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Blakeney v. O'Donnell

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

August 3, 2015

Keith Blakeney, Plaintiff,
v.
Officer Thomas O'Donnell, et al., Defendants

Page 7

For KEITH BLAKENEY, Plaintiff: Brian Keith McDaniel, MCDANIEL LAW GROUP, PLLC, Washington, DC.

For THOMAS O'DONNELL, MPD Officer, JASON ROMELEIN, MPD Officer, BRYAN ADELMEYER, MPD Officer, KEVIN LALLY, MPD Officer, DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendants: Stephanie Litos, LEAD ATTORNEY, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Washington, DC.

Page 8

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Amit P. Mehta, United States District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Keith Blakeney alleges that, on July 6, 2013, he was assaulted, battered, falsely arrested, and falsely imprisoned by members of the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department. He brought suit against the District of Columbia and the individual officers involved--four named and others unnamed--seeking redress for the injuries he sustained. Before the court is the District of Columbia's partial Motion to Dismiss,[1] as well as a Motion

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to Dismiss filed by the named officers. The District of Columbia has moved to dismiss five claims under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6): (1) municipal liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (2) civil conspiracy; (3) malicious prosecution; (4) negligence; and (5) negligent training and supervision. The civil conspiracy, malicious prosecution, and negligence claims are brought against the District of Columbia under a theory of respondeat superior. The named officers have moved to dismiss all claims for insufficient service of process.

After considering the parties' arguments, the court grants the District's Motion to Dismiss as to Plaintiff's Section 1983, negligence, and negligent training and supervision claims, but denies it as to his claims of civil conspiracy and malicious prosecution. The court denies the named officers' Motion in its entirety.

II. BACKGROUND

A. Facts Alleged in the Complaint

Plaintiff's Amended Complaint alleges the following facts. On the evening of July 6, 2013, Plaintiff travelled by foot from his mother's home to his own in Southeast, Washington, D.C. Am. Compl., ECF No. 7 ¶ 10. Across the street from his apartment building, located in the 400 block of Mellon Street, S.E., Plaintiff saw approximately nine to ten Metropolitan Police Department (" MPD" ) officers (" Defendant Officers" ), including the four named officers (the " Named Officers" ), and approximately four to five handcuffed individuals. Id. ¶ ¶ 11-12. One of the MPD officers said to Plaintiff, " There he is. What's up Peaches?" Id. ¶ 14. Plaintiff ignored the officer and walked towards his apartment building. Id. ¶ 15. An officer then said, " You hear us talking to you. What's up Peaches?" Id. ¶ 16. Plaintiff replied, " That is not my name," and continued walking towards his building. Id. Again an officer said, " What's up with you, Peaches?" Id. ¶ 17. Plaintiff responded, " Nothing was up with me. Just minding my business. What's up with ya'll? It's a shame that we can't chill in our own neighborhood in peace without ya'll coming through and harassing us." Id. An MPD officer wearing a green shirt and no vest--" Officer 1" --then stated, " What did you say mother****," prompting Plaintiff to repeat himself. Id. ¶ 18.

As Plaintiff walked into his apartment building, " Officer 1 grabbed him by his right arm," " turned him around and said, 'You're going to jail.'" Id. ¶ ¶ 19-20. Officer 1 pulled Plaintiff's hands together as Plaintiff asked, " Why am I going to jail?" Id. ¶ 23. Officer 1 and three to four additional officers then " slammed" Plaintiff to the ground between two parked cars. Id. ¶ 24. A white male officer--" Officer 2" --grabbed Plaintiff's dreadlocks and twisted his head while a black male officer--" Officer 3" --" repeatedly struck [him] approximately 10-12 times on the left side of his face just below his left eye," id. ¶ 25, as " other officers were kicking and stomping him over his body, including his head," id. ¶ 26. Officer 1 then placed Plaintiff in " extremely tight" handcuffs. Id. ¶ 27. Plaintiff did not resist arrest. Id.

The officers brought Plaintiff before the other handcuffed individuals, " twisted [his] body and again violently slammed him onto the ground on his chest." Id. ¶ 29. Officer 2 placed his knee into Plaintiff's back and twisted Plaintiff's head by his dreadlocks. Id. Plaintiff repeatedly asked why he was being arrested. Id. ¶ ¶ 30-31. Officers 2 and 3 responded with obscenities. Id.

