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Williams v. Washington D.C. Eviction Marshals

United States District Court, District of Columbia

October 17, 2016



          KETANJI BROWN JACKSON United States District Judge

         On July 29, 2015, pro se Plaintiff Donya Williams ("Williams") filed an action in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia against the "Washington D.C. Eviction Marshals" related to the allegedly harsh manner in which individual deputy Marshals executed an eviction notice. (Compl., ECF No. 1-1, at 1-3.)[1] Williams maintains that, on June 19, 2015, the deputy Marshals entered her apartment with guns drawn, shone flashlights into the eyes of her 13 year-old daughter and frightened her, and then forced Williams to come out of her bedroom and into the living room without allowing her to don clothes. (Id. at 1-2.) Williams further asserts that the deputy Marshals laughed at and taunted her, her daughter, and her male friend who was at the apartment during the eviction, and that after the eviction, she could not locate certain items of personal property. (Id. at 2-3.) Williams's complaint regarding this incident-which was removed to federal court on October 23, 2015 (Notice of Removal, ECF No. 1)-seeks $40, 000 in damages from the "Washington D.C. Eviction Marshals, " which the Court will construe as the United States Marshals Service ("USMS" or "the Service").[2]

         Before this Court at present is the USMS's motion to dismiss the complaint (see ECF No. 8.), in which it argues that this Court has no jurisdiction over Williams's action because Williams did not file a claim with the Service prior to bringing this lawsuit, and thus has failed to exhaust her administrative remedies pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA"), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1346(b)(1), 2675, 2679-80. In response, Williams asserts that she called USMS a number of times to lodge a complaint, but that her communications were "ignored or deleted." (Opp. to Mot. to Dismiss ("PL's Opp."), ECF No. 10, at 2-3.)

         On September 30, 2016, this Court issued an order that GRANTED Defendants' motion to dismiss and DISMISSED this case without prejudice. The instant Memorandum Opinion explains that the Court issued that order because there is no dispute that Williams has yet to present her claim in writing to the Service, and as a result, this Court lacks jurisdiction over Williams's claims.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         According to Williams's complaint, on the morning of June 19, 2015, Williams heard "a very loud banging on the front door" of her apartment located in the District of Columbia's southeast quadrant. Williams asserts that she was inside the apartment along with her thirteen-year old daughter and a third person (James), and that all of them were confronted with "highly aggressive Marshals saying 'freeze'" and pointing guns at James. (Compl. at 1.) Williams further alleges that the deputy Marshals forced James out of the apartment without a shirt or shoes, and that the deputy Marshals then flashed a light in Williams's daughter's face and began questioning her and "aggressively yelling at her to get in the hallway." (Id. at 2.) While witnessing "the camotion [sic]" from her bedroom, Williams claims that she "was scared[]" and began looking for clothes to put on, but the deputy Marshals began yelling at her "to come out now." (Id.) Williams states that she was naked, and that two deputy Marshals entered her bedroom and forced her out "without nothing" on. (Id.) Williams alleges that she grabbed her daughter's pants and a top "and was shoved out into the hall w[h]ere 20 men were standing and laughing." (Id.) She also asserts that her daughter "was crying" and "asking why are they doing this to us." (Id.) When Williams told the officers that "they [were] scaring [her] daughter, " a deputy Marshal allegedly responded: "well I pay my bills you should to[o]." (Id.) And when Williams asked about "a writ, " the deputy Marshal purportedly "said we have one see" and held up a piece of paper, but not in a position where Williams could read it. (Id.) Williams claims that eventually the deputy Marshals allowed her daughter and James back into the apartment to dress, "but the leader would not let [Williams] get dressed." (Id.) Instead, she maintains that "[h]e brought out [her] purse, " and left her "with cheap flip flops, no bra, no underwear and a hole the size of grapefruit in the front of [her] pants." (Id. at 3.) The deputy Marshals then "put [Williams's] belongings out [on the street] ¶ 1/2 block long[.]" Williams asserts that sometime after the eviction she noticed that certain items of her personal property were missing; namely, gold earrings, Bluetooth headphones, and a Windows tablet. (Id.) In her complaint, Williams demands $40, 000 in damages. (Id. at 1.)

         B. Procedural Background

         On July 28, 2015, Williams filed a hand-written complaint in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, Civil Division, against the "Washington DC Evictions Marshals."[3] The Service removed Williams's complaint to federal court on October 23, 2015, and on November 24, 2015, the Service filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, arguing that this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction because Williams failed to exhaust the administrative remedies that the FTCA requires. (See Def.'s Mem at 3-6.) USMS attached to its motion a declaration from its General Counsel, who stated that he had reviewed the Service's files and had not located any written claim from Williams relating to the June 19th eviction. Williams filed an opposition to the motion on December 31, 2015; in it, she recounted the circumstances surrounding the eviction and her efforts to call the Marshals office to file a complaint. (PL's Opp. at 3-9.) Williams also attached to her opposition a letter that her daughter drafted regarding her recollection of the events of June 19th and the impact those events have had on her. (Id. at 10-13.)


         A. Motions To Dismiss For Lack Of Subject Matter Jurisdiction Under Rule 12(b)(1)

         USMS contends that this Court has no subject matter jurisdiction to entertain Williams's claim against it, and thus that Williams'scomplaint must be dismissed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). (Def.'s Mem. at 3-6.) When the court's jurisdiction is challenged, the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence. See Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992); Halcomb v. Office of the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms of the U.S. Senate, 209 F.Supp.2d 175, 176 (D.D.C. 2002). Moreover, and importantly, under Rule 12(b)(1), it is '"presumed that a cause lies outside [the federal courts'] limited jurisdiction, ' unless the plaintiff establishes by a preponderance of the evidence that the Court possesses jurisdiction[.]" Muhammad v. FDIC, 751 F.Supp.2d 114, 118 (D.D.C. 2010) (first alteration in original) (quoting Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994)).

         "[T]he court must scrutinize the plaintiff's allegations more closely when considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) than it would under . . . Rule 12(b)(6)." Schmidt v. U.S. Capitol Police Bd., 826 F.Supp.2d 59, 65 (D.D.C. 2011) (citing Macharia v. United States, 334 F.3d 61, 64, 69 (D.C. Cir. 2003)). Still, the court must accept as true all of the factual allegations in the complaint and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Brown v. District of Columbia, 514 F.3d 1279, 1283 (D.C. Cir. 2008). However, it need not "accept inferences unsupported by the facts alleged or legal conclusions that are cast as factual allegations." Rann v. Chao, 154 F.Supp.2d 61, 64 (D.D.C. 2001). And if the court finds that it lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the matter ends there, because "the court [can] no more rule in favor of [a party] than against it." Simpkins v. District of Columbia Gov't, 108 F.3d 366, 371 (D.C. Cir. 2007).

         B. Standards For ...

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