United States District Court, District of Columbia
MEMORANDUM AND OPINION
ROSEMARY M. COLLYER United States District Court
evening of June 7, 2013, officers of the Washington, D.C.
Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) executed a search
warrant at 4701 Alabama Avenue S.W., Apartment 31. Without
announcing their presence, the officers breached the door of
the apartment and then handcuffed and detained most of its
occupants: a husband and wife, a sixteen-year-old boy, and a
grandmother. Only a three-year-old was left without handcuffs
but frightened and in tears; the officers refused to remove
the mother's handcuffs so that she could comfort him. The
search was aimed at recovering several Burberry purses stolen
from a Virginia store, but no purses were located. The
officer who obtained the warrant had sworn that he was likely
to find evidence of the crime at the home because it was an
address at which the get-away car was registered and the
car's primary driver was reported to live; based on his
“training and experience, ” the officer also
sought to search for and seize all electronic devices.
Dorsey and her two children, occupants of Apt. 31 on June 7,
sue for alleged violations of their constitutional rights
under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. Defendants are: (1)
William Dempster, the MPD officer who swore out the affidavit
for the search warrant; (2) the MPD officers who, in addition
to Officer Dempster, executed the search warrant
(“Defendant Officers”); and (3) the District of
Columbia. See 2d Am. Compl. [Dkt. 24] ¶¶
16-18. Plaintiffs assert that Officer Dempster relied on his
“training and experience” to obtain the warrant
despite knowing that D.C. warrants based on “training
and experience, ” without specific facts, rarely find
what is sought. Plaintiffs also claim that the officers who
executed the search warrant acted in an unconstitutional
manner, breaching the door without announcing their presence,
using unreasonable force in their search, and overstepping
the scope of the warrant. They allege that these
constitutional violations occurred as a result of a pattern
and practice of faulty training by the District of Columbia.
Defendants have moved to dismiss except William Dempster, who
has left MPD and has not been served. See Def. District
of Columbia's Mot. to Dismiss Pls.' 2d Am. Compl.
[Dkt. 27] (DC MTD); Def. Officers' Partial Mot. to
Dismiss Counts I, II and V of Pls.' 2d Amended Compl.
[Dkt. 28] (Officers' MTD). The Court will grant the Motions
to Dismiss in part and deny them in part.
3, 2013, two people stole nine Burberry purses from a
Leesburg, Virginia outlet store and fled in a dark BMW with
the license plate EE0674. Two days later, MPD officers
spotted the same dark BMW in Northeast DC, when they
attempted a traffic stop and the car sped away. Notified of
this occurrence, Officer William Dempster, a specialist in
auto theft, ran the plates, and learned that title to the BMW
was held by two people, one of whom was Francis Taylor. Mr.
Taylor carried the insurance on the car and was identified as
its primary driver. His driver's license indicated that
he lived at 4701 Alabama Ave. S.W., Apt. 31.
unnamed sources confirmed to Officer Dempster that Mr.
Taylor's current address was Apt. 31, 4701 Alabama Ave.
S.W. Armed with these pieces of information, Officer Dempster
prepared an affidavit and applied for a search warrant to
authorize MPD to search the apartment. While he had no direct
information that evidence of the theft would be found in Apt.
31, Officer Dempster swore that his “training and
experience” led him to conclude that thieves typically
stash stolen items in their homes until they can sell them
safely. 2d Am. Compl. Ex. 1 (Affidavit for Search Warrant)
(Affidavit) at 1. The Affidavit also contained boilerplate
paragraphs to the effect that thieves typically take photos
of themselves with their stolen goods and otherwise document
their activities using cell phones and personal computers;
thus, Officer Dempster sought authorization to seize all
personal electronic devices and computers located during the
search of Apt. 31. Id. A judicial officer of the
District of Columbia Superior Court issued the requested
search warrant (Warrant). Id. at 5.
allege that Francis Taylor did not reside at Apt. 31, 4701
Alabama Ave., S.W., at the time of the search and that he had
not hidden any Burberry purses there. When the Warrant was
executed, the only occupants of the apartment were Mr.
Taylor's cousin, Nika Dorsey, her husband, mother, and
her two youngest children, 16-year-old Jonte Watts and
three-year old J.C. Plaintiffs assert that none of these
persons had any connection to, or knowledge of, the crime.
