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Cruz-Roldan v. Nagurka

United States District Court, District of Columbia

March 30, 2017

CLAUDIA PATRICIA CRUZ-ROLDAN, Plaintiff,
v.
GREG NAGURKA, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION (DKS, #9, #12)

          RICHARD J. LION, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff, Claudia Patricia Cruz-Roldan ("plaintiff or "Cruz-Roldan"), a childcare provider at a local day care facility, was the subject of a criminal investigation into child abuse. The U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia ("the Government") charged her in Superior Court with second degree cruelty to children and simple assault, but ended up voluntarily dismissing the cases. Cruz-Roldan maintains her innocence and claims the investigation and criminal cases went too far. She brings this action against Greg Nagurka ("defendant" or "Nagurka"), who was the lead detective on the case for the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department. She alleges several tort claims, brought under D.C. law (Counts I-V and VII), as well as several constitutional violations, brought under § 1983 (Count VI). Am. Compl. [Dkt. #5]. Nagurka moves for partial dismissal under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Def.'s Mot. for Partial Dismissal of the Am. Compl. ("Def s Mot.") 1 [Dkt. #9]. Specifically, Nagurka moves to dismiss Cruz-Roldan's tort and § 1983 claims that rely on the prosecution (Count V and part of Count VI), her tort and § 1983 claims based on false arrest (Count IV and the other part of Count VI), and her slander claim (Count VII). Nagurka argues that the Complaint fails to allege the required elements for an injury sustained as part of a criminal prosecution or for a prima facie case of slander. He next argues that Cruz-Roldan has not alleged sufficient facts to sustain her false arrest claims. For the reasons described herein, Nagurka's motion for partial dismissal is GRANTED with respect to the claims that rely on the prosecution (Count V and part of Count VI). The motion is DENIED, however, with respect to the slander claim (Count VII) and the false arrest claims (Count IV and the remaining part of Count VI).

         BACKGROUND

         This case arises out of Nagurka's investigation into an incident of alleged child abuse involving J.S., a young boy enrolled at Kiddie Academy, the D.C. daycare center where plaintiff Cruz-Roldan worked. Am. Compl. ¶ 4. On May 18, 2015, bruises were discovered on J.S.'s legs, arm, and back. Id. In conducting the investigation, Nagurka obtained Kiddie Academy video footage from that day showing Cruz-Roldan patting a crying J.S. on the back until he stopped crying. Id. Nagurka sent a two minute clip of that video to a specialist at the Freddie Mac Foundation Child & Adolescent Protection Center, who responded that "while [plaintiff] is patting [J.S.] quite vigorously, I don't think this clip shows enough to explain [J.S.'s] injuries." Id.

         Next, Nagurka called Cruz-Roldan and her co-worker, Mayra Lopez, into the police station to give a statement. Id. He interviewed Lopez first. Id. Initially, Lopez denied witnessing any abuse at Kiddie Academy. Id. Nagurka then informed Lopez that if she did not tell the police what she knew, she could get herself in trouble, possibly lose her job, and possibly go to jail where she would not be able to see her family. Id. Lopez, who was crying by this time, then changed her story. She said that Cruz-Roldan had "pinched" children on eight occasions over a four month period. Id. Nagurka then interviewed Cruz-Roldan who denied any allegations of intentional abuse, saying "if she hurt any children it had been unintentional." Id. Nevertheless, Nagurka arrested Cruz-Roldan and told her she would be charged with first degree cruelty to children. Id. On June 4, 2015, the Government ultimately filed a one-count information charging Cruz-Roldan with attempted second degree cruelty to children in D.C. Superior Court (2016-CMD-7619). See Def.'s Mot., Ex. 1, at 5-8 [Dkt. #9-1].[1]

         Nagurka's further investigation gave rise to an additional charge against Cruz-Roldan. Relying on a video from April 2015, Nagurka claimed that she had pinched another child's right cheek. Am. Compl. ¶ 4. However, the video allegedly shows Cruz-Roldan incidentally touching the child's left cheek. Id. On July 21, 2015, the Government filed an information against Cruz-Roldan in this second case, charging second degree cruelty to children (2015-CMD-9806). See Def.'s Mot., Ex. 1, at 1-4. In April 2016, the Government filed a superseding information adding a second count of simple assault. Id.

