UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
June 26, 2012
PRESTON JAMES, PLAINTIFF,
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA ET AL., DEFENDANTS.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rudolph Contreras United States District Judge
Re Document No.: 3
DENYING THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA'S PARTIAL MOTION TO DISMISS;DISMISSING SUA SPONTE THE PLAINTIFF'S CLAIMS AGAINST SERGEANT CROUCH
The plaintiff alleges that he was unconstitutionally and tortiously seized by several police officers, and he brings suit against the District of Columbia, Sergeant James Crouch of the District of Columbia's Metropolitan Police Department ("MPD"), and several unknown MPD officers. Now before the court is the District of Columbia's partial motion to dismiss. Because the plaintiff states a plausible claim for the common-law tort of negligent supervision against the District of Columbia, the court denies the District's motion. Because the complaint contains no factual allegations to support any plausible claims for individual liability against Sergeant Crouch, however, the court will dismiss those claims sua sponte.
II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
In July 2010, the plaintiff attended a business meeting in northeast Washington, D.C. Compl. ¶ 10. He claims that he was attacked, tackled, and handcuffed by several MPD officers as he left the building. Id. After a "significant" period of time, the police removed his handcuffs and allowed him to depart. Id. In July 2011, the plaintiff filed suit in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia against the District of Columbia, Sergeant Crouch, and several unknown police officers. The complaint seeks damages for assault and battery (Count I), false arrest (Count II), the violation of his constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count III), intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count IV), negligent infliction of emotional distress (Count V), and negligent supervision (Count VI). After the District of Columbia removed the action to this court, the District of Columbia filed a motion to dismiss Count VI for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6).
A. Legal Standard for a Motion to Dismiss Under Rule 12(b)(6)
All that the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require of a complaint is that it contain a "short and plain statement of the claim" in order to give the defendant fair notice of the claim and the grounds upon which it rests. FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a)(2), see Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007). A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) does not test a plaintiff's ultimate likelihood of success on the merits; rather, it tests whether a plaintiff has properly stated a claim. See Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974). A court considering such a motion presumes the factual allegations of the complaint to be true and construes them liberally in the plaintiff's favor. See, e.g., United States v. Philip Morris, Inc., 116 F. Supp. 2d 131, 135 (D.D.C. 2000). It is not necessary for the plaintiff to plead all elements of his prima facie case in the complaint. Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 511--14 (2002); Bryant v. Pepco, 730 F. Supp. 2d 25, 28--29 (D.D.C. 2010).
Nevertheless, "[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677 (2009) (internal quotation marks omitted). "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements," are therefore insufficient to withstand a motion to dismiss. Id. A court need not accept a plaintiff's legal conclusions as true, id., nor must the court presume the veracity of legal conclusions that are couched as factual allegations. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007).
B. The Court Denies the District's Motion to Dismiss Count VI of the Plaintiff's Complaint
In Count VI of the complaint, the plaintiff claims that the District of Columbia and Sergeant Crouch are liable for "negligent supervision." Compl. ¶¶ 28--31. Negligent supervision is a species of the common-law tort of negligence. See Fred A. Smith Mgmt. Co. v. Cerpe, 957 A.2d 907, 916 (D.C. 2008); Griffin v. Acacia Life Ins. Co., 925 A.2d 564, 575 (D.C. 2007). Unlike the doctrine of respondeat superior-a legal construct which allows a plaintiff to hold employers vicariously liable for acts committed by their employees-the tort of negligent supervision allows a plaintiff to hold employers directly liable for their failure to properly supervise their personnel. Id. To succeed on a claim of negligent supervision, the plaintiff must prove "that the employer breached a duty to the plaintiff to use reasonable care in the supervision or retention of an employee which proximately caused harm to plaintiff." Phelan v. City of Mount Rainier, 805 A.2d 930, 940 (D.C. 2002).
