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Brown v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

April 19, 2017

DAWN R. BROWN, Plaintiff,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA and CATHY LANIER, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          REGGIE B. WALTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         The plaintiff in this civil action, Dawn R. Brown, alleges that the defendants, the District of Columbia (the “District”), and Cathy Lanier, the former chief of the District's Metropolitan Police Department (the “MPD”) during the relevant time period, [1] discriminated against her on the basis of her gender and retaliated against her, all in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e to e-16 (2012), and of her constitutional rights under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, see generally Notice of Removal, Exhibit (“Ex.”) 1 (Complaint for Monetary Damages) (“Compl.”) ¶¶ 26-34. Currently pending before the Court is the Defendants' Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings and Motion [for] Summary Judgment (“Defs.' Mot.”). See Defs.' Mot. at 1. Upon consideration of the parties' submissions, [2] the Court concludes that it must grant in part and deny in part the defendants' motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The plaintiff “is a sworn law enforcement officer of the [MPD], ” Compl. ¶ 1, who was “assigned to the [MPD's] Central Cell Block” (the “Cell Block”) at all times relevant to this case, Id. ¶ 7. The plaintiff and a civilian supervisor, Jermaine Fox, “both worked the evening tour” on August 3, 2011. Id. ¶¶ 13-15. The defendants do not dispute that Fox was the watch commander during the evening tour on August 3, 2011. See Pl.'s Rev. Facts ¶ 3; Defs.' Resp. to Pl.'s Rev. Facts ¶ 3. “The [w]atch [c]ommander's desk is in the front office where the security cameras are located and remote surveillance of prisoners is available.” Compl. ¶ 16; Answer ¶ 16. At approximately 8:00 p.m., “it was [discovered], during a routine cell check . . ., that a prisoner had escaped from his cell and from [the Cell Block].” Defs.' Facts ¶ 8.

         An investigation revealed that “the escape occurred between the hours of [6:05 p.m.] and [7:25 p.m.] hours.” Pl.'s Opp'n, Exhibit (“Ex.”) 1 (Final Investigative Report (“Report”)) at 11. The prisoner utilized unlocked “utility doors that [led] to the crawl space behind the cells, ” an “unsecured plumbing closet [containing] a ladder, ” and “an unsecured metal door that led to the female's locker room.” Id., Ex. 1 (Report) at 12. The final investigative report, which was prepared by the plaintiff's superior officer, Captain Edward Delgado, concluded that both the plaintiff and Fox “failed to ensure that the physical security of the facility was not compromised, ” and recommended each of them for disciplinary action. Id., Ex. 1 (Report) at 12.

         Fox was notified of a proposed ten-day suspension on November 29, 2011, but a subsequent final decision dismissed the allegations of misconduct against him. See Defs.' Mot., Ex. 5 (Notice to Jermaine Fox). The plaintiff was also notified of a proposed ten-day suspension on November 30, 2011, id., Ex. 6 (Nov. 2011 Notice to Sergeant Dawn Brown), and three months later, a final decision was issued suspending her without pay for ten days but holding five of those days in abeyance for one year, see id., Ex. 7 (Feb. 2012 Notice to Sergeant Dawn Brown). Appeals of suspension recommendations for MPD officers, such as the plaintiff, as opposed to civilian employees, such as Fox, are processed through different channels. Defs.' Facts ¶ 14; see also Defs.' Mot., Ex. 10 (Feb. 17, 2012 Letter from Sergeant Dawn Brown to Chief Cathy Lanier) at 3 (“Unfortunately because I am a sworn member of the department and the routing of my appeal is slightly different than Mr. Fox, I have not been afforded the same fairness as Mr. Fox . . . .”).

         On March 9, 2012, defendant Lanier denied the plaintiff's appeal of the suspension decision, stating that “[a] review of the [Patrol Service Signal] book reveals that [the plaintiff was], in fact, the watch commander on the night in question, and did not ensure that adequate safeguards were in place to prevent the prisoner's escape.” Defs.' Mot., Ex. 11 (Mar. 9, 2012 Letter from Chief Cathy Lanier to Sergeant Dawn Brown) at 1. Lanier did, however, “reduce the suspension from ten to five days, all of which [were] to be held in abeyance for one year, ” after considering “the mitigating information contained in [the plaintiff's] appeal . . . .” Id. The plaintiff filed this lawsuit after pursuing her discrimination and retaliation claims before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. See Compl. ¶¶ 5-6.

         II. STANDARDS OF REVIEW

         A. Rule 12(c) Motions

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) provides that “[a]fter the pleadings are closed-but early enough not to delay trial-a party may move for judgment on the pleadings.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). “[T]he standard of review for motions for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c) . . . is essentially the same as that for motions to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6).” Jung v. Ass'n of Am. Med. Colls., 339 F.Supp.2d 26, 35-36 (D.D.C. 2004). To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the allegations in the complaint must state a facially plausible claim for recovery. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009); see also Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). The court, which is required to assume that all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint are true, must find that the complaint is sufficient to “raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; see also Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (“To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. 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.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Legal conclusions masquerading as factual allegations are not enough to survive a motion to dismiss. See Browning v. Clinton, 292 F.3d 235, 242 (D.C. Cir. 2002). When resolving a Rule 12(c) motion, “the court must not rely on facts outside of the pleadings, must construe the complaint in a light most favorable to the plaintiff, and must accept as true all reasonable factual inferences drawn from well-pleaded factual allegations.” Maniaci v. Georgetown Univ., 510 F.Supp.2d 50, 59 (D.D.C. 2007).

         B. Rule 56 Motions

         Before granting a motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, a court must find that “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “A fact is material if it ‘might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law, ' and a dispute about a material fact is genuine ‘if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.'” Steele v. Schafer, 535 F.3d 689, 692 (D.C. Cir. 2008) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)).

         When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, “[t]he evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in h[er] favor.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255 (citation omitted). “Credibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge . . . ruling on a motion for summary judgment . . . .” Id. (citation omitted). The movant has the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact and that the non-moving party “fail[ed] to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

         In responding to a summary judgment motion, the non-moving party “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). Accordingly, the non-moving party must not rely on “mere allegations or denials . . . but . . . must set forth specific facts showing that there [are] genuine issue[s] for trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248 (second omission in original) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Moreover, “[t]he mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [non-moving party's] position [is] insufficient” to withstand a motion for summary judgment, but rather “there must be [some] evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [non-movant].” Id. at 252.

         III. ...


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