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Garay v. Liriano

United States District Court, District Circuit

May 3, 2013

BRENDA K. GARAY, et al., Plaintiffs,


JAMES E. BOASBERG, District Judge.

On April 14, 2010, Officers Anderson Liriano and Rafael Sarita of the Metropolitan Police Department entered Plaintiff Brenda Garay's apartment in Northwest Washington without a warrant, seeking to arrest Garay and her teenage daughter for an assault that had recently taken place nearby. This entry was accomplished with the assistance of the building's property manager, Tisa Wilson, who unlocked the apartment door for the officers. Once inside the unit, the officers handcuffed Garay and her daughter Jennifer, whom they then escorted outside of the building. After being informed by an eyewitness to the assault that they had arrested the wrong daughter, the officers removed Jennifer's handcuffs and placed them on Garay's other daughter, Jessica Pineda.

Garay - for herself and on behalf of her daughters - has filed this suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the officers violated their Fourth Amendment rights by, inter alia, the unlawful entry, improper arrests, and use of excessive force. They further allege a number of common-law violations against the officers, including false arrest and imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, trespass, and invasion of privacy. Plaintiffs also contend that the District of Columbia itself is liable for the officers' conduct under the theories of both respondeat superior and municipal liability pursuant to Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of the City of New York , 436 U.S. 658 (1978). Finally, Plaintiffs assert a number of causes of action against the building's property manager, Tisa Wilson, and its owner, Van Metre Columbia Uptown Apartments, LLC. In an earlier decision, this Court dismissed several of the claims against these last two Defendants, leaving only two counts against them: invasion of privacy and trespass. See Garay v. Liriano , 839 F.Supp.2d 138 (D.D.C. 2012) (Garay I).

All Defendants now move for summary judgment, and Plaintiffs cross-move for partial summary judgment, limited to several aspects of their § 1983 claim against the officers. Finding the police entry unlawful as a matter of law, the Court will grant Plaintiffs' Motion as to this segment of their § 1983 claim. For that same reason, the Court will also grant Plaintiffs' Motion on the component of their § 1983 claim that concerns the warrantless arrests of Brenda and Jennifer Garay in their home, but grant the officers' Motion on the arrest of Jessica Pineda on the street. Because the common-law false-arrest and false-imprisonment claims rise or fall on the legality of these arrests, the Court will grant Defendants' Motion with respect to the lawful arrest of Jessica Pineda, but deny it as to the unlawful arrests of the two Garays. Additionally, the Court will grant Defendants' Motion regarding the excessive-force piece of Plaintiffs' § 1983 claim and their freestanding intentional-infliction-of-emotional-distress count. The last causes of action against the officers - Plaintiffs' claims for trespass and invasion of privacy - survive. Plaintiffs, meanwhile, concede that the District should be dismissed on all counts as a Defendant, meaning the suit proceeds just against the officers. Finally, because the Court finds that Wilson and Van Metre are entitled to summary judgment on the only remaining claims against them, the Court will grant their Motion.

I. Background

Unless otherwise noted, the facts set forth herein are undisputed and are drawn from the parties' Statements of Undisputed Material Facts submitted pursuant to Local Civil Rule 7(h).

On April 14, 2010, Officers Sarita, Liriano, and Madeline Collado responded to an assault that had occurred around 4:00 p.m. in the 3100 block of 14th St., Northwest. See District Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Material Facts (Dist. Defs.' SUMF), § 1. Arriving on the scene, the officers encountered Jasmine Sosa, a teenage girl who had been involved in the altercation. See id., §§ 2-4. Sosa was bleeding from the face, and Officer Collado called for an ambulance to treat her injuries. See id., §§ 3-6, 8. While the officers had no reason to conclude that a gun or knife had been used in the assault, Officer Sarita believed that some type of object may have been employed. See id., § 4.

Plaintiff Jessica Pineda acknowledges that she was involved in the fight and that she hit Sosa in the face with a closed fist; however, she disputes the extent of Sosa's injury and the seriousness of the altercation. See Plaintiffs' Response to Dist. Defs.' Summary of Undisputed Material Facts (Pls.' Resp. to Dist. Defs.' SUMF), §§ 4, 8, 9. Plaintiffs contend that Sosa instigated the fracas after she had followed sisters Jennifer Garay and Jessica Pineda down the street trying to provoke them. See Dist. Defs.' SUMF, § 10. The girls did not want to engage Sosa and went to a nearby store to borrow a phone to call their mother, Brenda Garay. See id., § 11. After their mother told them that she would come to meet them, the two left the store and again encountered Sosa on the street. See id., §§ 11-12. Sosa hit Jessica, and the two continued to tussle until Garay arrived and removed her daughter from the confrontation. See id., §§ 12-13. Garay and her two daughters then left the scene and returned home. See id., § 13.