         On July 23, 2015, Nagurka allegedly told the owner of Kiddie Academy, Milena Mattingly, that Cruz-Roldan was guilty of child abuse. Am. Compl. ¶ 33. Mattingly gave a press conference that same day in which she stated, "once we found she was guilty by the investigators, we had to terminate her." Id. at ¶¶ 4. According to plaintiff, Nagurka's communication to Mattingly was the proximate cause of her firing. Id. at ¶ 36. The communication also allegedly caused her name to be added to a registry that made it difficult for her to get child care work and caused her great humiliation and emotional distress. Id. at ¶¶4, 36.

         The trials in Cruz-Roldan's criminal cases were originally set for November 2015. Id. at ¶ 4. When the Government disclosed a large amount of evidence a week and a half before trial, the court continued the trials, eventually setting them for May 2016. Id. About a month before trial, the Government turned over to Cruz-Roldan's defense attorney the video footage of Nagurka's interview with Lopez and also the email exchange with the specialist who concluded "I don't think this clip shows enough to explain [J.S.'s] injuries." Id. A few weeks later, about a week before trial, the Government turned over a report indicating that Nagurka had visited Kiddie Academy the day before he had called Lopez and Cruz-Roldan down to the station. Id. On this visit, Lopez and another employee both apparently indicated that nothing inappropriate had happened on the day J.S.'s injuries were discovered. Id.

         Based on this and other alleged failures to turn over exculpatory evidence, Cruz-Roldan's defense counsel filed a motion to dismiss the charges against her on May 4, 2016. Id. The Government dismissed both cases on May 6, 2016, entering a nolle prosequi for all charges. Id.

         Cruz-Roldan initially filed this lawsuit in D.C. Superior Court on June 2, 2016. Defendant removed to federal court. Notice of Removal [Dkt. #1]; id. at Ex. A [Dkt. #1-1]. Plaintiff amended her complaint on June 29, 2016. Am. Compl. [Dkt. #5]. Defendant responded by filing a partial answer and this Motion for Partial Dismissal of the Amended Complaint challenging the claims based on plaintiffs criminal prosecution, the slander claim, and the false arrest claims [Dkt. #9]. Plaintiff opposed and also requested to further amend her complaint by adding one paragraph that would allege Nagurka's communication to Mattingly was not privileged and, therefore, met the elements of slander. PL's Mot. for Leave to Am. the Compl. [Dkt. #12].

         ANALYSIS

         When deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court must ascertain whether the complaint contains "sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." As her oft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Although the Court must read the complaint's factual allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, Bell Atlantic Co v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007), the Court is not required to accept legal conclusions cast in the form of factual assertions, Browning v. Clinton, 292 F.3d 235, 242 (D.C. Cir. 2002). For the following reasons, I agree with defendant that plaintiffs criminal prosecutions are an insufficient injury on which to base her tort and constitutional claims. I disagree with defendant as to his arguments for dismissing the slander and false arrest claims.

         I. Plaintiff May Not Bring Claims Based on Her Criminal Prosecutions (Count IV and Part of Count VI)

         Plaintiff has three theories that she was injured in the course of the criminal prosecutions against her. She has a tort claim for malicious prosecution (Count IV); a constitutional claim that having to face an unnecessary criminal prosecution constituted a clear Fifth Amendment violation (part of Count VI), see PL's Opp'n 7 [Dkt. #13]; and a constitutional claim that the Government's failure to turn over exculpatory material during trial prep constituted a clear Brady violation (part of Count VI), see Id. at 8-9. None of these claims survive defendant's ...


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