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Chase v. District of Columbia

July 13, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ellen Segal Huvelle United States District Judge


Plaintiff Serbennia Chase brings this action for monetary damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, contending that defendants District of Columbia ("the District") and Corporation of America ("CCA") violated her rights under the Fourth, Fifth, and Eighth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The District has moved for dismissal of the complaint under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) or, in the alternative, for summary judgment; CCA has moved to dismiss Count IV, which alleges violations of the Fifth Amendment. For the reasons set forth herein, defendants' motions to dismiss will be granted and the complaint shall be dismissed in its entirety.



As alleged in the complaint, plaintiff was arrested on September 8, 2008, by Metropolitan Police Department ("MPD") officers and charged with assault with intent to kill while armed, aggravated assault while armed, and assault with significant bodily injury.*fn1 (See Compl. ¶¶ 3, 5.) She was brought to the Fifth District Police Precinct station and moved to a custodial interrogation room. (Id.) There, plaintiff was interrogated by two MPD detectives. (Id. ¶ 6.) This interrogation was videotaped pursuant to District policy. (Id.) As set forth in MPD General Order 304.16 ("MPDGO 304.16" or "the Order") (see Dist.'s Mot., Ex. 2), the recording policy provides in relevant part that "custodial interrogations of persons suspected of committing a crime of violence" are to be "electronically record[ed], in their entirety, and to the greatest extent feasible, . . . when the interrogation takes place in Metropolitan Police Department interview rooms equipped with electronic recording equipment." MPDGO 304.16 § II (emphasis added). Plaintiff was not told that she was being videotaped. (Compl. ¶ 6.)

During the interrogation, one of the detectives gave plaintiff some clothing and instructed her to change into those clothes and give her own clothes to a female officer who had also entered the room.*fn2 (Compl. ¶ 7.) The detective asked if plaintiff was wearing any undergarments; she told him that she was not. (Id.) The detectives then left the room; the female officer remained and instructed plaintiff to remove her clothes and change into the provided outfit. (See id. ¶ 8.) The video camera continued to record plaintiff as she changed and was naked for approximately one minute. (Id.) Subsequently, digital copies of the interrogation room video were made and distributed to the prosecutors and to plaintiff's criminal defense counsel as part of the discovery provided in the criminal case. (See id. ¶ 9.) When plaintiff's attorney informed her that she had been recorded while naked, she "was shocked, embarrassed, and felt shame[] that her attorneys and other people saw her naked body." (Id.)

As she awaited an August 4, 2009 trial date, plaintiff was held in the District's jail, as well as its Correctional Treatment Facility ("CTF"), which is operated by CCA pursuant to a contract with the District. (See Compl. ¶¶ 2, 4.) On three occasions between March and May 2009, plaintiff alleges that she was sexually assaulted by "Lieutenant Harris," a guard employed by CCA, while he was escorting her to visitor meetings. (See id. ¶¶ 11-17.) After plaintiff reported Harris's third alleged assault, she was transferred to a more restrictive unit within the CTF, and on July 24, she was transferred to the Rappahannock Regional Jail in Virginia. (Id. ¶ 18.) Upon her arrival at Rappahannock, she was placed in 24-hour "total lock down" and could only leave her cell to take showers. (Id.) Conditions at Rappahannock were more restrictive than at the CTF; for example, Rappahannock placed more restrictions on when inmates could receive visitors. (Id. ¶¶ 19-20.) Subsequently, plaintiff was transferred to Pamunkey Regional Jail in Virginia, where she was again placed in 24-hour "total lock down." (Id. ¶ 21.)


Count I of the complaint alleges that plaintiff's Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures was violated when she was videotaped while naked in the MPD interrogation room. (See id. ¶¶ 22-27.) Count II appears to allege that this videotaping also violated her common law right to be free from invasions of privacy. (See id. ¶¶ 28-33.) Count III alleges that her Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment was violated as a result of Lt. Harris's alleged sexual assaults. (See id. ¶¶ 34-38.) Count IV is less clear (see id. ¶¶ 39-45), but plaintiff has subsequently clarified this count by explaining that her Fifth Amendment right to due process was violated by being transferred to the Rappahannock and Pamunkey jails and "being locked down, at those prisons, for no reason . . . ." (Pl.'s Opp'n at 7.) As a result of these alleged violations of her rights, plaintiff contends that defendants are jointly and severally liable to her under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for $10,000,000 in compensatory damages and $10,000,000 in punitive damages. (See Compl. ¶¶ 27, 33, 38, 45.)



"In determining whether a complaint fails to state a claim, [courts] may consider only the facts alleged in the complaint, any documents either attached to or incorporated in the complaint[,] . . . matters of which [courts] may take judicial notice," E.E.O.C. v. St. Francis Xavier Parochial Sch., 117 F.3d 621, 624 (D.C. Cir. 1997), and documents "appended to [a motion to dismiss] and whose authenticity is not disputed" if they are "referred to in the complaint and are integral" to a plaintiff's claim. Kaempe v. Myers, 367 F.3d 958, 965 (D.C. Cir. 2004). When ruling on a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), courts must first assume the veracity of all "well-pleaded factual allegations" contained in the complaint. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1950 (2009); see also Atherton v. Dist. of Columbia Office of Mayor, 567 F.3d 672, 681 (D.C. Cir. 2009). Next, courts must determine whether the allegations "plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief" by presenting "sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face,'" in that "the court [can] draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949-50 (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)).


The District argues that Count II is barred by res judicata, because plaintiff previously raised a materially similar invasion of privacy claim in a suit filed against the District in D.C. Superior Court (see Dist.'s Mot., Ex. 4 ¶¶ 8-11), and that suit was dismissed for failure to comply with the mandatory notice requirement of D.C. Code § 12-309. (See id., Ex. 5.) Plaintiff does not address the District's argument about res judicata as to her common law claim (see Pl.'s Opp'n at 2), and "[i]t is ...

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