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Elkins v. District of Columbia

July 20, 2009

LAURA ELKINS AND JOHN ROBBINS, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Defendants, including Denzil Noble, the Administrator of the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs ("DCRA") Building and Land Regulation Administration ("BLRA"); J. Gregory Love, former BLRA Administrator; David Maloney, Officer with D.C.'s Historic Preservation Office ("HPO"); and Inspector Toni Williams-Cherry, an employee of HPO and contract worker for DCRA, seek reconsideration of this Court's April 27, 2009 Opinion and Order granting in part and denying in part their motion for summary judgment. See Op. & Order [Dkt. ## 83 & 84] ("April 27, 2009 Opinion"). The Court clarifies that at trial Plaintiffs may pursue only a claim for damages arising from the seizure of documents in violation of the Fourth Amendment and not a claim for "invasion of privacy." Further, because Plaintiffs have presented insufficient evidence to show that David Maloney was personally involved in the constitutional violation at issue here, Mr. Maloney will be dismissed as a defendant in this case. In all other respects, the motion to reconsider will be denied.

I. FACTS*fn1

Plaintiffs in this action are Laura Elkins and John Robbins, wife and husband. They obtained building permits and approvals from the DCRA and the HPO for construction at their historic home on Capitol Hill. After construction began, city officials believed that Plaintiffs were building in violation of their permits, and they obtained a warrant to conduct an administrative search of Plaintiffs' home in order to find evidence of illegal construction. Although the warrant did not authorize it, officials seized various documents during the search. The legality of both the search and the seizure were litigated before the D.C. Office of Administrative Hearings ("OAH"), and the Hearing Officer found that while the search was valid, the seizure of documents was not constitutionally permissible because it was not expressly authorized by the search warrant. This Court held that collateral estoppel precluded the relitigation of this issue and thus that Plaintiffs' Fourth Amendment rights were violated due to the unreasonable seizure of documents. See Elkins, 527 F. Supp. 2d at 46-47. Plaintiffs seek nominal, compensatory, and punitive damages for this Fourth Amendment violation.

Defendants moved for summary judgment. On April 27, 2009, the Court (1) recognized that Plaintiffs are entitled to nominal damages; (2) found an issue of fact regarding whether Plaintiffs are entitled to compensatory damages with regard to the unconstitutional seizure alone; and (3) granted summary judgment in favor of Defendants on Plaintiffs claim for damages caused by actions other than the seizure. The Court held:

Plaintiffs are entitled to nominal damages for the violation of their Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizure.

Because Plaintiffs present an issue of fact regarding whether they are entitled to compensatory damages caused by the seizure alone, summary judgment will be denied on that issue. Summary judgment will be granted in favor of Defendants on Plaintiffs' claim for damages caused by actions other than the seizure alone, e.g., damages caused by the revocation proceeding or by the April 24, 2002 stop-work order.

April 27, 2009 Opinion at 21. The Court also denied summary judgment on the issue of punitive damages as follows:

A question of fact exists regarding whether any Individual Defendant*fn2 acted with reckless disregard to the fact that the search warrant did not authorize the seizure of Plaintiffs' documents. A prior draft of the warrant application included a request for seizure authorization, and yet the final draft did not include such a request. Inspector Cherry seized documents anyhow. These circumstance[s] raise the question of whether the seizure was done recklessly. Summary judgment cannot be granted on the issue of punitive damages.

Id. at 16-17.

Defendants now move for reconsideration of those portions of the Court's decision denying summary judgment. In essence, they raise two issues. First, they contend that the Court improperly found that Plaintiffs have an invasion of privacy claim. Second, they claim that the evidence of the Defendants' personal involvement in the seizure is too scanty to overcome their motion for summary judgment. Plaintiffs oppose.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

A Rule 59(e) motion is discretionary and need not be granted unless the district court finds that "there is an intervening change of controlling law, the availability of new evidence, or the need to correct a clear error or prevent manifest injustice." Fox v. Am. Airlines Inc., 389 F.3d 1291, 1296 (D.C. Cir. 2004) (quoting Firestone v. Firestone, 76 F.3d 1205, 1208 (D.C. Cir. 1996)). A Rule 59(e) motion is not "simply an opportunity to reargue facts and theories upon which a court has already ruled." New York v. United States, 880 F. Supp. 37, 38 (D.D.C. 1995). Nor is it an avenue for ...


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