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Okpara v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

March 24, 2016

LORRI OKPARA, Plaintiff,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA; KAMIL REMBISZEWSKI; ROBERT L. HOWARD, Defendants

MEMORANDUM OPINION

RANDOLPH D. MOSS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

In 2013, Lorri Okpara was arrested at her home and detained at a District of Columbia police station for 24 hours. While in police custody, she was twice taken to an area hospital to be treated for diabetes. According to Okpara, during the second of these two trips, the officers who brought her to the hospital mistreated her, shoving her into the back of the police van and over-tightening her handcuffs. After being released, Okpara was diagnosed with a permanent radial nerve injury in her left wrist. She subsequently brought this suit against the District and the officers who arrested her, alleging negligence, assault and battery, and violations of her civil rights. The case is now before the Court on the District’s motion for partial summary judgment, Dkt. 27. For the following reasons, the Court will GRANT the District’s motion in part and DENY it in part.

I. BACKGROUND

For the purpose of evaluating the District’s motion for partial summary judgment, the following facts are construed in the light most favorable to Okpara. See Arrington v. United States, 473 F.3d 329, 333 (D.C. Cir. 2006).

Lorri Okpara is a 53-year-old resident of the District of Columbia. See Compl. ¶ 4; Dkt. 28-1 at 2 (Pl.’s Opp., Ex. 2). On July 28, 2013, Okpara was arrested at her home for assaulting her husband. Compl. ¶ 7. She was taken to the jail at D.C. police headquarters, where she was detained overnight. Id. While detained, Okpara-who is diabetic-became hyperglycemic, and was twice taken to Washington Hospital Center and provided with insulin. Dkt. 28 at 1-2 (Pl.’s Statement of Material Facts (“SMF”) ¶¶ 3-5). The police officers who accompanied Okpara to the hospital the second time were Officers Kamil Rembiszewski and Robert Howard. See Id. at 2 (Pl.’s SMF ¶ 6). This lawsuit arises out of events occurring during the second trip to and from the hospital.

According to Okpara, when Rembiszewksi and Howard put her in a police vehicle to be taken to the hospital, she told them that she had a spinal condition that would make it painful to be handcuffed behind her back. Dkt. 28-1 at 8 (Pl.’s Opp., Ex. 3, at 5). Howard allegedly said, “That’s not my problem, ” and handcuffed Okpara behind her back. Id. Okpara states that he applied the handcuffs extremely tightly and, when she asked him to loosen them, he ignored her. Id.; see also Dkt. 27-1 at 6 (Defs.’ Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (“MPSJ”), Ex. 1, at 127:20) (“Okpara Depo.”). According to Okpara, the handcuffs caused stinging pain in her left hand. Dkt. 27-1 at 7 (Okpara Depo. 134:15-16). She repeatedly asked the officers to loosen the handcuffs, but they refused to do so. Id. (Okpara Depo. 134-35).

After Okpara was administered insulin, Officers Rembiszewski and Howard took her back to the police station. Because her blood sugar was low, Okpara had trouble getting back into the police vehicle, and Howard allegedly said: “You better get up in that truck, because if I have to help you get up in there . . . .” Id. at 10 (Okpara Depo. 147:5-6). When Okpara could not climb into the van unassisted, Howard purportedly “took [Okpara] by [her] pants leg and [her] arm and . . . threw [her] up in there.” Id. (Okpara Depo. 147:12-13); see also Id. (Okpara Depo. 148:20-22) (“He just took my pants leg and took my arm while he was behind me and threw me up on the seat.”). Okpara landed on the floor of the van. Id. (Okpara Depo. 149:19). She testified in her deposition that she was visibly distressed by her mistreatment. Id. (Okpara Depo. 149:1). Howard agrees that Okpara was “upset.” Dkt. 27-3 at 4 (Defs.’ MPSJ, Ex. 3, at 15:20) (“Howard Depo.”).

Okpara was released after 24 hours without being charged. Dkt. 28 at 1 (Pl.’s SMF ¶ 2). The next day, she went to Providence Hospital in D.C., complaining of pain and swelling in her left wrist and numbness in her fingers. Id. at 2 (Pl.’s SMF ¶ 10); see also Dkt. 28-1 at 16-17 (Pl.’s Opp., Ex. 4, at 2) (doctor’s report noting “constant” pain and inability to touch left thumb to fingers). A month later, she saw a neurologist, Dr. Pedro Macedo, who diagnosed her with a radial nerve injury in her left hand as a result of the handcuffing. Dkt. 28-1 at 32 (Pl.’s Opp, Ex. 5). A second physician, Dr. Michael Batipps, confirmed the diagnosis in November. See Id. at 39 (Pl.’s Opp, Ex. 6) (doctor’s report noting that Okpara has a “classical handcuff neuropathy involving the left . . . superficial radial nerve sensory branch”). On subsequent visits in March and September 2014, Dr. Batipps observed the same symptoms. See Id. at 43, 45. In September, Dr. Batipps wrote that Okpara had “reached the maximum medical improvement” and opined that her wrist injury was likely a “permanent nerve injury.” Id. at 45.

In March 2014, Okpara brought this suit in D.C. Superior Court. See Dkt. 1-1 (Compl.). Her complaint asserted four counts against the District, Rembiszewski, and Howard, all arising out of injuries she sustained in traveling between the police station and the hospital. She alleged one count of negligence against the District of Columbia arising out of the officers’ lack of due care in tightening her handcuffs, id. ¶¶ 9-11 (Count I); one count of assault and battery against the District arising out of the officers’ actions in throwing her into the police van, id. ¶¶ 12-15 (Count II); one count of assault and battery against the District arising out of the officers’ use of force with the handcuffs, id. ¶¶ 16-19 (Count III); and one count against the officers, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, for violating her civil rights in using excessive force, id. ¶¶ 20-23 (Count IV). The District removed the case to this Court on March 31, 2014. Dkt. 1.

The case is now before the Court on the District’s motion for partial summary judgment on Counts I and II. Dkt. 27.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriately 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); see Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986); Holcomb v. Powell, 433 F.3d 889, 895-96 (D.C. Cir. 2006). A fact is “material” if it is capable of affecting the outcome of the litigation. Holcomb, 433 F.3d at 895; Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 248. A dispute is “genuine” if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. See Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007); Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 248; Holcomb, 433 F.3d at 895. “A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by . . . citing to particular parts of materials in the record . . . .” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A).

The party seeking summary judgment “bears the heavy burden of establishing that the merits of his case are so clear that expedited action is justified.” See Taxpayers Watchdog, Inc. v. Stanley, 819 F.2d 294, 297 (D.C. Cir. 1987). When a motion for summary judgment is under consideration, “the evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.” Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 255; see also Mastro v. Pepco, 447 F.3d 843, 850 (D.C. Cir. 2006). The non-movant’s opposition, however, must consist of more than mere unsupported allegations or denials and must be supported by affidavits, declarations, or other competent evidence, setting forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). The non-movant must provide evidence that would permit a reasonable jury to find in its ...


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