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Moore v. Volpe

United States District Court, District of Columbia

April 1, 2016

LAMAR MOORE, Plaintiff,
v.
TAYLOR VOLPE, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

TANYA S. CHUTKAN, District Judge.

Plaintiff Lamar Moore brings this action against Defendant Metropolitan Police Department Officer Taylor Volpe, in his official and individual capacities, for alleged intentional misconduct by falsely arresting, detaining, and assaulting Plaintiff. Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages for common law and constitutional violations. Defendant has moved for summary judgment, and for the reasons stated herein, Defendant's motion is GRANTED.

I. BACKGROUND

On August 9, 2013, an armed robbery took place at the Newtown Food Mart in Northeast Washington, D.C. (Mot. for Summ. J., Def.'s Statement of Undisputed Material Facts ("SOUMF") ¶ 4). Following the robbery, Defendant was canvassing an area just over half a mile from the scene of the crime, searching for a suspect in the robbery.[1] ( Id. ¶¶ 3, 5). An initial radio lookout described the suspect as a tall, light-skinned African-American male with a bald head, wearing a multi-colored shirt, and armed with a large weapon. ( Id. ¶ 6; Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s SOUMF ¶ 6). Subsequent modifications changed the shirt color to "light colored, " and described the suspect as tall with a medium complexion. (Def.'s SOUMF ¶ 6; Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s SOUMF ¶ 6). The initial lookout and subsequent radio traffic did not mention the suspect fleeing in a vehicle, so Defendant, based on his training and experience, believed the suspect was on foot. (Def.'s SOUMF ¶ 8; Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. 2, Def. Dep: 51:5-52:4).

As Defendant drove by 1423 Jackson Street NE, Plaintiff had just finished jogging and was stopped in front of his home at that address. (Am. Compl. ¶ 5; Def.'s SOUMF ¶ 1-2). Plaintiff is an African-American male with a bald head and mustache, who stands 5'6", and at the time was wearing a white shirt and was kneeling down beside a parked vehicle to catch his breath. (Def.'s SOUMF ¶ 7; Am. Compl. ¶ 6). Spotting Plaintiff crouched over, and believing that Plaintiff substantially matched the radio lookouts based on his sex, race, clothing, proximity to the Newton Food Mart, and the fact that he appeared to have been running, Defendant pulled his patrol car over and asked Plaintiff what he was doing. (Def.'s SOUMF ¶¶ 9-10; Am. Compl. ¶ 6). Plaintiff responded that he had just finished running, and lived at the home immediately behind him. (Am. Compl. ¶ 6). Defendant exited his vehicle, informed Plaintiff that he matched the description of a suspect in an armed robbery, and told Plaintiff to put his hands on his head. ( Id . ¶ ¶ 6-7; Def.'s SOUMF ¶ 11). Plaintiff refused to put his hands on his head, remained in a kneeling position, and told Defendant that he had done nothing wrong. (Am. Compl. ¶ 7; Def.'s SOUMF ¶12). Defendant told Plaintiff once again to put his hands on his head, drew his weapon-keeping it pointed at the ground and behind his right leg-and radioed for backup. (Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s SOUMF ¶ 11; Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. 2, Def. Dep. 17:17-21). Plaintiff does not allege that Defendant pointed his weapon at him at any point during this initial stop. (Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. 1, Pl. Dep. 21: 15-18; Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s SOUMF ¶ 11). While waiting for backup to arrive, Defendant remained standing beside his patrol car and spoke with Plaintiff, who continued to refuse to place his hands on his head. (Def.'s SOUMF ¶¶ 13-14). Plaintiff alleges that during this time, he overheard updated radio descriptions of the armed robbery suspects from Defendant's police radio, and told Defendant that he did not match the description of the suspect, since he was only 5'6", and had been alone in front of his house.[2] (Am. Compl. ¶ 7; Pl.'s Opp'n., Ex. C).

When backup arrived-according to Plaintiff about fifteen minutes later-the responding officers again ordered Plaintiff to put his hands on his head, and Plaintiff continued to refuse, instead placing his arms out to his side. (Def.'s SOUMF ¶¶ 15, 17). Plaintiff alleges that at this point, the officers drew their weapons and pointed them at him, and an unnamed officer frisked and then handcuffed him. ( Id. ¶ 18; Am. Compl. ¶ 8). After Plaintiff had been handcuffed, the Defendant approached him and checked to make sure that the handcuffs were put on properly. (Def.'s SOUMF ¶ 19). The officers then moved Plaintiff over to, but not in, Defendant's patrol car, and questioned him. (Am. Compl. ¶ 8).

Sometime after backup arrived, Plaintiff's mother approached the officers and Plaintiff asked her to retrieve his identification from their home. ( Id. ). Plaintiff's mother returned with her son's identification and showed it to the officers. ( Id. ). Two to three minutes after being provided Plaintiff's identification showing that he lived at 1423 Jackson St NE, the officers removed Plaintiff's handcuffs. (Def.'s SOUMF ¶ 21). Plaintiff alleges that the total time from when Defendant initially approached him to when the handcuffs were taken off lasted "for what seemed like a minimum of one-hour." (Am. Compl. ¶ 10).

After the handcuffs were removed, Plaintiff asked Defendant to call a supervisor to the scene, and Defendant complied. (Def.'s SOUMF ¶ 22). The supervisor arrived at Plaintiff's home about ten minutes later, and asked Defendant to leave. ( Id. ¶ 23). Plaintiff did not seek any medical attention following the incident, and at no point during his detention did he complain about the handcuffs or their application. ( Id. ¶¶ 19, 26).

Based on the documents appended to Defendant's notice of removal, it appears that Plaintiff filed a pro se complaint against the Metropolitan Police Department's Fifth District on June 23, 2014 in D.C. Superior Court. (Notice of Removal, Ex. 2 at 4). After procuring counsel, Plaintiff then filed an amended complaint, naming Volpe and the District of Columbia as defendants, and asserting three counts: (i) common law false arrest, (ii) assault/battery, and (iii) deprivation of his civil rights in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Notice of Removal ¶ 1; Am. Compl., generally ). On November 14, 2014, the Superior Court dismissed the lawsuit in its entirety. (Notice of Removal ¶ 2). On December 6, 2014, the Superior Court vacated the dismissal as to Defendant Volpe only, and he removed the action to this court. Defendant then filed his motion for summary judgment on July 13, 2015. ( Id. ¶ 3).

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate where there is no disputed genuine issue of material fact, and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the court must view all facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). The moving party bears the "initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits... which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323 (quotation marks omitted). The nonmoving party, in response, must "go beyond the pleadings and by [its] own affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Id. at 324 (quotation marks omitted). "If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249-50 (1986) (citations omitted). "[A]t the summary judgment stage the judge's function is not himself to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Id., at 249.

III. ANALYSIS

A. Constitutional and Common Law False Arrest (Counts I and III)

"The elements of a constitutional claim for false arrest are substantially identical to the elements of a common-law false arrest claim, Scott v. Dist. of Columbia, 101 F.3d 748, 753 (D.C. Cir. 1996), which are "that the plaintiff was arrested against his will and that the arrest was unlawful."[3] Rice v. D.C., 774 F.Supp.2d 18, 21 (D.D.C. 2011). Thus the court examines both false arrest claims as if they were one, and "[t]he focal point of the action is the question whether the arresting officer was justified in ordering the arrest of the plaintiff; if so, the conduct of the ...


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