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Barnhardt v. District of Columbia

June 9, 2008

JOHN BARNHARDT, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John D. Bates United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter is before the Court on defendants' motion to dismiss the amended complaint or for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, the motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. BACKGROUND

According to plaintiff, on February 13, 2004, Metropolitan Police Department ("MPD") officers Curt Sloan ("Sgt. Sloan"), Allee Ramadhan ("Det. Ramadhan"), and "John Doe" visited his home "for the alleged purpose of serving Plaintiff with [a] Grand Jury subpoena."*fn1 Amended Complaint ("Amd. Compl.") ¶ 15. Plaintiff was outside of the house when the officers arrived. Id. He described the events as follows:

The Defendants approached Plaintiff and confronted him regarding his (Plaintiff's) identity. At some point during this encounter, Plaintiff observed defendant Ramadhan throw a dark or black object onto the bed of a pick-up truck, which was parked in the driveway of Plaintiff's home. This object later turned out to be a black bag. Shortly after observing Defendant Ramadhan's act, Plaintiff was attacked by Defendants Sloan and Ramadhan, and thrown onto the black bag which had just been thrown onto the pick-up truck by Defendant Ramadhan. During the struggle, Defendants Sloan and Ramadhan forced Plaintiff's hand onto the surface of the black bag. Before the date of this incident, Plaintiff had no ownership of, or connection to, the bag.

Id. ¶¶ 15-16. The black bag apparently contained drugs. Plaintiff was arrested and was charged in this federal district court "with serious drug offenses[] carrying a potential life sentence." Id. ¶ 18. His arrest and the subsequent searches of his "vehicle, as well as a vehicle owned by Plaintiff's sister [], dr[ew] the attention of Plaintiff's neighbors and passersby." Id. ¶ 17. The officers allegedly subjected plaintiff to a "partial [strip] search outside his home at the time of his arrest" and to a second "more thorough search at narcotics Headquarters downtown." Id. ¶ 37. Plaintiff was held without bond from February 13, 2004 through September 2, 2004, at which time the criminal charges against him were dropped on the government's motion. Id. ¶¶ 19, 24; see United States v. Barnhardt, No. 04cr132 (PLF) (D.D.C. Sept. 2, 2004) (order dismissing indictment).

Plaintiff brings this civil action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983, 1985, 1986, and 1988 against the District of Columbia, its Mayor and Chief of Police, as well as the three MPD officers who effected the arrest. See Amd. Compl. ¶¶ 4-10, 20-39 (Counts 1-6). He also brings common law claims of false arrest, false imprisonment, assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress, malicious prosecution, abuse of process and "unlawful entry/trespassing". See id. ¶¶ 41-51 (Counts 7-11). He demands compensatory and punitive damages plus costs and attorney's fees.

II. DISCUSSION

A. The District of Columbia's Liability Under 42 U.S.C. § 1983

Plaintiff brings constitutional claims against the District of Columbia under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983") which in relevant part provides:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress, except that in any action brought against a judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such officer's judicial capacity, injunctive relief shall not be granted unless a declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was unavailable.

Id. To state a claim under Section 1983, a complaint must allege facts sufficient to show that the conduct of which plaintiff complains (1) was committed by a person acting under color of state law, and (2) deprived plaintiff of a constitutionally-protected right. See, e.g., West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). The District of Columbia is a municipality and is considered a "person" for purposes of Section 1983. See, e.g., Best v. District of Columbia, 743 F. Supp. 44, 46 (D.D.C. 1990). "[A] municipality can be found liable under [Section] 1983 only where the municipality itself causes the constitutional violation at issue." City of Canton, Ohio v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 385 (1989) (citing Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Serv. of the City of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978) (emphasis in original)). "Respondeat superior or vicarious liability will not attach under [Section] 1983." Id. The District of Columbia, then, is subject to liability under Section 1983 only "when an official policy or custom causes the complainant to suffer a deprivation of a constitutional right." Carter v. District of Columbia, 795 F.2d 116, 122 (D.C. Cir. 1986). The policy or custom itself must be the moving force behind the constitutional violation. Id. (citing Monell, 436 U.S. at 694); Oklahoma City v. Tuttle, 471 U.S. 808, 817 (1985) (requiring plaintiff to show a course deliberately pursued by city establishing affirmative link between city's policy and alleged constitutional violation).

Defendants argue that plaintiff has failed to state a claim of municipal liability against the District of Columbia under Section 1983. See Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Support of Defendants['] Motion to Dismiss, or in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment ("Defs.' Mot.") at 5-6. Out of five counts alleging constitutional violations, defendants focus only on one paragraph of Count VI of the Amended Complaint, see id. at 5, which states:

Acting under color of law, and pursuant to official policy and customs, Defendants Ramsey and the District of Columbia knowingly, or negligently failed to instruct, supervise, control, and discipline the Defendant police officers in the performance of their duties. This lack of oversight led to the environment in which the ...


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