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Parker v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

February 5, 2018

AFNAN PARKER, Plaintiff.
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al. Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT RE DOCUMENT NO. 65

          RUDOLPH CONTRERAS, United States District Judge

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Afnan Parker, proceeding pro se, [1] alleges that during his participation in Project Empowerment-a program managed by the District of Columbia's Department of Employment Services-the program's Director sexually harassed and assaulted him then intentionally prevented him from receiving benefits for participating in the program. Mr. Parker raises a host of claims against the District of Columbia and the Director, including several asserted under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for purported violations of his constitutional rights. Defendants move for summary judgment on three claims, which allege violation of Mr. Parker's rights to procedural and substantive due process with respect to the termination of Mr. Parker's benefits and violation of Mr. Parker's right to bodily integrity with respect to the purported sexual assault. For the reasons explained below, the Court grants summary judgment in Defendants' favor with respect to Mr. Parker's substantive due process claim and on the sole issue of notice with respect to Mr. Parker's procedural due process claim. However, the Court otherwise denies Defendants' motion.

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         In May 2014, Plaintiff Afnan Parker enrolled in Project Empowerment, a workforce readiness and employment program operated by the District of Columbia's Department of Employment Services (“DOES”).[2] Am. Compl. (“Compl.”) ¶ 2, 7; Defs.' Mem. of Points & Authorities (“Defs.' MSJ”) at 1, ECF No. 65-1. At the time of Mr. Parker's participation, Charles Samuel Jones Jr. served as the Director of Project Empowerment. Compl. ¶ 3; Defs.' MSJ at 1. Project Empowerment participants received $9.50 per hour from DOES, while either working at a transitional job placement or attending one of Project Empowerment's classes. Defs.' MSJ at 2. The parties apparently agree that Mr. Parker's enrollment in the program was set to end on or around September 26, 2014. Defs.' Statement of Undisputed Material Facts (“Defs.' SUMF”) ¶ 2, ECF No. 65-2; see Parker Deposition (“Parker Dep.”) 40:14-41:5. They likewise agree that DOES terminated Mr. Parker on or around September 23, 2014 and that he was not paid any benefits for the remaining program days. Defs.' SUMF ¶¶ 1, 9; Parker Dep. 40:21-41:5; Compl. ¶ 50. The parties disagree, however, about the circumstances surrounding Mr. Parker's termination from the program.

         According to Defendants, DOES terminated Mr. Parker because “he was accused of spitting, or attempting to spit, on two female participants.” Defs.' SUMF ¶ 1. Defendants contend that Mr. Parker met with DOES employees-including a psychiatrist-to discuss the accusation and that during the meeting he denied that he had spit on or attempted to spit on the women. Defs.' SUMF ¶¶ 4-5, 11. Defendants assert that Mr. Parker was given notice of the grounds for his termination-specifically, “Mr. Parker was told that he was being terminated because his behavior, which led to the spitting accusation, was perceived as inappropriate”-and that he also received an opportunity to be heard. Defs.' SUMF ¶¶ 4-7, 10-11.

         While Mr. Parker does not contest that Defendants told him that he was fired because of the spitting accusation, see Parker Dep. 40:7-13, he disputes that he ever spat on or at any other program participant and offers a different take on the days leading up to his termination. According to Mr. Parker, in August and September 2014, he complained to Mr. Jones and other Project Empowerment employees that he was receiving insufficient support in finding a permanent job placement. Compl. ¶¶ 8-12. Mr. Parker alleges that on September 22, 2014, Mr. Jones called Mr. Parker into his office then closed the door. Compl. ¶ 13. After warning Mr. Parker that anything said in the office was to be kept confidential, Mr. Jones purportedly offered to use his work connections to secure Mr. Parker a permanent job placement in exchange for sexual favors. Compl. ¶¶ 14-19. Mr. Parker claims that he rebuffed Mr. Jones and returned to class. Compl. ¶¶ 20-21.

         Mr. Parker asserts that when he returned to the program the next day, he encountered Mr. Jones in a restroom. See Compl. ¶¶ 22-25. Mr. Jones allegedly approached Mr. Parker from behind while Mr. Parker was urinating and “grabbed and squeezed [Mr. Parker's] scrotum, ” causing severe pain. Compl. ¶¶ 25-26. Mr. Parker pushed Mr. Jones away, after which Mr. Jones allegedly propositioned Mr. Parker once again, asking “When you going to give me some?” Compl. ¶¶ 27-29. Mr. Parker contends that he rushed into the hallway, but Mr. Jones followed him and continued to proposition him and to sexually and physically assault him. Compl. ¶¶ 30-34. After pushing Mr. Jones away, Mr. Parker gathered his belongings and left the building, reporting the incident to security on his way out. Compl.¶¶ 35-38. The next day, Mr. Parker reported his claims to the police and, in the days following, he complained or attempted to complain to various DOES officials. Compl. ¶¶ 40-43. Mr. Parker contends that DOES failed to pay him the reminder of his benefits for participating in Project Empowerment. Compl. ¶ 50. According to Mr. Parker, in the days after the purported assault, he experienced significant pain, depression, headaches, and difficulty sleeping, for which he has received medical and mental health treatment. Compl. ¶¶ 44-49.

