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Martin v. District of Columbia

July 1, 2010

ANTOINE MARTIN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Emmet G. Sullivan United States District Court Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Pending before the Court is the motion to dismiss, or alternative motion for summary judgment, of Defendant District of Columbia (the "District"). Upon consideration of the motion, the response and reply thereto, the applicable law, and for the reasons stated below, the Court hereby GRANTS the District's motion to dismiss.*fn1

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, Antoine Martin, alleges that on July 5, 2008, while "walking peacefully in the vicinity of Fourth Street, N.W.," he was approached by Metropolitan Police Officer Alfonso Matos. Compl. ¶ 7. Officer Matos then "began to violently beat [Martin] with hands, fist and feet, and kick and stomp him, and violently throw [sic] him to the ground[.]" Compl. ¶ 7. Plaintiff was then handcuffed and placed under arrest for possession with intent to distribute marijuana. See Compl. ¶¶ 7-8; see also Pl.'s Ex. 1. Plaintiff appeared before a judge in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia on July 6, 2008, and was given a date to appear back in court. Compl. ¶ 9. Following a subsequent court appearance all charges against plaintiff were dismissed. Compl. ¶ 10.

On July 6, 2009, plaintiff filed suit in this Court against the District of Columbia, Officer Matos, and other unknown and unidentified officers of the Metropolitan Police Department ("other MPD officers"). Plaintiff alleges that "[a]s a direct and proximate result of the actions of the Defendants," he "sustained numerous personal injuries to his body as a whole and suffered humiliation and embarrassment and a loss of self esteem[,] has suffered emotional distress, and has otherwise been severely damaged and injured." Compl. ¶ 12. He also alleges violations of his Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Compl. ¶ 13. The District filed a motion to dismiss plaintiff's complaint as to the District. This motion is now ripe for determination by the Court.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint. Browning v. Clinton, 292 F.3d 235, 242 (D.C. Cir. 2002). A complaint must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, in order to give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). "'[W]hen ruling on a defendant's motion to dismiss, a judge must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint[,]'" Atherton v. D.C. Office of the Mayor, 567 F.3d 672, 681 (D.C. Cir. 2009) (quoting Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007)), and grant the plaintiff "the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged." Kowal v. MCI Commc'ns Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1994). A court must not, however, "accept inferences drawn by plaintiffs if such inferences are unsupported by the facts set out in the complaint. Nor must the court accept legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations." Id. In addition, "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). "[O]nly a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss." Id. A complaint must therefore plead "'factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.'" Atherton, 567 F.3d at 681 (quoting Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949). This, in turn, "asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully"; a complaint alleging facts that are "'merely consistent with' a defendant's liability . . . 'stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.'" Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).

III. ANALYSIS

The District moves to dismiss plaintiff's claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for failure to state a claim. The District also moves to dismiss plaintiff's common law tort claims for failure to comply with the statutory notice requirements of D.C. Code § 12-309. These arguments will be explored in turn.

A. Municipal Liability Under § 1983

Plaintiff alleges that the conduct of Officer Matos and other MPD officers violated his Fourth Amendment rights, and that as a result of their actions, the District is liable pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See Compl. ¶¶ 14-16. Section 1983 provides, in relevant part:

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.

As a threshold matter, a municipality cannot be held vicariously liable for the actions of its officers. See Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978) ("[A] municipality cannot be held liable solely because it employs a tortfeasor -- or, in other words, a municipality cannot be held liable under § 1983 on a respondeat superior theory."). Instead, a municipality can only be liable under § 1983 if "the municipality is itself responsible for an unconstitutional deprivation of rights" -- i.e., when the "execution of a government's policy or custom . . . inflicts [an] injury." Atchinson v. District of Columbia, 73 F.3d 418, 420 (D.C. Cir. 1996) (citing Monell, 436 U.S. at 690-91, 694) (internal quotation marks omitted).*fn2 Therefore, "[i]n considering whether a plaintiff has stated a claim for municipal liability . . . the court must [first] determine whether the complaint states a claim for a predicate constitutional violation. . . . [and] if so, then . . . determine whether the complaint states a claim that a custom or policy of the municipality caused the violation." Baker v. District of Columbia, 326 F.3d 1302, 1306 (D.C. Cir. 2003); see also Feirson v. District of Columbia, 506 ...


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