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Gudger v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

December 16, 2015

VERONICA Y. GUDGER, Plaintiff,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al., Defendants.

OPINION

ROSEMARY M. COLLYER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

Veronica Gudger sues the District of Columbia and Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) Sergeant Michael Millsaps (Defendants) for allegedly violating her Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Ms. Gudger alleges inter alia that Sergeant Millsaps entered her apartment without consent, refused to leave, physically assaulted her when she refused to consent to a search, and arrested her without cause. Sergeant Millsaps moves for partial summary judgment as to Ms. Gudger’s unreasonable search claim as alleged in Count I of the Complaint based on qualified immunity. See Mot. for Partial Summ. J. [Dkt. 22] (MSJ). This motion does not affect Ms. Gudger’s unlawful arrest and excessive force claims against Sergeant Millsaps, or her D.C. law claims against Defendants. Ms. Gudger filed a timely opposition to the motion, to which Sergeant Millsaps replied. For the reasons that follow, the Court will deny the motion for partial summary judgment.

I. FACTS

On August 16, 2013, the Superior Court for the District of Columbia issued a bench warrant to arrest Darryl Marable a/k/a Kevin Johnson, Ms. Gudger’s son, for failure to appear in a paternity case. MSJ, Ex. 3 (Arrest Warrant); see Redacted Version of Arrest Warrant [Dkt. 29] at 1. The address listed in the arrest warrant corresponded to a multi-unit apartment building known as 1416 Holbrooke Street. Id. The warrant did not identify a particular unit as Mr. Marable’s residence. Id. On August 21, 2013 at 7:30 a.m., Sergeant Millsaps and other MPD Officers went to Ms. Gudger’s residence, which was Apartment #2 of the apartment building. MSJ, Ex. 2 (Millsaps Dep. 1) Tr. at 54:8-17, 66:17-21. Sergeant Millsaps knocked on Ms. Gudger’s door and asked her if he could enter the apartment. Id. at 67:1-9. Ms. Gudger demanded to see a search warrant, but Sergeant Millsaps entered the apartment over her objections and refused to leave after insisting that he had to search the apartment. Opp’n [Dkt. 24], Ex. 2 (Millsaps Dep. 2) Tr. at 124:12-15, 125: 6-14; Opp’n, Ex. 1 (Gudger Dep.) Tr. at 70:15-20.[1]

After Ms. Gudger continued to scream and resist Sergeant Millsaps’s entry, Sergeant Millsaps grabbed her, threw her on to the mattress, and proceeded to arrest her. Gudger Dep. Tr. at 12:2-17, 16:10-20; Millsaps Dep. 2 Tr. at 142:2-6. Once she was handcuffed, Sergeant Millsaps searched the apartment and then removed her from the residence.[2] Gudger Dep. Tr. at 47:16-22, 49:4-16; see also Compl. [Dkt. 1-2] ¶ 16. Aside from Ms. Gudger, there was no one else in the apartment. She was charged with a misdemeanor assault on a police officer and was transported to the Fifth District for processing. MSJ, Ex. 4 (Arrest Report); see Redacted Version of Arrest Report [Dkt. 29] at 2-3. The charges were eventually dropped and she was released after spending a night at the Cell Block. Gudger Dep. Tr. at 36:9-18; 39:15-21.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment shall be granted “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); accord Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986). Moreover, summary judgment is properly granted against a party who “after adequate time for discovery and upon motion . . . fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party’s case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); see also Armstrong v. Archuleta, No. 13-cv-392, 2014 WL 7399282, at *7 (D.D.C. Dec. 30, 2014). In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court must draw all justifiable inferences in the nonmoving party’s favor and accept the nonmoving party’s evidence as true. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. Since “[c]redibility determinations, the weighing of inferences and the drawing of inferences from the facts are jury functions, ” the court must deny summary judgment to the extent that reasonable minds could differ over the import of the evidence. Id. at 250-51, 255.

III. ANALYSIS

Qualified immunity shields “government officials performing discretionary functions . . . from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional right of which a reasonable person would have known.” Pitt v. District of Columbia, 491 F.3d 494, 509 (D.C. Cir. 2007) (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982)). To resolve a qualified immunity claim, a court must apply a two prong test and examine: (1) “whether the facts that a plaintiff has alleged (see [Fed. R. Civ. P.]

12(b)(6), (c)) or shown (see Rules 50, 56) make out a violation of a constitutional right”; and (2) “whether the right at issue was ‘clearly established’ at the time of defendant’s alleged misconduct.” Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 232 (2009) (citing Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 200-201 (2001)). These two prongs involve questions of law, see Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 528 (1985), and may be addressed in the order the court deems more practical “in light of the circumstances in the particular case at hand.” Pearson, 555 U.S. at 236.

At the summary judgment stage, qualified immunity will not protect a government official from trial when there is a dispute of material fact in the record. See Holcomb v. WMATA, 526 F.Supp.2d 20, 22 (D.D.C. 2007) (denying police officer’s motion for summary judgment because the parties disagreed as to the amount of force used and the scope of the search). In other words, when there is a genuine issue of material fact, “the defense of qualified immunity shielding the defendant from trial must be denied . . . . [because] it is impossible for the court to determine, as a matter of law, what predicate facts exist to decide whether or not the officer’s conduct clearly violated established law.” Gainor v. Rogers, 973 F.2d 1379, 1384-85 (8th Cir. 1992). That is the case here.

Sergeant Millsaps moves for partial summary judgment based on qualified immunity because he reasonably believed that Mr. Marable resided at Apartment #2 and that Mr. Marable was present upon his entry to Ms. Gudger’s residence. Sergeant Millsaps argues that this belief, coupled with the existence of an outstanding arrest warrant, is enough for a reasonable person to believe that Sergeant Millsaps’s conduct was constitutional. While this is true as a matter of law, there are genuine issues of material fact that preclude the Court from concluding that Sergeant Millsaps had “reason to believe” that Mr. Marable resided at Apartment #2.

It was clearly established by August 21, 2013 that “an officer executing an arrest warrant may enter a dwelling if he has only a ‘reasonable belief, ’ falling short of probable cause to believe, the suspect lives there and is present at the time.” United States v. Thomas, 429 F.3d 282, 286 (D.C. Cir. 2005); see also Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 603 (1980) (indicating that an arrest warrant authorizes law enforcement officers to “enter a dwelling in which the suspect lives when there is reason to believe the suspect is within”). Applying this standard, the Court must now determine whether a reasonable person at the time of the alleged conduct would have known that Sergeant Millsaps’s entry and search of Ms. Gudger’s residence violated clearly established law.

It was also clearly established by August 21, 2013 that the finding of probable cause underlying an arrest warrant does not adequately protect “the Fourth Amendment interests of persons not named in the warrant, when their homes are searched without their consent and in the absence of exigent circumstances.” Steagald v. United States, 451 U.S. 204, 212 (1981). The Supreme Court held that an arrest warrant does not protect “an individual’s interest in the privacy of his home and possessions against the unjustified intrusion of the police, ” but rather, protects the subject of the warrant from an unreasonable seizure. Id. at 212-13. Thus, police officers cannot rely on an arrest warrant to enter into a third party’s residence. Otherwise, police officers “[a]rmed solely with an arrest warrant for a single person . . . could search all the homes of that individual’s friends and acquaintances” in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Id. at 215 ...


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