When the officers arrived after the altercation, Sosa's teenage friend Rosa Rivas informed them that "she observed the assault, and that she witnessed a girl and the girl's mother punching Jasmine numerous times with closed fists to Jasmine's body and grabbing Jasmine by the hair. Ms. Rivas further stated that she knew Jasmine's attackers by name, and could take the officers to where they lived." Id., § 14 (internal citations omitted). Minutes later, Officers Sarita and Liriano followed Rivas to find the individuals who she claimed had been involved in the fight. See id., § 15. They arrived at Plaintiffs' apartment building, 1375 Fairmont St., NW, located several blocks from where the confrontation had occurred, and Rivas directed them to Apartment 301, where Plaintiffs lived. See id., §§ 16-17.

The officers knocked on the door to Plaintiffs' apartment, announced themselves as the police, and requested that Plaintiffs open the door. See id., § 18. Plaintiffs aver that the "officers threatened to break down the door if it was not opened." Id., § 19. Brenda Garay, however, did not want to open the door and believed that the officers could not enter without a warrant or a special paper. See id., § 20. Having failed to gain invited access to the apartment, the officers went downstairs and spoke to the building's property manager, Tisa Wilson. See id., § 21. According to Wilson, they told her that they needed to get into Apartment 301 because "a serious crime had been committed, that Brenda Garay was involved, and that they needed her to open the door to the apartment or they would break it down." See id., § 21 (internal citations omitted). Wilson told them that she normally would not open the door to an apartment in the building without a warrant, but the officers persisted in explaining the situation, leading Wilson to believe "that it involved a bad situation where someone was badly hurt." Id., § 22.

Wilson took the key to Plaintiffs' apartment and unlocked the door for the officers to enter. See id., §§ 23-24. Once in the apartment, the officers informed Plaintiffs that they were there with respect to the assault that had occurred on 14th Street. See id., § 25. They remained for several minutes before handcuffing Garay and Jennifer. See id. Garay contends that during her encounter with the officers, they

grabbed her on both her arms in the area between her elbow and shoulder. Exh. 6 (B. Garay Dep. at 48-49). Plaintiff Jessica Pineda said she observed the officers grab her mother roughly but only to handcuff her. Exh. 4 (J. Pineda Dep. at 125-126). Plaintiff Brenda Garay stated that she sustained bruises to her wrist, both arms, an elbow, and a scrape on her foot as a result of the force used by the officers during the arrest. Exh. 6 (B. Garay Dep. at 69-70).

Id., § 27. The officers then escorted Garay and Jennifer out of the building and onto the street. See id., § 28.

Rivas thereupon advised the officers that they had arrested the wrong sister, as it was Jessica - and not Jennifer - who had been involved in the fight. See id. The officers corrected this mistake by removing the handcuffs from Jennifer and placing them on Jessica. See id., § 29. Garay was taken to the Third District station for processing and was released about one hour later. See id., § 31. Jessica, meanwhile, was taken in for juvenile processing and released approximately two hours later. See id., § 32. Garay was charged with simple assault and was ultimately acquitted at a bench trial. See id., § 33. There is no evidence that any charges against Jessica were ever brought.

As a result of the events that transpired on April 14, 2010,

Jennifer Garay testified that the incident made her sad and mad and angry. She further testified that she cried twice about the incident, and she felt angry when she saw the officers after the incident. Jennifer Garay further stated that she had trouble sleeping and felt nervous, but that she always had trouble sleeping and she always gets nervous about things in general.

Id., § 34 (internal citations omitted). Additionally, her sister Jessica "testified that she was anxious and depressed after the incident"; however, she "did not talk to any doctors or counselors or anyone at school about the incident, and did not miss any school due to the incident." Id., § 35. Garay "described the incident as a nightmare' that she could not forget, and suffered mental injuries"; like her daughter, "she did not see a therapist or any other professional regarding any mental distress she felt." Id., § 36.

On April 13, 2011, all three Plaintiffs filed a Complaint in the Superior Court for the District of Columbia, asserting a number of causes of action relating to their arrests. See ECF No. 1 (Notice of Removal; Original Complaint). The case was removed to this Court in June 2011. See id. Following removal and the amendment of pleadings, Plaintiffs' Third Amended Complaint contained the following counts:

§ § 1983 claim for Fourth Amendment violations against the officers (Count I) for:
§ Unlawful entry;
§ Unlawful arrest;
§ Excessive force;
§ Searching Plaintiffs' home without probable cause; and
§ Preparing false and/or incomplete police reports.
§ § 1983 claim against the District under Monell for failure to train (Count I);
§ § 1983 claim against Wilson for the unreasonable search and seizure (Count I);
§ False Arrest and Imprisonment (Counts II & III) against the officers and the District;
§ Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (Count IV) against the officers, the District, Wilson, and Van Metre;
§ Malicious Prosecution (Count V) against the officers and the District;
§ Respondeat Superior Liability (Count VI) against the District and Van Metre;
§ Invasion of Privacy (Count VII) against the officers, the District, Wilson, and Van Metre; and
§ Trespass (Count VIII) against the officers, the District, Wilson, and Van Metre.

