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Aubin v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

February 8, 2016

FRITZ G. AUBIN, Plaintiff,
v.
THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION FEBRUARY 7TH, 2016 [DKT. #14]

RICHARD J. LEON United States District Judge

Plaintiff Fritz G. Aubin ("plaintiff) brought this suit against defendants the District of Columbia and Officer David Hong ("defendants") in D.C. Superior Court, which was removed to this Court on December, 17, 2014, asserting both common law and constitutional claims for injuries allegedly stemming from plaintiffs October 7, 2013 arrest. See generally Second Am. Compl. ("SAC") [Dkt. #1-1]. On June 5, 2015, 1 granted defendant District of Columbia's motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, and dismissed all claims against the District of Columbia. See Mem. Op. [Dkt. #17]. Currently before the Court is Defendant Hong's Motion to Dismiss or Alternatively Motion for Summary Judgment [Dkt. #14]. Upon consideration of the pleadings, record, and relevant law, I find that plaintiff fails to state a claim and that defendant Hong is entitled to qualified immunity. Therefore, defendant's motion is GRANTED, and all claims against defendant Hong are dismissed.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff alleges that on October 7, 2013, at approximately 9:00 a.m., he was approached by D.C. Metropolitan Police Officers at the intersection of 8th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue in the District of Columbia. SAC ¶ 8. Plaintiff was "detained, handcuffed, arrested and jailed" by defendant David Hong and charged with one count of driving under the influence and one count of operating while impaired. Id. On October 24, 2013, plaintiff was arraigned and ordered to undergo substance abuse evaluation as well as pre-trial monitoring. Id. All charges were later dismissed by the D.C. Superior Court on June 10, 2014. Id.

On August 13, 2014, plaintiff filed a complaint in D.C. Superior Court, and on December 3, 2014, plaintiffs counsel amended the complaint to include allegations of constitutional violations. See SAC. On December 17, 2014, defendant District of Columbia removed this case to federal court. See Notice of Removal [Dkt. #1]. In his Second Amended Complaint, plaintiff alleges seven counts against defendants District of Columbia and Hong, see SAC, but the claims remain only as to defendant Hong since I dismissed all claims against defendant District of Columbia, see Mem. Op. [Dkt. #17]. The remaining counts include false imprisonment, false arrest, false light and invasion of privacy, defamation, negligent training and supervision, and negligent infliction of emotional distress (collectively, the "common law claims"), SAC ¶¶ 9-31, as well as one count of "Violation of Constitutional Rights" under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of plaintiffs Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Fourteenth, and Eighth Amendment rights (collectively, the "constitutional claims"), SAC ¶¶ 32-35.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

The Court may dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). In considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must "liberally" 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." Schuler v. United States, 617 F.2d 605, 608 (D.C. Cir. 1979) (internal citation and quotation marks omitted). However, in considering the pleadings, the Court is not required to "accept legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations, " or to rely on inferences "unsupported by the facts set out in the complaint." Kowal v. MCI Commc'ns Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1994). Thus, to withstand dismissal, the allegations, when read in a light most favorable to the plaintiff, must "raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007).

Summary judgment is appropriate when the pleadings and the record demonstrate that "there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). "A fact is material if it 'might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law, ' and a dispute about a material fact is genuine 'if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Steele v. Schafer, 535 F.3d 689, 692 (D.C. Cir. 2008) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). To defeat summary judgment, the nonmoving party must "designate specific facts showing there is a genuine issue for trial." Id. at 324 (quotation marks omitted). In determining whether there is a genuine dispute about material facts, the court "must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and . . . draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party." Grosdidier v. Broad. Bd. of Governors, Chairman, 709 F.3d 19, 23-24 (D.C. Cir. 2013) (quotation marks and citation omitted).

ANALYSIS

When evaluating a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a court generally does not consider matters beyond the pleadings. Ward v. D. C. Dep't of Youth Rehab. Servs., 768 F.Supp.2d 117, 119-20 (D.D.C. 2011). If a court considers materials outside the pleadings on which the complaint does not necessarily rely, it must convert the motion into one for summary judgment. Kim v. United States, 632 F.3d 713, 719 (D.C. Cir. 2011) (citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(d)). "The decision to convert a motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment... is committed to the sound discretion of the trial court, " but that discretion is limited. Flynn v. Tiede-Zoeller, Inc., 412 F.Supp.2d 46, 50 (D.D.C. 2006). "[T]he reviewing court must assure itself that summary judgment treatment would be fair to both parties[.]" Tele-Commo'ns of Key West, Inc. v. United States, 757 F.2d 1330, 1334 (D.C. Cir. 1985). When a motion to dismiss is converted into one for summary judgment, "all parties must be given reasonable opportunity to present all the material that is pertinent to [a Rule 56] motion." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(d).

