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Bell v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

February 24, 2015

Carolyn Bell, Personally and as the Representative of the Estate of Cleman Sweptson, Jr., Plaintiff,
District of Columbia, et al., Defendants

For CAROLYN BELL, Personally, And As the Personal Representative of the Estate of Cleman Ricahrd Sweptson, Jr., Plaintiff: Gregory L. Lattimer , LEAD ATTORNEY, LAW OFFICES OF GREGORY L. LATTIMER, PLLC, Washington, DC.

For DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, A municipal corporation, Defendant: Darrell Chambers, LEAD ATTORNEY, DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL, Washington, DC; David A. Jackson, LEAD ATTORNEY, Robert A. DeBerardinis, Jr., OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Public Interest Division, Washington, DC.


Amit P. Mehta, United States District Judge.


This case arises from the death of Cleman Richard Sweptson, Jr., who was allegedly shot and killed without provocation by an unnamed and yet to be identified District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department (" MPD" ) Officer, " John Doe." As the mother and personal representative of Mr. Sweptson's estate, Plaintiff Carolyn Bell filed suit alleging various causes of action under District of Columbia law and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the District of Columbia (" the District" ) and the unnamed officer.[1] Before the court is the District's motion seeking to dismiss Count II of Plaintiff's Amended Complaint, which alleges that the District is liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for a violation of Mr. Sweptson's Fourth Amendment rights.[2] After careful consideration of the arguments by both parties and the applicable legal standards, the court grants the District's Motion to Dismiss Count II because the complaint fails to allege sufficient factual content to meet the pleading requirements set forth in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009).[3]


A. Facts Alleged in the Complaint

Plaintiff's Amended Complaint alleges the following facts. On April 9, 2013, Mr. Sweptson was visiting his mother, who lives on Bowen Road in Washington, D.C. Am. Compl. ¶ 5. At approximately 2:30 am, Mr. Sweptson was sitting on the front porch of his mother's apartment building when Officer John Doe approached in a marked SUV patrol vehicle. Id. Upon being ordered by the officer to leave the front of the building, Mr. Sweptson complied, riding his bicycle down Bowen Road toward Sheridan Road. Id. ¶ 6. Officer Doe pursued Mr. Sweptson in his SUV, eventually passing him. Id. ¶ 7. When Mr. Sweptson made a left onto the 2500 block of Sheridan Road, Officer Doe was " lying in wait," in his vehicle. Id. Officer Doe then confronted Mr. Sweptson. Id. " During the course of this encounter," Doe " brandished his weapon and began firing at the unarmed and non-threatening Cleman Sweptson Jr." Id. ¶ 8. Shot in the head, chest, and abdomen, Mr. Sweptson died from his wounds. Id. ¶ 9. Up until the time he was shot, Mr. Sweptson " had not committed a crime nor had he done anything to suggest that he was a danger to defendant John Doe, himself or any other person." Id. ¶ 8. According to Plaintiff, Mr. Sweptson was " shot and killed in an area of Washington D.C. where there is an increasing number of complaints from residents against M.P.D. claiming racial profiling, harassment and continuous violations of the constitutional rights of African Americans." Id. ¶ 11.

In Count II of her Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that the District acted with deliberate indifference to citizens' safety and caused Mr. Sweptson's death, by failing to properly train, supervise, and control its officers. Id. ¶ ¶ 18-20. She asserts that, at all relevant times, " the rogue officer responsible for the murder of Cleman Sweptson Jr. was acting under the direction and control, and pursuant to the rules, regulations, policies, procedures, and customs of defendant District of Columbia and implemented by its Chief of Police." Id. ¶ 18.

B. Procedural History

Plaintiff initially filed this action on January 27, 2014, in the Superior Court for the District of Columbia. See Notice of Removal, ECF #1. On February 25, 2014, while still before the Superior Court, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint. See Notice of Filing, ECF #6. On the same day, the District removed the case to this court. See id.

On March 4, 2014, the District filed a motion seeking, inter alia, to dismiss Count II of the Amended Complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Motion to Dismiss, ECF #7. The District argued that Count II should be dismissed because of Plaintiff's failure to state a claim under the pleading requirements articulated in Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868. See id. at 11-12.


The Supreme Court's decisions in Twombly and Iqbal direct federal trial courts to focus on the factual content of a complaint when deciding whether a claim is sufficiently stated to withstand a motion to dismiss brought under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). A complaint must contain " sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (emphasis added) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570) (internal quotation marks omitted). A claim is facially plausible when " the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. (emphasis added) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). A complaint that pleads factual allegations that are " merely consistent with a defendant's liability . . . stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief." Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557) (internal quotation marks omitted). Although the factual allegations need not be " detailed," the Federal Rules demand more than " an unadorned, ...

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