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Naishia E. Davis v. District of Columbia

July 21, 2011

NAISHIA E. DAVIS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, DEFENDANT.



MEMORANDUM OPINION

The plaintiff, Naishia Davis, acting as Personal Representative for the Estate of James Brodus Miller, Sr. ("Decedent") and Next Friend for James Brodus Miller, Jr., filed an amended complaint on November 15, 2010, claiming that the District of Columbia ("the District"), a municipal corporation and the defendant in this civil case, (1) negligently caused the Decedent's death, (2) is liable for an assault and battery sustained by the Decedent, and (3) is liable for damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violating the Decedent's Fourth Amendment rights. See Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint for Negligence, Negligent Hiring, Assault and Battery, and Violation of Civil and Constitutional Rights ("Am. Compl."). Currently before the Court is the defendant's Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint. See Defendant's Renewed Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint Or, In the Alternative, For Summary Judgment ("Def.'s Mot.") at 1. After carefully considering all of the relevant submissions made by the parties,*fn1 the Court will grant the defendant's Motion to Dismiss and dismiss the claim brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 because the plaintiff has failed to plead sufficient facts, as required by Federal Civil Rule 8(a), to show that a policy or practice of the defendant gave rise to the alleged constitutional violation. The remaining common law claims of negligence and assault and battery will be remanded, as they would be more properly adjudicated in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia ("Superior Court").

I. BACKGROUND

On October 21, 2009, the plaintiff called 911 and informed the answering dispatcher that her boyfriend, the Decedent, had locked himself in the bathroom of the apartment they shared, located at 905 21st Street N.E., Washington D.C., and was refusing to come out. Am. Compl. ¶5. The plaintiff told the dispatcher that no violence had occurred, but that she was concerned about the Decedent becoming suicidal or "paranoi[d]," and feared that she or her children may be in danger. Id. The plaintiff alleges that the dispatcher failed to accurately convey this information to the responding officers and instead informed the two officers that an "unwanted guest" had locked himself in the bathroom. Id. When two officers from the Metropolitan Police Department arrived at the plaintiff's apartment at 5:32 a.m., they escorted the plaintiff and her children from the apartment, id. ¶ 10, whereafter they "pushed open the door to the bathroom" and entered the bathroom to find the Decedent pointing a gun at them,*fn2 id. ¶ 7. The officers then "discharged their service revolvers, striking the Decedent." Id. The Decedent was subsequently pronounced dead at Howard University Hospital at 5:48 a.m. Id. ¶ 9.

On December 7, 2009, through her counsel at the time, the plaintiff sent a letter to the Mayor of the District of Columbia ("Mayor") notifying him that "[o]n October 21, 2009 at approximately 5:20 a.m., at 905 [] 21st St. N.E., Apartment No. 10, Washington D.C. 20002, [the Decedent] was fatally shot inside his apartment while in the bathroom, due to the improper and/or negligent acts of police officers of the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department." Def.'s Mot., Exhibit ("Ex.") A (plaintiff's first notice letter to the Mayor's office). The letter further stated that "a claim is being made, on behalf of the Estate of James B. Miller for fatal personal injuries, against the District of Columbia, and/or the Metropolitan Police Department, due to the negligent and careless acts of employees and/or police officers . . . [,] which resulted in the wrongful death of James B. Miller." Id. The letter stated that it was sent to the Mayor to provide the notice required by D.C. Code § 12-309, and that the plaintiff was making a claim against the District. Id. Finally, it stated that the notice requirements would be assumed satisfied unless "otherwise notified." Id. On February 22, 2010, the plaintiff sent another letter to the Mayor's office through her current attorney, again notifying him of her intention to file a claim against the District. Def.'s Mot. Ex. B (plaintiff's second letter to the Mayor's office). The letter again references the events that took place on October 21, 2009, stated that the responding officers lacked probable cause to use deadly force, and asserted that the use of deadly force violated the Decedent's constitutional rights. Id.

