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Spiller v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

March 23, 2018

PERRY SPILLER, et al., Plaintiffs,
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiffs Perry Spiller and James McCray bring this action against the District of Columbia and two Metropolitan Police Department Officers, who are identified in the complaint as Timothy Murphy and Robert Barillaro. Spiller and McCray allege that they were unlawfully arrested, injured, and detained, and that Spiller was maliciously prosecuted, after police officers observed them laughing at a fight outside a nightclub in Washington, D.C. The two men bring suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and various provisions of the Constitution, and they also assert common law claims for false arrest, false imprisonment, negligent supervision and training, and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

         Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiffs' claims in part pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), or in the alternative, for summary judgment in part under Rule 56. For the reasons explained below, the Court concludes that (1) Plaintiffs fail to state a substantive due process claim; (2) Spiller fails to state a claim for “malicious prosecution” under § 1983[1] but does so under D.C. Law; (3) Plaintiffs' § 1983 “negligent infliction of emotional distress” claim is duplicative of their § 1983 “negligent supervision and training” claims; and (4) Plaintiffs fail to state claims for negligent supervision and training, regardless of whether those claims are premised on the common law or § 1983.

         The Court will, accordingly, GRANT in part and DENY in part Defendants' motion to dismiss, or in the alternative, for summary judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In considering Defendants' motion to dismiss, the Court will accept Plaintiffs' factual allegations as true. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009). Although Plaintiffs' allegations are not entitled to that same deference for purposes of Defendants' motion for summary judgment, Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-49 (1986), the facts relevant to the determination of that motion-namely, the content and date of the notices sent to the District-are undisputed.

         On May 30, 2015, McCray and Spiller stood outside a nightclub, which was closing for the night. Dkt. 1 at 6 (Compl. ¶ 19). Around midnight, they observed two people begin to fight in a “loud and violent” manner. Id. (Compl. ¶ 19). Barillaro and his partner were in a police car down the block and were soon approached by one of the individuals involved in the fight. Id. (Compl. ¶ 19). Spiller and McCray “stood nearby and laughed at the incident taking place.” Id. (Compl. ¶ 20). The police officers came over to the two men, and “asked [them] to leave the scene where the fight took place.” Id. (Compl. ¶ 20). The police did not arrest either of the individuals involved in the fight. Id. (Comp. ¶ 20). McCray and Spiller relocated to two “chairs in an alleyway adjacent to the street where the incident took place.” Id. (Compl. ¶ 21). The officers “then re-approached and grabbed the Plaintiffs and said . . . ‘You're under arrest for noise violation!'” Id. (Compl. ¶ 21). After a brief conversation in which Spiller insisted that he and McCray had had nothing to do with the earlier fight, Barillaro “tackled . . . Spiller by using his hands and arms to . . . forcefully conduct a takedown of [Spiller].” Id. at 7 (Compl. ¶ 22). Spiller “suffered swelling and abrasions to his legs, [a] sore throat, and . . . numbness on the left side of his body” as a result of the “takedown.” Id. at 7, 8 (Compl. ¶¶ 22, 25). The other officer, “using his arms and hands and full force of his weight, ” also “tackl[ed] . . . McCray to the ground using an unnecessary and excessive amount of force.” Id. at 7 (Compl. ¶ 22). While Barillaro's partner “held down” McCray, Barillaro “grabbed . . . McCray's hands and with full force . . . yanked . . . McCray's right hand and slammed [it] on the hard ground causing . . . McCray to suffer a broken hand.” Id. (Compl. ¶ 23).

         Both men required treatment for the injuries they sustained when the officers tackled them. Id. at 7-8 (Compl. ¶¶ 24-25). McCray was arrested for “Making Noise at Night, ” despite having “made no noise.” Id. at 8 (Compl. ¶ 26). He was “shackled and handcuffed and sent to D.C. Superior Court for processing, ” but “[a]fter spending several hours in jail for having committed no offense, ” he was released without being charged. Id. (Compl. ¶ 26). Spiller was arrested for “Making Noise at Night” and for “Assault on a Police Officer, ” although he was not charged with the former. Id. (Compl. ¶ 27). He was, however, charged with “Assault on a Police Officer” and “Carrying a Dangerous Weapon” (nunchucks “allegedly recovered from his backpack pursuant to a search incident to arrest”). Id. (Compl. ¶ 27). On October 5, 2015, all charges were dismissed by the United States Attorney's Office, and “the assigned prosecuting attorney informed” Spiller's attorney that the office “had opened an internal investigation against” the two officers involved in the arrest.[2] Id. at 8-9 (Compl. ¶ 27). Four days later, Spiller and McCray's counsel sent letters to the Mayor of the District of Columbia asserting their “intention to file suit against the District of Columbia for [their] unlawful arrest[s] and for the intentional, unjustifiable, and brutal physical assault of [their] person[s] by Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) officers.” Dkt. 19 at 29; id. at 31.


