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Bowser v. Smith

United States District Court, District of Columbia

January 18, 2018

MARK K. BOWSER, Plaintiff,
v.
SERGEANT D. Smith et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          TREVOR N. MCFADDEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Mark K. Bowser is an inmate at the District of Columbia Jail. He alleges that he was “severely assaulted” by another inmate being escorted by defendant Sergeant Douglas Smith. Am. Compl. at 1 [Dkt. # 6]. Appearing pro se, plaintiff has sued Sgt. Smith and the District of Columbia under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, seeking equitable relief and monetary damages. Each defendant has moved separately to dismiss the complaint under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The District contends that no claim of municipal liability has been stated [Dkt. # 12]; Sgt. Smith contends that he is entitled to qualified immunity [Dkt. # 17]. For the reasons explained below, I will grant the District's motion and deny Defendant Smith's motion without prejudice.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The alleged facts, accepted for present purposes as true, are taken from plaintiff's amended complaint and addendum filed on February 28, 2017 [Dkt. # 15] (hereinafter “Addendum”).0F[1] In April 2016, while assigned to a cell block “as an inmate detail worker, ” plaintiff was attacked by an inmate being escorted by Sgt. Smith. The inmate was “handcuff[ed] from the front, ” but otherwise “had no restraints, and was allowed to walk freely from [the] Sally Port[.]” Addendum at 2. The inmate “was able to strike and assault the plaintiff by sneaking from behind using the handcuffs as a weapon pounding like a sledge hammer[.]” Id. As a result, plaintiff “suffered injuries to the neck, head, and upper right side of his shoulder and face, ” and he “remains in continuing pain.” Am. Compl. at 1. Plaintiff alleges that “the District of Columbia refused to treat [his] injuries, ” id., but that the medical staff gave him ibuprofen for “pain and suffering, ” Addendum at 2.

         Plaintiff invokes the Fifth and Eighth Amendments to the Constitution, claiming (1) that Sgt. Smith “failed to properly control and escort” the other inmate in accordance with “hands on policy[, ] which enabled [the inmate] to assault” him, and (2) that the District of Columbia “failed to properly train Sgt. D. Smith” and was deliberately indifferent to plaintiff's medical needs. Am. Compl. at 1.

         II. LEGAL STANDARDS

         A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) “tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint.” Browning v. Clinton, 292 F.3d 235, 242 (D.C. Cir. 2002). The motion does not test a plaintiff's ultimate likelihood of success on the merits, but only forces the court to determine whether a plaintiff has properly stated a claim. ACLU Found. of S. Cal. v. Barr, 952 F.2d 457, 467 (D.C. Cir. 1991). The court “must construe the complaint ‘in favor of the plaintiff, who must be granted the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged.'” Hettinga v. United States, 677 F.3d 471, 476 (D.C. Cir. 2012) (quoting Schuler v. United States, 617 F.2d 605, 608 (D.C. Cir. 1979)). But “the Court need not accept inferences drawn by plaintiff if those inferences are not supported by the facts set out in the complaint, nor must the court accept legal conclusions cast as factual allegations.” Id. (citation omitted).

         A complaint survives a motion to dismiss if it “contain[s] sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Hurd v. District of Columbia, 864 F.3d 671, 678 (D.C. Cir. 2017) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (other citation omitted)). “A claim crosses from conceivable to plausible when it contains factual allegations that, if proved, would allow the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Thus, a complaint containing only “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements” and factually void legal conclusions cannot withstand a motion to dismiss. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79. Although a pro se complaint, such as here “must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers[, ]” the plaintiff still “must plead ‘factual matter' that permits the court to infer ‘more than the mere possibility of misconduct.'” Atherton v. D.C. Office of Mayor, 567 F.3d 672, 681-82 (D.C. Cir. 2009) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. 679).

         III. ANALYSIS

         Section 1983 provides a remedy against

[e]very person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws.

42 U.S.C. § 1983. “[T]he statute creates no substantive rights; it merely provides remedies for deprivations of rights established elsewhere.” City of Oklahoma City v. Tuttle, 471 U.S. 808, 816 (1985) (citation omitted). Therefore, a plaintiff bringing a § 1983 claim “must allege both (1) that he was deprived of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States, and (2) that the defendant acted ‘under color of' the law of a state, territory or the District of Columbia.” Hoai v. Vo, 935 F.2d 308, 312 (D.C. Cir. 1991) (quotation marks and citation omitted).

         A. Municipal Liability

         Section 1983 claims are typically brought against government actors in their personal capacity, see Simpkins v. District of Columbia Gov't, 108 F.3d 366, 369 (D.C. Cir. 1997), such that “a plaintiff must plead that each Government-official defendant, through the official's own individual actions, has violated the Constitution.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 676. But a municipal corporation like the District is a “person” within the meaning of § 1983 “when [its] official policy or custom causes [a] ...


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