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Fouch v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District Circuit

January 8, 2014

GREGORY FOUCH, Plaintiff,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Emmet G. Sullivan United States District Judge

Pending before the Court are defendants’ Motion to Partially Dismiss the Amended Complaint and Motion to Remand. The Defendants argue, inter alia, that plaintiff’s two federal law claims should be dismissed, and that any remaining claims should be remanded to the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. Upon consideration of the motions, the responses and replies thereto, the relevant case law, and the entire record, the Motion to Partially Dismiss is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED WITHOUT PREJUDICE in part. Specifically, the Court will grant the motion insofar as it requests dismissal of plaintiff’s two federal law claims (Counts II and VI of the Amended Complaint). The Motion to Remand is GRANTED, and the Court will REMAND the remaining claims to the Superior Court.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Gregory Fouch is a resident of Maryland. Am. Compl., [Dkt. #17], ¶ 3. In December 2011, Mr. Fouch was charged with one misdemeanor count of threats in the District of Columbia. Id. ¶ 7. On January 5, 2012, plaintiff went to the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department (“MPD”)’s Central Booking Division to voluntarily turn himself in to be processed. Id. ¶ 10. At the station, Mr. Fouch was advised that he would be taken to an alternative location for processing. Id. ¶ 11. Defendant Albert Scott, an MPD officer, handcuffed plaintiff behind his back and placed him in a police carrier van, which did not contain seatbelts or restraints. Id. ¶¶ 11-12. When defendant Scott began driving the van, another police vehicle, driven by Officer Robert Sharpe, backed out of a parking space directly in front of the van driven by defendant Scott. Id. ¶¶ 18-19. Defendant Scott stopped the van abruptly to avoid the other vehicle and Mr. Fouch was thrown off the seat of the van. Id. ¶¶ 20-21. Defendant Scott exited the van, picked up Mr. Fouch, and sat him back on the seat. Id. ¶ 22. At that time, defendant Scott noticed blood coming from plaintiff’s ear. Id. Plaintiff was then taken to Howard University Hospital. Id. ¶ 23. Mr. Fouch suffered severe injuries from the incident, including fractured cervical discs, a spinal cord injury, and partial paralysis. Id. ¶ 25.

Plaintiff initially brought this action in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia on June 21, 2012, alleging various claims arising under state and federal law against the District of Columbia, Officer Scott, and Officer Sharpe. Compl., [Dkt. #1-1]. On August 3, 2012, the District removed this matter to federal court on the basis of federal question jurisdiction. Notice of Removal of Action, [Dkt. #1]. Defendants subsequently moved to partially dismiss plaintiff’s complaint, Defs.’ Mot. to Dismiss I, [Dkt. #8], and on June 19, 2013, a motions hearing was held before this Court.

On July 3, 2013, plaintiff filed a first amended complaint, in which he dismissed Officer Sharpe as a defendant in this matter. Am. Compl., [Dkt. #17]. Pending before the Court is defendants’ motion for partial dismissal of plaintiff’s amended complaint, including plaintiff’s federal law claims, for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Defs.’ Mot. to Dismiss II, [Dkt. #18]. The defendants have also filed a Motion to Remand, arguing that in the event plaintiff’s federal law claims are dismissed, the case be remanded to the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. See Defs.’ Supplemental Mot. to Remand, [Dkt. #14]; Pl.’s Resp. to Defs.’ Supplemental Mot. to Remand, [Dkt. #16]. The motions are ripe for review.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

A motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint. Browning v. Clinton, 292 F.3d 235, 242 (D.C. Cir. 2002). A complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, in order to give the defendant fair notice of what the ... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). While detailed factual allegations are not necessary, plaintiff must plead enough facts “to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Id.

When ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court may consider “the facts alleged in the complaint, documents attached as exhibits or incorporated by reference in the complaint, and matters about which the Court may take judicial notice.” Gustave-Schmidt v. Chao, 226 F.Supp.2d 191, 196 (D.D.C. 2002). The Court must construe the complaint liberally in plaintiff’s favor and grant plaintiff the benefit of all reasonable inferences deriving from the complaint. Kowal v. MCI Commc’ns Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1994). However, the Court must not accept plaintiff’s inferences that are “unsupported by the facts set out in the complaint.” Id. “[O]nly a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009).

III. DISCUSSION

A. Count II: Substantive Due Process Violation Claim

In Count II, plaintiff alleges that the District and Officer Scott violated his constitutional rights under the Fifth Amendment[1] “to be free from custody and confinement which create an unreasonable danger to his health and safety.” Am. Compl., [Dkt. #17], ¶ 37. Plaintiff alleges that by handcuffing him behind his back and then transporting him in a vehicle without seatbelts or harnesses when other vehicles with seatbelts were available, Officer Scott “acted intentionally and/or with deliberate indifference to and reckless disregard of, Plaintiff’s civil rights and his health and safety.” Id. ¶ 40. Moreover, plaintiff seeks to hold the District responsible for Officer Scott’s acts under the respondeat superior theory. Id. ¶ 44. However, as defendants point out in their partial motion to dismiss, a municipality cannot be held liable, under the doctrine of respondeat superior, for constitutional violations committed by its employees. Monell v. Dept. of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978); Triplett v. Dist. of Columbia, 108 F.3d 1450, 1453 (D.C. Cir. 1997). Because plaintiff’s claim against the District fails as a matter of law, the Court will DISMISS Count II of plaintiff’s amended complaint against the District.

The standard for plaintiff’s substantive due process violation claim, because he was in custody of the District when the events in the amended complaint occurred, is whether the state actor was deliberately indifferent to plaintiff’s safety and well-being. See Butera v. Dist. of Columbia, 235 F.3d 637, 651-52 (D.C. Cir. 2001). To state a claim for deliberate indifference, plaintiff must allege: (1) that the challenged condition of confinement posed “a substantial risk of serious harm, ” and (2) that defendant Scott’s state of mind was one of “deliberate indifference” to plaintiff’s health or safety. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1995); see also Cottrell v. Caldwell, 85 F.3d 1480 (11th Cir. 1996).

The use of the term deliberate “arguably requires . . . an act (or omission) of indifference to a serious risk that is voluntary, not accidental.” Farmer, 511 U.S. at 840. Thus, there can be no liability “unless the official knows of and disregards an excessive risk to [an arrestee’s] health and safety; the official must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference.” Id. at 837. There is no liability for “an official’s failure to alleviate a significant risk that he should have perceived but did not.” Id. at 838. Moreover, “[i]nadvertent errors . . . [or] even negligence in the performance of official duties, do not warrant redress” under the substantive due process clause. Silverman v. Barry, 845 F.2d 1072, 1080 (D.C. Cir. 1988); see also Cnty. of Sacramento ...


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