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Fonville v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

April 14, 2014


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For CHARLES L. FONVILLE, Plaintiff: Phoebe Leslie Deak, LEAD ATTORNEY, LAW OFFICES OF LESLIE DEAK, Washington, DC; Ted Justice Williams, LAW OFFICE OF TED J. WILLIAMS, Washington, DC.

For DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, A municipal corporation, Defendant: Shana Lyn Frost, LEAD ATTORNEY, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Public Interest Division, Washington, DC.


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Emmet G. Sullivan, United States District Judge.

Plaintiff Charles Fonville brings this action against the District of Columbia (" District" ) pursuant to the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff alleges that he was deprived of his constitutionally protected property interests when he was demoted from the rank of Commander to Captain in the Metropolitan Police Department (" MPD" ) without notice or a hearing. He also claims that certain statements made by the MPD in connection with his demotion damaged his professional reputation, depriving him of a liberty interest. Pending before the Court are Defendant's renewed motion for summary judgment, Plaintiff's renewed cross motion for partial summary judgment, and Plaintiff's petition for attorney fees based on the Court's previous award of sanctions against the District for discovery violations.

This case has a long history for a number of reasons, including discovery abuses by the District. Most recently, however, the case was stayed to await the outcome of two cases pending before the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. These cases squarely addressed a central issue in this case: whether a Commander in the MPD has a property interest in his position, or whether he may be demoted to the rank of Captain at the pleasure of the Chief of Police. See Hoey v. D.C. Office of Employee Appeals and D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, and Burton v. D.C. Office of Employee Appeals, 30 A.3d 789. Recognizing the high degree of deference this Court gives to the District of Columbia Court of Appeals to determine matters of local law, see, e.g., Pernell v. Southall Realty, 416 U.S. 363, 368, 94 S.Ct. 1723, 40 L.Ed.2d 198 (1974), the Court stayed the proceedings in this case until the appeals were finally exhausted in 2012.

The Court of Appeals found that Commanders and other MPD officers above the rank of Captain do not have a property

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interest in their positions, and may therefore be demoted to Captain without cause, notice, or an opportunity to be heard. For the reasons set forth below, that decision compels the same outcome in this case. Thus Defendant's renewed motion for summary judgment as to Plaintiff's property interest claim will be GRANTED and Plaintiff's renewed cross motion will be DENIED. Upon consideration of defendant's renewed motion for summary judgment on Plaintiff's liberty interest claim, Plaintiff's response, the relevant caselaw and the entire record in this case, the motion for summary judgment will be GRANTED. Finally, upon consideration of the motion for attorney fees, the Court awards Plaintiff fees in the amount of $53,480.04 as sanctions for the Defendant's failure to comply with the Court's discovery orders.


Plaintiff Charles Fonville joined the MPD in February 1972. Compl. ¶ 6. He was promoted to Captain in 1995. Id. On March 7, 1999, then Police Chief Charles Ramsey promoted Plaintiff directly from Captain to Commander, skipping over the rank of Inspector. Pl.'s Renewed Combined Opp'n to Def.'s Summ. J. Mot. and Cross Mot. for Partial Summ. J. (hereinafter " Pl.'s Opp'n/Cross Mot." ) Ex. 6, Deposition of Charles Fonville (" Fonville Dep." ) at 60-61 (ECF No. 122). Plaintiff received a two-grade pay increase to correspond with his two level promotion in rank. Id.; see also Exs. 18, 21.

Approximately seven months after his promotion, on October 22, 1999, Mr. Fonville was involved in an incident with officers of the Federal Protective Service (" FPS" ) regarding his illegally parked car. Compl. ¶ ¶ 8-9. Plaintiff, who was off duty at the time, was arrested for assaulting a police officer. Id. ¶ ¶ 8, 12-15. He was released without charges. Id. ¶ ¶ 15-16. The MPD Office of Internal Affairs (" IAD" ) began an investigation of the incident on October 25, 1999. As part of the investigation, Plaintiff gave a transcribed oral statement regarding the incident. The IAD obtained recorded statements from several other witnesses as well. Id. ¶ 17. The IAD filed a report of its investigation on November 10, 1999. Pl.'s Opp'n/Cross Mot. Ex. 8. IAD found there was insufficient evidence to sustain charges of " assault" and " conduct unbecoming of an MPD officer," against Plaintiff, but found that he violated District of Columbia Municipal Regulations for failing to have his service weapon and badge in his possession while in the District of Columbia. Id. The IAD recommended that Plaintiff be " referred to his commanding officer for administrative action." Id.

