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Bridgeforth v. Bronson

November 3, 2008

ANTHONY BRIDGEFORTH, PLAINTIFF,
v.
KHADIJAH BRONSON, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Royce C. Lamberth, Chief Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter comes before the Court on the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. The Court has considered the motion filed by defendants David Smith, Joseph Powell, Darrell Johnson, Ralph W. McLean, the District of Columbia, James Carter, and Jose Acosta [23], plaintiff's motion [24, 25], the above mentioned defendants' reply and opposition [28, 32], co-defendant Khadijah Bronson's reply and opposition [30], plaintiff's reply and opposition [29, 31], the entire record herein, and the applicable law. For the reasons set forth below, defendants' motion [23] will be GRANTED in part and DENIED in part; plaintiff's motion [24] will be GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

BACKGROUND

This case arises out of the alleged eviction of Anthony Bridgeforth ("plaintiff") from an apartment at 210 20th St, N.E. by a landlord and several on-duty police officers in which there was a dispute as to the nature of plaintiff's occupancy. Plaintiff was enrolled in Section 8 Tenant-Based assistance and had completed paperwork required by the D.C. Housing Choice Voucher Program (Pl. Statement of Undisputed Mat. Facts ¶ 1; Defs. Statement of Undisputed Mat. Facts ¶ 1.) but an official lease between the plaintiff and landlord was never executed (Defs. Statement of Undisputed Mat. Facts ¶ 8).*fn1 Prior to completing the necessary paperwork, plaintiff moved into an apartment owned by the landlord. (Pl. Statement of Undisputed Mat. Facts ¶ 8.) Whether the landlord instructed plaintiff to do so or consented to his moving is in dispute.

On January 20, 2006 the landlord, believing that plaintiff should not be in the apartment, attempted to force plaintiff to leave the apartment, soliciting the help of a friend and eventually the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department. (Id. ¶ 8.) Responding to repeated calls from the landlord, the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department eventually determined that there was no landlord-tenant relationship and asked plaintiff to leave or else be arrested for unlawful entry. (Id. ¶¶ 13,15.)

Except where expressly indicated, the following facts are not in dispute.

1. Occupancy Dispute

Plaintiff is a resident of the District of Columbia enrolled in Section 8 Tenant-Based Assistance as part of the Housing Choice Voucher Program. (Id. ¶ 1; Defs. Statement of Undisputed Mat. Facts ¶ 1.) Defendant Khadijah Bronson ("Bronson") is the landlord and lessor of 210 20th St, N.E. (Pl. Statement of Undisputed Mat. Facts ¶ 2.) In early November 2005, plaintiff and Bronson met to initiate the District of Columbia Housing Authority ("DCHA") lease-up package. (Id. ¶ 5.) At this time, Bronson also signed a contract to receive payments from the DCHA, for which she began receiving rent payment at the beginning of January 2006. (Id. ¶¶ 7,10; Pl. Ex. 31.)

Upon visiting the property, plaintiff was shown a unit in the same complex that was next to the apartment to be leased. (Defs. Statement of Undisputed Mat. Facts ¶¶ 5,6.) Subsequently, Bronson learned that her mother was ill and decided to leave D.C. to attend to her. (Id. ¶ 7.) According to plaintiff's deposition, Bronson then called him and told him that she wanted to meet with him to give him the keys to the apartment. (Defs. Statement of Undisputed Mat. Facts ¶ 7; Bridgeforth Dep. 115:9-13.) The parties dispute whether Bronson arranged for plaintiff to receive a key, but it is known that plaintiff moved his belongings into the apartment he was shown on or about December 23, 2005. (Pl. Statement of Undisputed Mat. Facts ¶ 8.) As a result of the problems with the apartment, plaintiff went to the DCHA on January 11, 2006 and signed a note stating "I Anthony Bridgeforth didn't sign a lease to be in this unit and I wish not to stay in Unit #4 because of the living conditions." (Bronson Opp'n. Mo. Ex 1.) The uncertainty surrounding plaintiff's occupation of the apartment led to the alleged constitutional violations in which Bronson and several uniformed police officers removed plaintiff from the apartment.

