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Doe v. District of Columbia

April 21, 2009

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



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Paul L. Friedman United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

This matter came before the Court on a motion to dismiss filed by defendants the District of Columbia, the District of Columbia Department of Child & Family Services, and the District of Columbia Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (the "government defendants").*fn1 Upon consideration of the government defendants' motion, plaintiff's opposition thereto, the government defendants' reply and the entire record in this case, the Court by Order of March 31, 2009 (1) granted the government defendants' motion to dismiss as non sui juris the District of Columbia Department of Child & Family Services and the District of Columbia Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, and (2) denied the remainder of the government defendants' motion. This Memorandum Opinion and Order explains the reasoning underlying the March 31, 2009 Order; requires the parties to re-evaluate the feasibility of settlement in light of a recent legislative enactment; and directs the parties to submit new briefs if settlement fails.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff alleges that in 2004 he was placed in a youth shelter operated by Sasha Bruce Youthwork, Inc. ("Sasha Bruce"), "a non-profit corporation operating in the District of Columbia that contracts with [the District of Columbia Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services] to provide temporary shelter for juveniles under the jurisdiction of the District of Columbia Superior Court." Defendant Sasha Bruce Youthwork's Answer to Plaintiff's Amended Complaint ¶ 5.*fn2 According to Mr. Doe, the government defendants placed him in the shelter after he was charged with assaulting a relative. See Opp. at 2. He was 15 years old at the time. Mr. Doe claims that he "remained in [the shelter] pending disposition of his [assault] case for approximately seven months" without receiving a fact-finding hearing as contemplated by District of Columbia law. First Amended Complaint ¶ 12 ("Compl."); see also id. ¶ 22 (citing 16 D.C. CODE § 2310). He also claims that he was sexually assaulted by two older children while in shelter care. See id. ¶ 26. On February 25, 2008, Mr. Doe filed suit in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia against the government defendants and the youth shelter in which he was placed. The case was subsequently removed to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441 because Mr. Doe's first amended complaint includes claims under the United States Constitution and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See Doe v. District of Columbia, Civil Action No. 08-0656, Notice of Removal at 1-2 (D.D.C. April 15, 2008).

Mr. Doe asserts four claims against the government defendants. In Count I, Mr. Doe seeks declaratory relief. Specifically, he seeks (1) "a judicial declaration that [the government defendants'] policy of holding minor children in shelter detention for undetermined periods of time greater than 30 days [without providing hearings on the charges for which they are placed in shelter care] deprived [Mr. Doe] and deprives all other similarly-situated minor children [of] their rights under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and laws of the District of Columbia [-- in particular, 16 D.C. CODE § 2310]," Compl. ¶ 41; and (2) "a judicial declaration as to the duties of [the District of Columbia Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services] and court social services with respect to the care and supervision of minor children without parental control." Id. ¶ 42. In Count II, Mr. Doe seeks relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, arguing that he was "deprived of his constitutional rights and due process of law" because he was forced to remain in the youth shelter without a hearing for an extended period of time and endured sexual assault while there. Id. ¶ 45. In Count III, Mr. Doe seeks relief under a negligence theory: that is, he argues that the government defendants' failure "to properly train, supervise, control, direct and monitor their agents" proximately caused the physical and psychological injuries he suffered at the youth shelter. Id. ¶¶ 50-52. Finally, in Count IV (incorrectly numbered as a second Count III), Mr. Doe asserts a common law claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress. See id. ¶¶ 53-56.

The government defendants have moved to dismiss Mr. Doe's claims against them. They contend that (1) Mr. Doe's claims against the District of Columbia should be dismissed pursuant to Rule 4(j) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure because Mr. Doe has failed to serve the Mayor of the District of Columbia, and (2) Mr. Doe's claims against the two District of Columbia agencies should be dismissed because those agencies are non sui juris. The government defendants further argue that (3) Counts I and II should be dismissed for failure to state a claim because Mr. Doe was placed in "shelter care" rather than "secure detention," and therefore was not entitled to an expeditious fact-finding hearing under 16 D.C. CODE § 2310 (an argument explained in greater detail below). Finally, the government defendants argue that (4) the Court should decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Mr. Doe's common law claims in Counts III and IV, but that even if the Court were to assert supplemental jurisdiction over those claims, the Court should dismiss them pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for failure to state a claim because the government defendants cannot be held liable for the acts or omissions of an independent contractor like the youth shelter in which Mr. Doe was placed. See Mot. at 1.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Service on the District of Columbia

On July 20, 2008, Mr. Doe filed proof of service upon the Mayor of the District of Columbia, including an affidavit by the process server stating that service had been effected upon "Ms. Tabatha Braxton." Ms. Braxton is one of the individuals designated to receive service of process on behalf of the Mayor of the District of Columbia. See Mot. at 6. Thus, as it appears that Mr. Doe has properly served the Mayor -- and as the government defendants have failed to argue otherwise since Mr. Doe filed his proof of service -- the Court declines to dismiss Mr. Doe's claims against the District of Columbia for lack of proper service.*fn3

B. Non Sui Juris Agencies

As noted above, Mr. Doe has asserted claims against two agencies of the District of Columbia government: the District of Columbia Department of Child & Family Services and the District of Columbia Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services. According to the government defendants, Mr. Doe's claims against these two agencies must be dismissed because they are non sui juris -- that is, "not suable as separate entities." Mot. at 7 (citing several cases explaining that agencies of the District of Columbia government are non sui juris absent specific statutory provisions to the contrary). Mr. Doe rightly concedes this point. See Opp. at 4. The Court therefore dismisses the two agencies as defendants.

C. Other Issues

Counts I and II of Mr. Doe's first amended complaint are predicated on the claim that the District of Columbia acted in an unlawful manner by keeping Mr. Doe in a youth shelter for an extended period of time without a fact-finding hearing. In support of this claim, Mr. Doe points to 16 D.C. CODE § 2310, entitled "Criteria for detaining children." At the time Mr. Doe filed suit, Section 2310 provided, in pertinent part, as follows:

(a) A child shall not be placed in detention prior to a factfinding hearing or a dispositional hearing unless he is alleged to be delinquent or in need of supervision and unless it appears from available information that detention is required [to protect others ...


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