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Jordan v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

January 29, 2016

LAKEISHA JORDAN, et al., Plaintiffs,
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al., Defendants.

Re Document Nos. 61, 62, 64, 82, 88.





Plaintiff Y.F. was taken into the custody of the District of Columbia's Child and Family Services Agency ("CFSA") when she was seven years old after the District filed a petition for abuse and neglect of a minor child against her mother, Plaintiff Lakeisha Jordan. While in CFSA's custody, Y.F. was admitted as an inpatient at the Psychiatric Institute of Washington ("PIW"), where she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.[2] To treat Y.F.'s condition, and to control her sometimes violent outbursts, Y.F. was subjected to physical holds, restraints, and seclusions, and was prescribed several types of psychotropic medication. On behalf of herself and Y.F., Ms. Jordan brought suit against PIW and the District of Columbia claiming that Y.F.'s treatment at PIW was performed negligently, without Ms. Jordan's consent, and violated the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause. Now before the Court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment (ECF Nos. 61, 62, 64). Plaintiffs have moved for partial summary judgment with respect to their § 1983 constitutional claim, while Defendants have each moved for summary judgment on all claims. Also pending before the Court is PIW's motion for leave to file an amended answer raising a defense of qualified immunity. For the reasons stated below, the Court concludes that no reasonable jury could find on this record that the District of Columbia's or PIW's treatment of Y.F. exceeded constitutional bounds and, therefore, that Plaintiffs cannot show the predicate constitutional violation necessary to succeed on their § 1983 claim. As a result, the Court will deny Plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment, grant in part Defendants' respective motions for summary judgment, and remand the remaining D.C. law claims to the District of Columbia Superior Court.


In September 2006, the District of Columbia filed a petition for abuse and neglect of a minor child against Y.F.'s mother, Lakeisha Jordan. See D.C.'s Statement of Material Facts ¶ 2, ECF No. 65; D.C. Ex. 2 at 3, ECF No. 65-2. Pursuant to an order of the District of Columbia Superior Court, Y.F. [REDACTED\] were taken into CFSA's physical custody [REDACTED\]. See D.C. Ex. 2 at 3-4. [REDACTED\] [REDACTED\] See D.C. Ex. 3, ECF No. 65-3. [REDACTED\], see id., [REDACTED\], see D.C.'s Statement of Material Facts ¶ 6. On November 1, 2006, [REDACTED\], the Superior Court ordered that Y.F. be involuntarily committed on an emergency basis. Id. ¶ 7; D.C. Ex. 6, ECF No. 65-6. Y.F. [REDACTED\] was admitted on November 2, 2006 pursuant to another court order and was initially diagnosed with intermittent explosive disorder. See D.C. Ex. 6; PIW Ex. D, ECF No. 62-6. The District agrees that, throughout Y.F.'s commitment at PIW, and despite the fact that Y.F. was in the District's legal custody, Ms. Jordan's parental rights were never terminated. See D.C.'s Resps. to Pls.' First Req. for Admis. at 6.

Y.F. was treated at PIW for five months. PIW Ex. G, ECF No. 62-9. During that time, Y.F. was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Id. at 3. Her discharge summary notes that [REDACTED\]. Id. at 2. [REDACTED\] Id. [REDACTED\], Y.F. was sometimes placed in physical holds or other forms of restraint. Id. PIW also made use of seclusions, which involve placing a patient in a locked, quiet room while staff observe the patient through a window. See PIW's Statement of Material Facts ¶ 28. [REDACTED\] Id. ¶ 26.

Y.F.'s physicians prescribed a variety of medications including, but not limited to, Zyprexa, Seroquel, Risperidal, Haldol, Lithium, Clonidine, and Zyrtec.[3] See D.C. Exs. 9-10, ECF Nos. 65-9, 65-10. At times, PIW solicited consent to administer these medications from CFSA's Office of Clinical Practice ("OCP"). CFSA admits in response to Plaintiffs' request for admissions that it is unable to confirm that it provided consent for each instance in which Y.F. was medicated, although it did provide consent on "some occasions."[4] D.C.'s Resps. to Pls.' First Req. for Admis., ECF No. 64 at 26-32; D.C.'s Am. Answers to Pls.' First Req. for Admis., ECF No. 64 at 127-129. Nevertheless, Ms. Jordan testified during her deposition that she was generally aware that Y.F. was receiving medication. She testified that she visited Y.F. approximately 25 times while Y.F. was committed at PIW, and that she became worried when Y.F. appeared sad, drowsy, and otherwise unlike herself. D.C.'s Statement of Material Facts ¶¶ 19-20. Y.F.'s social worker informed Ms. Jordan that Y.F.'s change in demeanor was likely due to the medication Y.F. had been prescribed. Id. ¶ 21. Ms. Jordan further testified that she did not believe that Y.F. should have been prescribed that medication, id. ¶ 22, and Plaintiffs admit that Ms. Jordan raised the issue with PIW at some point during Y.F.'s admission, see Pls.' Resp. to D.C.'s Statement of Material Facts ¶ 26, ECF No. 74-8.

[REDACTED\] See PIW Ex. H at 1, ECF No. 62-10. [REDACTED\] Id. at 2. [REDACTED\] Id. at 1.

In August 2011, Ms. Jordan filed this lawsuit in the District of Columbia Superior Court on behalf of herself and her daughter, naming as defendants the District, PIW, and Dr. Roque Gerald, who served as the director of OCP during Y.F.'s treatment at PIW. The complaint alleged several claims under D.C. and federal law, including negligence, negligence per se, failure to obtain informed consent, violation of D.C.'s Mental Health Consumers' Rights Protection Act, and constitutional violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See Am. Compl. ¶¶ 29-66. The District removed the lawsuit to this Court and both PIW and the District then moved to dismiss. This court previously dismissed all claims against Dr. Gerald and dismissed the negligence per se and D.C. Mental Health Consumers' Rights Protection Act claims against PIW. See generally Jordan v. District of Columbia, 949 F.Supp.2d 83 (D.D.C. 2013).

