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Scales v. District of Columbia

June 18, 2009


Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CAB6989-02) (Hon. Melvin R. Wright, Trial Judge).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kramer, Associate Judge

Argued March 15, 2007

Before KRAMER and THOMPSON, Associate Judges, and STEADMAN, Senior Judge.

Appellant Marcus Scales brought suit against the District of Columbia and Officer Eric Young alleging (1) assault; (2) battery; (3) negligence; (4) negligence per se; (5) false arrest; (6) false imprisonment; (7) intentional infliction of emotional distress; (8) negligent infliction of emotional distress; (9) negligent hiring, training, supervision and retention; (10) excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment and 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (11) violation of the Fourteenth Amendment through deprivation of liberty; and (12) negligent misuse of weapons.

The trial court denied Officer Young's motion to dismiss the Fourth-Amendment-based § 1983 claim against him on the grounds of qualified immunity, but this court reversed in an interlocutory appeal. Young v. Scales, 873 A.2d 337 (D.C. 2005).*fn1 On remand, the trial court granted the government's motion for summary judgment on all counts. We affirm in part and reverse in part.


In the interlocutory appeal, the court summarized the facts in the light most favorable to Scales:

Shortly after midnight on August 5, 2001, appellee Marcus Scales approached the driver's side of a parked auto (not a police vehicle) in which appellant Eric Young, a police officer off duty and out of uniform, was seated behind the steering wheel with his window open. Scales did not know Young but did know the woman (the other occupant of the car) sitting in the front passenger seat. He knew her to be a prostitute. Scales spoke to the woman and told her to get out of the car. Then, without speaking a word to Young, he commenced to stab him with a pocket knife which had a blade four to five inches long. Scales stabbed Officer Young several times, wounding him in the neck/face and leg. Nevertheless, Young was able to get out of the car and chase Scales around the auto. During the chase, he then called out to a passing motorist that he was an off-duty police officer and asked that person to contact 911. Young ordered Scales to drop his knife and "stay right there," showing his badge and drawing his pistol. Scales dropped his knife but advised Young that he had caught him with a prostitute. Therefore, he said he was going his way and suggested Young go his way. Young again ordered Scales to stay where he was, but Scales cursed Young and recounted later in his pretrial deposition: "I told him... kill me -- not you're going to have to kill me, kill me.... I turned my back on him and walked away and that's when I felt the shot in my right buttocks." Young had fired twice, striking Scales once. Scales was then placed under arrest.

Young, supra, 873 A.2d at 340 (footnotes omitted).

Scales claims that he stabbed Officer Young in self-defense because he saw Officer Young reaching for a gun. In Young, the court was "unable to conclude that a reasonable jury under these particular circumstances could conclude that Scales was acting in self-defense when he commenced stabbing [Officer] Young." Id. at 343. Moreover, because Officer Young had probable cause to believe that Scales posed a significant threat to the physical safety of others, the court was "not persuaded... that it was either unreasonable or unnecessary for Young to fire at Scales to prevent his escape." Id. at 344.

On remand, the trial court apparently construed the ruling that it was neither unreasonable nor unnecessary for Officer Young to fire at Scales to prevent him from escaping to mean that none of Scales's claims should proceed. Concluding that when the court in Young discussed the allegations of excessive force used by Officer Young, it was "not talking about qualified immunity," but rather "talking about... the reasonableness of the force used by the officer,"the trial court found that the appellate court's conclusion in Officer Young's favor constituted a "finding that the officer's actions [were] reasonable." The trial court considered itself bound by this "finding," and therefore granted summary judgment in favor of the District on each of Scales's claims.


The sole question we must answer in this appeal is the extent to which our decision in Young barred Scales from continuing to pursue his claims. He argues that none of his claims is barred by that opinion, and that the trial court erred by taking the opinion to be binding in any respect other than the determination that Officer Young himself was entitled to qualified immunity. As explained below, ...

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