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Garabis v. Unknown Officers of Metropolitan Police

United States District Court, District Circuit

August 8, 2013

ELENA M. GARABIS, Plaintiff,
v.
UNKNOWN OFFICERS OF THE METROPOLITAN POLICE, DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

AMY BERMAN JACKSON, District Judge.

On December 12, 2010, plaintiff Elena M. Garabis filed her initial complaint against unknown officers of the Metropolitan Police Department ("MPD") and against the District of Columbia. She brought one claim of assault and battery and two claims under 42 U.S.C. §1983, claiming excessive force and unreasonable seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment. On June 20, 2011, the District moved to dismiss the excessive force and unreasonable seizure claims against it under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The Court dismissed those claims without prejudice. Plaintiff then filed an amended complaint, which reasserted a section 1983 claim against the District and included claims of assault and battery, excessive force, and unreasonable seizure against both the District and the unknown officers. Now that discovery is complete, the District has filed a motion for summary judgment on all counts under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 on the grounds that plaintiff has not demonstrated that she was in fact injured by the police, and that she has failed to establish the necessary link between her alleged injuries and any official policy or practice of the District. The District also seeks summary judgment on the claims against the unnamed officers since plaintiff has failed to substitute specific individuals for those defendants. The motion for summary judgment will be granted.

The Court does not doubt that something bad happened to plaintiff on December 18, 2009. Plaintiff has asserted that someone slipped a drug into her drink at a party that night, and that she subsequently experienced symptoms consistent with ingestion of a "date rape" drug. Plaintiff was also arrested that evening, after the police were summoned to the scene by civilians concerned about her apparent intoxication and her erratic and unsafe behavior. In this case, plaintiff attributes a series of ongoing medical problems not only to the drug, but to unspecified injuries that she claims she sustained while in police custody, when she believes that among other things, she was "manhandled" and struck by a taser.

But since plaintiff cannot remember or describe what happened to her, and she has come forward with insufficient evidence to support her claims, this action must fail. With respect to the state law claims, plaintiff cannot establish that she was harmed by any action taken by any member of the Metropolitan Police department or that any officer possessed, much less used, a taser weapon that night. Furthermore, there was no medical evidence presented that connected any of plaintiff's current physical ailments to anything that happened to her while she was in custody or to the possible receipt of a taser charge. And the record is devoid of the evidence needed to hold a municipality liable for a constitutional violation. In sum, at the summary judgment stage, the onus is placed upon the party with the burden of proof to place some meat upon the bones of her claims, and this plaintiff has failed to do.

BACKGROUND

On December 18, 2009, plaintiff attended a holiday reception at a restaurant with several of her co-workers, where she consumed "a few drinks." Am. Compl. ¶¶ 15-16. According to plaintiff, she left the restaurant at approximately 5:00 p.m. in a sober state. Id. ¶ 17. But she alleges that someone caused her to ingest a "date rape" drug while she was at the event, and that she began to lose motor skills and experience memory loss within minutes of leaving the party. Id. ¶¶ 18-19.

The police became involved because shortly after 5:00 p.m., several concerned citizens approached Metropolitan Police Officer John Muniz in his marked cruiser. Arrest Report, Ex. A to Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. [Dkt. # 35-1] at 2. They advised him that plaintiff was running in the street, and that they had to restrain her to prevent her from running into traffic and harming herself. Id.; see also John Muniz Dep., Ex. 4 to Pl.'s Opp. [Dkt. # 36-4] at 8:19-8:22. The citizens explained that plaintiff was "thrashing about, " and they were concerned that she might fall and injure herself on the cement. Muniz Dep. at 9:4-9:6. When Officer Muniz arrived on the scene, he observed that plaintiff was staggering and unable to maintain her balance. Arrest Report at 2. He asked plaintiff for her name and address so that he could try to get her home. Muniz Dep. at 11:4-11:6. Plaintiff refused to answer the questions and refused all other offers of assistance, including medical assistance. Muniz Dep. at 11:14-11:18. Officer Muniz also noticed that plaintiff had alcohol on her breath, bloodshot eyes, and dilated pupils. Arrest Report at 2. Since plaintiff appeared to be intoxicated, uncooperative, and incapable of getting home on her own, Officer Muniz arrested her for disorderly conduct/public intoxication and transported her to the Second District at approximately 6:00 p.m. Arrest Report at 2; Am. Compl. ¶¶ 19, 21. Officer Muniz believes that plaintiff was ultimately detained in the Fourth District, but he does not remember why she was not detained in the Second District. Muniz Dep. at 13:14-14:2.

