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Elkins v. District of Columbia

May 28, 2008

LAURA ELKINS AND JOHN ROBBINS, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Laura Elkins and John Robbins, wife and husband ("Plaintiffs"), filed a motion to compel discovery from the District of Columbia and the Individual Defendants: Denzil Noble, David Maloney, Toni Williams-Cherry, and J. Gregory Love.*fn1 Defendants contend that the requests are overbroad and that certain information is protected by the attorney-client privilege, the deliberative process privilege, and the work product doctrine.

I. FACTS*fn2

Plaintiffs alleged that their Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure was violated when Defendants conducted an administrative search of their home and seized documents on March 27, 2003. The search and seizure were instigated by the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs ("DCRA") and the D.C. Historic Preservation Office ("HPO"). The legality of both the search and the seizure were litigated before the D.C. Office of Administrative Hearings ("OAH"), after which the Hearing Officer, Administrative Law Judge Paul B. Handy, granted in part and denied in part Plaintiffs' motion to suppress. See Elkins v. District of Columbia, 527 F. Supp. 2d at 42. After an evidentiary hearing, the Hearing Officer held that the search was constitutionally reasonable as it was based on probable cause, but that the seizure of documents was not constitutionally reasonable because it was not expressly authorized by the search warrant. Id. at 42, 46 (citing Groh v. Ramirez, 540 U.S. 551, 559 (2004) (where a warrant fails to state with particularity the items to be seized, the items seized must be suppressed)).

The Government ha[d] sufficient cause to believe that construction work was occurring . . . The danger to public health, welfare and safety was based upon a reasonable suspicion that [Plaintiffs] were presently altering a protected property without Government approval, and in violation of a stop[ ]work order. The Government had a legitimate interest in preserving the integrity of the protected structure as a[n] historically preserved building, and in enforcing its Construction Codes for health, safety and welfare of [Plaintiffs], their neighbors, and the public. 527 F. Supp. 2d at 42 (quoting Pls.' Ex. 21, OAH Order on Mot. to Suppress filed Nov. 22, 2005 at 14).

This Court granted in part and denied in part Plaintiffs' and Defendants' cross motions for summary judgment on the Fourth Amendment issues, finding that the parties were collaterally estopped from relitigating the issues that had been decided by the OAH:

In sum, Defendants are correct that Plaintiffs are collaterally estopped from asserting liability based on the alleged unreasonable search, as that matter was litigated and decided in Defendants' favor. Further, Plaintiffs are correct that Defendants are estopped from contesting liability based on the unreasonable seizure, as that issue was litigated and decided in Plaintiffs' favor.

Having established liability on the Fourth Amendment claim, Plaintiffs still must prove damages. While the amount of damages Defendants owe is a fact question, the measure of damages is a legal question. Oscar Gruss & Son, Inc. v. Hollander, 337 F.3d 186, 196 (2d Cir. 2003). The purpose of a damage award in a § 1983 case is to compensate a plaintiff for injuries caused by the violation, Carey v. Piphus, 435 U.S. 247, 254 (1978), and damages may include out-of-pocket loss, impairment of reputation, humiliation, and mental anguish and suffering. Memphis Community Sch. Dist. v. Stachura, 477 U.S. 299, 307 (1986).

In addition to compensatory damages, Plaintiffs assert a claim for punitive damages. Defendants seek summary judgment on this issue. As a matter of law, a plaintiff cannot recover punitive damages against the District on a § 1983 claim. Feirson v. Dist. of Columbia, 315 F. Supp. 2d 52, 57 (D.D.C. 2004); see also City of Newport v. Fact Concerts, Inc., 453 U.S. 247, 271 (1981) (punitive damages are not available against a municipality absent an express statutory provision). Thus, the punitive damage claim against the District will be dismissed. Punitive damages, however, are available against the individual defendants where their conduct was "motivated by evil motive or intent, or when it involve[d] reckless or callous indifference to the federally protected rights of others." Smith v. Wade, 461 U.S. 30, 56 (1983).

Id. at 46-47. Thus, the only issues remaining in this case are whether and to what extent Plaintiffs are entitled to compensatory damages against the District and to compensatory and punitive damages against the Individual Defendants.

Plaintiffs seek production of documents and a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 30(b)(6)*fn3 deposition of the District; Defendants object and seek a protective order, claiming that Plaintiffs' requested discovery is not relevant to the narrow issues remaining and that certain deposition testimony and documents are protected by attorney-client privilege, deliberative process privilege, and the work product doctrine.

More specifically, Plaintiffs seek the following documents:

1. All documents that relate in any way to the decision to seek a warrant for the search of Plaintiff's home.

2. All documents that relate in any way to the application for, and obtaining of, the search warrant.

3. All documents that relate in any way to the District's custom, practice, or policy for conducting an administrative seizure of documents from a private residence.

4. All documents containing or reflecting communications that relate in any way to the seizure of documents from Plaintiffs' home.

5. All documents that relate in any way to meetings in which the search of Plaintiffs' home was discussed or mentioned.

Pls.' First Request for Production. Plaintiffs also served a Rule 30(b)(6) deposition notice on the District which included the following topics:

Any and all discussions, analysis, or use in any manner of the documents seized from Plaintiffs' home, including all meetings, discussions, drafting or preparation, and use of such documents in connection with the institution, prosecution or OAH ...


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