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Davis v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

January 15, 2016

JEROME DAVIS, Plaintiff,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

JAMES E. BOASBERG UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

It is not surprising that when certain drug dealers are arrested on the street, police officers may seek search warrants for their homes in order to locate additional evidence or contraband. In an unfortunate twist here, Metropolitan Police Department officers obtained a warrant for the home of Plaintiff Jerome Davis after an arrestee misleadingly provided Davis’s address instead of his own. The officers then allegedly ransacked Davis’s apartment in a fruitless search.

Yet this suit does not predominantly take aim at the geographic snafu; instead, it targets bigger game. Plaintiff here challenges MPD’s general practice of seeking search warrants for drug suspects’ homes that are based solely on the officer’s “training and experience.” Davis alleges that actual experience, purportedly backed up by data, demonstrates that neither drugs nor evidence is typically found in such a search. As a result, this action claims that the warrant affidavit was false, thereby rendering any ensuing search a violation of the Fourth Amendment; that such affidavits constitute a pattern and practice of MPD, thus making the District of Columbia also liable; and that the execution of the warrant itself was unreasonable and excessive in scope.

Defendants have now moved to dismiss. Finding that Plaintiff has alleged facts sufficient to establish Fourth Amendment violations, the Court will allow the lion’s share of this suit to proceed.

I. Background

According to the Complaint, which the Court must presume true at this stage, this case arises from the October 10, 2014, search of Plaintiff’s District of Columbia home pursuant to a warrant obtained by MPD officer Jerry Afari. See Compl., ¶ 1. The officers, however, were looking in the wrong place. It turns out that Steve Williams, another man who was arrested on the street for possession with intent to distribute heroin, had given Davis’s address as his own. Id., ¶ 3. MPD officers then checked this purported address in their “JUSTIS database” and with the Pretrial Services Agency, both of which confirmed that the address Williams had provided was indeed where he lived. Id., ¶ 20. In actuality, Plaintiff maintains, “Williams had no significant connection to Mr. Davis’s residence, ” and though the two men “used to be acquaintances, ” Williams “never spent even one night at Mr. Davis’s home.” Id., ¶ 21.

In his warrant application, Afari averred that, based on his “training” and “experience, ” persons who “deal in illegal controlled substances” maintain evidence of illegal activity “usually secreted in their residences, or the residences of friends, [and] family members, ” or in “places of drug distribution activity, such as a stash house or a safe house.” Id., ¶ 18. On the basis of this knowledge, he requested permission to search what he thought was Williams’s home for, inter alia, “narcotics, illegal drugs, packaging, and proceeds of drug sale[s].” Id., Exh. 1 (Warrant Application) at 4. District of Columbia Superior Court Judge John Bayly approved the warrant. See id. at 1.

In Plaintiff’s account, Davis was at work at Fresh Cut Barber Shop when “a phalanx of heavily armed officers . . . kicked [his] door of [sic] its hinges, stormed into his apartment, and ransacked the entire place.” Id., ¶ 1. Although they found “[n]othing illegal” in Davis’s home, MPD officers “ruined a week’s worth of meat along with other food that Mr. Davis stored in his apartment, ” “shredded” his Lay-Z-Boy armchair and his mattress, and seized Davis’s computer. Id., ¶¶ 50-56. (The officers subsequently returned the computer “on another occasion.” Id., ¶ 6.) After the search, the officers contacted the property manager at Davis’s address, who “provided videotape evidence confirming that Mr. Williams had no connection to the residence.” Id., ¶ 23.

At the heart of Plaintiff’s Complaint is his allegation that the “sweeping generalizations about a large and diverse set of individuals” that Afari presented in his warrant application as gleaned from his “training” and “experience” provided “woefully insufficient grounds” for approval of such a warrant. Id., ¶ 18. Davis alleges that “in the vast majority of cases in which MPD officers execute search warrants after a traffic or street stop based only on their ‘training’ and ‘experience’ and not actual evidence connecting the home to criminal activity, the warrant returns submitted by the officers themselves prove that MPD officers do not find the items that they seek.” Id., ¶ 38. More specifically, he submits that in the year preceding the search at issue here, MPD officers “failed to find any drugs, let alone the drugs they were looking for, in almost 66% of the cases” in which they executed training-and-experience search warrants. Id., ¶ 39. And “[i]f small amounts of marijuana are excluded, MPD officers failed to find illegal drugs that they were purportedly searching for in nearly 87% of cases” involving training-and-experience warrants. Id., ¶ 40. In Davis’s view, these dismal statistics reveal that Afari and his fellow officers “know through their training and experience that sophisticated drug dealers do not provide law enforcement with the location and address . . . where they keep their stashes and evidence of their crimes.” Id., ¶ 44. He further believes that Afari “knowingly and recklessly omitted from [his application] the poor success rate of such warrants” and thereby “deliberately misle[]d the issuing judge.” Id., ¶¶ 43-44.

Plaintiff brings this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 suit against Afari and the 25 unnamed MPD officers who executed the search - all in their individual capacities - and against the District. As recompense for their Fourth Amendment violations, Davis seeks general damages from all Defendants, as well as punitive damages from the individual officers. Id. at 13. Defendants now move to dismiss all of Plaintiff’s claims.

II. Legal Standard

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of an action where a complaint fails “to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” In evaluating Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss, the Court must “treat the complaint’s factual allegations as true . . . and must grant plaintiff ‘the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged.’” Sparrow v. United Air Lines, Inc., 216 F.3d 1111, 1113 (D.C. Cir. 2000) (quoting Schuler v. United States, 617 F.2d 605, 608 (D.C. Cir. 1979)) (citation omitted); see also Jerome Stevens Pharms., Inc. v. FDA, 402 F.3d 1249, 1250 (D.C. Cir. 2005). The notice-pleading rules are “not meant to impose a great burden upon a plaintiff, ” Dura Pharm., Inc. v. Broudo, 544 U.S. 336, 347 (2005), and she must thus be given every favorable inference that may be drawn from the allegations of fact. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 584 (2007).

Although “detailed factual allegations” are not necessary to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, id. at 555, “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 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). Plaintiff must put forth “factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. The Court need not accept as true “a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation, ” nor an inference unsupported by the facts set forth in the Complaint. Trudeau v. Fed. Trade Comm’n, 456 F.3d 178, 193 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (quoting Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986) (internal quotation marks omitted)). For a plaintiff to survive a 12(b)(6) motion even if “recovery is very remote and unlikely, ” moreover, the facts alleged in the complaint “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-56 (citing Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)).

In evaluating the sufficiency of Plaintiff’s Complaint under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court may consider “the facts alleged in the complaint, any documents either attached to or incorporated in the complaint[, ] and matters of which [the court] may take judicial notice.” Equal Emp’t Opportunity Comm’n v. St. Francis Xavier Parochial Sch., 117 F.3d 621, 624 (D.C. Cir. 1997). The Court may thus consider those materials on a motion to dismiss without treating the motion “as one for summary ...


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