Following discovery, Plaintiffs now move for partial summary judgment on their § 1983 claim, and the District and PIW have filed cross-motions for summary judgment on all counts.


A court must grant summary judgment 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). A "material" fact is one capable of affecting the substantive outcome of the litigation. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute is "genuine" if there is enough evidence for a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the non-movant. See Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007). The inquiry under Rule 56 is essentially "whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52.

The principal purpose of summary judgment is to streamline litigation by disposing of factually unsupported claims or defenses and determining whether there is a genuine need for trial. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986). The movant bears the initial burden of identifying portions of the record that demonstrate the absence of any genuine issue of material fact. See id. at 323. In response, the non-movant must point to specific facts in the record that reveal a genuine issue that is suitable for trial. See id. at 324. In considering a motion for summary judgment, a court must "eschew making credibility determinations or weighing the evidence, " Czekalski v. Peters, 475 F.3d 360, 363 (D.C. Cir. 2007), and all underlying facts and inferences must be analyzed in the light most favorable to the non-movant, see Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. Nevertheless, conclusory assertions offered without any evidentiary support do not establish a genuine issue for trial. See Greene v. Dalton, 164 F.3d 671, 675 (D.C. Cir. 1999).


The Court will begin, and ultimately end, with Plaintiffs' constitutional claim brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Court notes at the outset that, to avoid summary judgment on their § 1983 claim, Plaintiffs must identify sufficient evidence in the record from which a reasonable jury could conclude that "the District of Columbia's conduct was so egregious, so outrageous, that it may fairly be said to shock the contemporary conscience.'" Butera v. District of Columbia, 235 F.3d 637, 651 (D.C. Cir. 2001) (quoting Cnty. of Sacramento v. Lewis, 523 U.S. 833, 847 n.8 (1998)). This "stringent requirement" is intended to "differentiate" constitutional claims from claims-like Plaintiffs' negligence claims-properly brought under "local tort law." Id. In the context of a civilly committed individual like Y.F., the Supreme Court has instructed that a governmental actor's conduct meets this threshold, and exceeds constitutional bounds, only when that actor's decision "is such a substantial departure from accepted professional judgment, practices, or standards as to demonstrate that the person responsible actually did not base the decision on such a judgment." Youngberg v. Romeo, 457 U.S. 307, 323 (1982). Because Plaintiffs are unable to meet this stringent standard here, the Court will grant summary judgment to Defendants on Plaintiffs' § 1983 claim. In doing so, however, the Court cautions that its conclusion that "due process is not offended by" Defendants' conduct here "is not, of course, to imply anything about its appropriate treatment under [District] law." Lewis, 523 U.S. at 854 n.14.

A. Plaintiffs' Section 1983 Claim

Section 1983 provides a remedy against every person who "under the color of state law, deprives another of rights protected by the Constitution." Collins v. City of Harker Heights, Tex., 503 U.S. 115, 120 (1992); see 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In order to hold a municipality like the District of Columbia liable under § 1983, a plaintiff must show both a predicate violation of her constitutional rights and that the violation resulted from a government policy or custom. See Warren v. District of Columbia, 353 F.3d 36, 38 (D.C. Cir. 2004). Thus, "proper analysis requires" a court "to separate two different issues when a § 1983 claim is asserted against a municipality: (1) whether plaintiff's harm was caused by a constitutional violation, and (2) if so, whether the city is responsible for that violation."[5] Collins, 503 U.S. at 120.

Where the state involuntarily commits an individual, the "Constitution imposes upon [the state] a corresponding duty to assume some responsibility for [that individual's] safety and general well-being." DeShaney v. Winnebago Cnty. Dep't of Social Servs., 489 U.S. 189, 197, 199-200 (1989); see also Harvey v. District of Columbia, 798 F.3d 1042, 1050-51 (D.C. Cir. 2015) (discussing DeShaney in the involuntary commitment context). The District acknowledges that it has an affirmative constitutional duty to ensure the welfare of those children who are removed from their parents' custody through an abuse or neglect petition.

Plaintiffs' complaint alleges that Defendants "acted with deliberate indifference towards the constitutional rights of Plaintiff Y.F." by failing to, among other things, "adequately train and supervise their employees, " "protect the children in their care from harm, " "safeguard the rights and protect the welfare of [Y.F.], " "offer appropriate, adequate, and as needed, highly specialized diagnostic and treatment services and resources to [Y.F.], " and "ensure the protection of [Y.F.] from further experiences and conditions detrimental to her healthy growth and development." Am. Compl. ¶ 43. Together, Plaintiffs allege that "[s]uch deliberate indifference... amounts to a violation of Plaintiff's rights under the Fifth Amendment." Id. ¶ 45. In their motions for summary judgment, the District and PIW contend that Plaintiffs are unable to establish that Y.F.'s care rises to the level of deliberate indifference. D.C.'s Mem. Supp. Summ. J. at 5-9, ECF No. 65; PIW's Mem. Supp. Summ. J. at 26-28, ECF No. 62-2.

Plaintiffs' own motion for summary judgment seems to narrow-or at least refine-their constitutional claim. They contend that Defendants' care of Y.F. was "deliberately indifferent" to three specific liberty interests: Y.F.'s interest in being "free from unwanted bodily restraint, " Y.F.'s interest in being free from "unwanted administrations of psychotropic medications, " and Ms. Jordan's right "to have control over her child's medical decisions." ...

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