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Agnew v. Government of District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

June 26, 2017

DARYL THOMAS AGNEW, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
GOVERNMENT OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          AMY BERMAN JACKSON United States District Judge.

         Plaintiffs Daryl Thomas Agnew, Alex Dennis, and Rayneka Williamson have brought this lawsuit against the District of Columbia to challenge their arrests and subsequent prosecutions. 3d Am. Compl. [Dkt. # 35]. Plaintiffs challenge the legality of D.C. Code § 22-1307(a), known as the “incommoding statute, ” arguing that the statute is unconstitutionally vague because it allows and encourages arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement. Id. ¶¶ 1, 2. The statute makes it unlawful for a person or group of people:

(1) To crowd, obstruct, or incommode:
(A) The use of any street, avenue, alley, road, highway, or sidewalk;
(B) The entrance of any public or private building or enclosure;
(C) The use of or passage through any public building or public conveyance; or
(D) The passage through or within any park or reservation; and
(2) To continue or resume the crowding, obstructing, or incommoding after being instructed by a law enforcement officer to cease the crowding, obstructing, or incommoding.

D.C. Code § 22-1307(a).

         Plaintiffs argue that the statute is both unconstitutional and unwise as a matter of policy. At one time, plaintiffs argued, with some force, that the language of the statute does not provide members of the community with adequate notice of what conduct it prohibits. See Pls.' Opp. to Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss [Dkt. # 21] at 19-24. But with the third amended complaint and the briefing on the instant motion, plaintiffs have made clear that they are not bringing a notice case. 3d Am. Compl. ¶ 2. Plaintiffs are only alleging that the statute is unconstitutionally vague because it is subject to arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement. Id. A review of Supreme Court precedent makes it clear that a statute is invalid on that basis if it contains a term that defines what is prohibited in terms of the officer's subjective judgment. Here, no such term appears in the statute, so this limited challenge to the statute will be dismissed.

         BACKGROUND

         I. Procedural History

         Plaintiffs Daryl Thomas Agnew and Rashad Bugg Bey originally filed this action on March 9, 2015 against the District of Columbia and the former Chief of Police, Cathy Lanier. Compl. [Dkt. # 1]. After defendants moved to dismiss that complaint, plaintiffs filed an amended complaint, adding Dennis and Williamson as plaintiffs to the action. See Mot. to Dismiss [Dkt. # 12]; Am. Compl. [Dkt. # 15]; see also Min. Order (Aug. 17, 2015). Defendants moved to dismiss the amended complaint. Mot. to Dismiss [Dkt. # 16]. In response to the motion to dismiss, plaintiffs filed an unopposed motion to amend the complaint again, to “strip away” claims that plaintiffs decided not to pursue, and to allege certain facts with “greater precision.” Unopposed Mot. for Leave to Am. First Am. Compl. & to File 2d Am. Compl. [Dkt. # 18] at 1-2. The Court granted the motion, and the second amended complaint was docketed on August 31, 2015. Min. Order (Aug. 31, 2015); 2d Am. Compl. [Dkt. # 19].

         Defendants moved to dismiss the second amended complaint in part, and they also requested a stay of plaintiff Bey's claims while similar claims were pursued in Superior Court. Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss Pls.' 2d Am. Compl. or, in the Alternative, Stay and Dismiss [Dkt. # 20]. Plaintiffs opposed the motion in part, and they also filed a consent motion to dismiss certain claims; they dismissed all claims brought by plaintiff Bey and all claims brought against the Chief of Police. See Order (Oct. 5, 2015) [Dkt. # 23].

         On August 11, 2016, the Court held a hearing on the motion to dismiss the second amended complaint. Min. Entry (Aug. 11, 2016). After the hearing, plaintiffs moved to amend their complaint again. Pls.' Mot. for Leave to Am. 2d Am. Compl. & File 3d Am. Compl. [Dkt. # 32]. According to plaintiffs, the proposed third amended complaint once again “strips away” allegations relating to claims and parties that had previously been dismissed, states the factual allegations “with greater precision, ” and it “clarifies that [plaintiffs] only claim is that the District's ‘incommoding' statute is facially unconstitutional under the second prong of the vagueness doctrine, the arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement prong.” Id. at 3. The Court granted the motion in part; it allowed plaintiffs to make the changes described in the motion, but it did not permit plaintiffs to add allegations related to two other people who were not previously named as plaintiffs in the matter. Order (Sept. 6, 2016) [Dkt. # 34].

         In the third amended complaint, plaintiffs bring claims against the District of Columbia under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violating their constitutional rights by arresting them under the incommoding statute (Count I), and for prosecuting them under the incommoding statute (Count II). 3d Am. Compl. ¶¶ 130-40. The third amended complaint also purports to bring class action allegations under section 1983 on behalf of all persons arrested for violating the incommoding statute, and all persons prosecuted under that provision. Id. ¶¶ 141-54. On behalf of the putative classes, plaintiffs demand a declaratory judgment that the incommoding statute is unconstitutionally vague under the Fifth Amendment. Id. at 24.

         The District moved to dismiss the third amended complaint under Rule 12(b)(6). Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss Pls.' 3d Am. Compl. [Dkt. # 37] (“Def's. Mot.”); Def.'s Mem. in Supp. of Def.'s Mot. [Dkt. # 37] (“Def.'s Mem.”). Plaintiffs oppose the motion, Pls.' Opp. to Def.'s Mot. [Dkt. # 40] (“Pls.' Opp.”), and the District has replied in support of its motion. Def.'s Reply in Supp. of Def.'s Mot. [Dkt. # 41] (“Def.'s Reply”).

         II. Factual Background

         The third amended complaint includes the following facts, accepted as true for purposes of this motion, related only to ...


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