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Robinson v. Government of District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

January 11, 2017



          Amit P. Mehta United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Rafiq Robinson was arrested for-though not convicted of-violating the District of Columbia's prohibition on possessing an open container of alcohol in certain public spaces, D.C. Code § 25-1001 (“the POCA law”). Plaintiff filed the present lawsuit on behalf of himself and two potential classes of plaintiffs, challenging the POCA law as unconstitutional on both procedural and substantive due process grounds. As to his procedural due process claim, Plaintiff primarily contends that the POCA law fails to pass constitutional muster because it lacks a state of mind element, thereby inviting arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement. With respect to his substantive due process claim, Plaintiff asserts that the POCA law bears no rational relation to the public welfare and therefore unconstitutionally infringes on his “freedom of action.”

         Before the court is Defendant Government of the District of Columbia's Motion to Dismiss. After thorough consideration of Plaintiff's Complaint, the parties' pleadings, and the applicable law, the court grants Defendant's Motion and dismisses Plaintiff's Amended Complaint with prejudice.

         I. BACKGROUND

         An officer of the Metropolitan Police Department stopped Plaintiff Rafiq Robinson on October 24, 2015, in the alley alongside 104 Kennedy Street N.W., Washington, D.C. See Am. Compl., ECF No. 11 [hereinafter Compl.], ¶¶ 50-51.[1] Upon searching Plaintiff's person, the officer discovered a “bottle of Taaka Genuine Vodka in the right rear pocket of [Plaintiff's] pants.” Id. ¶ 52. The bottle was “half full” and “the top was on the bottle.” Id. ¶ 53. The officer smelled the bottle, determined it contained alcohol, and arrested Plaintiff for possessing an open container of alcohol in public, in violation of D.C. Code § 25-1001(a) (“the POCA law”), as well as another, unspecified offense. Compl. ¶¶ 54, 59. The POCA law provides that “no person in the District shall drink an alcoholic beverage or possess in an open container an alcoholic beverage in or upon any of the following places: (1) a street, alley, park, sidewalk, or parking area . . . .” D.C. Code § 25-1001(a)(1). The D.C. Code defines an “open container” as “a bottle, can, or other container that is open or from which the top, cap, cork, seal, or tab seal has at some time been removed.” Id. § 25-101(35).[2] Plaintiff alleges that, at the time of his arrest, he was not visibly intoxicated, the bottle had not been in plain view, he had not drank from the bottle while in public, and he had not demonstrated any intent to drink from the bottle while in public. Compl. ¶¶ 55-58. Plaintiff was booked and fingerprinted at the police station before being released on citation. Id. ¶ 60.

         On November 6, 2015, the Office of the Attorney General formally charged Plaintiff with violating the POCA law. Id. ¶ 61. After Plaintiff's appearance, arraignment, and entry of a not-guilty plea, the District of Columbia Superior Court set a trial date for December 17, 2015, until which time Plaintiff was on pre-trial release. Id. ¶¶ 62-63. Plaintiff appeared for trial, but the Superior Court dismissed the case when the government announced it was not prepared to proceed. Id. ¶¶ 65-66.

         Plaintiff filed suit in this court on January 4, 2016, seeking relief against the District of Columbia under Section 1983, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, on the theory that the POCA law violates the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment in two respects. See Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of the City of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978) (allowing for municipal liability under Section 1983 if the government enacted and enforced an unconstitutional law against the plaintiff). First, he asserts that the POCA law infringes the Fifth Amendment's guarantee of procedural due process because its lack of a state of mind, or mens rea, element invites arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement. Compl. ¶¶ 69-70, 86(a)-(b). Second, Plaintiff claims the POCA law violates the substantive component of the Due Process Clause by infringing on his protected liberty interest in “freedom of action” without adequate justification. See Id. ¶¶ 70-71, 86(c). Plaintiff seeks to certify and represent two classes of individuals: one class of those who have been arrested for POCA violations and one class of those who have been prosecuted for POCA violations. Id. ¶¶ 78-79. On behalf of himself and the members of each class, Plaintiff seeks injunctive, declaratory, and monetary relief. Id. ¶¶ 81-82, 84.

         Defendant moved to dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint in full for failure to state a cognizable claim. See Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 12 [hereinafter Def.'s Mot.]. That motion is now ripe for review.


         “[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 Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is facially plausible when “the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. The factual allegations in the complaint need not be “detailed”; however, the Federal Rules demand more than “an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Id. “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id.

         In evaluating a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the court must determine whether the plaintiff's complaint meets this requirement. In so doing, the court accepts the plaintiff's factual allegations as true and “construe[s] the complaint ‘in favor of the plaintiff, who must be granted the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged.'” Hettinga v. United States, 677 F.3d 471, 476 (D.C. Cir. 2012) (per curiam) (quoting Schuler v. United States, 617 F.2d 605, 608 (D.C. Cir. 1979), aff'd en banc, 628 F.2d 199 (1980)). The court need not accept as true, however, either “a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation, ” Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986), or “inferences . . . unsupported by the facts set out in the complaint, ” Kowal v. MCI Commc'ns Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1994). If the facts as alleged fail to establish that a plaintiff has stated a claim upon which relief can be granted, then the court must grant the defendant's Rule 12(b)(6) motion and dismiss the complaint. See Am. Chemistry Council, Inc. v. U.S. Dep't of Health & Human Servs., 922 F.Supp.2d 56, 61 (D.D.C. 2013).


         The court begins with Plaintiff's procedural due process claim and then turns to his substantive due process claim. For the reasons explained below, the court concludes that the POCA law violates neither component of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment.

         A. Procedural Due Process

         As a preliminary matter, the court notes that Plaintiff brings a facial challenge, rather than an as-applied challenge, to the POCA law. See Pl.'s Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 13 [hereinafter Pl.'s Opp'n], at 4-6. Traditionally, to succeed on a facial vagueness challenge, the plaintiff had to show “the enactment [wa]s impermissibly vague in all of its applications.” U.S. Telecom Ass'n v. FCC, 825 F.3d 674, 735 (D.C. Cir. 2016) (alteration in original) (internal quotation mark omitted). That standard rested on the principle that “[a] plaintiff who engages in some conduct that is clearly proscribed cannot complain of the vagueness of the law as applied to the conduct of others.” Village of Hoffman Estates v. Flipside, Hoffman Estates, Inc., 455 U.S. 486, 495 (1982). Recently, however, the Supreme Court cast doubt on the “in all of its ...

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