On or about November 29, 1999, Chief Ramsey summoned Mr. Fonville to his office. Chief Ramsey said he had reviewed the file regarding the October 22 incident, and felt that Mr. Fonville's actions were inappropriate. Fonville Dep. 93. Chief Ramsey then told Plaintiff he was being demoted to the rank of Captain. Compl. ¶ 19. On his way out of the meeting, Mr. Fonville was given a white envelope containing a Captain's badge, cap plate and rank insignia. Id. His demotion was effective as of December 5, 1999. Pl.'s Opp'n/Cross Mot. Ex. 18. Plaintiff worked as a Captain in the MPD until he retired from MPD in March, 2000. Compl. ¶ ¶ 19-21.

The incident regarding Plaintiff's encounter with the FPS, and his subsequent demotion, was reported in The Washington Post and The Washington Times on November 30, 1999. Pl.'s Opp'n/Cross Mot. Ex. 11. The articles attributed comments to Chief Ramsey that Plaintiff had been demoted because he engaged in " unacceptable

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behavior" in connection with the incident, which " was not consistent with what I expect from a command member of my staff." Id. Chief Ramsey does not deny making these statements to the press. Id. at Ex. 5, Dep. of Charles Ramsey (" Ramsey Dep." ) at 168-74.

Plaintiff filed suit in this Court in November 2002. Count One of his Complaint alleges that the District deprived him of his property interest in the Commander position, in violation of the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution and 42 U.S.C. § 1983, by demoting him without due process of law. Count Two alleges that the District deprived him of his liberty interest in pursuing his chosen profession by defaming him in the course of demoting him from Commander to Captain, also in violation of the Fifth Amendment and section 1983. The parties engaged in discovery until December 2005, when the District moved for summary judgment. Def.'s First Mot. for Summ. J. (ECF No. 41). On August 22, 2006, the Court denied the motion for summary judgment. The Court further found that Plaintiff had a property interest in his Commander position and, thus, could not be demoted without due process. Fonville v. Dist. of Columbia, 448 F.Supp.2d 21, 23 (D.D.C. 2006). A jury trial was scheduled for February 2008; however, in January 2008, over two years after the close of discovery, the District produced supplemental discovery and argued that it should be permitted to file a new motion for summary judgment based in part on the newly-disclosed evidence. Def.'s Proposal for Proceeding (ECF No. 77). During the same time period, the District brought to the Court's attention authority from other district judges and argued for the first time that Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. See, e.g., Def.'s Notices of Suppl. Auth. (ECF Nos. 89, 90) (citing Washington v. District of Columbia, 538 F.Supp.2d 269 (D.D.C. 2008); Hoey v. District of Columbia, 540 F.Supp.2d 218 (D.D.C. 2008)). Plaintiff, for his part, moved for sanctions based on discovery abuses by the District. Pl.'s Mot. for Sanctions (ECF. No. 82).

In April 2008, the Court denied Defendant's motion to file a new summary judgment motion based on the newly-discovered evidence, granted in part Plaintiff's motion for discovery sanctions, and ordered the parties to brief two issues: the appropriate amount of attorneys' fees to be awarded Plaintiff in view of his successful motion for sanctions, and the exhaustion issue.[1] Minute Order, Apr. 7, 2008. The supplemental briefing on the exhaustion issue was informed in part by submissions of supplemental authority regarding other cases, similar to this one, in which MPD Commanders challenged their demotions to Captains without due process of law in the District's administrative agencies and state courts. See, e.g., Def.'s Notices of Suppl. Auth. (ECF Nos. 112, 114). In May 2009, the Court denied defendant's motion for summary judgment on exhaustion grounds without prejudice and, based on the parties' representations that they wished to file yet more dispositive motions, set a briefing schedule for renewed cross motions for summary judgment. Minute Order May 14, 2009. Meanwhile, the parties continued to file notices of supplemental authority as other cases filed by other demoted Commanders proceeded through the District's judicial system. See, e.g., Parties' Notices of Suppl. Auth. (ECF Nos. 136, 137, 138, 139).

