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Powers-Bunce v. District of Columbia

October 5, 2009

PATRICIA A. POWERS-BUNCE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Terence Anthony Powers hanged himself in a holding cell at the Third District precinct of the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department ("MPD") shortly after he was arrested by the United States Secret Service. Mr. Powers' mother, Patricia Powers-Bunce sued the District of Columbia and several individual MPD and Secret Service officers, for herself and as personal representative of Mr. Powers' estate, seeking to hold them legally accountable for her son's suicide. D.C. is the sole remaining Defendant. Pending before the Court is D.C.'s motion for judgment on the pleadings, or in the alternative, for summary judgment [Dkt. # 89]. For the reasons explained herein, the Court will grant D.C.'s alternative motion for summary judgment on Plaintiff's federal law claim (Count I), and will decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining local law claims (Counts II-IV). Plaintiff's local law claims will be dismissed without prejudice.

I. FACTS

At approximately 12:40 a.m. on July 15, 2004, Secret Service Officer Michael Burdyn observed a vehicle run a red light at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Dupont Circle in Northwest Washington, D.C. He stopped the vehicle. The vehicle was driven by Mr. Powers.*fn1 After Officer Burdyn found five small plastic packets of what appeared to be cocaine in a cigarette box, Mr. Powers was removed from the vehicle and told to sit on the sidewalk against a stone wall. Mr. Powers "kept getting up and down and trying to walk around." Pl.'s Opp'n to Mot. for Summ. J. [Dkt. # 91] ("Pl.'s Opp'n"), Ex. 2 (Burdyn Dep.) at 64. Mr. Powers appeared "nervous and jittery at the scene." Id. When the tests confirmed that the substance in the packets was cocaine, Officer Burdyn arrested Mr. Powers for possession with intent to distribute cocaine and transported Mr. Powers to the MPD's Third District precinct for processing.

Upon arrival at the Third District precinct cellblock, Officer Burdyn searched Mr. Powers' person and recovered another small plastic packet of cocaine from Mr. Powers' front jeans pocket. Unlike the other packets, this packet was only half full. At that point, Officer Burdyn suspected that Mr. Powers might have been under the influence of cocaine. Id. at 68. This suspicion was based on the half-full packet of cocaine recovered from Mr. Powers' person and Mr. Powers' "nervous attitude, jittery attitude." Id. at 68-69. After completing his search of Mr. Powers, Officer Burdyn transferred custody of Mr. Powers to MPD Officers Rhonda Winters, the cellblock technician, and Cheryl McClaine, the station clerk. Neither Officer Winters nor Officer McClaine witnessed Officer Burdyn search Mr. Powers. Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. 6 (Winters Dep.) at 59; id., Ex. 8 (McClaine Dep.) at 71. Nor had either MPD officer been trained to identify persons under the influence of narcotics. Winters Dep. at 65; McClaine Dep. at 18. At no time did Officer Burdyn inform Officer Winters or Officer McClaine of his observations of Mr. Powers' behavior. Def.'s Statement of Material Facts ¶ 12; Pl's Resp. to Def's Statement of Material Facts ¶ 12.

Mr. Powers was placed in cellblock 6 at approximately 2:00 a.m.*fn2 Officer Burdyn read Mr. Powers his Miranda*fn3 rights at approximately 2:10 a.m. Officer Burdyn returned to cellblock 6 at approximately 2:30 a.m. to obtain general information from Mr. Powers. Despite MPD General Orders and Standard Operating Procedures requiring cellblock officers to visit all persons detained in the cellblock at half hour intervals and to record the visits in a logbook,*fn4 no one checked on Mr. Powers between approximately 2:30 a.m. and 4:15 a.m. In addition, no logbook was maintained and the video surveillance system was not recording. At approximately 4:15 a.m., Officer Burdyn returned to have Mr. Powers sign two notices of infraction. He found Mr. Powers "sitting on the floor up against the bars facing the wall away from the hallway . . . ." Burdyn Dep. at 105. Mr. Powers had hanged himself with his tube socks. Officer Burdyn gave Mr. Powers "a nudge to see if he was responsive or conscious" but received "[n]o response." Burdyn Dep. at 105. Officer Burdyn alerted Officer Winters.

When Officer Winters arrived, Officer Burdyn "tried to untie the socks, but they just, they came right off. They sort of unraveled." Id. Officer Winters then felt Mr. Powers' neck, behind his ear, searching for a pulse but she did not feel one. Winters Dep. at 98-99. At that point, Officer Winters alerted Sergeant Regina Gamble, who summoned emergency medical personnel. No officer attempted to resuscitate Mr. Powers. The medical examiner determined that Mr. Powers died by hanging.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment must be granted when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56 (c); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Diamond v. Atwood, 43 F.3d 1538, 1540 (D.C. Cir. 1995). Moreover, summary judgment is properly granted against a party that "after adequate time for discovery and upon motion . . . fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. To determine which facts are "material," a court must look to the substantive law on which each claim rests. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. A "genuine issue" is one whose resolution could establish an element of a claim or defense and, therefore, affect the outcome of the action. Id.; Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322.

In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court must draw all justifiable inferences in the nonmoving party's favor and accept the nonmoving party's evidence as true. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. A nonmoving party, however, must establish more than "the mere existence of a scintilla of evidence" in support of its position. Id. at 252. To prevail on a motion for summary judgment, the moving party must show that the nonmoving party "fail[ed] to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. By pointing to the absence of evidence proffered by the nonmoving party, a moving party may succeed on summary judgment. Id. In addition, the nonmoving party may not rely solely on allegations or conclusory statements. Greene v. Dalton, 164 F.3d 671, 675 (D.C. Cir. 1999); Harding v. Gray, 9 F.3d 150, 154 (D.C. Cir. 1993). Rather, the nonmoving party must present specific facts that would enable a reasonable jury to find in its favor. Greene, 164 F.3d at 675. If the evidence "is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50 (citations omitted).

III. ANALYSIS

In Count I of her Second Amended Complaint Plaintiff seeks to hold D.C. liable for Mr. Powers' suicide, alleging violations of his "civil rights." 42 U.S.C. § 1983 provides:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress.

42 U.S.C. § 1983.*fn5 "In order to hold a municipality liable for civil rights violations of its employees under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the municipality must have acted in accordance with a 'government policy or custom, whether made by its lawmakers or those whose edicts or acts may fairly be said to represent official policy.'" Sanders v. District of Columbia, 522 F. Supp. 2d 83, 88 (D.D.C. 2007) (quoting Monell v. Dep't of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978)). It is a plaintiff's "burden to establish that a municipality has a custom or practice abridging her constitutional or statutory rights." B.R. v. District of Columbia, 524 F. Supp. 2d 35, 40 (D.D.C. 2007) (citing Monell, 436 U.S. at 694); see also Feirson v. District of Columbia, 506 F.3d 1063, 1066 (D.C. Cir. 2007) ("To impose liability on the District under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983, [plaintiff] must show not only a violation of his rights under the Constitution or federal law, but also that the [District's] custom or policy caused the violation.") (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). "At the very least there must be an affirmative link between the policy and the particular constitutional violation alleged." City of Oklahoma City v. ...


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