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FORD v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

August 16, 2016

SHANTELLE FORD, Plaintiff,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION

          ROSEMARY M. COLLYER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Shantelle Ford filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the District of Columbia and D.C. Police Detectives John Paprcka and James Bovino. Ms. Ford alleges that the Officers entered her apartment without a warrant in violation of the Fourth Amendment and that the District of Columbia caused the constitutional violation due to its failure to properly train, investigate, and discipline officers with respect to warrantless entries. The Detectives’ motion for summary judgment will be denied, and Plaintiff’s cross motion will be granted. Furthermore, the District’s motion for summary judgment will be granted, and Plaintiff’s partial cross motion will be denied.

         I. FACTS

         On May 9, 2012, D.C. Police Detectives John Paprcka and Jim Bovino served on Ms. Ford a grand jury subpoena relating to an investigation into criminal activity by Ms. Ford’s boyfriend. When the police arrived at her apartment, they found the door two inches ajar and they heard a baby crying. Detectives’ Mot. for Summ. J. (MSJ) [Dkt. 47], Ex. 1 (Paprcka Dep). at 9; id., Ex. 2 (Bovino Dep.) at 9-11. The detectives knocked at the door and identified themselves several times. When no one answered they pushed the door open and stepped in.

         Just after the Detectives entered, Ms. Ford came out of the bedroom holding the baby and she yelled at the Detectives, telling them to leave. Paprcka Dep. at 10. They served her with the subpoena and left. The parties do not dispute that the Detectives entered Ms. Ford’s apartment without a warrant and without consent.

         The Detectives contend that their entry into the apartment was reasonable due to exigent circumstances. Detective Paprcka asserts that he entered the apartment because he believed that the child was neglected or there was a medical emergency:

The circumstances that were laid out in front of me gave me reason to believe that it was either a neglect case or there was a medical emergency, since the fact that--I knew Shantelle Ford’s great love for the child based on prior dealings with her. It was uncommon for her to be separated from the child. And when the door is open and there’s no response from an adult, that was a set of facts and circumstances that rose to the point where I was concerned for something happening inside the apartment which caused for additional investigation to confirm everything was okay.

Paprcka Dep. at 15-16. Detective Bovino echoed this reason for entering the apartment. He stated:

We felt that there was something--something wrong, there was something wrong in the apartment, because of what Detective Paprcka said to me about this young lady not leaving--she wouldn’t leave the baby, and we became concerned that there was something going on or something wrong inside. . . . There could have been a medical emergency of some sort. There could have been criminal activity. I just didn’t know.

         Bovino Dep. at 15-16.[1] Detective Paprcka described the baby’s crying as not “gut-wrenching, ” and he thought that the baby sounded hungry or tired: “It wasn’t a gut-wrenching hey, I just fell down and I hurt myself and I’m really freaked out crying. It was a hey, I’m hungry or I need some sleep type of deal crying.” Paprcka Dep. at 18.

         Ms. Ford contests the Detectives’ assertion that they had reason to believe that there was either neglect or a medical emergency. In fact, she contends that her baby was not crying when the Detectives entered her apartment. This dispute of fact is immaterial because, as explained below, even if the Court accepts the Detectives’ version of the facts as true, those facts do not reflect exigent circumstances excusing the warrantless entry into Ms. Ford’s home.

         Ms. Ford filed an Amended Complaint, Dkt. 32, alleging claims against Detectives Paprcka and Bovino as follows: Count I, a Fourth Amendment violation pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983; Count II, invasion of privacy; Count III, intentional infliction of emotional distress; and Count IV, trespass. Her Amended Complaint also asserts a § 1983 Fourth Amendment claim against the District of Columbia, alleging that the District was deliberately indifferent to the need to train, investigate, and discipline police officers regarding warrantless entries. Plaintiff later withdrew her claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. See Pl. Reply Re Detectives [Dkt. 62] at 1.

         All Defendants filed motions for summary judgment, and Ms. Ford filed oppositions and almost identical cross motions. District MSJ [Dkt. 46]; Detectives’ MSJ [Dkt. 47]; Pl. Cross MSJ Re Detectives [Dkt. 49]; Pl. Opp’n to Detectives’ MSJ 51]; Pl. Cross MSJ Re District [Dkt. 48]; Pl. Opp’n to District MSJ [Dkt. 50]. The matter was fully briefed when all parties filed reply briefs. See District Reply/Opp’n to Cross Mot. [Dkt. 58]; Detectives Reply/Opp’n to Cross Mot. [Dkt. 59]; Pl. Reply Re Detectives [Dkt. 60] (corrected version at Dkt. 62); Pl. Reply Re District [Dkt. 61] (corrected version at Dkt. 64); Pl. Corrected Appendix [Dkt. 63]. Detectives Paprcka and Bovino assert qualified immunity based on exigent circumstances, i.e., that an objective officer would have reasonably believed he needed to enter Ms. Ford’s apartment to protect life or avoid serious injury and thus that they did not violate the Fourth Amendment when they entered Ms. Ford’s apartment. The District argues that it is entitled to summary judgment as well because Ms. Ford has not pointed to evidence showing that a District custom or policy was the moving force behind the violation of her Fourth Amendment rights and she has not presented evidence of deliberate indifference to the need to train, supervise, and discipline officers with regard to warrantless entries based on exigent circumstances.

         II. ...


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