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Williams v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

August 3, 2017

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al. Defendant.


          Gladys Kessler United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff, Ray Bernard Williams, brings this lawsuit against Defendants, Daniel W. Merritt and Cory Bines, two police officers with the District of Columbia's Metropolitan Police Department, and the District of Columbia (collectively "Defendants"). On February 22, 2014, Williams got into an altercation with employees of a liquor store. The Officers responded to a 911 call and, upon arriving at the store, arrested Williams. During the course of the arrest, the Officers delivered several blows to Williams which resulted in significant injuries to his head and face.

         Williams claims that the arrest and use of force violated the Fourth Amendment, as well as various laws of the District of Columbia. Defendants have moved for summary judgment. Motion for Summary Judgment [Dkt. No. 49]. After consideration of the Motion, the various briefs, and the entire record herein, the Court will deny Defendants' Motion with respect to the claims of excessive force, assault and battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress against Bines and the District, but will grant the Motion with respect to all other claims.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         The facts of this case are largely not in dispute because they were recorded by the liquor store's security cameras, which documented virtually all of the relevant events. Those videos have been submitted to the Court. Exhs. 1 & 2 to Opposition to Motion for Summary Judgment [Dkt. No. 51 -1 & 51 -2]. The First Video captures what took place in the main area of the store, directly in front of the counter and cash registers. [Dkt. No. 51-1]. The Second Video captures what took place in what appears to be the vestibule of the store. [Dkt. No. 51-2]. Both videos carry synchronized time stamps.

         On February 22, 2014, Williams entered DC Metro Wine & Spirits. Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Material Facts ¶ 1 [Dkt. No. 49]. After entering, Williams began to act in an unruly manner. See First Video 20:06:53 (showing him throw an unidentified object at a store employee). Williams then moved outside the view of either camera, and got into an altercation with the store employees. When Williams reenters the frame, two of the store employees have grabbed him and are dragging him to evict him from the store. First Video 20:08:02-20:08:11. Before being thrown out, Williams threw at least one punch at the store employees. Id. They then ejected Williams from the store. Second Video 20:08:09-20:08:20.

         Despite being forcibly removed from the store, Mr. William reentered less than two minutes after being thrown out. Second Video 20:10:08. Over the course of the next several minutes, he exited and reentered the store. See First and Second Videos 20:14:45-20:18:20. During this time, he milled about the aisles, drank a beverage, and repeatedly gesticulated at, and said things to, the store employees. Mr. Williams reentered the store a final time, Second Video 20:18:20, and then proceeded to lean against the store counter for roughly two-and-a-half minutes. First Video 20:18:40-20:21:10.

         It is undisputed that sometime after the altercation, during the period when Williams was lingering in and around the store, a store employee called the police to report that Williams had committed assault. Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Material Facts ¶ 4. Merritt was the first officer to arrive on the scene. Id. ¶ 5; Second Video 20:20:35. He then spoke with the store's employees, who identified Williams as the assailant. Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Material Facts ¶ 8. Throughout the thirty seconds after Merritt entered the store, Williams was calmly leaning against the counter. First Video 20:20:35-20:21:05.

         While Merritt was speaking with the employee, Bines entered the store. Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Material Facts ¶ 9; Second Video 20:21:00. Within seconds of Bines entering the store, Merritt directed him to arrest Williams. Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Material Facts ¶ 11; First Video 20:21:05-20:21:15. Bines moved towards Williams and placed his right hand on Williams' upper right arm to make the arrest. First Video 20:21:12. In response, Williams jerked his upper body. Id. 20:21:13. Bines let go of Williams and then patted him several times on his left shoulder in an apparent attempt to calm Williams down while Merritt approached them to help make the arrest. Id. 20:21:14-20:21:21. Merritt and Bines then attempted to secure Williams' arms in order to handcuff him but Williams resisted and a struggle began. Id. 20:21:21-20:21:33.

         As the Officers attempted to handcuff Williams, the struggle moved from the counter area into the vestibule. Id. 20:21:33. As it continued, Bines and Williams fell to the floor. Second Video 20:21:45. On the ground, both Officers wrestled to secure Williams, with Bines delivering three blows in quick succession to Mr. Williams' body. Id. 20:22:00-20:22:05. After these blows, Bines climbed on top of Williams and pinned him to the ground. Id. 20:22:05-20:22:23. While Williams was pinned, Merritt kneeled immediately adjacent to them, attempting to secure Williams' hands. Id. 20:22:23-20:22-59. Williams was pinned to the ground, seemingly immobile, for nearly 30 seconds.

         Then, with Williams still pinned to the ground, Bines delivered four additional blows to the upper parts of Williams' body over the course of the next 45 seconds. Id. 20:22:59, 20:23:18, 20:23:17, 20:23:45. Finally, after Bines delivered the fourth and final blow, the Officers were able to gain control of Williams's hands, Second Video 20:23:47, and place him in handcuffs. Id. at 20:24:45.

