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Doe v. District of Columbia

April 19, 2010

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

OPINION

This matter is before the Court on defendant the District of Columbia's supplemental motion to dismiss plaintiff John Doe's complaint.*fn1 On March 29, 2010, after careful consideration of the parties' arguments, the relevant laws, and the entire record in this case, the Court issued an Order that granted the motion in part and denied it in part, dismissing only Count I of the plaintiff's complaint.*fn2 This Opinion explains the reasoning underlying that Order.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Juvenile Delinquency Proceedings in the District of Columbia

In the District of Columbia, a person under the age of eighteen may be deemed a "delinquent child" by the Family Division of the Superior Court if he "has committed a delinquent act and is in need of care or rehabilitation." D.C. CODE § 16-2301(6). A "delinquent act" is "an act designated as an offense under the law of the District of Columbia, or of a State if the act occurred in a State." Id. § 16-2301(7). To initiate a delinquency proceeding against a child in the Family Division, the Attorney General of the District of Columbia must file a petition identifying "the specific statute or ordinance on which the charge [of delinquency] is based" and alleging "that the child appears to be in need of care or rehabilitation." Id. § 16-2305(d).

Adjudication of the delinquency petition "consists of a two-step process: (1) a factfinding hearing to determine whether the allegations of the petition are true, and (2) a dispositional hearing to determine whether the child is in need of care and supervision." In re Dom.L.S., 722 A.2d 343, 347 (D.C. 1998); see D.C. CODE §§ 16-2301(16), (17), 16-2317. The court, not a jury, makes all required factual and legal findings for each proceeding. D.C. CODE § 16-2317. Even if the court determines after the factfinding hearing that the allegedly delinquent child has violated a criminal statute, the child may not be found delinquent, and must be discharged, if the court subsequently determines at or after the dispositional hearing that the child "is not in need of care and rehabilitation." In re Dom.L.S., 722 A.2d at 347; see D.C. CODE § 16-2317(d)(1). If the court does determine at the dispositional hearing that the child requires "care and rehabilitation," it may order any one of several possible dispositions, including the transfer of legal custody of the child to a public agency or private organization, or the placement of the child on probation "under such conditions and limitations as the [court] may prescribe." D.C. CODE § 16-2320(c).

A child subject to delinquency proceedings may be detained by the District in one of two ways prior to the final disposition of his case: he may be placed in "detention" - "the temporary, secure custody of a child in facilities[] designated by the [court]" - or in "shelter care," defined as "the temporary care of a child in physically unrestricting facilities[] designated by the [court]." D.C. CODE § 16-2301(13), (14). Before being placed in either form of institutional custody, the child must be afforded a hearing. Id. § 16-2310.

At all times relevant to this case, the District of Columbia Code provided: Fact finding hearings for children placed in secure detention shall be held within the time limits provided for in this subsection.

(1) . . . whenever a child has been placed in secure detention prior to a fact finding hearing . . . , the fact finding hearing . . . shall commence not later than 30 days from the date at which the [court] authorized the child to be detained . . . .

D.C. CODE § 16-2310(e) (2008). The statute did not place a limit on the amount of time that a child may be required to spend in shelter care prior to a factfinding hearing.*fn3

B. Plaintiff's Delinquency Proceedings

According to his First Amended Complaint, plaintiff John Doe "was charged with simple assault" under District of Columbia law when he was fifteen years old. Compl. ¶¶ 9-10. The allegations of the complaint do not clearly explain the course of the resulting deliquency proceedings in the Family Division of the Superior Court. The plaintiff alleges simply that "after adjudication on the charge of simple assault," he "was step-backed [sic] to shelter care and was sent to Reach Shelter House," where he remained for roughly seven months "pending disposition of his case." Compl. ¶¶ 11-12. The meaning of those allegations is ambiguous. Because the plaintiff alleges that his charge was "adjudicated" before he was placed in shelter care, and because, in the statutory scheme governing juvenile proceedings in the District of Columbia, the word "disposition" typically refers to a separate dispositional hearing that follows a "factfinding hearing," see D.C. CODE §§ 16-2301(16)-(17), 16-2317, the plaintiff's allegations may mean that Mr. Doe was detained in shelter care after a factfinding hearing but before a dispositional hearing. Other statements in the plaintiff's complaint and other filings, however, suggest that Mr. Doe was sent to shelter care prior to his factfinding hearing, see, e.g., Compl. ¶¶ 21-22, 25; Supp. Opp. at 5, and the District of Columbia seems to assume or concede that such was the case. See MTD at 1. For present purposes, then, the Court will assume that the complaint alleges that Mr. Doe was detained in shelter care before receiving either a factfinding hearing or a dispositional hearing.

Mr. Doe further claims that on September 22, 2004, during the seven months he spent at the youth shelter, he was sexually assaulted by "two older children also in the care or placement of that facility." Compl. ¶ 26. He alleges that he has "suffered extreme emotional distress as a result of having been sexually assaulted and suffers from a psychiatric disorder as a direct consequence of the assault." Id. ¶ 32. He seeks declaratory relief and compensatory and punitive damages.

On March 3, 2008, Mr. Doe filed his First Amended Complaint in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, naming the District of Columbia, the District's Department of Child and Family Services and Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, and Reach Youth Shelter as defendants and alleging violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and D.C. CODE § 2310. He also raised two negligence claims, one alleging ...


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