United States District Court, District of Columbia
S. CHUTKAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
brings this case pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging
that Defendant violated his Fourth and Fifth Amendment
rights. Plaintiff has moved for partial summary judgment as
to liability on the Fourth Amendment claim, and Defendant
cross-moved for summary judgment as to all counts. For the
reasons below, Plaintiff's motion for partial summary
judgment will be GRANTED, and Defendant's cross motion
for summary judgment on all counts will be DENIED.
Erlin Ever Mencias Avila is a home improvement contractor. He
was present at the scene of an altercation on September 6,
2014 between a day laborer who went by the name Luis, who had
been working with Plaintiff that day, and the owner of the
restaurant El Torogoz, where they went after work. The
incident concluded with Plaintiff driving his white work van,
with Luis as a passenger, away from the restaurant. Later
that evening the police seized Plaintiff's van, and,
pursuant to a search warrant, searched it days later. The
police kept possession of the van for over a year, until
January 13, 2016. Plaintiff concedes that the original
seizure of the van was lawful, but alleges that the length of
the seizure violated the Fourth Amendment, and that he was
denied due process in violation of the Fifth Amendment. He
seeks to hold Defendant Matthew Dailey, the Metropolitan
Police Department (MPD) officer who was the lead detective on
the case, liable for the violations pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
parties dispute the specifics of the altercation at El
Torogoz, but for the most part the exact details of the
altercation do not impact the claims or the appropriateness
of summary judgment. While there are three video clips of
different security cameras' footage of the incident, the
court does not find, as Defendant asserts, that the videos
“speak for themselves” or are particularly
enlightening as to the specific details of what happened.
Plaintiff and Luis went to El Torogoz on the evening of
September 6. (Pl. Reply to Def. Suppl. Resp. to Pl. Statement
of Undisputed Material Facts ¶ 5, ECF No. 36-1). The
parties agree that at one point Plaintiff was inside the
restaurant while Luis went outside and began to argue with
the restaurant's owner and the owner's wife.
(Id. ¶ 7). The video footage clearly depicts,
and the parties agree, that the argument escalated and Luis
threw a stanchion and a chair toward the restaurant owner and
some other people, one of whom was struck by the chair.
(Id. ¶ 8). Plaintiff, having left the
restaurant at some point during the escalation of the
argument, was “a spectator to the assault.”
(Id. ¶ 7). He contends that he intervened in
the situation “in an effort to stop the fight and
prevent any further violence, ” while Defendant claims
that Plaintiff “interven[ed] on the assailant's
behalf.” (Id. ¶¶ 7, 12).
states that he then “ushered Luis into his van and told
him to stop fighting, ” and then got into the
driver's seat, after which Luis exited the van with a
metal object and scraped it across the sidewalk, creating
sparks. (Id. ¶ 13). Defendant contends that the
security footage shows “Plaintiff still standing next
to the assailant when he scraped a metal object across the
sidewalk, creating sparks.” (Id.) The court
finds the video footage unclear; therefore a dispute exists
about whether or not Plaintiff was standing next to Luis
while Luis scraped an object on the sidewalk. Plaintiff
states that he did know what the metal object was, while
Defendant argues that he must have known because he was next
to Luis when Luis used the object. (Id. ¶ 14).
Because the footage is unclear, there is a dispute as to
whether Plaintiff knew what the metal object was. Ultimately,
though, that dispute is not material here.
asserts that after Luis scraped the metal object on the
sidewalk, he “opened the passenger's door to
Plaintiff's van, retrieved an open case of beer, and
slammed the case onto the sidewalk, ” after which he
“picked up a full can from the ground and threw it back
down, causing the can to burst before he climbed in the
van.” (Pl. Am. Resp. to Def. Statement of Undisputed
Facts ¶¶ 19-20, ECF No. 36-2). Plaintiff admits
that the footage depicts a person engaging in that conduct
“at the top of the frame, ” but does not concede
that it was Luis. (Id.) It is undisputed that after
the scraping incident and the beer incident, Plaintiff and
Luis drove away in Luis's white van. (Pl. Reply to Def.