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In 2010, the District moved for a stay of proceedings until two of these other cases, Hoey and Burton, were finally resolved by the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. The District acknowledged that the governing statute had changed between Mr. Fonville's demotion in 1999 and Mr. Hoey and Mr. Burton's demotions in 2007 and 2008. However, the District argued that the changes were irrelevant to the question before the Court: in all relevant respects, the District argued, the statutory provisions were identical. Def.'s Reply in Support of Mot. to Stay at 2-5 (ECF No. 144). Therefore, the District argued the District of Columbia Court of Appeals decisions would be " critical to the proper disposition of this case." Id. at 7. This Court agreed that the case should be stayed, finding " striking similarities between the governing law in this case and in Hoey and Burton, " and in view of the high degree of deference the District of Columbia Court of Appeals is entitled to from the federal courts in determining matters of local law. Mem. Order Staying Case, Feb. 28, 2011 (ECF No. 147).

The District of Columbia Court of Appeals issued a single decision resolving the Hoey and Burton cases on November 3, 2011. After analyzing the relevant provisions of the D.C. Code, the legislative history, and the regulations, the Court of Appeals found that Mr. Hoey and Mr. Burton had no property interest in their Commander positions, and even though they were Career Service employees, could be demoted to Captain without cause and without notice or a hearing. Burton v. Office of Employee Appeals, et al., and Hoey v. Office of Employee Appeals, et al., 30 A.3d 789 (D.C. 2011) (hereinafter " Burton " ). The appeals became final in February 2012, and in late 2012, the Court granted the parties leave to file supplemental memoranda in support of their motions for summary judgment. The motions are now ripe for decision by the Court.


A. Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate when the moving party demonstrates that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986); Moore v. Hartman, 571 F.3d 62, 66, 387 U.S.App.D.C. 62 (D.C. Cir. 2009). To establish a genuine issue of material fact, the nonmoving party must demonstrate--through affidavits or other competent evidence, Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1),--that the quantum of evidence " is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Steele v. Schafer, 535 F.3d 689, 692, 383 U.S.App.D.C. 74 (D.C. Cir. 2008) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248). In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the Court views all facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Keyes v. District of Columbia, 372 F.3d 434, 436, 362 U.S.App.D.C. 67 (D.C. Cir. 2004). A nonmoving party, however, must nevertheless provide more than " a scintilla of evidence" in support of its position, and conclusory, speculative, or " not significantly probative" evidence is insufficient to survive summary judgment. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249.

B. Motion for Reconsideration

" [T]here is no Federal Rule of Civil Procedure that expressly addresses motions for reconsideration." Clark v. Feder, Semo & Bard, P.C., 736 F.Supp.2d 222, 224 (D.D.C. 2007). Because the Court's Order of August 22, 2006 denying the District's motion for summary judgment is interlocutory, however, the District's renewed motion for summary judgment

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can properly be characterized as a motion for reconsideration under Rule 54. See Musick v. Salazar, 839 F.Supp.2d 86, 93 (D.D.C. 2012); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(b) ( " [A]ny order or other decision . . . that adjudicates fewer than all the claims . . . may be revised at any time before the entry of a judgment adjudicating all the claims[.]" ). " The Court has broad discretion to hear a motion for reconsideration brought under Rule 54(b), . . . and reconsideration is appropriate as justice requires[.]" Clark, 736 F.Supp.2d at 225 (quotations and citations omitted).


A. The Burton Decision Is Controlling As to Count One of the Complaint; Accordingly, Mr. Fonville Has No Property Interest in His Commander Position

The District argues that the Burton decision changed the controlling law since the Court denied its motion for summary judgment on Count One of the Complaint in 2006, and therefore justice requires that the Court reconsider that decision. Def.'s Suppl. Mem. in Support of Summ. J. (ECF No. 155). The Court agrees, and therefore grants the District's motion for reconsideration.

In Burton, the Court of Appeals traced the history of the statutory provisions providing the District's Commissioner (later called Mayor) or the Chief of Police,[2] with the authority to unilaterally return certain high-ranking police officers to the rank of Captain. Burton, 30 A.3d at 792-94. In the 1970s, D.C. Code § 4-103 provided, in relevant part:

[T]hat the assistant superintendents and inspectors shall be selected from among the captains of the force and shall be returned to the rank of ...

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