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Hall v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

April 12, 2016

MICHELE HALL, Plaintiff,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

ROYCE C. LAMBERTH, JUDGE.

This case comes before the Court upon Motions [43, 44] for Summary Judgment by defendants Alice Lee, Seyhan Duru, and Cities, LLC. Upon consideration of plaintiffs and movants' filings, the entire record in this case, and the applicable law, defendants' Motions have been GRANTED.

The facts of this case are largely set forth in this Court's Memorandum Opinion of November 12, 2014, ECF No. 32, and the Court retreads them here only as needed. The applicable standard is familiar-when "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, " a motion for summary judgment must be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); see also CelotexCorp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). At this stage of litigation, the Court must "examine the facts in the record and all reasonable inferences derived therefrom in a light most favorable to" the nonmoving party. DeGraffv. D.C., 120 F.3d 298, 301 (D.C. Cir. 1997). In other words, "the district court must 'believe[]' [the nonmovant's testimony] and must not make '[credibility determinations.'" Robinson v. Pezzat, No. 15-7040, at 13-14 (D.C. Cir. Apr. 1, 2016) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986)).

Here, Lee has moved for summary judgment on Count III of Hall's complaint (the common law battery claim against Lee), and Duru and Cities, LLC have moved for summary judgment on Counts IV (the intentional infliction of emotional distress claim against Duru), V (the negligent infliction of emotional distress claim against Duru), VI (the common law negligence claim against both Duru and Cities, LLC), VII (the common law conversion claim against Cities, LLC), and VIII (the common law defamation claim against Duru and Cities, LLC).

I. Defendant Lee's Motion

With respect to Lee's motion, the relevant issue is whether a reasonable jury could conclude that Lee used "clearly excessive" force in arresting Hall. See Mem. Op. 6, ECF No. 32 (citing Jackson v. District of Columbia, 412 A.2d 948, 956 (D.C. Cir. 1980)). Hall has offered evidence that Lee used force, testifying that Lee "grabbed and slammed [her] against the wall" of the bathroom, handcuffed her behind her back, and dragged her out of the bathroom to the street. PL's Opp. 2. Then there is the testimony that once Lee had Hall out on the sidewalk, she lifted Hall's hands up to force her to kneel on the ground, after which Lee placed her knee on Hall's back and yet again pulled Hall's hands up into the air. Finally, Hall has offered evidence that Lee fractured her wrist in the course of arresting her.

The Court, aware of Robinson v. Pezzafs reminder that a district court considering whether to grant summary judgment must be sure to credit the nonmovant's evidence even where it is seriously disputed, has taken care to examine the record in a light that is as favorable to Hall as reasonably possible. No. 15-7040, 13-14 (D.C. Cir. Apr. 1, 2016). Nevertheless, there is sufficient unrebutted and unequivocal evidence in the record to fatally undermine Hall's claim that Lee used "clearly excessive" force, evidence no amount of favorable inference or credit can dispel.

For example, though Hall has previously claimed that Lee broke her wrist, she conspicuously no longer does so. Instead, she emphasizes that Dr. Michael Pirri, a physician in George Washington University Hospital's ("GWUH's") emergency room, treated her "as if she had a fractured wrist"; that, "at the very least, Dr. Pirri determined that the plaintiff suffered a fractured wrist;" and that Dr. Kathy Brindle, the board-certified radiologist with fifteen years' experience at GWUH who rejected Dr. Pirri's diagnosis of fracture after examining Hall's X-rays and finding that "the bones and soft tissues [were] normal" and without swelling, conceded at her deposition that some kinds of fractures were undetectable by X-ray. But this merely shows that it is theoretically possible that Hall had a wrist fracture (one capable of hoodwinking the specialist assigned to make that determination, no less), not that a factfinder could come to that conclusion. Dr. Pirri's records of Hall's treatment are more equivocal than Hall lets on-they note that Hall's X-ray would "be officially read by an attending radiologist" (Dr. Brindle) the following day, that the orthopedics and radiology residents disagreed with the fracture diagnosis, and that "[i]n the meantime, we are treating you clinically as if you have a fracture based on your symptoms." Dr. Brindle's diagnosis, on the other hand, is definitive, offered by someone with greater relevant expertise than the initial diagnostician, and unrebutted by any evidence Hall has offered. The only reasonable conclusion available to a jury would be that Dr. Pirri's diagnosis of a fracture was, as Dr. Pirri himself indicated, provisional and dependent upon confirmation by a doctor with greater expertise, namely, Dr. Brindle.

None of this is to diminish the pain or anxiety Hall may have suffered, even absent a broken wrist, during and after her arrest. Every arrest does, however, require some amount of force. See California v. Hodari D., 499 U.S. 621, 626 (1991). An officer must of course "have some justification for the quantum of force he uses, " as "[f]orce without reason is unreasonable." Johnson v. District of Columbia, 528 F.3d 969, 977 (D.C. Cir. 2008). Hall's argument that Lee used "clearly excessive" force relies largely on testimony from Hall and her friend Gary Jones that she did not resist arrest. Because the Court is considering this issue due to defendant's motion for summary judgment, Hall argues, the Court must credit the plaintiffs proffered testimony (that she did not resist) and discredit the defendant's (that she did). But Hall's own testimony about whether she resisted is telling in ways she fails to appreciate. Consider the following excerpt, where Hall is describing her behavior in the restroom immediately before getting arrested:

I begin to pull down my points, well my underwear, and there's a knock at the door. They just say, you know, let us in. You know, and we're like, you know somebody is in here. You know, just say very simply, "Someone's in here." And then right away they bang much harder, you know. I mean significantly harder and they're like you know, "Open up, it's the police." And we're just thinking, you know, it's some overzealous girl outside waiting to you know, pee, you know. And that happens, friends you know mess with you, like, open up, open up, it's Louise you know. I'm thinking it's a joke. So barely that I had a small giggle. I didn't even get to finish the giggle, before the door is busted in, door broken.

Hall Dep. 47:8-48:6. While for the purposes of this motion the Court entirely credits Hall's professed belief that the knocks were from boisterous partygoers and not police officers, the fact remains that Hall by her own admission ignored the officers' demands once they had identified themselves. Hall and the police actually agreed, though they did not know it, about what she was doing: Not complying. Where they disagreed was on whether the police were in fact police, and the officers cannot be faulted for not knowing that Hall was failing to comply because of her private, unvoiced belief that they were not actually law enforcement. That the police reasonably misunderstood Hall's behavior (again, taking Hall's proffered evidence as true) is evident throughout Hall's testimony about her interactions with Lee, including when she testified about Lee's conduct after she had taken Hall out onto the street: Q: Did [Lee] let you stand up?

A: Yes. Well she forces me. She grabbed me by my elbows and yanked me up.
Q: You were trying to stand up and she helped you stand up?
A: No. She told me to stop resisting after I said I was-after I'm trying to stand up, she tells me to stop resisting. And I said why am I resisting? I'm trying to ...

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