Defendant Hong attached a police report to his Motion to Dismiss or Alternatively Motion for Summary Judgment. See Metropolitan Police Report ("Police Report"), Ex. B [Dkt. # 14-2]. Importantly, both parties rely on this police report to support their respective arguments regarding probable cause and qualified immunity. See Def.'s Mot. 12 ("Officer Hong reasonably believed, based on his own observations at the time, that Plaintiffs conduct was unlawful." (citing police report)); Pl's Opp'n 5 ("Plaintiff has alleged in his complaint that the District officers had no probable cause or reasonable suspicion to detain him .... His view is supported by the police report."). Accordingly, I will convert this motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment with respect to the questions of probable cause and qualified immunity. See Smith v. United States, No. 12-CV-1679, 2015 WL 4880891, at *3-4 (D.D.C. Aug. 14, 2015) (converting motion to dismiss to summary judgment motion as to probable cause and qualified immunity where both parties relied on same video footage to support their respective arguments); see also Hollis v. U.S. Dep't of Army, 856 F.2d 1541, 1544 (D.C. Cir. 1988) ("[N]o useful purpose can be served by [Rule 12(d)'s notice-and-opportunity requirement] where it is clear that the dispositive facts will remain undisputed and unchanged.").

Qualified Immunity and False Arrest, False Imprisonment, and Fourth Amendment Claims.

Defendant Hong invokes qualified immunity as a defense to this suit.[1] See Def.'s Mem. 11-12. "Qualified immunity shields federal and state officials from money damages unless a plaintiff pleads facts showing (1) that the official violated a statutory or constitutional right, and (2) that the right was 'clearly established' at the time of the challenged conduct." Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. 731, 735 (2011) (citing Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982)). The defendant bears the burden of pleading and proving qualified immunity. Harlow, 457 U.S. at 815. The analysis "turns on the objective legal reasonableness of the action, assessed in light of the legal rules that were clearly established at the time it was taken.'" Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 244 (2009) (internal quotation marks omitted). This standard, "[w]hen properly applied, . . . protects all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law." Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. 733 (internal quotation marks omitted).

Plaintiff alleges false arrest and false imprisonment claims under both the common law and the Fourth Amendment.[2] In general, "the details of constitutional tort actions should be shaped by reference to the parallel common law." Dellums v.Powell, 566 F.2d 167, 175 (D.C. Cir. 1977). Indeed, "[t]he elements of a constitutional claim for false arrest are substantially identical to the elements of a common-law false arrest claim" because, for either type, "the focal point of the action is the question whether the arresting officer was justified in ordering the arrest of the plaintiff. . . ." Scott v.District of Columbia, 101 F.3d 748, 753-54 (D.C. Cir. 1996). Furthermore, courts evaluate common law claims for false arrest and false imprisonment in the same manner. See Earnhardt v.District of Columbia, 723 F.Supp.2d 197, 214 (D.D.C. 2010) ("There is 'no real difference as a practical matter between false arrest and false imprisonment[]' . . . ." (quoting Shaw v.May Dep't Stores Co., 268 A.2d 607, 609 n.2 (D.C. 1970)). "The gravamen of a complaint for false arrest or false imprisonment is an unlawful detention." Enders v.D.C., 4 A.3d 457, 461 (D.C. 2010). A defendant can defeat a false arrest claim under common law if "the arresting officer had probable cause to believe that the arrestee committed a crime." Scott, 101 F.3d at 754.[3] Similarly, common law false imprisonment is '"the unlawful detention of a person without a warrant or for any length of time whereby he is deprived of his personal liberty or freedom of locomotion . . . .'" Barnhardt, 723 F.Supp.2d at 214 (quoting Tocker v.Great Atl. & Pac. Tea Co., 190 A.2d 822, 824 (D.C. 1963)). To prevail on a common law false imprisonment claim, a plaintiff must demonstrate "that the police acted without probable cause, in an objective constitutional sense, to effectuate his arrest." Id. (inter ...


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