Suppl. Resp. to Pl. Statement of Undisputed Material Facts
then parked his van near Ache Lounge on Kennedy Street NW,
and entered Ache Lounge by himself. (Id.
¶¶ 17, 19-20). Defendant suggests that Plaintiff
may not have “entered Ache Lounge without noticing the
assailant leave or without any information about the
assailant's whereabouts, ” (id.), but it
is undisputed that Plaintiff went to Ache alone. His van was
seized that night by MPD, under Dailey's direction as
lead detective. (Id. ¶ 30). When Plaintiff left
Ache lounge, he encountered and spoke with several MPD
members, including Detective Dailey and Detective Xanten and
Officer Jordan. (Id. ¶ 33). The MPD officers
told Plaintiff that his van was going to be towed.
(Id. ¶ 36). There is a dispute as to the
remainder of the conversation. Defendant states that the MPD
“told him that the van was towed because it was
evidence in the criminal investigation, ” while
Plaintiff maintains that he was not told specifically why the
van was being seized or where it was being taken.
(Id.). Plaintiff also maintains that the police
implied that he could retrieve his van if he helped identify
Luis, while Defendant disputes “that MPD Officers
offered a strict quid pro quo” involving
“the release of Plaintiff's van in exchange for
information about Luis.” (Id. ¶ 37).
van, containing Plaintiff's construction tools, was towed
and taken to the Fourth District, and Officer Jordan filled
out a PD Form 81 indicating that the van had been seized as
evidence. (Id. ¶¶ 40, 43). Detective
Xanten made an entry in the Fourth District property book
asking to be contacted if Plaintiff visited the station to
inquire about his van and tools. (Id. ¶ 44). It
is undisputed that Plaintiff was not provided any written
notice regarding the van. (Id. ¶ 41).
days later, on September 11, 2014, Plaintiff asked Officer
Jordan about his van at the Park Road substation, and then
went to the Fourth District station to be questioned by
Officer Jordan and some other MPD officers. (Id.
¶¶ 49, 50). Defendant was not present. Officer
Jordan stated at one point during the questioning that
“any assistance you can give us to close out the case
would be helpful in getting your van back.” (Jordan
Dep. 62-63, ECF 24-1 Ex. F). Officer Timlick, who was
involved in the interrogation, told Plaintiff: “You
need your van; we need the suspect ID'ed. That's a
small price to pay to get your van back to tell us who this
suspect is.” (Llewellyn Decl. ¶ 16(a), ECF No.
24-1 Ex. A). He also said, “The best thing you
can do, sir, is help yourself out. The Metropolitan Police
Department has your van, I believe, most likely, as evidence.
It's a procedure that the police department has to go
through to get your van back.” Officer Timlick told
Plaintiff that his van could be held pending a trial, which
could be a long time, and said, “if you're not
trying to work with us, that might make things very
complicated for you to get your van back . . . [unless] your
friend is more important than your van, you need to tell us
who your friend is.”
September 23, 2014, Defendant searched the van pursuant to a
search warrant that stated he had probable cause to believe
the van contained evidence that would assist MPD in
identifying and locating the suspect in the incident at El
Torogoz. (Pl. Am. Resp. to Def. Statement of Undisputed Facts
¶¶ 55-56). The affidavit in support of the warrant
stated that Defendant intended to look for “personal
items of [the suspect in the assault], clothing, mail matter,
identification and DNA evidence.” (Def. Ex. L). The
warrant authorized a search of the entire vehicle.
