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Anthony Muhammad v. District of Columbia et al

August 8, 2012

ANTHONY MUHAMMAD, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Paul L. Friedman United States District Judge

OPINION

In this civil rights action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the common law, the plaintiff, proceeding pro se, alleges that an officer of the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department ("MPD") yelled at him and "forcefully pushed" him during an encounter on June 23, 2007. Compl. ¶ 13. In addition to suing police officer Danellia Santos,*fn1 plaintiff has sued the District of Columbia, former Mayor Adrian Fenty in his official and individual capacity, Police Chief Cathy Lanier in her official and individual capacity, and "Unidentified Supervisory Metropolitan Police Officers." Compl. Caption. On November 4, 2008, the Court dismissed the complaint against Mayor Fenty and Chief Lanier. See Muhammad v. District of Columbia, 584 F. Supp. 2d 134 (D.D.C. 2008). The remaining named defendants, the District of Columbia and Officer Santos, now move for summary judgment under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Upon consideration of the parties' submissions and the entire record, the Court will grant defendants' motion in part and deny it in part. The court will grant judgment to defendants on all claims except plaintiff's common law claim of assault.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff alleges that "[o]n or about June 23, 2007, at approximately 4:50 p.m., [he] was present at the 'Georgia Avenue Day' festivities on Georgia Avenue, N.W., in Washington, D.C." Compl. ¶ 11. While he and an associate were "walking in the street, heading northbound on Georgia Avenue," id., Officer Santos, while riding her bike, "yelled to Plaintiff, 'Get on the sidewalk!'" Id. ¶ 13. She then "without provocation, justification or consent recklessly and violently pushed me with her hands causing me to fall back and twist my ankle." Affidavit of Anthony Muhammad ("Muhammad Aff.") [Doc. # 29] ¶ 6. The incident allegedly was "witnessed" by plaintiff's "associate and numerous other onlookers and patrons of the 'Georgia Avenue Day' events." Id. ¶ 7. In response to plaintiff's protest against being pushed, Santos allegedly stated: "'I'm the police, that's why." Id. ¶ 8. Plaintiff alleges that at the time of the encounter with Santos, "the sidewalks in the northbound direction on Georgia Avenue . . . were crowded[,] . . . thereby causing the street to serve as an alternate passage way . . . ." He adds that the street was closed to "automobile traffic." Id. ¶ 4.

Officer Santos' version of the encounter is as follows. She was "detailed to the Civil Disturbance Unit 24 to patrol the Georgia Avenue Festival ["hereafter the Festival"] [and] was assigned to a mountain bike and was in full uniform." Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J., Declaration of Danellia Santos ("Santos Decl.") [Doc. # 25-1] ¶¶ 3-4. When the festival was nearing its end, "my officials ordered me to respond back and line up with other officers along the street to conduct pedestrian traffic control by keeping pedestrians off the street, so Department of Public Works . . . sweeper/trash removal trucks can come through to clean the streets." Id. ¶ 5. "Plaintiff was walking on the street . . . . As he approached [] my right side, I waved him over to the sidewalk and told him to get out of the street and onto the sidewalk." Id. ¶¶ 7-8. According to Santos, plaintiff ignored her orders and "came within touching distance from me . . . ." Id. ¶ 10. When "[h]e continued to refuse my [verbal] order and told me the sidewalk was too crowded[,] I told him to get on the sidewalk a third time and stretched my arms to the side so that he could not walk around me. I then guided him to the sidewalk without physical contact." Id. ¶¶ 11-13. "Plaintiff then walked towards the sidewalk and continued walking northbound on the sidewalk on Georgia Avenue." Id. ¶ 14. Plaintiff returned "[f]ifteen to twenty minutes later . . . to take pictures of me with a cell phone and warned me that he was going to file a complaint against me." Santos states that she "did not respond, and [plaintiff] walked off." Id. ¶¶ 15-16.

Plaintiff captions his claims as follows: Count 1: Violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983; Count 2: Violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 Refusing or Neglecting to Prevent; Count 3: Assault; Count 4: Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress ("IIED"). Count 2 is against the District of Columbia; the remaining counts are against Santos. See generally Compl. at 4-6. Plaintiff seeks a total of $800,000 in monetary damages and equitable relief. Id. at 6-7.

II. SUMMARY JUDGMENT 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 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 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 v. Powell, 433 F.3d at 895 (quoting Anderson v. 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); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 248; Holcomb v. Powell, 433 F.3d at 895.

When a motion for summary judgment is under consideration, "the evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Anderson v. 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). The non-moving 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(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). The non-moving party is required to provide evidence that would permit a reasonable jury to find in his 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. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 249--50; see Scott v. Harris, 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)). To defeat a properly supported motion for summary judgment, then, the non-moving party must have more than "a scintilla of evidence to support his claims." Freedman v. MCI Telecommunications Corp., 255 F.3d 840, 845 (D.C. Cir. 2001).

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), which are jury functions. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 255. In sum, "[t]he inquiry performed [at this phase] is the threshold inquiry of determining whether there is the need for a trial -- whether, in other words, there are any genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party." Id. at 250.

III. PLAINTIFF'S FEDERAL CLAIM

To make out a claim against an individual under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant, while acting under color of state law, deprived him of "rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitutions and laws" of the United States. 42 U.S.C. § 1983. As a general rule, government officials are personally liable under Section 1983 for constitutional violations only if they are shown to have been directly involved in the wrongful acts. See Cameron v. Thornburgh, 983 F.2d 253, 258 (D.C. Cir. 1993); Meyer v. Reno, 911 F. Supp. 11, 15 (D.D.C. 1996) (citing cases). A municipality may be held liable under Section 1983 if it is shown that the wrongdoing resulted from an unconstitutional policy, practice or custom promulgated or sanctioned by the municipality. See Triplett v. District of Columbia, 108 F.3d 1450, 1453 (D.C. Cir. 1997); Muhammad v. District of Columbia, 584 F. Supp. 2d at 138-39 (citing cases).

Defendants argue that they are entitled to judgment on plaintiff's Section 1983 claim because (1) Officer Santos as sued in her personal capacity is protected by qualified immunity, and (2) the evidence does not support a claim of ...


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