See id., §§ 29-46.

On October 28, 2011, Wilson and Van Metre moved to dismiss the entire case against them. See ECF No. 43. This motion was granted in part and denied in part on March 16, 2012. See Garay I , 839 F.Supp.2d at 144. Specifically, the Court dismissed the § 1983 claim against Wilson and the IIED claim against both Wilson and Van Metre, but allowed the invasion-of-privacy and trespass claims to proceed. See id. Following a period of discovery, the parties have now filed various motions for full or partial summary judgment.

II. Legal 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 also 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 party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by citing to particular parts of materials in the record." Fed R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(A). "A fact is material' if a dispute over it might affect the outcome of a suit under governing law; factual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary' do not affect the summary judgment determination." Holcomb , 433 F.3d at 895 (quoting 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." Id . The party seeking summary judgment "bears the heavy burden of establishing that the merits of his case are so clear that expedited action is justified." Taxpayers Watchdog, Inc., v. Stanley , 819 F.2d 294, 297 (D.C. Cir. 1987). "Until the movant has met its burden, the opponent of a summary judgment motion is under no obligation to present any evidence." Gray v. Greyhound Lines, East , 545 F.2d 169, 174 (D.C. Cir. 1976).

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." Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. at 255; see also Mastro v. Potomac Elec. Power Co. , 447 F.3d 843, 850 (D.C. Cir. 2006); Aka v. Wash. Hosp. Ctr., 156 F.3d 1284, 1288 (D.C. Cir. 1998) ( en banc ); Wash. Post Co. v. United States Dep't of Health and Human Servs. , 865 F.2d 320, 325 (D.C. Cir. 1989). 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). The nonmoving 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(e); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). The nonmovant is required to provide evidence that would permit a reasonable jury to find in its favor. Laningham v. United States Navy , 813 F.2d 1236, 1242 (D.C. Cir. 1987). If the nonmovant's evidence is "merely colorable" or "not significantly probative, " summary judgment may be granted. Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. at 249-50.

III. Analysis

The District Defendants - i.e., the District itself and Officers Liriano and Sarita - jointly move for summary judgment on almost all of the claims against them. Plaintiffs, meanwhile, cross-move for partial summary judgment against the officers on certain segments of their § 1983 claim. Since these two Motions have several issues in common, the Court will address them together. Thereafter it will consider the distinct issues raised by Van Metre and Wilson's Motion for Summary Judgment on the two counts remaining against them.

A. Cross-Motions of Plaintiffs and District Defendants

Before proceeding to the analysis, the Court will briefly dispense with a couple of undisputed preliminary issues. First, the District Defendants move for summary judgment on all but two sub-counts: Plaintiffs' § 1983 claim regarding the search of their home without probable cause (Count I(d)) and their § 1983 claim regarding the preparation of false and/or incomplete police reports, declarations, and affidavits (Count I(e)). Because these claims have not been challenged, they survive Defendants' Motion. Second, as Plaintiffs expressly concede a number of claims in their Opposition, the Court will dismiss these counts without further discussion. These include: the malicious-prosecution claim against all Defendants (Count V), the Monell claim against the District (in Count I), and all tort claims against the District (in Counts II, III, IV, VII & VIII). See Pls.' Am. Opp. to Dist. Mot. at 16. Because no causes of action now remain against the District, it is dismissed as a Defendant, and the Court will analyze these Cross-Motions only as they pertain to the officers in their individual capacities.

The Court will begin with Plaintiffs' § 1983 claim and then move on to separate analyses of each common-law claim.

1. § 1983

42 U.S.C. § 1983 provides for a cause of action against

[e]very person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws....

Id. A plaintiff asserting civil rights violations under Section 1983 must establish that the defendant acted under color of state law to cause a deprivation of a right secured by the United States Constitution or the laws of the United States. See West v. Atkins , 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). There is no question that the officers were acting under color of D.C. law at the time of the incident, so the dispute focuses on whether the officers violated Plaintiffs' Fourth Amendment rights through an improper entry, false arrest, or use of excessive force. The Court will consider the Cross-Motions on each of these three topics separately, incorporating where appropriate the officers' reliance on the doctrine of qualified immunity.

a. Entry

"[T]he physical entry of the home [] is the chief evil against which the [Fourth] Amendment is directed." Washington v. Chrisman , 455 U.S. 1, 13-14 (1982) (internal citations omitted). "It is a basic principle of Fourth Amendment law' that searches and seizures inside a home without a warrant are presumptively unreasonable." Payton v. New York , 445 U.S. 573, 586 (1980). As the Supreme Court noted in Payton, "[T]he Fourth Amendment has drawn a firm line at the entrance to the house. Absent exigent circumstances, that threshold may not reasonably be crossed ...

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