(Id.). Defendant removed from the van a passport, 4
beer cans, and a knife. (Pl. Am. Resp. to Def. Statement of
Undisputed Facts ¶ 57).
to the U.S. Attorney's Office, the procedure for release
of seized property is as follows: the MPD officer
“makes the decision to release the seized property,
” and then presents a Form 81C to a supervisor at the
USAO to sign “indicating that the USAO-DC has no
objection to that release and that said property is not
needed to be retained as evidence.” The USAO's
determination is “handled on a case by case
basis.” (Giovannelli Decl. ¶¶ 3-7). Defendant
does not dispute the USAO's description of the process,
only states that “MPD does not have the authority to
release property until the USAO confirms that it no longer
needs it for the criminal prosecution.” (Pl. Am. Resp.
to Def. Statement of Undisputed Facts ¶ 70). With regard
to the return of property, it is undisputed that: (1) it is
MPD that initiates the process; and (2) the USAO must sign
off on it before the property can be released. MPD General
Order 601.1 also describes MPD procedures for dealing with
property and states that, in cases where property is
classified as evidence or suspected proceeds of a crime but
no arrest is made, “the member first taking the
property into custody shall be responsible for obtaining a PD
Form 81-C from the appropriate prosecuting attorney and
delivering it to the Court Property Control Office.”
(Pl. Ex. I). Otherwise, “[i]n all other cases where
release is required, the member handling the case in court
shall be responsible for obtaining and preparing the PD Form
and Defendant spoke on the phone through an interpreter on
March 3, 2015. (Id. ¶ 78). Part of the
conversation related to whether Plaintiff knew the identity
and whereabouts of Luis. (Id. ¶ 79). Dailey
asked Plaintiff to come to the Fourth District station, where
he was served with a subpoena to appear before a grand jury
on March 13, later rescheduled to May 2015. (Id.
¶ 80). The subpoena was issued by AUSA Bruckmann, at
Defendant's request. (Dailey Dep. At 96; Def. Ex. N).
Plaintiff appeared on March 13 in accordance with the subpoena
and completed an application for the appointment of counsel.
(Pl. Am. Resp. to Def. Statement of Undisputed Facts ¶
81). He was never asked to return to testify before the grand
jury. (Id. ¶ 82).
Kara Traster took over the case in May 2015. (Def. Reply to
Pl. Resp. to Def. Statement of Undisputed Facts ¶ 56,
ECF No. 33-1). On September 15, 2015, Defendant emailed
Traster asking for updates on four cases, one of which he
referred to as the “ADW Knife from the Latino
restaurant.” (Def. Ex. P). She responded asking if they
could speak on the phone, and wrote, “I definitely want
to move forward with these cases.” (Id.).
counsel contacted Defendant in November 2015 regarding return
of the van, and Defendant referred counsel to Traster.
(Id. ¶ 85). On November 19, 2015, Traster
informed Defendant that the case was closed and asked him to
initiate the process to release the van. (Id. ¶
86). On November 27, Defendant emailed AUSA John Giovannelli,
copying Traster, stating that Plaintiff was his “only
avenue at identifying the suspect in this investigation,
” that Plaintiff had “been uncooperative from the
start, ” and asked if the prosecutors would obtain an
arrest warrant for Plaintiff as “an accessory to the
crime.” (Pl. Mot. for Part. Summ. J. Ex. O). Defendant
indicated that he “had no reason to believe that
Plaintiff would return to the police station after his
property was released from evidence, given Plaintiff's
apparent attitude toward the investigation.” (Pl. Am.
Resp. to Def. Statement of Undisputed Facts ¶ 88).
Traster declined to seek an arrest warrant for Plaintiff.
(Id. ¶ 89). Defendant prepared form 81-C for
release of the van on November 26 and sent it to the USAO,
where it was signed, (id. ¶ 90), but Plaintiff
did not learn that his property was available for retrieval
until January 7, 2016, after this lawsuit was filed. Defense
counsel ultimately informed Plaintiff's counsel that the
van was available, and Plaintiff retrieved his van on January
13, 2016. (Id. ¶¶ 94, 95).
judgment is appropriate where there is no disputed genuine
issue of material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment
as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). In determining
whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the court
must view all facts in the light most favorable to the
nonmoving party. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v.
Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587-88 (1986) (citing
United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655
(1962)). The movant must rely on materials in the record to
demonstrate the absence of any genuinely disputed issues of
material fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp.,
477 U.S. at 332. The nonmoving party, in response, must
present her own evidence beyond the pleadings to demonstrate
specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for
trial. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 324. A fact is
material if “a dispute over it might affect the outcome
of a suit, ” and an issue is genuine if “the
evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a
verdict for the nonmoving party.” Holcomb v.
