Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Tonda Wright v. District of Columbia

July 29, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: James E. Boasberg United States District Judge


Johnquan Wright was shot and killed on August 14, 2008. His mother, Plaintiff Tonda Wright, has brought this suit on behalf of his estate and on her own behalf. She claims that Defendants -- the District of Columbia, which operated the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Service, and Rafael Sa'adah, the Acting Assistant Fire Chief at the time -- are to blame for her son's untimely death because Chief Sa'adah inappropriately directed emergency response personnel to cease giving him life-saving care. Because this Court finds that Plaintiff's sole federal claim cannot survive summary judgment, the remainder of the case will be dismissed without prejudice for Plaintiff to return to D.C. Superior Court if she so chooses.


On August 14, 2008, D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Service personnel responded to an emergency call at 33 K Street, N.W. Def. Stat. Undis. Mat. Facts Nos. 1-2. When emergency personnel arrived on the scene, they discovered two gunshot victims, one of whom was Plaintiff's son. Id. No. 3. They immediately began to assess his condition, Pl. Opp., Exh. 5 (Dep. of Christopher Young) at 11, and found that he was unconscious, not breathing, and without a pulse. Def. Stat. Undis. Mat. Facts No. 3. Meanwhile, Henry Lyles, a paramedic and 32-year veteran of the D.C. Fire Department, arrived and instructed emergency personnel to begin CPR on Wright. Pl. Opp., Exh. 3 (Dep. of Henry Lyles) at 6, 11. As they complied with this order, Rosalio Ruiz, the paramedic in charge of the team treating Wright, informed Chief Sa'adah, the senior official at the scene, that Wright had suffered a number of gunshot wounds, including one to the head. Pl. Opp., Exh. 10 (Dep. of Rosalio Ruiz) at 73, 94; Pl. Opp., Exh. 9 (Dep. of Rafael Sa'adah) at 175-83. This led Chief Sa'adah to conclude that Wright suffered from injuries incompatible with life and therefore should be presumed dead on arrival (PDOA). Sa'adah Dep. at 190-91; Pl. Opp., Exh. 11 (Fire Department Special Care Protocol on Presumed Dead on Arrival) (setting out that "patients may be presumed dead on arrival if apneic and pulseless with evidence of . . . [t]raumatic injuries incompatible with life"). Chief Sa'adah instructed emergency personnel to desist all life-saving efforts on Wright and to instead help their colleagues treat the other victim. See Young Dep. at 11; Pl. Opp., Exh. 2 (Dep. of Lucy Jones) at 14; Lyles Dep. at 23-24. Personnel complied with this order, and Wright received no further medical treatment. Id.

An autopsy later revealed that Wright had in fact been shot twice in the chest and once in the leg, but not in the head. See Def. Mot., Exh. 9 (Autopsy Report). This finding has led several of the paramedics involved in the response call to conclude that Wright should not have been determined PDOA, and instead that he should have been treated at the scene and transported to a hospital. Lyles Dep. at 15-16; Ruiz Dep. at 58-59, 94.

Plaintiff filed suit in May 2009 in the Superior Court of District of Columbia, asserting claims for medical malpractice and negligent hiring, training, and supervision under both the Wrongful Death Act and the Survival Act. The thrust of her suit was that Defendants misdiagnosed her son's injuries, leading to the application of the wrong treatment protocol and thus depriving him of a chance of survival. She avers that though her son's injuries were life threatening, he may have survived had he immediately received the appropriate emergency medical care and been transported to a hospital. Plaintiff twice amended her Complaint, first in August 20009 and again in May 2010, the latter time to add a constitutional claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In response, Defendants removed the case to this Court, and the parties have now filed Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment.*fn1

II.Legal Standard

Summary judgment may be granted if "the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986); Holcomb v. Powell, 433 F.3d 889, 895 (D.C. Cir. 2006). "A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by citing to particular parts of materials in the record." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c)(1)(A). "A fact is 'material' if a dispute over it might affect the outcome of a suit under the governing law; factual disputes that are 'irrelevant or unnecessary' do not affect the summary judgment determination." Holcomb, 433 F.3d at 895 (quoting Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 248). An issue is "genuine" if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. See Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007); Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 248; Holcomb, 433 F.3d at 895. The party seeking summary judgment "bears the heavy burden of establishing that the merits of his case are so clear that expedited action is justified." Taxpayers Watchdog, Inc., v. Stanley, 819 F.2d 294, 297 (D.C. Cir. 1987). "Until a movant has met its burden, the opponent of a summary judgment motion is under no obligation to present any evidence." Gray v. Greyhound Lines, East, 545 F.2d 169, 174 (D.C. Cir. 1976). When a motion for summary judgment is under consideration, "the evidence of the non-movant[s] is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in [their] favor." Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 255; see also Mastro v. Potomac Electric Power Co., 447 F.3d 843, 849-50 (D.C. Cir. 2006); Aka v. Washington Hospital Center, 156 F.3d 1284, 1288 (D.C. Cir. 1998) (en banc); Washington Post Co. v. U.S. Dep't of Health and Human Services, 865 F.2d 320, 325 (D.C. Cir. 1989). On a motion for summary judgment, the Court must "eschew making credibility determinations or weighing the evidence." Czekalski v. Peters, 475 F.3d 360, 363 (D.C. Cir. 2007).

The nonmoving party's opposition, however, must consist of more than mere unsupported allegations or denials and must be supported by affidavits, declarations, or other competent evidence, setting forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. FED. R. CIV. P. 56(e); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). She is required to provide evidence that would permit a reasonable jury to find in her favor. Laningham v. United States Navy, 813 F.2d 1236, 1242 (D.C. Cir. 1987). If the non-movant's evidence is "merely colorable" or "not significantly probative," summary judgment may be granted. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 249-50; see Scott, 550 U.S. at 380 ("[W]here the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is 'no genuine issue for trial.'") (quoting Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986)).


The parties' competing Motions address both the sole federal claim and the pendent state claims. Given that the Court grants Defendants' Motion related to the former, it need not address either side's position on the latter.

Plaintiff claims that Defendants have violated her and her son's constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Sec. Am. Compl., ¶ 72. This statute reads, in relevant part: "Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of . . . the District of Columbia, subjects . . . any citizen of the United States . . . 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 . . . ." In this case, Plaintiff asserts violations of the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments. Sec. Amend. Compl., ¶ 72.

A. Violations of IV and XIV Amendments

Plaintiff's claim based on Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment violations can be summarily dismissed. She never alleges a search or seizure as required to establish the former, see U.S. CONST. amend. IV ("The right of the people to be secure in their persons . . . against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated."), and the latter does not apply to the District. Scales v. District of Columbia, 973 A.2d 722, 725 n.1 (D.C. 2009) ("[T]he Fourteenth Amendment does not apply to the District of Columbia."). These claims, ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.