Officer Muniz described plaintiff as "nonviolent, " and he testified that during the arrest, "there was no force used on [plaintiff]." Am. Compl. ¶ 20; Muniz Dep. at 15:19-15:22. He also stated that he did not recall seeing any injuries, wounds, or marks on the parts of plaintiff's body that were exposed to view. Muniz Dep. at 10:12-10:20, 13:8-13:10, 15:14-15:22; see also Ex. 5 to Pl.'s Opp. [Dkt. # 36-5] at 22:6-23:14, 26:18-27:1, 27:13-29:9. At approximately 7:00 p.m., plaintiff was transferred to a hospital for treatment for a laceration on her nose, and she was discharged to police custody roughly an hour later. Am. Compl. ¶ 21. The cause of the laceration was not reported. Id.

Plaintiff cannot recall what happened between her departure from the reception and when she regained consciousness in a jail cell at approximately midnight, feeling excruciating and severe pain throughout her body. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 11, 22. She alleges that the "sudden onset of pain after memory loss is consistent with types of date rape' drugs, which can numb and inhibit the body's pain receptors... while the victim is unconscious." Id. ¶ 22. According to the complaint, an officer noticed that plaintiff's motor skills were impaired when she tried to use a phone after she regained consciousness. Id. ¶ 23. He saw that her hands were swollen and had "turned a deep red color" and determined that she required additional medical treatment. Id. ¶ 23. While plaintiff has no memory of her first visit to the hospital, she alleges in her complaint that the medical staff recognized her on her return and noted that her hands had not been injured when she was first admitted. Id. ¶¶ 24-25.

Plaintiff maintains that once she was returned to her jail cell, she "experienced vivid but incomplete flashbacks" from the prior evening, including "her hand being slammed by a police vehicle's door, lying on the ground topless and surrounded by police officers, and being aggressively manhandled." Id. ¶ 26. She was released from custody the next morning, and reports that: her "hands and fingers were now grossly swollen"; "her arms showed deep bruises consistent with the manhandling she recalled experiencing"; "her upper extremities were unresponsive and immobile"; "her chest, elbows, knees, hands, and shoulders were lacerated, swollen, and bludgeoned"; "her nose and eyes were engorged and bruised"; "her throbbing head showed multiple contusions, which shot out excruciating pain when she moved or lied down"; "her ankles were sprained and swollen"; and "bruises on her legs extended down to her feet, which throbbed with soreness...." Am. Compl. ¶¶ 28-30. Plaintiff examined her chest because she was "experiencing intense chest and stomach pains that inhibited her breathing, " and she discovered marks on her chest and upper right arm that she alleged, upon information and belief, were caused by recent taser shots and consistent with the taser devices used by the police department. Id. ¶ 31. Plaintiff sought medical treatment for her "ubiquitous pain and suffering, " and she alleges that her doctor noted the injuries "appeared to have been sustained by a beating, rather than from a less nefarious cause, like a bad fall." Id. ¶ 33.

Because of these alleged injuries, plaintiff states that as of December 20, 2011 she continues to experience intense pain and difficulty accomplishing daily tasks. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 34-35. She notes that she suffered "three months of continuous sharp shooting pains throughout her body." Id. ¶ 34. She alleged at the time of the filing of the complaint that she was still undergoing rehabilitative surgeries, procedures, and intensive drug therapy for problems ranging from an inability to sleep to "multiple disc herniations in her cervical spine" and "nerve damage in both her arms that extends all the way to her hands and fingers." Id. She reported that she had been diagnosed with severe tendonitis, bursitis, and temporomandibular joint disorder, among other problems. Id. "She regularly sees specialists for drug therapies, including trigger point injections in her head, neck, arms, and shoulders[, ]" and "[s]he receives spinal nerve block epidurals for rehabilitation and to transition her into a life without constant pain medication." Id.

