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Cotton v. District of Columbia

March 31, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ricardo M. Urbina United States District Court

Document No. 25



The plaintiff brings this action charging the defendants with a host of constitutional and common law violations arising out of an incident between her and defendant Metropolitan Police Department ("MPD") Officer David C. Wallace. Subsequent to an altercation between the plaintiff and her neighbor, Wallace allegedly used excessive force to subdue and detain the plaintiff without legal basis, causing her physical injuries and severe emotional distress. The plaintiff sues Wallace, a number of his supervisors and the District of Columbia ("D.C." or "the District"). The case is presently before the court on the defendants' motion for summary judgment on the plaintiff's claims.*fn1 Because the court concludes that no constitutional violation occurred, it grants the defendants' motion as to Counts I and III. Because it concludes that the plaintiff cannot prove that the defendant used excessive force, it grants the defendants' motion as to Count IV. Because no reasonable jury could conclude that the plaintiff has proven her negligent supervision and respondeat superior claim, the court grants the defendants' motion as to Count VII. Because it concludes that genuine issues remain as to material facts concerning Wallace's encounter with the plaintiff, it denies the defendants' motion as to Count VI. Because the plaintiff has not pled a prima facie case for Counts V and IX, the court grants the defendants' motion to dismiss those claims. Because the plaintiff consents to the dismissal of Count II, the court dismisses it.


A. Factual History

The plaintiff alleges that on the evening of June 7, 2004, she and her neighbor engaged in a verbal altercation while outside the plaintiff's apartment building in Northeast Washington, D.C. Compl.¶¶ 6-8. The neighbor allegedly brandished a knife and threatened the plaintiff. Id.

¶ 6. Shortly thereafter, Officer Wallace arrived on the scene, and the neighbor returned to her residence inside the plaintiff's apartment building. Id. ¶¶ 7-8. Upon Wallace's arrival, several bystanders informed him of the altercation between the plaintiff and her neighbor and that the woman with the knife (the plaintiff's neighbor) was inside the apartment building. Id. ¶ 9. The plaintiff alleges that Wallace, without provocation, approached her and "pushed the back of her head forward, violently forcing her body forward, thereby tripping [her] and causing her to fall face first, hard to the ground," resulting in physical injuries. Id. ¶ 11. Then, allegedly without probable cause or reasonable suspicion, Wallace handcuffed the plaintiff and yanked her to her feet by pulling on the handcuffs. Id. ¶ 14.

Although the plaintiff asserts that she and several bystanders told Wallace about the confrontation with her neighbor, he failed to investigate the plaintiff's statement that the neighbor had threatened her with a knife. Id. ¶¶ 15, 17. Instead, Wallace led the handcuffed plaintiff to a nearby abandoned building and threatened to arrest her and turn her children over to Child Protective Services if she did not immediately leave the area. Id. ¶ 18. The plaintiff remained compliant but was quite upset by the events. Id. ¶¶ 21, 38. The plaintiff's sister arrived, informed Wallace that the plaintiff suffered from anxiety and requested her release. Id. ¶ 19. Wallace then released the plaintiff on the condition that she return home, collect her clothes and leave her residence with her children. Id. ¶ 22. Wallace waited in his patrol car for the plaintiff and her children to leave the area. Id. ¶ 23.

The plaintiff filed a report with the MPD against Wallace, asserting that his actions violated D.C. Code § 5-123.02. Id. ¶¶ 67. Two supervisory officials from the MPD contacted the plaintiff on the same day as the incident to address the filed report, but she claims that the MPD undertook no formal investigation. Id. ¶¶ 67, 70.

The defendants take issue with several of the plaintiff's allegations. The defendants contend the following facts that contradict those presented by the plaintiff: Wallace approached the scene to find 40-50 people fighting in the street, Defs.' Statement of Material Facts ("Defs.' Statement") ¶ 13; Wallace was unable to obtain back up, id. ¶ 14; Wallace feared for his safety, id. ¶ 15; the crowd informed Wallace that a woman present had a knife without identifying which woman it was, id. ¶ 18; and Wallace did not cause the plaintiff to fall to the ground, id. ¶¶ 19-21;

B. Procedural History

The plaintiff filed suit in this court on May 25, 2005, bringing a mixed bag of claims including constitutional and civil rights violations, false arrest, false imprisonment, assault, battery and negligence. Compl. ¶ 1. On July 20, 2005, defendant MPD Chief Charles Ramsey moved to dismiss the complaint against him arguing that because he is only named in his official capacity, the proper defendant in this action is D.C. Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss ("Def.'s Mot.") at 2. On March 16, 2006, the court granted that motion.

On May 31, 2007, the remaining defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing for various reasons that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law on all the plaintiff's claims. The plaintiff vigorously opposes the motion as to all the counts except Count II, the dismissal of which she concedes is appropriate. Pl.'s Opp'n at 2. The court accordingly dismisses Count II and considers the parties' remaining legal arguments below.


A. Summary Judgment

1. Legal Standard for a Motion for Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate 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); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Diamond v. Atwood, 43 F.3d 1538, 1540 (D.C. Cir. 1995). To determine which facts are "material," a court must look to the substantive law on which each claim rests. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A "genuine issue" is one whose resolution could establish an element of a claim or defense and, therefore, affect the outcome of the action. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322; Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court must draw all justifiable inferences in the nonmoving party's favor and accept the nonmoving party's evidence as true. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. A nonmoving party, however, must establish more than "the mere existence of a scintilla of evidence" in support of its position. Id. at 252. To prevail on a motion for summary judgment, the moving party must show that the nonmoving party "fail[ed] to make a showing sufficient 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." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. By pointing to the absence of evidence proffered by the nonmoving party, a moving party may succeed on summary judgment. Id.

The nonmoving party may defeat summary judgment through factual representations made in a sworn affidavit if he "support[s] his allegations . . . with facts in the record," Greene v. Dalton, 164 F.3d 671, 675 (D.C. Cir. 1999) (quoting Harding v. Gray, 9 F.3d 150, 154 (D.C. Cir. 1993)), or provides "direct testimonial evidence," Arrington v. United States, 473 F.3d 329, 338 (D.C. Cir. 2006). Indeed, for the court to accept anything less "would defeat the central purpose of the summary judgment ...

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