The plaintiff filed her amended complaint on November 15, 2010, claiming that the District negligently caused the Decedent's death, that the District is liable for the responding officers' alleged assault and battery of the Decedent, and that the District is liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for the officers' violations of the Decedent's Fourth Amendment rights.*fn3 See Am. Compl. at 1. More specifically, the plaintiff claims that the District of Columbia is liable for the allegedly negligent act of the 911 dispatcher in incorrectly identifying the Decedent as an "unwanted guest," which, the plaintiff claims, prevented the officers from realizing the barricade situation involved a potentially mentally ill individual. Id. ¶ 8. The plaintiff also claims that the District is negligent because it improperly trains its officers to handle barricade situations, and that the District is liable for the officers' negligent application of their training. Id. ¶ 15. Next, the plaintiff claims that the responding officers, while working within the scope of their employment with the District, shot the Decedent without legal justification or probable cause, thus committing an assault and battery. Id. ¶ 22-24. Finally, the plaintiff claims the District is liable for the officers' alleged violation of the Decedent's Fourth Amendment rights because the officers were "enforcing the District's long[-]standing policy instituted and sanctioned, by the District, on the use of deadly force," when they shot the Decedent, and simultaneously that it was "the District's failure to properly train its police officers on the proper procedures involving [barricaded] individuals" that resulted in the Decedent's death. Id. ¶ 29.

The District moves to dismiss the plaintiff's Amended Complaint on the grounds that: (1) the plaintiff failed to comply with the statutory notice requirement of D.C. Code § 12-309, (2) the plaintiff failed to state claims of negligence on which relief can be granted, (3) the assault and battery claims are invalid because the officers were acting reasonably, and (4) the plaintiff failed to show that the incident occurred as the result of a policy or practice of the District as required to adequately plead a § 1983 claim. Def.'s Mot. at 1. Specifically, with regard to the § 1983 claim against the District, the defendant claims that the plaintiff has failed to plead any facts that indicate the officers were acting pursuant to a policy of the District, and that any suggested "deficiencies in the District's training programs are premised on the facts of this case only." Id. at 6. Similarly, the defendant maintains that the plaintiff has failed to show a causal link between any alleged policy of the District and the purported Fourth Amendment violations. Id.

The plaintiff, not surprisingly, challenges the defendant's arguments for dismissal, albeit mostly by simply reiterating the allegations in the Amended Complaint. Pl.'s Opp'n at 1. Although the Amended Complaint alleges that the District failed to properly train its officers, the plaintiff's opposition fails to make arguments in support of this allegation.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

A motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) tests whether a complaint properly states a claim on which relief may be granted. Woodruff v. DiMario, 197 F.R.D. 191, 193 (D.D.C. 2000). For a complaint to survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) requires that it contain a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). Although "detailed factual allegations" are not required, to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion a plaintiff is required to provide "more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation," Ashcroft v. Iqbal, ___ U.S. ___, ___, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-57 (2007)), in order to "give the defendant fair notice . . . of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests," Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citation omitted). In other words, a "complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). A claim is facially plausible "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw [a] reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). "A complaint alleging facts which are merely consistent with a defendant's liability . . . stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief." Id. (internal quotation marks omitted) (citing Twombly 550 U.S. at 557).

In evaluating a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court must "liberally construe" the complaint "in favor of the plaintiff, who must be granted the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged," Schuler v. United States, 617 F.2d 605, 608 (D.C. Cir. 1979) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted), and the Court "may consider only the facts alleged in the complaint, any documents either attached to or incorporated in the complaint[,] and matters of which [the Court] may take judicial notice," E.E.O.C v. St. Francis Xavier Parochial Sch., 117F.3d 621, 624 (D.C. Cir. 1997) (footnote omitted). Although the Court must accept the plaintiff's factual allegations as true, any conclusory allegations are not entitled to an assumption of truth, and even those allegations pleaded with factual support need only be accepted to the extent that "they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1950.

III. LEGAL ANALYSIS

A. The plaintiff's § 1983 claim

Section 1983 of Title 42 of the United States Code creates a private cause of action as a remedy against constitutional violations. 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (2006). The act states, in relevant part, that: [e]very 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.

Id. Section 1983 "is not itself a source of substantive rights, but merely provides a method for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred." Graham v. Cooper, 490 U.S. 386, 394 (1989) ...


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