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The MPD officers transported Plaintiff to a police station and then to a hospital " where he was treated for right shoulder pain, mouth pain, torso pain, facial abrasions and numbness," and was given a pain relieving medication along with a muscle relaxant. Id. ¶ ¶ 32-33. Thereafter, the officers transported Plaintiff to MPD's Central Cell Block. Id. Two days later, on July 8, 2013, Plaintiff appeared " before a judicial officer at D.C. Superior Court," who informed him that he had been charged with " Assault on a Police Officer." Id. ¶ 35. Plaintiff alleges that " Defendant Officers conspired to falsely accuse and charge [him] . . . even though they did not have probable cause to prove that [he] had committed any illegal act." Id. ¶ 34. Plaintiff further alleges that Defendant Officers " conspired to file false reports and offer false testimony against [him] in order to cover up their use of excessive force and battery of" him. Id. ¶ 75. On February 4, 2014, the assault charge against Plaintiff was dismissed. Id. ¶ 37.

III. LEGAL STANDARD

In evaluating a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the court must accept a plaintiff's factual allegations as true and " construe the complaint 'in favor of the plaintiff, who must be granted the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged.'" Hettinga v. United States, 677 F.3d 471, 476, 400 U.S. App.D.C. 218 (D.C. Cir. 2012) (quoting Schuler v. United States, 617 F.2d 605, 608, 199 U.S. App.D.C. 23 (D.C. Cir. 1979). The court need not accept as true " a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation," Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286, 106 S.Ct. 2932, 92 L.Ed.2d 209 (1986), or " inferences . . . unsupported by the facts set out in the complaint," Kowal v. MCI Commc'ns Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276, 305 U.S. App.D.C. 60 (D.C. Cir. 1994).

To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain " sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). 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. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). The factual allegations in the complaint need not be " detailed" ; however, the Federal Rules demand more than " an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). " Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). If the facts as alleged fail to establish that a plaintiff has stated a claim upon which relief can be granted, a court must grant defendant's Rule 12(b)(6) motion. See Am. Chemistry Council, Inc. v. U.S. Dep't of Health & Human Servs., 922 F.Supp.2d 56, 61 (D.D.C. 2013).

IV. ANALYSIS

A. Municipal Liability Under 42 U.S.C. § 1983

Title 42 U.S.C. § 1983 provides a remedy for an individual who has been deprived of " any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws" of the United States by a person acting under color of state law. 42 U.S.C. § 1983. A municipality, like the District of Columbia (the " District" ), may be held liable under Section 1983 for the acts of its employees, but only where " there is a direct causal link between a municipal policy

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or custom and the alleged constitutional deprivation." City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 385, 109 S.Ct. 1197, 103 L.Ed.2d 412 (1989). Only " when execution of a government's policy or custom, whether made by its lawmakers or by those whose edicts or acts may fairly be said to represent official policy, inflicts the injury," can a municipality be liable under Section 1983. Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 694, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978).

To establish municipal, or Monell, liability under Section 1983, a plaintiff must first demonstrate an underlying constitutional violation, and second, show that the municipality's policy or custom caused the violation. Baker v. District of Columbia, 326 F.3d 1302, 1306, 356 U.S. App.D.C. 47 (D.C. Cir. 2003) (citations omitted). Here, Plaintiff has sufficiently alleged a constitutional violation: he accuses Defendant Officers--employees of the District--of using excessive force against him in violation of the Fourth Amendment.[2] See Am. Compl. ¶ ¶ 23-30, 53, 67; see also Armbruster v. Frost, 962 F.Supp.2d 105, 111 (D.D.C. 2013) (" The Fourth Amendment's prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures encompasses the right to be free from the use of excessive force during an arrest, investigatory stop, or any other seizure." ) (citing Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 395, 109 S.Ct. 1865, 104 L.Ed.2d 443 (1989)). Taking the allegations in Plaintiff's Amended Complaint as true and drawing all inferences in his favor, the court concludes that the force Defendant Officers used against Plaintiff was " excessive under objective standards of reasonableness." Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 202, 121 S.Ct. 2151, 150 L.Ed.2d 272 (2001). Plaintiff thus has sufficiently alleged a Fourth Amendment violation and has satisfied the first requirement of Monell.

Plaintiff has not, however, sufficiently alleged that a District policy or custom caused the violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. A plaintiff can plead municipal liability by alleging facts that, if accepted as true, establish that: (1) the municipality " explicitly adopted the policy that was 'the moving force of the constitutional violation,'" Warren v. District of Columbia, 353 F.3d 36, 39, 359 U.S. App.D.C. 179 (D.C. Cir. 2004) (quoting Monell, 436 U.S. at 694) (citing City of St. Louis v. Praprotnik, 485 U.S. 112, 123-30, 108 S.Ct. 915, 99 L.Ed.2d 107 (1988)); (2) a policymaker " knowingly ignore[d] a practice that was consistent enough to constitute custom," id. (citing Praprotnik, 485 U.S. at 130); or (3) the municipality neglected to respond " to a need . . . in such a manner as to show ...


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