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Robinson v. Farley

United States District Court, District of Columbia

September 1, 2017

MICHAEL ROBINSON, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
BRANDON CARL FARLEY, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          KETANJI BROWN JACKSON United States District Judge.

         On May 30, 2014, Plaintiff Michael Robinson (“Robinson”)-a 28-year-old man with cerebral palsy and intellectual disabilities-encountered a Prince George's County police officer while Robinson was sitting at a bus stop on his way to purchase trash bags. (See Third Am. Compl. (“Compl.”), ECF No. 62, ¶¶ 1-2, 56.) This chance encounter escalated quickly; the lone officer began trailing Robinson, who hastily exited the bus-stop area and retreated to the nearby home of his grandmother and caretaker, Agnes Joyce Robinson (“Mrs. Robinson”). (See Id. ¶¶ 1, 3.) Eventually, regional officers from “at least 29 police vehicles” responded to the scene, entered the Robinsons' home, and “beat[, ]” “kick[ed, ]” and “tased” Robinson before finally arresting him. (Id. ¶¶ 3-5, 71.) Although no criminal charges against Robinson were ultimately pursued, as a result of this unfortunate encounter, Michael and Agnes Robinson have brought an assortment of civil claims against the District of Columbia, Prince George's County, and various individual-officer employees of the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department (“MPD”), the Prince George's County Police Department (“PGPD”), and the Prince George's County Sheriff's Office (“PGSO”). (See generally id.)

         Before this Court at present is a motion to dismiss that the individual MPD Officers and the District of Columbia (collectively, “the District Defendants”) have filed. (See generally ECF No. 61 (“Defs.' Mot”).) In the motion, which is brought under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the MPD Officers argue that the Robinsons' 204-paragraph complaint “contains no specific allegation as to any of the individual District officer defendants and, hence, operates on a completely vague, speculative level that necessitates dismissal.” (Id. at 7; see also Apr. 27, 2017 Hr'g Tr. (“Hr'g Tr.”), ECF No. 79, at 8 (asserting that the Robinsons' complaint is “conclusory and unsupported as to who did what”).)[1] For its part, the District argues that the Robinsons' trespass claim against it (Count VII) should be dismissed, because Plaintiffs fail to allege adequately all of the elements of this claim. (See Defs.' Mot. at 8-9.)

         For the reasons explained fully below, this Court rejects the MPD Officers' contention that the Robinsons are required to identify the precise actions of each individual police officer during the alleged altercation in order to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. To the contrary, the Court finds that the Robinsons' complaint contains sufficient factual allegations regarding the MPD Officers' collective actions during the May 30th confrontation to support the continued prosecution of this action against the named individual defendants, and the Court also concludes that the complaint adequately alleges all elements of a trespass claim against the District. Consequently, the District Defendants' motion to dismiss will be DENIED. A separate Order consistent with this Memorandum Opinion will follow.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background[2]

         Michael Robinson-a 28-year-old man with cerebral palsy, intellectual disabilities, an atrophied left arm, and a diminutive frame-has difficulty walking, speaking, and processing information. (See Compl. ¶¶ 1, 56.) Because of his “physical and intellectual limitations, ” Robinson lives with his grandmother in the Marshall Heights neighborhood of Washington, D.C. (Id. ¶ 56.)

         On May 30, 2014, Robinson was sitting at a bus stop near his home when he noticed the gaze of a police officer across the street. (See Id. ¶¶ 2, 57.) This officer (who was later identified as Officer Brandon Farley of the PGPD) had been called to the District of Columbia to hunt for suspected car thieves. (See Id. ¶ 58.) Because Officer Farley's gaze made Robinson feel “anxious, ” Robinson decided to walk back toward the apartment that he shared with his grandmother. (Id. ¶ 57.) As Robinson began to return home, Officer Farley exited his vehicle and pursued Robinson on foot. (See Id. ¶¶ 3, 59.)

         The complaint alleges that, at some point, Officer Farley spoke to Robinson, asking him for identification, and Robinson presented Officer Farley with his disability identification card. (See Id. ¶ 59.) Nevertheless, Plaintiffs allege that Officer Farley continued to follow Robinson into the stairwell just outside of the Robinsons' apartment unit without any “provocation or justification, ” and that Officer Farley “struck Michael, threw him down on the steps, held him there, and tased him.” (Id. ¶¶ 59-60.) Meanwhile, upon hearing loud noises in the stairwell, Mrs. Robinson ran to her door and looked through her peephole. (See Id. ¶ 60.) Mrs. Robinson allegedly saw her grandson sprawled out on the steps (see id.), and as she looked on, Officer Farley purportedly dragged Robinson by the neck to the outside of the building (see Id. ¶ 61). At some point, Robinson managed to break free from Officer Farley's grasp and raced into his apartment, where he hid in the bathroom. (See id.)

