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Odom v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

March 31, 2017

JAUNICE ODOM, Plaintiffs,
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al., Defendants.


          TANYA S. CHUTKAN, United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Jaunice Odom brings this case, individually and on behalf of her minor child M.U., against the District of Columbia and D.C. Metropolitan Police Department (“MPD”) Officer Joseph Hudson. Plaintiffs seek to hold Officer Hudson individually liable, as well as the District municipally liable, for violations of Plaintiffs' constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and for violations of a number of state tort laws arising out of a May 9, 2015 altercation involving several individuals at D.C.'s Maine Avenue Wharf. Defendants have moved for dismissal of all claims brought on behalf of Odom as well as dismissal of a number of counts brought on behalf of M.U.

         For the reasons below, Defendants' motion to dismiss will be GRANTED in part as to all counts brought on Odom's behalf except Count X; and Count III, Count IV, and Count XI; and DENIED in part as to Count X on behalf of both Plaintiffs and Count IX as to M.U.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs allege that Odom and M.U., who was sixteen years old at the time, were at the Maine Avenue wharf when Odom was assaulted by two individuals. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 15-16). They allege that one of the individuals hit Odom in the face with a crab box, while the second repeatedly struck her in the face with a closed fist. (Id. ¶¶ 17-18). According to Plaintiffs, an MPD officer, who they believe was Defendant Hudson, arrived at the scene, and without announcing himself as a police officer, approached M.U. from behind-although M.U. was not participating in the fray or engaging in any criminal conduct, and was unarmed-and grabbed his neck, placing him in a chokehold. (Id. ¶¶ 19, 22, 23, 30). At the time, M.U. was approximately 5'9” to 5'10” and weighed 130 to 140 pounds. (Id. ¶ 29). Plaintiffs claim that a witness told Hudson when he arrived at the wharf that M.U. had not been involved in the assault. (Id. ¶ 21). Plaintiffs allege that Hudson then threw M.U. to the ground and restrained him by wrapping his legs around M.U.'s body. (Id. ¶ 24). Hudson then handcuffed and detained M.U. for at least twenty minutes, ignoring Odom's requests for emergency medical attention for M.U. (Id. ¶¶ 27, 44). Plaintiffs claim that as a result of the incident, M.U., who has hemophilia, experienced severe physical and emotional injuries. (Id. ¶¶ 36, 38, 64). Odom alleges that she also experienced severe emotional trauma. (Id. ¶ 39).

         Plaintiffs allege eleven counts against Defendants: violations of the Fourth Amendment in the form of (I) excessive use of force and (II) unlawful seizure, (III) deprivation of due process rights in violation of the Fifth Amendment, and (IV) municipal liability on the part of the District for constitutional violations, as well as (V) assault, (VI) battery, (VII) false arrest, (VIII) false imprisonment, (IX) negligence, (X) negligent infliction of emotional distress, and (XI) negligent training and supervision. Defendants have moved for partial dismissal of the Complaint as to all claims brought by Odom individually, as well as M.U.'s Fifth Amendment due process claim against Officer Hudson (Count III), all constitutional claims against the District (Count IV), M.U.'s negligence claim against both Defendants (Count IX), M.U.'s negligent infliction of emotional distress claim against both Defendants (Count X), and M.U.'s negligent training, supervision, or retention claim (Count XI). Defendants also ask the court to “dismiss” (which the court construes as a motion to strike), Plaintiffs' punitive damages claim against the District.


         A. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)

         A motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) “tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint.” Browning v. Clinton, 292 F.3d 235, 242 (D.C. Cir. 2002). In order to survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain factual allegations that are “enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Additionally, the facts alleged in the complaint must “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. at 570. The “plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). In considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6), a court must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs and “must assume the truth of all well-pleaded allegations.” Warren v. District of Columbia, 353 F.3d 36, 39 (D.C. Cir. 2004).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Odom's claims

         Defendants argue that Odom's individual claims against Hudson and against the District must be dismissed because she has not pleaded any facts that would entitle her to relief. Odom appears to concede that she has not brought a Fourth Amendment or assault claim on her own behalf, and that she has not brought a Fifth Amendment claim at all. (See Opp. at 2 (“plaintiffs concede that their Fifth Amendment claims merge with their Fourth Amendment claims, and concede that no assault occurred against plaintiff Odom”). Even absent Plaintiffs' concession, the court notes that Plaintiffs have cited no precedent, nor is the court aware of any, providing for recovery under section 1983 by a parent for unlawful use of force or seizure of their minor child. The court will therefore grant Defendants' motion to dismiss Counts I and II, as well as Count IV, which is also based on violations of M.U.'s constitutional rights, to the extent that Odom brings those counts on her own behalf. The court will dismiss Count III (Fifth Amendment violation) as to both Defendants, as Plaintiffs concede is appropriate, and Count V (assault), as to Odom individually, as Plaintiffs also concede is appropriate.

         Odom continues to assert her Count X negligent infliction of emotional distress claim, (see Opp. at 11-12), but her Opposition is silent as to whether she continues to assert claims on her own behalf on Count VI (battery), Count VII (false arrest), and Count VIII (false imprisonment). Because Odom concedes that she does not allege assault on her own behalf, and assault is generally a lesser-included offense of battery, the court assumes Odom does not intend to bring a battery claim in her own name, and because the Complaint does not reference any injury to Odom herself in Counts VII and VIII, the court assumes she does not intend to bring her own claims under those counts as well. The Complaint references Odom as an injured party with regards to Count IX (negligence), but does not reference her with regards to Count XI (negligent training, supervision, and retention). Because Plaintiffs' Opposition does not argue that the negligence claim applies to Odom personally, the court presumes Plaintiffs intend to pursue Count IX only with regard to M.U. Therefore, the court will address Odom's ability to state a claim individually only with regards to Count X (negligent infliction of emotional distress).

         A plaintiff alleging negligent infliction of emotional distress must demonstrate that “the defendant has a relationship with the plaintiff, or has undertaken an obligation to the plaintiff, of a nature that necessarily implicates the plaintiff's emotional well-being, ” “there is an especially likely risk that the defendant's negligence would cause serious emotional distress to the plaintiff, ” and such harm ensues. Under D.C. law, there is a “general rule” that “there is no freestanding duty to avoid the negligent infliction of emotional distress to a ‘stranger' unless the actor's negligent conduct has put the plaintiff in danger of bodily harm.” Hedgepeth v. Whitman Walker Clinic, 22 A.3d 789, 810-11 (D.C. 2011). But the D.C. Court of Appeals has recognized the “‘zone of physical danger' rule, which permits recovery for mental distress if the defendant's actions caused the plaintiff to be ‘in danger of physical injury' and if, as a result, the plaintiff ‘feared for his own safety.'” Id. at 796 (quoting Williams v. Baker, 572 A.2d 1062, 1066 (D.C. 1990)). A plaintiff alleging negligent infliction of emotional distress under a “zone of danger” theory need not show physical injury, though the emotional distress alleged must be ...

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