         Two aspects of the altercation are not evident from the video. First, the exact strike point of these four blows is unclear. Williams contends that they were either directly to his head or caused his head to be slammed into the ground. See Plaintiffs Statement of Undisputed Material Facts ¶¶ 22-25 [Dkt. No. 51]. Second, it is unclear what degree of control the Officers had over Williams prior to handcuffing him. Bines' testified that he struck Williams despite having pinned him because: (1) Williams failed to comply with the Officers' commands to place his hands behind his back; and (2) Williams was actively trying to get up from the floor. Plaintiffs Statement of Undisputed Material Facts ¶ 25. Williams disputes this, arguing that he tried to comply by allowing the Officers to secure his hands, but was unable to do so because of the way in which the officers had pinned him. Id. ¶ 26.

         Williams remained on the ground, handcuffed, until the paramedics arrived, placed him on a gurney, and carried him out of the store. Second Video 20:24:45-20:41:00. As a result of this encounter Williams suffered a broken nose, a head contusion, and a subgaleal hematoma. Plaintiffs Statement of Undisputed Material Facts ¶¶ 32, 33. According to expert testimony, the hematoma is evidence of significant blunt force trauma to the head and possible brain trauma. Id. ¶¶ 33-35.

         B. Procedural Background

         Williams filed this lawsuit in the Superior Court for the District of Columbia on February 19, 2014. See Complaint [Dkt. No. 1-2]. The Complaint contained nine counts, alleging: (1) violations of the Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments; (2) assault and battery; (3) false arrest; (4) false imprisonment; (5) intentional infliction of emotional distress; (6) negligent infliction of emotional distress; (7) negligence; (8) negligent supervision, retention, and training by the District of Columbia; and (9) respondeat superior liability of the District of Columbia. Id. On May 12, 2015, the District had the case removed from Superior Court to this Court. [Dkt. No.1].

         Subsequently, the Defendants moved to dismiss several of the claims contained in the Complaint. [Dkt. No. 6]. The Court granted the Motion to Dismiss, dismissing Williams' claims under the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments, as well as his claims of false imprisonment, negligent infliction of emotional distress, negligence, negligent supervision, retention, and training, and respondeat superior liability.[1] Order [Dkt. No. 36]. That left in place Williams' Fourth Amendment claim, as well as his common law claims of assault and battery, false arrest, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

         Defendants have now moved for summary judgment on all remaining counts. Motion for Summary Judgment ("MSJ") [Dkt. No. 49]. Williams filed an Opposition. [Dkt. No. 51]. Defendants filed a Reply, [Dkt. No. 54], and the Motion for Summary Judgment is ripe.


         Summary judgment may be granted only if the pleadings, the discovery materials, and affidavits on file show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Arrington v. United States, 473 F.3d 329, 333 (D.C. Cir. 2006); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). "A dispute over a material fact is 'genuine' if' the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.'" Arrington, 473 F.3d at 333 (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby. Inc.. 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). A fact is "material" if it might affect the outcome of the case under the substantive governing law. Id.

         The burden is on the moving party to demonstrate the absence of any genuine issues of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett. 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). When a moving party successfully does so, the nonmoving party must show the existence of a genuine issue of material fact by providing "specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial, " and "may not rest on mere allegations or denials" to prevail. Burke v. Gould, 286 F.3d 513, 517 (D.C. Cir. 2002) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248 (internal quotation marks omitted). The moving party is entitled to summary judgment when the nonmoving party fails to offer evidence sufficient to establish an essential element of a claim on which it will bear the burden of proof at trial. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322.

         In reviewing the evidence on a motion for summary judgment, the court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draws all inferences in her favor. Johnson v. Perez, 823 F.3d 701, 705 (D.C. Cir. 2016). "Credibility determinations, the weighing of the -evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge at summary judgment." Barnett v. PA Consulting Grp.. 715 F.3d 354, 358 (D.C. Cir. 2013) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Accordingly, the Court's role is "not [to] determine the truth of the matter, but instead [to] decide only whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Id.

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Claims that the Arrest Was Unlawful

         In Counts 1 and 3 of his Complaint, Williams alleges that his arrest was unlawful. First, in Count 1 he alleges that his arrest violated the Fourth Amendment because it was executed without a warrant and the Officers lacked probable cause to make the arrest. Second, in Count 3 he alleges that his arrest violated the District's law governing warrantless arrests, which requires more than probable cause to arrest an individual for simple assault. See D.C. Code § 23- 581 (a)(1)(C). The Defendants have moved for summary judgment on both counts.

         1. The Arrest of Williams Was Not Unreasonable and Did Not Violate ...

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