         Mr. Parker initiated the present action in December 2014. See 1st Complaint, ECF No. 1. After this Court denied Defendants' motion to dismiss, [3] the case proceeded to discovery, which concluded in February 2017. See Joint Status Report, ECF No. 54. Defendants filed their motion for partial summary judgment on June 2, 2017. Defs.' MSJ, ECF No. 65. Four days later, this Court advised Mr. Parker of his obligations under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the local rules of this court, including his obligation to timely respond to Defendants' motion. Fox/Neal Order, ECF No. 66. Mr. Parker subsequently requested and was granted an extension to respond to Defendants' motion. See Mot. for Extension of Time, ECF No. 67; Minute Order (July 25, 2017). More than two months after the new deadline passed, however, Mr. Parker still had not filed a response. See Order (Nov. 22, 2017), ECF No. 72. Nonetheless, the Court afforded Mr. Parker additional time to respond, extending the already-elapsed deadline, but admonishing that the Court would grant Mr. Parker no further extension absent a showing of extraordinary circumstances. Id. That third deadline passed more than a month ago, and Mr. Parker has still filed no response-timely or untimely. Accordingly, the Court now takes up Defendants' motion for summary judgment without any formal response from Plaintiff.

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         The principal purpose of summary judgment is to streamline litigation by disposing of factually unsupported claims or defenses and determining whether there is a genuine need for trial. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986). A court may grant summary judgment when “the movant shows 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 “material” fact is one capable of affecting the substantive outcome of the litigation. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute is “genuine” if there is enough evidence for a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the non-movant. See Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007). While a defendant moving for summary judgment need not negate the plaintiff's case, “‘[i]t is not enough to move for summary judgment without supporting the motion in any way or with a conclusory assertion that the plaintiff has no evidence to prove his case.'” Grimes v. District of Columbia, 794 F.3d 83, 93 (D.C. Cir. 2015) (quoting Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 328); see also Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52 (explaining that the inquiry under Rule 56 is essentially “whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law”). Rather, the movant bears the initial burden of identifying portions of the record that demonstrate the absence of any genuine issue of material fact. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1); Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. In considering a motion for summary judgment, a court must “eschew making credibility determinations or weighing the evidence, ” Czekalski v. Peters, 475 F.3d 360, 363 (D.C. Cir. 2007), and all underlying facts and inferences must be analyzed in the light most favorable to the nonmovant, see Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255.

         Typically, to defeat a motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party points to specific facts in the record that reveal a genuine issue that is suitable for trial. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. Where, as here, the nonmoving party has failed to respond to the motion for summary judgment, a court cannot grant the motion as conceded. Winston & Strawn, LLP v. McLean, 843 F.3d 503, 505 (D.C. Cir. 2016). Because the “burden is always on the movant to demonstrate why summary judgment is warranted, ” id. (quoting Grimes v. District of Columbia, 794 F.3d 83 (Griffith, J., concurring)), a district court “must determine for itself that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Id. at 509.

         IV. ANALYSIS

         To succeed on a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must show that, while acting under color of state law, the defendant deprived the plaintiff of “rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws” of the United States. 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Defendants move for summary judgment on Mr. Parker's Fourth Amendment claim in Count V, arguing that Mr. Parker has not stated a claim under the Fourth Amendment and that any alleged assault committed by Mr. Jones was not an action taken under color of state law. Defendants also move for summary judgment on Plaintiff's procedural and substantive due process claims in Count VI. With respect to the procedural due process claim, Defendants contend that Mr. Parker was not constitutionally entitled to benefits for his participation in Project Empowerment and that, in any event, DOES afforded him sufficient process before terminating his benefits. With respect to the substantive due process claim, Defendants assert that Mr. Parker has not shown that Defendants acted with deliberate indifference to his right to benefits and, thus, they argue that his claim must fail.

         As explained below, the Court agrees that Defendants are entitled to summary judgment on Mr. Parker's substantive due process claim for benefits and that, with respect to Mr. Parker's procedural due process claim, Defendants have shown that they are entitled to summary judgment on the sole issue of notice. However, Defendants have otherwise failed to demonstrate an absence of genuine issues of material fact. Accordingly, Defendants' motion for summary judgment is denied with respect to Count V-which the Court construes as a claim of violation of Mr. Parker's substantive due process right to bodily integrity rather than as a claim under the Fourth Amendment-and with respect Mr. Parker's claimed procedural due process violation for the purported deprivation of benefits owed to Mr. Parker for participating in Project Empowerment.

         A. Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment is Denied with Respect to Count V

         Mr. Parker asserts that Defendants violated his right to “bodily integrity under the Fourth Amendment by subjecting him to unwanted physical and sexual abuse.” Compl. ¶ 72. Defendants first argue that Mr. Parker has not stated a claim under the Fourth Amendment. See Charles Jones, Jr.'s Mot. for Partial Summ. J. at 2 n.2, ECF No. 65. Defendants next move for summary judgment, arguing that they cannot be held liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for any violation of Mr. Parker's right to bodily integrity because Mr. Jones's alleged actions were not taken under color of state law. Defs.' MSJ at 8. The Court concludes that, though Mr. Parker's claim is improper under the Fourth Amendment, construed as a claim of violation of Mr. Parker's substantive due process right to bodily integrity, Count V states a claim. The Court also finds that Defendants have failed to demonstrate an absence of issues of material fact regarding this claim. Accordingly, Defendants' motion for summary judgment is denied with respect to this claim.

         1. Mr. Parker's Claim is Not Properly Asserted Under the Fourth Amendment, But It Survives as a Substantive Due Process Claim

         Mr. Parker alleges that Defendants violated his rights to “bodily integrity under the Fourth Amendment.” Compl. ¶ 72. Defendants argue that Mr. Parker “has not alleged an unreasonable search or seizure for a Fourth Amendment claim, nor does the evidence support one.” Charles Jones, Jr.'s Mot. for Partial Summ. J. at 2 n.2. While the Court agrees that Mr. Parker's claim does not squarely fall under the Fourth Amendment, it does not conclude that Defendants are entitled to summary judgment on this basis. Rather, the Court finds that Mr. ...


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