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James A. Ford, Jr v. Shawn Donovan

September 18, 2012


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


Pro se Plaintiff James Ford resides in the James Apartments in Northwest Washington, which is a public-housing complex owned and managed by the District of Columbia Housing Authority. He has brought this lawsuit alleging improprieties relating to the operations of the Resident Council, particularly the election process for Council President, a position that he sought and failed to obtain. Of the eight Defendants who were initially named, the Court has since dismissed three. Each of the five remaining Defendants is a DCHA official. Although his Complaint is difficult to follow in places, Plaintiff asserts causes of action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985, suing the remaining Defendants in both their individual and official capacities. Defendants initially attempted to assert absolute immunity, but the Court previously found that defense inapplicable. They have now filed a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings in which they instead claim qualified immunity, in addition to raising other defenses. Largely because they are entitled to such immunity, the Court will grant Defendants' Motion.


After filing his initial Complaint, see ECF No. 1, Plaintiff then filed what he terms "Additional Facts and Points and Authorities." See ECF No. 5. Instead of superseding his original Complaint, as a typical Amended Complaint does, this later pleading supplements it. Given his pro se status, the Court will treat the combined pleadings as one joint Complaint. According to this joint Complaint, which must be presumed true for purposes of this Motion, Plaintiff is a resident of the James Apartment Complex in the District. See Compl. at 3. In April 2011, he decided to run for President of the Resident Council of that complex. See id. After losing the election, he brought this suit.

In general terms, Plaintiff claims that a number of voting and financial irregularities in the election process violated his constitutional rights and Department of Housing and Urban Development regulations. See id. at 4-7. In his original Complaint, he alleged examples of voting fraud and the misuse of public funds by former Defendant, Council President Leonard Dixon, the ultimate winner of the election. Id. at 5-6. He also contended that former Defendant and third-party election monitor Scott Haapala failed to correctly monitor the election and improperly denied Plaintiff's appeal. Id. at 6. With his Amended Complaint, Plaintiff further develops his claims, alleging that Defendants violated HUD regulations by improperly supervising Council President elections and by permitting the Resident Council to operate while in noncompliance with requirements regarding bylaws and board structure. See Am. Compl. at 3-10.

II.Legal Standard

Defendants have moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. A Rule 12(c) motion is evaluated under the same standard as a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, see, e.g., Robinson-Reeder v. Am. Council on Educ., 532 F. Supp. 2d 6, 12 (D.D.C. 2008), which must rely solely on matters within the complaint. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(d). This includes statements adopted by reference as well as copies of written instruments joined as exhibits. Fed. R. Civ. P. 10(c). Where the Court must consider "matters outside the pleadings" to reach its conclusion, a motion to dismiss "must be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56." Fed R. Civ. P. 12(d); see also Yates v. Dist. of Columbia, 324 F.3d 724, 725 (D.C. Cir. 2003). The Court here need not look beyond the pleadings.

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of an action where a complaint fails to "state a claim on which relief can be granted." When the sufficiency of a complaint is challenged under Rule 12(b)(6), the factual allegations presented in it must be presumed true and should be liberally construed in the plaintiff's favor. Leatherman v. Tarrant Cnty. Narcotics Intelligence and Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 164 (1993). The notice-pleading rules are "not meant to impose a great burden on a plaintiff." Dura Pharm., Inc. v. Broudo, 544 U.S. 336, 347 (2005). Although "detailed factual allegations" are not necessary to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007), "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, [if] accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal quotation marks omitted). Plaintiff must put forth "factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. Though a plaintiff may survive a 12(b)(6) motion even if "recovery is very remote and unlikely," Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556 (citing Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)), the facts alleged in the complaint "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id.


As best the Court can discern, Plaintiff asserts claims under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985, alleging violations of the Eighth Amendment, the Fourteenth Amendment (procedural due process), and federal regulations. Although they provide very limited analysis, Defendants argue that Plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. They further assert, among other arguments, that they are entitled to qualified immunity for the individual-capacity claims. Because qualified immunity is a threshold issue, the Court must address it first. Following this discussion, the Court will consider Plaintiff's official-capacity claims.

A. Qualified Immunity "The doctrine of qualified immunity protects government officials 'from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.'" Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009) (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982)). As Defendants explain, since qualified immunity is "immunity from suit," the Supreme Court has repeatedly "stressed the importance of resolving immunity questions at the earliest possible stage in litigation." Pearson, 555 U.S. at 232 (citations and internal quotations omitted).

To show that a government official is not protected by qualified immunity, a plaintiff must establish (1) that the defendant's conduct violated the Constitution, and (2) that the constitutional right that was violated was sufficiently established such that a reasonable person would have known the conduct violated the Constitution. Id. at 231. Furthermore, to reject an official's claim of qualified immunity, "the unlawfulness" of his action must be apparent "in light of pre-existing law." Atherton v. Dist. of Columbia Office of Mayor, 567 F.3d 672, 689-90 (D.C. Cir. 2009) (quoting Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 640 (1987)) (internal quotation marks omitted). This two-step inquiry also applies to violations of statutory rights. See Davis v. Scherer, 468 U.S. 183, 194 n.12 (1984) ("officials may lose their immunity by violating 'clearly established statutory . . . rights.'") (quoting Harlow, 457 U.S. at 818). In such situations, the relevant statute must provide "the basis for the cause of action sued upon." Id.

The Court will thus consider whether Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity on each of Plaintiff's ...

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