division. In its Memorandum Opinion, the Court dismissed Michael J. Sullivan and the USSS-Uniformed Division and required Plaintiff to file a more definite statement as to the constitutional claims against Officer Burdyn and Sergeant Giles ("the individual Federal Defendants"). The Court dismissed Plaintiff's unlawful search and seizure claims without prejudice. Finally, the Court dismissed the common law claims filed against the individual Federal Defendants as beyond the Court's jurisdiction under the Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA"), 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b); 28 U.S.C. § 2680(h).

In the same Memorandum Opinion, the Court dismissed with prejudice Plaintiff's Eighth, Fourteenth, and Fifth Amendment claims against Chief Charles H. Ramsey, Commander Larry D. McCoy, and Sergeant Regina W. Gamble ("the individual District Defendants") in their official capacities, as well as the survival and wrongful death actions in their entirety. The Court also dismissed without prejudice Plaintiff's claims based on "unlawful search and seizure" and "excessive force" against all of the District Defendants as well as the intentional infliction of emotional distress and gross negligence claims against the individual District Defendants. The Court ordered Plaintiff to provide a more definite statement with respect to her Fifth Amendment claims against the individual District Defendants in their personal capacities. The Court denied the District's motion to dismiss the Fifth Amendment claim against the District. Finally, the Court allowed the intentional infliction of emotional distress and an ordinary negligence claim to stand against the District.


On April 16, 2007, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint, advancing civil rights and constitutional claims, Am. Compl. ¶¶ 43-50, as well as common law claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress, id. ¶¶ 51-53, gross negligence, id. ¶¶ 54-57, and a claim against the District of Columbia for failure to train and supervise its officers, id. ¶¶ 58-62.

The Federal Defendants renew their motion to dismiss, arguing that Plaintiff's Complaint fails to withstand scrutiny under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). In the alternative, Federal Defendants assert that there are no genuine issues of material fact, and that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The District Defendants also move to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), and in the alternative, ask for summary judgment.

A. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1)

Under Rule 12(b)(1), the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing by a preponderance of the evidence that the court possesses jurisdiction. See Shekoyan v. Sibley Int'l Corp., 217 F. Supp. 2d 59, 63 (D.D.C. 2002); Pitney Bowes Inc. v. U.S. Postal Serv., 27 F. Supp. 2d 15, 19 (D.D.C. 1998). Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction and the law presumes that "a cause lies outside this limited jurisdiction." Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). Because subject matter jurisdiction is an Article III as well as a statutory requirement, "no action of the parties can confer subject[]matter jurisdiction upon a federal court.'" Akinseye v. District of Columbia, 339 F.3d 970, 971 (D.C. Cir. 2003). On a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing that the court has subject matter jurisdiction. Evans v. B.F. Perkins Co., 166 F.3d 642, 647 (4th Cir. 1999); see also McNutt v. Gen. Motors Acceptance Corp., 298 U.S. 178, 182-83 (1936).

Because subject matter jurisdiction focuses on the court's power to hear the claim, however, the court must give the plaintiff's factual allegations closer scrutiny when resolving a Rule 12(b)(1) motion than would be required for a Rule 12(b)(6) motion for failure to state a claim. Macharia v. United States, 334 F.3d 61, 64, 69 (D.C. Cir. 2003). Moreover, the court is not limited to the allegations contained in the complaint. Hohri v. United States, 782 F.2d 227, 241 (D.C. Cir. 1986), vacated on other grounds, 482 U.S. 64 (1987). Instead, to determine whether it has jurisdiction over the claim, the court may consider materials outside the pleadings. Herbert v. Nat'l Acad. of Scis., 974 F.2d 192, 197 (D.C. Cir. 1992).

B. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)

A motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) challenges the adequacy of a complaint on its face, testing whether a plaintiff has properly stated a claim. Although a complaint "does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the 'grounds' of his 'entitle[ment]to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964-65 (2007) (internal citations omitted). The court must treat the complaint's factual allegations - including mixed questions of law and fact - as true, drawing all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor, Macharia, 334 F.3d at 67; Holy Land Found. for Relief & Dev. v. Ashcroft, 333 F.3d 156, 165 (D.C. Cir. 2003), and the facts alleged "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level," Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1965. But the court need not accept as true inferences unsupported by facts set out in the complaint or legal conclusions cast as factual allegations. Browning v. Clinton, 292 F.3d 235, 242 (D.C. Cir. 2002).In deciding a 12(b)(6) motion, the Court may consider only "the facts alleged in the complaint, documents attached as exhibits or incorporated by reference in the complaint, and matters about which the Court may take judicial notice." Gustave-Schmidt v. Chao, 226 F. Supp. 2d 191, 196 (D.D.C. 2002) (citation omitted).However, the Court may, in its discretion, consider matters outside the pleadings and thereby convert a Rule 12(b)(6) motion into a motion for summary judgment under Rule 56. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b); Yates v. District of Columbia, 324 F.3d 724, 725 (D.C. Cir. 2003).

C. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56

Under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment must be granted when "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); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986); see also Diamond v. Atwood, 43 F.3d 1538, 1540 (D.C. Cir. 1995). Moreover, summary judgment is properly granted against a party who "after adequate time for discovery and upon motion . . . fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the ...

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