Powell, 433 F.3d 889, 895 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (quoting
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248
(1986)) (internal quotation marks omitted). The non-movant is
“required to provide evidence that would permit a
reasonable jury to find” in his or her favor.
Laningham v. U.S. Navy, 813 F.2d 1236, 1242 (D.C.
Cir. 1987) (citations omitted).
has moved for summary judgment on his Fourth Amendment claim.
Defendant has moved for summary judgment on both
Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment and Fifth Amendment claims,
on grounds specific to each claim and because of qualified
immunity, which Defendant argues bars both claims.
Fourth Amendment Claim
1983 provides a remedy where a person acting under color of
state law, including District of Columbia law, deprives a
person of their Constitutional rights. 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
If a local law enforcement officer conducts a search or
seizure that violates the Fourth Amendment, the person
searched or seized unreasonably or who had their property
searched or seized unreasonably may bring a section 1983
claim against the officer. See Monroe v. Pape, 365
U.S. 167, 187 (1961), overruled on other grounds by
Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of City of N.Y., 436
U.S. 658 (1978).
concedes that it was “likely reasonable for Det. Dailey
to seize the van the night of the incident and hold it until
a search warrant could be obtained and a search conducted,
” but argues that the subsequent duration of the
continued seizure-the van was held by MPD for 15 months after
it was searched-was unreasonable. (Pl. Mot. for Summ. J. at
13-14). In assessing the reasonableness of a seizure, a court
“must balance the nature and quality of the intrusion
on the individual's Fourth Amendment interests against
the importance of the governmental interests alleged to
justify the intrusion.” Johnson v. District of
Columbia, 528 F.3d 969, 974 (D.C. Cir. 2008) (internal
quotation marks and citation omitted). The balancing inquiry
applies to the seizure of persons as well as property. A
seizure that is reasonable at the outset can become
unreasonable because of duration. Segura v. United
States, 468 U.S. 796, 812-13 (1984) (noting that
“a seizure reasonable at its inception because based
upon probable cause may become unreasonable as a result of
its duration or for other reasons, ” but finding no
unreasonable seizure in the exclusionary rule context where
law enforcement officers occupied apartment for 19 hours
awaiting warrant, in part because “[t]he actual
interference with [the] possessory interests in the apartment
and its contents” of the tenants, who were already in
police custody elsewhere, “was, thus, virtually
maintains that after Defendant conducted a warranted search
of the van, the continued seizure of the van and its contents
became unreasonable, because “neither the van nor the
tools had any evidentiary value.” (Pl. Mot. for Summ.
J. at 14). Defendant responds that it was not he but the USAO
who determined the length of the seizure because Defendant
“was not responsible for prosecuting the underlying
[assault with a deadly weapon], and thus did not have the
legal authority to control the duration of the
seizure.” (Opp'n at 9). He also asserts that the
van continued to have evidentiary value after the date of the
search, that his original search was “limited . . . to
the passenger compartment, ” that he could have been
subject to sanctions under D.C. Superior Court Criminal Rule
16 for not preserving and retaining the vehicle for
inspection by a potential criminal defendant, and that
precedent suggests that the 15-month seizure was reasonable.
(Id. at 10-13).
has not identified any legitimate basis for holding the van
after he conducted the search, nor pointed to a government
interest to balance against Plaintiff's interest in
having and using his van. While MPD officers suggested during
interrogation that they needed to hold the van until Luis was
found in order to match his fingerprints with prints on the
van, that explanation defies common sense. Not only could MPD
have checked Luis's fingerprints against prints on the
items seized from the car, but they also could have obtained
prints from the van itself during the execution of the search
warrant. See, e.g., United States v.
Alexander, 761 F.2d 1294, 1302 (9th Cir. 1985) (finding
seizure of items and dusting for fingerprints within the
scope of a warrant “authorizing the officers to search
for items ...