Plaintiff filed this lawsuit on December 17, 2010, alleging three claims against Unknown Officers of the Metropolitan Police and the District: assault and battery (Count I); excessive force (Count II); and unreasonable seizure (Count III). Compl. ¶¶ 36-41. Counts II and III against the District were dismissed due to plaintiff's failure to state a claim sufficient to hold the District liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on the theory of municipal liability. Mem. Op. [Dkt. # 19] at 6. Plaintiff then filed an amended complaint alleging four claims: (1) a section 1983 municipal liability claim against the District for alleged violations of plaintiff's Fourth Amendment rights; (2) an assault and battery claim against all defendants; (3) an excessive force claim against all defendants; and (4) an unreasonable seizure claim against all defendants.[1] Am. Compl. ¶¶ 36-50. The District has moved for summary judgment on all counts against all defendants on the grounds that: (a) plaintiff has failed to show that her injuries were caused by police officers who were acting pursuant to a District custom or policy; and (b) plaintiff has not presented any affirmative evidence to show that she incurred her injuries while in police custody. Def. District of Columbia's Mot. for Summ. J. ("Def.'s Mot.") [Dkt. # 35] at 1.

Plaintiff filed an opposition to the motion for summary judgment, attaching as exhibits: the defendant's responses to plaintiff's interrogatories, Ex. 1 [Dkt. # 36-1]; MPD general order 901.07, Ex. 2 [Dkt. # 36-2]; plaintiff's expert witness report, Ex. 3 [Dkt. # 36-3]; and excerpts from the testimony of the arresting officer, John Muniz, Exs. 4, 5, and 6 [Dkt. #s 36-4, 36-5, and 36-6]. In its responses to plaintiff's interrogatories, the District identified five other officers as having knowledge of the facts alleged in the complaint, but if they were deposed, none of that testimony has been submitted to the Court by either side. See Ex. 1 to Pl.'s Opp. [Dkt. # 36-1] ¶ 2.

Throughout the litigation, the District has asserted that MPD officers are not issued, and do not use, tasers or other stun-gun devices. See e.g., Def. District of Columbia's Resp. and Objections to Pl.'s First Interrog. [Dkt 36-1], ¶¶ 12, 14. In its statement of undisputed facts, however, the District mentioned that the Department had two tasers in inventory that have not been approved for use. Def.'s Statement of Material Facts as to which there is no Genuine Issue ("Def.'s St. of Facts") [Dkt. # 35] ¶ 3. In light of this new information, the Court granted plaintiff an opportunity to depose a representative of the District concerning the circumstances surrounding those weapons. Minute Order (Apr. 23, 2013). The District proffered Officer Timothy Dumantt in response to the Rule 30(b)(6) notice, and plaintiff filed a supplemental opposition to the District's motion for summary judgment after taking this additional deposition. Pl.'s Supplemental Mem. in Opp. to Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. ("Pl.'s Supplemental Opp.") [Dkt. # 43]. The District has filed its reply. Reply to Pl.'s Supplemental Opp. ("Def.'s Reply") [Dkt. # 44]. The District's fully briefed motion for summary judgment is now before the Court for decision.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is appropriate "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). The party seeking summary judgment bears the "initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (internal quotation marks omitted). To defeat summary judgment, the non-moving party must "designate specific facts showing there is a genuine issue for trial." Id. at 324 (internal quotation marks omitted). The existence of a factual dispute is insufficient to preclude summary judgment. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). A dispute is "genuine" only if a reasonable fact-finder could find for the non-moving party; a fact is only "material" if it is capable of affecting the outcome of the litigation. Id. at 248; Laningham v. U.S. Navy, 813 F.2d 1236, 1241 (D.C. Cir. 1987). In assessing a party's motion, "[a]ll underlying facts and inferences are analyzed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party." N.S. ex rel. Stein v. District of Columbia, 709 F.Supp.2d 57, 65 (D.D.C. 2010), citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247.

ANALYSIS

I. Count I: Municipal Liability Claim ...


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