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Reiver v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

February 22, 2013

Robert E. REIVER, Plaintiff,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al., Defendants.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Roger C. Simmons, Matthew S. Johnston, Gordon & Simmons, LLC, Frederick, MD, for Plaintiff.

Kerslyn D. Featherstone, Michael J. Lanzdorf, Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia, Washington, DC, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

AMY BERMAN JACKSON, District Judge.

In September 2010, plaintiff Robert E. Reiver brought an action against the District of Columbia, the Metropolitan Police Department, Officer Lauren Griffin, Officer Ricardo Edwards, and Lieutenant John Hedgecock, asserting claims arising out of his arrest for driving under the influence and operating while impaired. The counts that remain are the claims against the individual police officers for unlawful arrest and unlawful imprisonment under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and the officers have moved for summary judgment. Since the Court finds that the police conduct was objectively reasonable and did not violate plaintiff's clearly established rights, the officers are protected by the doctrine of qualified immunity, and the motion will be granted.

The undisputed facts demonstrate that the officers had probable cause to charge plaintiff with DUI/OWI when they stopped him on Massachusetts Avenue. Plaintiff ultimately passed the breathalyzer test administered at the station, and the Court recognizes that he may justly feel indignant and frustrated about the fact that he was charged anyway. But the question before the Court is not whether it would have been an appropriate course— or even the better course— to conclude the matter there and release the plaintiff. The issue to be decided is whether it was objectively unreasonable for the officers to believe it was lawful to proceed, and the Court finds that it was not.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff's claims arise out of an October 15, 2009 traffic stop and arrest in the District of Columbia. Pl.'s Statement of Material Facts, Ex. 15 to Pl.'s Opp. to Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. [Dkt. # 46-15] (" Pl.'s SMF" ) ¶¶ 1, 22. The arrest took place on a rainy night at 11:30 p.m. Pl.'s Answers to Interrogs., Ex. 1 to Pl.'s Opp. to Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. (" Pl.'s Opp." ) [Dkt. # 46-1] at 2. Plaintiff was at the wheel of his wife's Mercedes, proceeding outbound on Massachusetts Avenue with his headlights off, and defendant Griffin attempted to conduct a traffic stop. Pl.'s SMF ¶¶ 5-6; Pl.'s Answers to Interrogs. at 2. But plaintiff continued to pilot the car for six more blocks with the officer's police cruiser behind him— its lights and sirens activated— before he pulled the car to the side of the road. Pl.'s SMF ¶ 6. When Officer Griffin approached plaintiff's car, she asked him whether he was aware that his headlights were off, and whether he had had anything to drink. Pl.'s Answers to Interrogs. at 2. Plaintiff replied that he was not aware that his headlights were off, and that he had consumed part of a beer earlier that evening. Id. According to Officer Edwards, plaintiff also mentioned that he had taken pain medication for a back condition. Def. Ricardo Edwards Dep., Ex. 6 to Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. [Dkt. # 45-6] (" Edwards Dep." ) at 27:9-11. In response to Officer Griffin's request for plaintiff's registration and proof of insurance, plaintiff initially presented an expired insurance card, but he eventually provided the correct card. Pl.'s Answers to Interrogs. at 2.

Following this exchange, Officer Griffin administered two field sobriety tests: a

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horizontal gaze nystagmus test, and a " walk and turn" test. [1] Pl.'s Answers to Interrogs. at 2; Def. Lauren Griffin Answers to Interrogs., Ex. 2 to Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. [Dkt. # 45-2] (" Griffin's Answers to Interrogs." ) at 5. During the nystagmus test, Officer Griffin observed a " lack of smooth pursuit" as plaintiff's eyes moved from side to side. Griffin's Answers to Interrogs. at 8. Plaintiff does not dispute this observation, but he contends that the fact that he was positioned so that he was facing traffic lights at a nearby busy intersection may have impacted his performance.[2] Pl.'s Opp. at 10; Pl.'s SMF ¶ 15.

For the walk and turn test, Officer Griffin instructed plaintiff to walk in a straight line nine paces forward heel to toe and then nine paces backward heel to toe. Reiver Aff., Ex. 6 to Pl.'s Opp. [Dkt. # 46-6] ¶ 8. Plaintiff failed to follow the instructions by: (1) stepping out of the straight line after his fifth step; and (2) continuing to walk forward for an extra six paces after the completion of nine paces. Pl.'s Answers to Interrogs. at 2-3. Plaintiff maintains that the weather conditions affected his ability to complete the heel to toe walking. Pl.'s Answers to Interrogs. at 2-3. At that point, Officer Griffin ended the field sobriety test and arrested plaintiff for Driving Under the Influence (" DUI" ) and/or Operating While Impaired (" OWI" ). Griffin's Answers to Pl.'s Interrogs. at 8-9; Defs.' Statement of Material Facts, Ex. 8 to Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. [Dkt. # 45-8] (" Defs.' SMF" ) ¶ 24; Pl.'s SMF ¶ 22.

Officer Edwards— a new officer, seeking experience— processed the arrest. Edwards Dep., Ex. 6 to Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. [Dkt. # 45-6] at 30:15-19. Edwards arrived with plaintiff at the Second District police station at approximately midnight. Pl.'s Answers to Interrogs. at 3. By 1:00 a.m., Officer Carter, who is not a defendant in this action, administered a breathalyzer test. Id. It returned a blood alcohol level of .00. Id. Officer Carter next requested a urine sample for testing, which plaintiff voluntarily provided. Id.

In light of the .00 result, plaintiff requested that Lieutenant Hedgecock, the Watch Commander on duty, immediately release him and make an entry in the detention journal instead of continuing to process the arrest.[3] Pl.'s Answers to Interrogs.

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at 4-5. Lieutenant Hedgecock, however, informed plaintiff that sufficient probable cause existed to continue the arrest, and he refused to utilize the detention journal or release plaintiff from custody. Id. Plaintiff was instead transferred to the Central District for processing. Pl.'s Answers to Interrogs. at 5-7. He was later returned to the Second District and was released from custody at 9:00 a.m. Id. at 6-7.

Plaintiff was named as a defendant in a case brought by the District of Columbia in D.C. Superior Court. Pl.'s Answers to Interrogs. at 8-9. He was charged with DUI and OWI. Id. Both charges were disposed of by a nolle prosequi on March 1, 2010. Id.

Plaintiff filed the complaint in this case on September 9, 2010. For the reasons stated on the record at the June 16, 2011 hearing, and in the Order dated June 17, 2011, [Dkt. # 19], the Court dismissed all counts against the Metropolitan Police Department with prejudice, and dismissed the District of Columbia from Counts I and II without prejudice. On August 4, 2011, the Court granted defendant District of Columbia's motion to dismiss it from Count III, and also dismissed the remainder of Count III sua sponte. [Dkt. # 27]. Plaintiff moved to amend the complaint on ...


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