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Dcfs Usa, LLC v. District of Columbia

August 17, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rosemary M. Collyer United States District Judge


This is a case about a luxury car auctioned by the District of Columbia Department of Public Works ("DPW") without notice to the holder of the note. Plaintiff DCFS USA, LLC ("DCFS") sues the District of Columbia under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and 42 U.S.C. § 1983, complaining that the D.C. failed to provide constitutionally-required prior notice. Finding merit to the constitutional claim, the Court will enter summary judgment for DCFS on Count I of the Amended Complaint.


In 2006, Stephen Yelverton purchased a 2006 Mercedes Benz SLK350 (the "Vehicle") from Mercedes Benz of Alexandria in Alexandria, Virginia. Mr. Yelverton signed a purchase agreement, under which he gave a down payment of $8,000.00 towards the Vehicle's purchase price of $55,177.66, and agreed to sixty monthly payments of $706.17 beginning in September 2006, with a final payment of $23,106.30 due in September 2011. The total purchase price, with interest, was $65,476.50. The Vehicle operated with a Virginia license plate.

Mercedes Benz of Alexandria assigned the purchase agreement to DaimlerChrysler Financial Services Americas LLC ("DCFSA"), giving DCFSA a first security interest in the Vehicle. DCFSA's security interest was properly perfected and was reflected on the Vehicle's Certificate of Title. Plaintiff DCFS is the successor in interest to DCFSA and thus became the secured creditor to the Vehicle. Eventually, Mr. Yelverton defaulted on the purchase agreement by failing to make timely payments. DCFS notified Mr. Yelverton of his default and demanded payment in full, in the amount of $42,606.70, on September 16, 2008. Mr. Yelverton never cured the default.

On December 22, 2008, the DPW towed and impounded the Vehicle. On January 12, 2009, the DPW published an impoundment notice in The Washington Times, notifying the public of the DPW's intent to sell the Vehicle at auction. On February 4, 2009, the DPW sent an impoundment notice, by first class mail, to Mr. Yelverton at his last known address. Mr. Yelverton did not respond to the notice. The Vehicle was advertised for online auction between March 12 and March 19, 2009, and was sold on March 17, 2009, for $18,900. As of that date, it remained unclaimed. The DPW sold the Vehicle free and clear of DCFS's security interest.

The District of Columbia provided neither DCFSA nor DCFS with prior mailed notice that the Vehicle was impounded and might be auctioned. In July 2009, DCFS learned that the Vehicle had been auctioned by DPW after conducting an internet search using the Vehicle's vehicle identification number. An employee of DPW then informed DCFS that it had not received notice because the Vehicle was not registered in the District. Pl.'s Cross-Mot. for Summ. J. & Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. [Dkts. ## 31, 32] ("Pl.'s Opp'n"), Ex. I (Aff. of Ernie Bucks) ¶ 8. At the time the Vehicle was sold, Mr. Yelverton owed DCFS more than $42,000. DCFS demanded that the District reimburse it for the full amount, but the District rejected the demand. This lawsuit followed.

DCFS alleges that the District denied it prior notice and a meaningful opportunity to be heard on the impoundment and sale of the Vehicle in violation of its right to procedural due process under the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution (Count I) and also alleges a violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count II). See Am. Compl. [Dkt. # 27] Counts I--II. The Court ordered discovery solely on Count I, the Fifth Amendment claim, as the § 1983 claim would rise or fall with the first count. DCFS filed an Amended Complaint on November 19, 2010, omitting claims against Mr. Yelverton after he was voluntarily dismissed. See Am. Compl.; Notice of Voluntary Dismissal [Dkt. # 8]. The District filed an amended motion to dismiss, or in the alternative, for summary judgment and DCFS cross-moved for summary judgment. The cross motions are ripe.


A motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) challenges the adequacy of a complaint on its face, testing whether a plaintiff has properly stated a claim. FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) requires that a complaint contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Id. 8(a)(1). A complaint must be sufficient "to give a 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 citations omitted). Although a complaint does not need detailed factual allegations, the facts alleged "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id. In deciding a motion under Rule 12(b)(6), a court must treat the complaint's factual allegations as true, "even if doubtful in fact." Id.

Summary judgment should be granted only if the moving party has shown that there are no genuine issues of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Waterhouse v. Dist. of Columbia, 298 F.3d 989, 991 (D.C. Cir. 2002). In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the court must view all facts and draw all justifiable inferences in the nonmoving party's favor and accept the nonmoving party's evidence as true. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). A nonmoving party, however, must establish more than "the mere existence of a scintilla of evidence" in support of its position. Id. at 252. In addition, the nonmoving party may not rely solely on allegations or conclusory statements. Greene v. Dalton, 164 F.3d 671, 675 (D.C. Cir. 1999). Rather, the nonmoving party must present specific facts that would enable a reasonable jury to find in its favor. Id. at 675. If the evidence "is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249--50 (citations omitted).


A. Admissibility of Certain Evidence

The District of Columbia seeks to have the Court consider an affidavit by Cynthia Jones, a Certified Public Manager for DPW's ...

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