         The complaint alleges that, while Robinson was hiding in the bathroom, Mrs. Robinson and her neighbors repeatedly attempted to inform Officer Farley of Robinson's disabilities. (See Id. ¶ 63.) Undeterred, Officer Farley called for backup and returned to the bus stop to retrieve his police cruiser. (See Id. ¶ 62.) He then paced in front of the Robinsons' building with his firearm and taser drawn, “notwithstanding [the fact] that the situation he caused had stabilized[.]” (Id. ¶ 62.) When Mrs. Robinson's repeated efforts to reason with Officer Farley failed, she returned to her apartment and “called 911 to report that a Maryland police officer was attacking her grandson.” (Id. ¶ 65.)

         According to the complaint, the situation continued to escalate from there. While Mrs. Robinson was inside her apartment, additional officers from the PGPD, PGSO, and MPD arrived at the apartment complex-at least 29 law enforcement vehicles responded to Officer Farley's call, in all. (See Id. ¶ 4.) Plaintiffs allege that, as the various officers arrived, witnesses at the apartment complex “repeatedly told them things like, ‘Excuse me, sir; he's mentally challenged[.]'” (Id. ¶ 68.) In addition, according to the complaint, the officers had “confirmed with Farley that [Farley] was safe” by this time. (Id. ¶ 69.) Mrs. Robinson also allegedly attempted to plead with the arriving officers; she opened the patio door of her apartment-which was located just to the side of the building entrance's stairs-and reiterated to the officers who had gathered outside that Robinson was disabled. (See id.) The complaint alleges that, despite Mrs. Robinson's statements, the officers “rushed past [her] and into the apartment, with firearms drawn, while she loudly screamed, ‘No!'” (Id. ¶ 70.) Plaintiffs allege that none of the officer defendants had a search warrant or an arrest warrant, and that Mrs. Robinson did not consent to this entry into her home. (See Id. ¶ 70.) Once inside the apartment, the officers found Robinson unarmed in the bathroom, at which point they allegedly grabbed, hit, shouted at, and kicked him. (See Id. ¶ 71.) The officers then handcuffed Robinson and placed him under arrest. (See Id. ¶¶ 5, 73.)

         After being restrained, Robinson was initially placed into Officer Farley's police cruiser, but District of Columbia MPD Officers transferred him to an ambulance, and he was transported to a local hospital, where doctors removed a taser spike from his back and treated him for a rapid heartbeat, cuts, and bruises. (See Id. at ¶¶ 73-74.) Robinson was subsequently discharged into MPD custody, and was detained overnight by the D.C. Department of Corrections. (See Id. ¶ 75.) For his part, Officer Farley submitted several written narrative accounts of the events leading up to Robinson's arrest, and made various allegations in those statements, including that Robinson “struck him on the left temple” prior to the use of his taser; that Robinson attempted to take the taser away from him; and that there was an unruly crowd surrounding him at the Robinsons' apartment building. (Id. ¶ 6.)[3] Plaintiffs allege that there is a contemporaneous video that reveals that Officer Farley's assertions are untrue. (See id.)

         This saga finally came to an end the day after the incident, on May 31, 2014, when Robinson was taken to court and the sole pending charge against him- misdemeanor assault on a police officer-was nolle prosequied. (See id. ¶ 7.) Robinson was then released. (See id.)

         B. Procedural Background

         Approximately one year after Robinson's encounter with the police, the Robinsons initiated the instant lawsuit against the District of Columbia, Prince George's County, and a number of individual officers from both jurisdictions. The Robinsons' 12-count complaint raises a series of constitutional, statutory, and common law claims against all Defendants. (See generally id.) As relevant here, the complaint asserts three constitutional claims against the MPD Officers-excessive force (Count I), unlawful entry (Count II), and false arrest or unreasonable seizure (Count III)-all arising under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as well as common law claims for trespass (Count VII), negligence (Count IX), intentional infliction of emotional distress (“IIED”) (Count X), and negligent infliction of emotional distress (“NIED”) (Count XI). (See Id. ¶¶ 87, 101, 111, 155, 171, 183, 192.) The complaint also raises a total of eight claims against the District of Columbia (see Id. ¶ 87 (excessive force); ¶ 101 (unlawful entry); ¶111 (false arrest); ¶126 ...


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