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Johnson v. Government of the Dist. of Columbia

October 31, 2008

DIANNA JOHNSON, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
GOVERNMENT OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION

The United States Marshal for the Superior Court of the District of Columbia ("Superior Court Marshal") is a federal official. Wishing that were not so, Plaintiffs sue the District of Columbia for the actions of former Superior Court Marshal Todd Dillard in conducting strip searches of all women awaiting presentment to a Superior Court judge, without reasonable and particularized suspicion that any woman was carrying contraband on her person and without subjecting men arrestees to the same strip searches. These actions are alleged to have violated the Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights of the women, who seek to recover money damages from the District of Columbia pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The District of Columbia cannot be liable to Plaintiffs as a matter of law on any of the theories they advance, however, inasmuch as Marshal Dillard was a federal official and not an employee, servant, agent or actor under the control of the District of Columbia, and inasmuch as the District of Columbia had no choice but to turn over arrestees to the Superior Court Marshal for presentment. Therefore, the Court will grant the District of Columbia's motion for summary judgment.

I. FACTS

Plaintiffs are women who were arrested in the District of Columbia, taken to the Superior Court of the District of Columbia for presentment, and subjected to strip, visual body cavity and/or squat searches by Superior Court Marshal Dillard while being held in the Superior Court cellblock awaiting presentment. Plaintiffs are proceeding as two classes, a Fourth and a Fifth Amendment Class.*fn1 The Fourth Amendment Class consists of all women who, between December 2, 1999 and April 25, 2003, were held for presentment in the cellblock of the Superior Court for an offense that did not involve drugs or violence and who were subjected to a blanket policy of strip, visual body cavity search and/or squat search without any individualized finding of reasonable suspicion or probable cause that she was concealing drugs, weapons or other contraband. The Fifth Amendment Class consists of all women arrestees who, during the same time frame, were held for presentment in the cellblock of the Superior Court and who were subjected to a blanket policy of strip, visual body cavity and/or squat search under similar circumstances for which men arrestees were not subjected to a similar policy of blanket strip, visual body cavity and/or squat searches.

Plaintiffs seek to hold the District of Columbia liable for the strip searches pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on three theories: (1) that the office of the Superior Court Marshal is part of the organic government of the District of Columbia; (2) that Marshal Dillard was a joint actor with the District of Columbia in handling pre-presentment arrestees; and (3) that the District of Columbia entrusted its pre-presentment arrestees to the custody of the Superior Court Marshal when it knew or should have known about the strip searches. The District filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that it cannot be held liable as a matter of law under any of those theories. After briefing was completed, the Court held oral argument on October 7, 2008.

II. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

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 Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Diamond v. Atwood, 43 F.3d 1538, 1540 (D.C. Cir. 1995). Moreover, summary judgment is properly granted against a party that "after adequate time for discovery and upon motion . . . fails 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. To determine which facts are "material," a court must look to the substantive law on which each claim rests. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. 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. In addition, the nonmoving party may not rely solely on allegations or conclusory statements. Greene v. Dalton, 164 F.3d 671, 675 (D.C. Cir. 1999). Rather, the nonmoving party must present specific facts that would enable a reasonable jury to find in its favor. Id. If the evidence "is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50 (citations omitted).

III. ANALYSIS

The District of Columbia occupies a unique place in the United States, neither a State nor a Territory but the "Seat of the Government of the United States." U.S. Const. art. I, § 8, cl. 17. The Constitution reserves to Congress the power "to exercise exclusive Legislation in all cases whatsoever over such District . . . ." Id. Thus, Congress exercises plenary power over the District of Columbia, establishing a relationship quite different than the one that exists between the federal government and the States. See O'Donoghue v. United States, 289 U.S. 516, 539 (1933). "The constitutional grant sanctions congressional establishment of all of the trappings of municipal authority in Washington, including the creation and oversight of all three branches of the District's government." Steven M. Schneebaum, The Legal and Constitutional Foundations for the District of Columbia Judicial Branch, 11 UDC/DCSL L. Rev. 13, 13 (2008). The peculiarity of the relationship comes sharply into focus when exploring the legal foundations for the local judiciary in the District of Columbia and the Superior Court Marshal. A brief history of those legal foundations is necessary to place the parties' arguments in context.

A. Legal Foundations for the District of Columbia Courts and Superior Court Marshal

Prior to Congress's enactment of the District of Columbia Court Reform and Criminal Procedure Act of 1970 ("Court Reorganization Act"), Pub. L. No. 91-358, 84 Stat. 473 (1970), "the courts charged with adjudicating local criminal prosecutions and revolving local civil disputes were a hybrid creature." Schneebaum, 11 UDC/DCSL L. Rev. at 15. "It could be said of them both that they were part of the congressional mandate to oversee the District of Columbia, and they were fully-fledged stars in the federal judicial galaxy." Id.

The Court Reorganization Act brought fundamental changes, creating two new Article I courts for the District of Columbia: the Superior Court and the Court of Appeals, which were formally separated from appellate review by the federal District Court and Circuit Court of Appeals. See id. at 16. Judges for the local District of Columbia courts were to be nominated by the President and subject to confirmation by the Senate. See id.; D.C. Code § 11-1501(a). "Congress expressly noted in the statute that it was exercising its powers under Article I, § 8, clause 17 in amending the D.C. Code to incorporate this latest overhaul of the third branch." Schneebaum, 11 UDC/DCSL L. Rev. at 16; see D.C. Code § 11-101(2) (establishing the local District of Columbia courts "pursuant to Article I of the Constitution"); see also Palmore v. United States, 411 U.S. 389, 398 (1973) (noting same); Jenkins v. Wash. Convention Ctr., 236 F.3d 6, 10 (D.C. Cir. 2001) (noting same).

Despite these fundamental changes, "there was no question that the Court Reorganization Act was not promoted by its sponsors as a home rule measure . . . ." Schneebaum, 11 UDC/DCSL L. Rev. at 17. As particularly relevant here, the Court Reorganization Act specified that "[t]he United States Marshal for the District of Columbia shall continue to serve the courts of the District of Columbia, subject to the supervision of the Attorney General of the ...


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