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Hawkins v. Lanier

April 1, 2009


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


On November 7, 2008, the Court stayed this case pending a criminal investigation by the United States Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia into the events giving rise to this civil action. On March 20, 2009, Defendants filed a notice with the Court advising that the United States Attorney's Office has completed its criminal investigation and has declined to bring criminal charges against the Defendant police officers. See Dkt. # 29. Accordingly, the Court will lift the stay and rule on the motions that were pending prior to the stay.

Before the Court is a partial Motion to Dismiss filed by the District of Columbia and Metropolitan Police Department ("MPD") Chief Cathy Lanier (collectively, "Defendants"). See Dkt. # 17. Defendants contend that Plaintiff's constitutional claims against the District fail to state a claim for municipal liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and therefore must be dismissed. In addition, Defendants move to dismiss Chief Lanier because she is sued only in her official capacity. For the reasons that follow, the motion will be granted pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).


The facts are taken from Plaintiff's Amended Complaint. See Dkt. # 14. On December 1, 2006, MPD officers stopped Plaintiff Bryan G. Hawkins in his vehicle in the vicinity of 21st Street and Benning Road, Northeast, in the District of Columbia. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 10-11. Plaintiff alleges that he was violently removed from his vehicle and searched for drugs, but none was found. Id. ¶¶ 12-13. The officers continued to detain him even though no drugs were found and then performed a body cavity search "at a busy public intersection while several dozen people, including men, women and children looked on." Id. ¶ 15. "When the named MPD police officers pulled down Mr. Hawkins' clothing [to perform the body cavity search], they fully and completely exposed his genitals to the entire public that was witnessing the event." Id. ¶ 16. The body cavity search did not yield any drugs or other contraband. Id. ¶ 17. Nevertheless, Mr. Hawkins was charged with distribution of cocaine and held without bond. Id. ¶ 19. On March 5, 2007, he was released from custody after being acquitted at trial in D.C. Superior Court. Id. ¶ 20.

Plaintiff initiated this matter in Superior Court but on February 22, 2008, the case was removed to this Court. Defendants moved to dismiss the Complaint on March 13, 2008. Plaintiff then filed an Amended Complaint on June 3, 2008. The Amended Complaint names the District of Columbia, Chief Lanier, and MPD Officers Franklin Bauserman, Joseph Chaplin, Christopher Suter, and K. Cappello as Defendants, and asserts claims of assault and battery (Count I), violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count II), intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count III), and negligent training, supervision, and retention (Count IV). Thereafter, on June 17, 2008, Defendants filed their partial motion to dismiss the Amended Complaint. Now that the criminal investigation into this matter has ended, that motion is ripe for decision.


A motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) challenges the adequacy of a complaint on its face, testing whether a plaintiff has properly stated a claim. A sufficient complaint "contains a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief" enough "to give a defendant fair notice of the claims against him." Ciralsky v. CIA, 355 F.3d 661, 668-70 (D.C. Cir. 2004) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)). Although a complaint does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief "requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964-65 (2007) (internal citations omitted).

The court must treat the complaint's factual allegations - including mixed questions of law and fact - as true, drawing all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Macharia v. United States, 334 F.3d 61, 64, 67 (D.C. Cir. 2003); Holy Land Found. for Relief & Dev. v. Ashcroft, 333 F.3d 156, 165 (D.C. Cir. 2003); see also Aktieselskabet Af 21. Nov. 2001 v. Fame Jeans, Inc., 525 F.3d 8, 15 (D.C. Cir. 2008) (under Rule 12(b)(6), "a court construes the complaint liberally in the plaintiff's favor, accepting as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint") (citations omitted). Even so, the facts alleged "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level," Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1965, and the court need not accept as true inferences unsupported by facts set out in the complaint or legal conclusions cast as factual allegations. Aktieselskabet, 525 F.3d at 17 n.4; Browning v. Clinton, 292 F.3d 235, 242 (D.C. Cir. 2002). "A complaint needs some information about the circumstances giving rise to the claims." Aktieselskabet, 525 F.3d at 17 n.4.


A. Chief Lanier's Motion to Dismiss

"It is well-settled that '[a] suit against a municipal official in his official capacity is treated as a suit against the municipality itself.'" Lucas v. District of Columbia, 505 F. Supp. 2d 122, 126 (D.D.C. 2007) (citations omitted) (alteration in original). Any claims against Chief Lanier in her official capacity "proceed against the District of Columbia." Robinson v. District of Columbia, No. 03-1455, 2005 WL 491467, at *3 (D.D.C. Mar. 2, 2005).

As Mr. Hawkins himself asserts, he is suing Chief Lanier "in her official capacity only." Am. Compl. ΒΆ 2; see also Pl.'s Opp'n to Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss [Dkt. # 20] at 5 ("Police Chief Cathy Lanier is sued in her official capacity only."). ...

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