2. Removal of Plaintiff from the Apartment on January 20, 2006

On January 20, 2006, Bronson solicited the help of a male friend to bang on the door to the apartment that plaintiff was located in and demand that he leave. (Pl. Statement of Undisputed Mat. Facts ¶ 12.) Bronson and her friend also attempted to gain entry by prying the door open. (Id.) Startled by this, plaintiff contacted the police. (Defs. Statement of Undisputed Mat. Facts ¶ 10.) Responding to plaintiff's call, the police officers eventually informed Bronson that they could not intervene because the dispute appeared to be between a landlord and a tenant. (Id.¶ 12.) Subsequently, Bronson contacted the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department several times in attempt to get the police to assist in the removal of plaintiff from the apartment. (Id.¶ 13.)

Uniformed police officers were dispatched to the premises five times on January 20, 2006. (Pl. Statement of Undisputed Mat. Facts ¶ 13.) During the first response, the officers declined to get involved. (Id. ¶ 13a.) Officer Williams assigned a six-digit CCN incident number to the call and issued a business card to Bronson with the words "LANDLORD TENANT" written on the bottom. (Id.) The D.C. Metropolitan Police Department officers also declined to get involved during the second, third, and fourth responses. (Id. ¶ 13b-d.)

The fifth response was dispatched around 11:30 p.m., and at least Officers Carter, Smith, Acosta, Powell, and Johnson were present. (Id. ¶ 13e.) The response was initially dispatched as a landlord-tenant dispute and Officer Carter was in charge of the scene. (Id. ¶ 17.) During this time, Captain Ralph W. McLean was serving as the "watch commander" responsible for police activity in the Metropolitan Police Department First District. (Id. ¶ 4.) The officers were at the scene for over two hours as they attempted to determine plaintiff's status as a tenant and Captain McLean spoke with Bronson on the phone several times to determine the nature of the dispute. (Id. ¶ 18.) Once at the scene, Officer Carter noted that there were only a bag of clothes or two in the apartment, which led to his belief that plaintiff was a squatter. (Defs. Statement of Undisputed Mat. Facts ¶ 22.)

Bronson told Captain McLean that somebody was in the unit that did not live there, that she had been away and she found him in the unit when she returned, that plaintiff was a locksmith, and she swore she had not given him the key. (Id. ¶¶ 18, 21.) Bronson also indicated to Captain McLean that she had a document that indicated that he should not be in the unit. (Id. ¶ 19.) Officers at the scene were shown plaintiff's written statement that he did not want to remain in the apartment, which also stated that plaintiff had not officially executed a lease. (Id. ¶ 20.) After speaking to Bronson and Officer Carter, Captain McLean directed the officers at the scene to tell plaintiff that if he did not leave the premises, he would be arrested for unlawful entry. (Pl. Statement of Undisputed Mat. Facts ¶ 15.) Officer Smith noted that plaintiff was "very agitated" by the events. (Pl. Mo. at 18) Captain McLean never arrived at the scene or spoke to plaintiff and admits that he did not know how Section 8 housing assistance works. (Pl. Statement of Undisputed Mat. Facts ¶ 16.) In addition, Captain McLean was not aware that plaintiff claimed to be a tenant. (Id.) After plaintiff was removed from the apartment, the police officers remained at the scene while Bronson had the locks changed on the apartment to prevent plaintiff from returning. (Id. ¶ 20.)

3. Police Department Policy on Landlord-Tenant Disputes

D.C. Metropolitan Police Department policy mandates that officers should not get in apparent landlord-tenant disputes. (Id. ¶ 22.) Officers are also instructed not to facilitate evictions. (Id. ¶ 22; Pl. Ex. 22.) In fact, nearly every individual officer on the scene, including Officer Carter, was aware of the basic parameters of this policy. (Pl. Mo. 23.) Training programs regarding landlord-tenant disputes were implemented as a result of the litigation in McMillian v. Davis, which required the District of Columbia to provide several different types of training for both patrol officers and field officers. (Pl. Statement of Undisputed Mat. Facts ¶ 25.)

According to officers at the department, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department officers respond to and make determinations regarding apparent landlord-tenant disputes every day. (Pl. Statement of Undisputed Mat. Facts ¶ 23.) Plaintiff's expert, however, has testified that for a period of ten years, between 1998 and 2008, there were only three instances of alleged unlawful evictions in the District of Columbia. (Defs. Statement of Undisputed Mat. Facts ¶ 25.) Plaintiff avers that the Metropolitan Police Department has failed to train its officers in any of the required programs after February 2001. (Pl. Statement of Undisputed Mat. Facts ¶ 25.) The parties dispute whether the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department's policies fall below the standards for accepted police practices.

DISCUSSION

I. Legal Standard for Summary ...


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