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Ennis v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

May 31, 2016

JE’MEL ENNIS, Personal Representative of Jerome Davis, Plaintiff,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          JAMES E. BOASBERG United States District Judge.

         This lawsuit challenges the Metropolitan Police Department’s reliance on its officers’ “training and experience” when establishing probable cause for search warrants for the homes of drug dealers arrested on the street. Plaintiff asserts that officers’ actual experience shows that they most often do not find the drugs or paraphernalia they seek in these suspects’ homes; as a result, their affidavits in support of these warrants constitute deliberate misrepresentations.

         In this case, officers allegedly ransacked the apartment of the late Jerome Davis - now represented by his estate’s personal representative, Plaintiff Je’mel Ennis - after arresting another man for a heroin charge. Davis sued the officers and the District under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In a prior Memorandum Opinion, the Court dismissed some of the counts against certain officers, but left the suit largely intact. See Davis v. Dist. of Columbia, No. 15-1497, 2016 WL 199403, at *10 (D.D.C. Jan. 15, 2016). Defendants again move to dismiss, this time arguing that the officers are protected by qualified immunity. As the Court disagrees, it will allow the case to proceed.

         I. Background

         At this juncture of the proceedings, the Court must accept as true the facts as alleged in the Amended Complaint. See Sparrow v. United Air Lines, Inc., 216 F.3d 1111, 1113 (D.C. Cir. 2000) (internal citation omitted). As such facts were previously set forth in detail in its prior Opinion, the Court only briefly recounts those necessary to the resolution of the present Motion.

         After making a street arrest of a man named Steven Williams for possession with intent to distribute heroin, MPD officers decided to search what they erroneously believed to be his residence. See Am. Compl., ¶¶ 1-3, 16. In an affidavit in support of a search-warrant application, MPD Officer Jerry Afari described the events surrounding Williams’s arrest and asserted that, based on his training, experience, and participation in drug investigations, he knew that “individuals who deal in illegal controlled substances” store in their homes items related to drug transactions, including financial, phone, travel, and sales records; photos of illegal contraband; and cash and proceeds from drug sales. See Compl., Exh. 2 (Search Warrant) at 2- 3. The warrant, approved by D.C. Superior Court Judge John Bayly, authorized the police to search 27 O Street N.W. for drugs; processing materials, including items such as scales and cutting tools; cash containers; safes; records of drug transactions; and electronic devices, including computers and phones. Id. at 1. During the execution of the search, Afari and his fellow officers allegedly shredded Davis’s mattress and Lay-Z Boy chair and emptied boxes of frozen food into the sink, causing it to spoil. See Am. Compl., ¶¶ 50-54. The officers also seized Davis’s computer. Id., ¶ 56.

         Plaintiff then brought this action against the District of Columbia, Afari, and other unnamed officers under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, asserting several violations of his constitutional rights. Count I alleges that Afari and the other officers violated Davis’s Fourth Amendment rights when they relied on a warrant clearly lacking in probable cause to search his home. Id., ¶ 58. Count II claims that Afari also violated the Fourth Amendment when he knowingly made misrepresentations in the affidavit supporting the warrant. Id., ¶ 60. Count III seeks to hold the District of Columbia liable for the officers’ constitutional violations, claiming that they resulted from the city’s systemic failure to properly train and supervise its police. Id., ¶ 62. Finally, Count IV alleges that Afari and the other officers violated the Fourth Amendment when they caused excessive damage to Davis’s home and seized his computer, thereby exceeding the scope of the warrant. Id., ¶ 64.

         Defendants previously moved for dismissal under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), arguing that Davis had failed to articulate facts that rose to the level of constitutional violations. See First MTD (ECF No. 4) at 1. The Court largely denied that motion. More specifically, because the Complaint alleged that Afari knowingly secured the search warrant based on false information, the Court allowed Count II (false warrant application) and Count I (reliance on improper warrant) to survive against him. Davis, 2016 WL 199403, at *3-5. The Court found, however, that the other officers could have reasonably relied on the warrant and dismissed Count I as to them. Id. at *6-8. Next, the Court decided that the Complaint alleged facts sufficient to make out a claim of municipal liability and thus allowed Count III to proceed against the District. Id. at *8-9. The Court also concluded that Count IV sufficiently pled that the officers unreasonably exceeded the scope of the warrant by destroying Davis’s property. Id. at *9-10. Finally, using the same logic as in prior counts, the Court determined that Count IV’s seizing-of-computer claim would survive against Afari only. Id. at *9.

         What remains after that Opinion are Counts I and II as to Afari alone, Count III as to the District, and Count IV as to both Afari and the other officers who executed the search. Id. at *10.Plaintiff has since amended his Complaint to identify those unnamed officers. See Am. Compl. at 1. Afari and his colleagues now move a second time to dismiss Counts I, II, and IV, asserting that they are shielded from suit by qualified immunity.

         II. Legal Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of an action where a complaint fails “to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” In evaluating Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss, the Court must “treat the complaint’s factual allegations as true . . . and must grant plaintiff ‘the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged.’” Sparrow, 216 F.3d at 1113 (quoting Schuler v. United States, 617 F.2d 605, 608 (D.C. Cir. 1979)) (citation omitted); see also Jerome Stevens Pharms., Inc. v. FDA, 402 F.3d 1249, 1250 (D.C. Cir. 2005). The notice-pleading rules are “not meant to impose a great burden upon a plaintiff, ” Dura Pharms., Inc. v. Broudo, 544 U.S. 336, 347 (2005), and he must thus be given every favorable inference that may be drawn from the allegations of fact. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 584 (2007).

         Although “detailed factual allegations” are not necessary to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, id. at 555, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). Plaintiff must put forth “factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. The Court need not accept as true “a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation, ” nor an inference unsupported by the facts set forth in the Complaint. Trudeau v. Fed. Trade Comm’n, 456 F.3d 178, 193 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (quoting Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986) (internal quotation marks omitted)). For a plaintiff to survive a 12(b)(6) motion even if “recovery is very remote and unlikely, ” moreover, the facts alleged in the complaint “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-56 (citing Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)).

         In evaluating the sufficiency of Plaintiff’s Complaint under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court may consider “the facts alleged in the complaint, any documents either attached to or incorporated in the complaint[, ] and matters of which [the court] may take judicial notice.” Equal Emp’t Opportunity Comm’n v. St. Francis Xavier Parochial Sch., 117 F.3d 621, 624 (D.C. Cir. 1997). The Court may thus consider those materials on a motion to dismiss without treating the motion “as one for summary judgment under Rule 56.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d); see also Marshall v. Honeywell Tech. Solutions, Inc., 536 F.Supp.2d 59, 65 (D.D.C. 2008).

         III. ...


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