Without knocking or announcing their presence, the MPD
officers breached the apartment's door, trained weapons
on the family inside, detained them, and handcuffed everyone
except three-year-old J.C., who was terrified and screamed
and cried. The officers refused to release Ms. Dorsey from
handcuffs at any time during the search so that she could
comfort J.C. As part of their search, the officers
confiscated all cell phones and a laptop computer. After two
hours of searching, the officers left without any purses.
cite statistics that indicate that a large majority of D.C.
warrants that rely on “training and experience”
to establish probable cause find no evidence at the residence
searched; thus, they contend, the unsuccessful outcome of
this particular search was both typical and totally
predictable. Given the widespread use of such
allegedly-flawed affidavits, Plaintiffs contend that D.C. has
a pattern and practice of insufficient training of MPD
officers that frequently results in constitutional violations
of the City's residents. Accordingly, Plaintiffs sue
Officer Dempster, the Defendant Officers, and the District of
Complaint advances five separate “Claims:” (1)
that the Affidavit was so lacking in probable cause that no
reasonable officer could have relied on it; (2) that the
Affidavit contained statements that were knowingly and
recklessly false and omitted material information; (3) that
the false and reckless statements and omissions in the
Affidavit robbed the Warrant of probable cause and were the
result of a pattern and practice by MPD; (4) that the
Officers violated Plaintiffs' constitutional rights when
they failed to knock and announce their presence before
entering the apartment; and (5) that the Officers violated
Plaintiffs' constitutional rights when they exceeded the
scope of the Warrant, used excessive force, and made
unnecessary and unreasonable seizures not authorized by the
Warrant. See 2d Am. Compl. at 19-22.
Defendant Officers move to dismiss, asserting that they are
entitled to qualified immunity for their good faith reliance
on what they believed was a valid warrant properly executed.
See Officer's MTD at 1. The District of Columbia
also moves to dismiss, arguing that Plaintiffs have fail to
state any constitutional violations and therefore cannot sue
D.C. See DC MTD at 1.
Motion to Dismiss
motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) challenges the
adequacy of a complaint on its face. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).
To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain
sufficient factual information, 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, 555 (2007)). A court must assume the truth of all
well-pleaded factual allegations and construe reasonable
inferences from those allegations in favor of the plaintiff.
Sissel v. Dep't of Health & Human Servs.,
760 F.3d 1, 4 (D.C. Cir. 2014). A court need not accept
inferences drawn by a plaintiff if such inferences are not
supported by the facts set out in the complaint. Kowal v.
MCI Commc'ns Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C. Cir.
1994). Further, a court does not need to accept as true legal
conclusions set forth in a complaint. Iqbal, 556
U.S. at 678. In deciding a motion under Rule 12(b)(6), a
court may consider the facts alleged in the complaint,
documents attached to the complaint as exhibits or
incorporated by reference, and matters about which the court
may take judicial notice. Abhe & Svoboda, Inc. v.
Chao, 508 F.3d 1052, 1059 (D.C. Cir. 2007).
assessing whether Plaintiffs have pleaded sufficient factual
information to state a plausible claim for relief, the Court
must additionally consider whether the Defendant Officers are
entitled to qualified immunity for their alleged actions.
“Although government officials may be sued in their
individual capacities for damages . . . qualified immunity
protects officials from liability ‘insofar as their
conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or
constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have
known.'” Atherton v. D.C. Office of Mayor,
567 F.3d 672, 689 (D.C. Cir. 2009) (quoting Harlow v.
Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818-19 (1982)). “When
determining whether a right was ‘clearly established,
' ‘the contours of the right must be sufficiently
clear that a reasonable official would understand that what
he is doing violates that right.'” Id.
(quoting Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 640
(1987)). “The relevant, dispositive inquiry in
determining whether a right is clearly established is whether
it would be clear to a reasonable officer that his conduct
was unlawful in the situation he confronted.”
Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 202 (2001). It is the
Plaintiffs' “burden to show that the particular
right in question-narrowly described to fit the factual
pattern confronting the officers-was clearly
established.” Dukore v. District of Columbia,
799 F.3d 1137, 1145 (D.C. Cir. 2015).
Plaintiffs have adequately pled a violation of their
constitutional rights (whether or not the Defendant Officers
are entitled to qualified immunity), they can only sue the
District of Columbia if they can further show that a custom
or policy of the District caused the violation. “[W]hen
execution of a government's policy or custom, whether
made by its lawmakers or by those whose edicts or acts may
fairly be said to represent official policy, inflicts the
injury” then “the government as an entity is
responsible.” Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of
City of N.Y., 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978). “[I]n
considering whether a plaintiff has stated a claim for
municipal liability, the district court must conduct a
two-step inquiry. First, the court must determine whether the
complaint states a claim for a predicate constitutional
violation. Second, if so, then the court must determine
whether the complaint states a claim ...