The District argues that the complaint is devoid of any factual allegations from which it could be inferred that District was negligent in its supervision of MPD officers. Although the complaint is somewhat light on factual allegations, the court notes that the plaintiff's burden at the pleading stage is "minimal." Hopkins v. Blue Cross & Blue Shield Assoc., 2010 WL 5300536, at *7 n.1 (D.D.C. Dec. 21, 2010). The plaintiff alleges that he was "attacked" by several police officers without justification, that he was tackled and handcuffed, and that he was not released until a "significant period of time" had elapsed. See Compl. ¶ 10. He also alleges that the police officers, while acting under color of law, had gone "rogue." See id. ¶ 11. He concludes that the District of Columbia was "responsible for the hiring, training, supervision, monitoring and disciplining of the officers involved," id. ¶ 12, thus alleging that the District of Columbia's lax supervision of its employees ostensibly caused the harms he suffered. The court concludes that these factual allegations meet Rule 8(a)(2)'s threshold requirement that the plaintiff put forth a "short and plain statement of the claim" such that the defendant is put on "fair notice" of the nature of the plaintiff's claim and the grounds upon which it rests. See Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Because the District puts forth no other arguments to suggest that the plaintiff's claim against the District is so implausible that dismissal is warranted, see Iqbal,556 U.S. at 677, the court will deny its partial motion to dismiss. Because the District has not moved to dismiss the other counts of the complaint,*fn1 those claims will proceed to discovery. Accordingly, although the plaintiff's factual allegations are somewhat thin, allowing the plaintiff's negligent supervision claim to proceed to discovery as well will not unduly burden the District. The District is free to file a new dispositive motion subsequent to discovery.
C. The Court Will Dismiss the Plaintiff's Individual-Capacity Claims Against Sergeant Crouch Sua Sponte
Construing the complaint generously, it appears that the plaintiff
brings all of his claims against Sergeant Crouch in both his
individual and official capacity. See Compl. at 1. But not a single
factual allegation indicates that Sergeant Crouch was in any way
involved in the harms that allegedly befell the plaintiff. In fact,
the complaint barely makes any reference to Sergeant Crouch at all. No
mention of Sergeant Crouch is made until the plaintiff recites the
legal elements of Count VI: "At all times relevant herein, the
officers were acting under the direction and control of Sergeant
Crouch and the District of Columbia and pursuant to the rules,
regulations, policies and procedures, of defendant District of
Columbia." Compl. ¶ 29; see also id. ¶ 30 ("Defendants Sgt. Crouch and
District of Columbia acted negligently, carelessly and recklessly by
failing by failing [sic] to properly train, supervise, control, direct
and monitor the defendant officers."). These conclusory statements are
totally divorced, however, from the factual allegations at the heart
of the complaint. What's more, because these allegations are merely
"[t]hreadbare recitals" of the plaintiff's cause of action, they need
not be taken at face value. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Because nothing in
the complaint suggests that Sergeant Crouch was involved in the acts
underlying the plaintiff's claims, the court concludes that the
plaintiff has not stated a plausible claim for relief.*fn2
See Jones v. Horne, 634 F.3d 588, 602 (D.C. Cir. 2011)
(affirming the district court's dismissal of the plaintiff's
individual-capacity suit against a government official because the
plaintiff did not allege that the official had any personal
involvement in the allegedly illegal conduct); Brown v. Fogle, 819 F.
Supp. 2d 23, 28 (D.D.C. 2011) (dismissing the plaintiff's
individual-capacity suits against public officials under Iqbal because
the plaintiff did not allege that those officials were personally
involved in any wrongdoing). Where, as here, it appears beyond doubt
that the facts alleged in the complaint would not entitle the
plaintiff to relief, the court may dismiss those claims sua sponte.
Baker v. Dir., U.S. Parole Comm'n, 916 F.2d 725, 726 (D.C. Cir. 1990);
Jaeger v. United States, 2006 WL 1518938, at *1 (D.D.C. 2006)
(concluding that when "the failure to state a claim is patent, it
is practical and fully consistent with plaintiffs' rights and the
efficient use of judicial resources for the Court to dismiss the
action sua sponte") (quotation marks and citation omitted).
Accordingly, the court concludes that all claims brought against
Sergeant Crouch in his individual capacity must be dismissed.
For the foregoing reasons, the court denies the District of Columbia's motion to dismiss Count VI against the District and dismisses all of the plaintiff's individual-capacity claims against Sergeant Crouch sua sponte. An order consistent with this memorandum opinion is separately issued this 26th day of June, 2012.