         “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is plausible if “the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. Although “detailed factual allegations” are not required, the complaint must contain “more than labels and conclusions, [or] a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. The Court must “assume [the] veracity” of “well-pleaded factual allegations, ” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679, and must “grant [the] plaintiff the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged, ” Sparrow v. United Air Lines, Inc., 216 F.3d 1111, 1113 (D.C. Cir. 2000) (internal quotation marks omitted). The Court, however, need not accept “a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

         Summary judgment is granted “if 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); see Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 247-48; Holcomb v. Powell, 433 F.3d 889, 895 (D.C. Cir. 2006). A fact is “material” if it is capable of affecting the outcome of the litigation. Holcomb, 433 F.3d at 895; Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 248. A dispute is “genuine” if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. See Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007); Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 248; Holcomb, 433 F.3d at 895. “A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by . . . citing to particular parts of materials in the record . . . .” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A). The party seeking summary judgment “bears the heavy burden of establishing that the merits of his case are so clear that expedited action is justified.” See Taxpayers Watchdog, Inc. v. Stanley, 819 F.2d 294, 297 (D.C. Cir. 1987).

         III. ANALYSIS

         Both sides have, at least modestly, narrowed the issues for decision at this early stage of the litigation. As an initial matter, although Plaintiffs initially named Timothy Murphy as one of the two individual defendants, no one by that name works for MPD. Plaintiffs acknowledge as much, and suggest they will seek leave to amend their complaint to name the correct officer in the future. See Dkt. 18. For now, the Court will dismiss “Timothy Murphy” from the suit by virtue of Plaintiffs' concession.[3] Plaintiffs also concede that Count I, alleging false arrest, and Count II, alleging false imprisonment, should be merged. Dkt. 19 at 12. For their part, Defendants have not moved to dismiss Count VII, alleging “gross negligent excessive force, ” and they concede that Count VIII, insofar as it alleges a common law negligent infliction of emotional distress claim, states a claim. Dkt. 13 at 21-22; Dkt. 21 at 5. The remaining claims are discussed below.

         A. Substantive Due Process

         Count III alleges “that the Defendants denied the Plaintiffs substantive due process;” “that the negligent conduct of the officers ‘shocks the conscience;'” and that the officers “conducted a reckless investigation” by failing to establish probable cause prior to arresting Spiller and McCray because they “failed to properly investigate the arrest area, scene and location.” Dkt. 1 at 12 (Compl. ¶¶ 50-51). Defendants, in response, assert that the officers' alleged actions are not “so egregious, so outrageous, that [they] may fairly be said to shock the contemporary conscience.” Abdelfattah v. U.S. Dep't of Homeland Sec., 787 F.3d 524, 540 (D.C. Cir. 2015) (quoting County of Sacramento v. Lewis, 523 U.S. 833, 847 n.8 (1998)). While that may be true, the Court need not reach the question, because the actions underlying the due process claim are barred by the threshold application of the “more [] specific provision rule” announced in Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386 (1989). Lewis, 523 U.S. at 844. That rule holds that when “an explicit textual source of constitutional protection against [the] sort of physically intrusive governmental conduct” at issue exists, that more specific provision, “not the more generalized notion of ‘substantive due process, ' must be the guide for analyzing th[o]se claims.” Graham, 490 U.S. at 395. The relevant conduct at issue in this case is MPD's seizure of McCray and Spiller without probable cause. The claim thus “arises in the context of an arrest or investigatory stop of a free citizen, ” and “is most properly characterized as one invoking the protections of the Fourth Amendment.” Id. at 394. Because that claim is “‘covered by' the Fourth Amendment, ” “[s]ubstantive due process analysis is therefore inappropriate.” Lewis, 523 U.S. at 843. Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiffs' substantive due process claim will, therefore, be granted.

         B. Malicious Prosecution

         1. Section 1983

         Spiller alleges that he was subject to malicious prosecution from May 30, 2015 to October 5, 2015, and, in particular, that he was “arrested, ” “beaten, ” “prosecuted, ” and “forced to come to Court, ” even though he did not commit a crime. Dkt. 1 at 14-15 (Compl. ¶¶ 66-70). Spiller does not expressly invoke § 1983, although he labels the claim a “Fourth Amendment Malicious Prosecution Claim.” Dkt. 1 at 14-15 (Compl. ¶¶ 66-70). Defendants treat the count as a claim under § 1983 in their motion to dismiss, and argue that such a claim “hinges on the continued detention of a plaintiff once his/her criminal prosecution is instituted.” Dkt. 13 at 19 (citing Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384 (2007)). Because “Spiller makes no allegation that he was held in custody subsequent to the initiation of the criminal prosecution, ” Defendants argue he has failed to state a claim. Id. at 19-20. The nub of the current controversy, then, is whether something less than detention in a prison or jail-which, for clarity, the Court refers to as “incarceration”-can support a § 1983 claim for malicious prosecution, and if so, whether Spiller has nevertheless failed to allege a sufficiently severe deprivation of his liberty.

         Contrary to Defendants' categorical argument, in the D.C. Circuit, incarceration is not an essential element of a malicious prosecution claim under § 1983. Instead, “malicious prosecution is actionable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 to the extent that the defendant's actions cause the plaintiff to be unreasonably ‘seized' without probable cause, in violation of the Fourth Amendment.” Pitt v. District of Columbia, 491 F.3d 494, 511 (D.C. Cir. 2007) (emphasis added); accord Amobi v. D.C. Dep't of Corr., 755 F.3d 980, 993 (D.C. Cir. 2014); Demery v. Montgomery Cty., 602 F.Supp.2d 206, 212 (D.D.C. 2009) (holding that plaintiff alleging “the unreasonable seizure of his person” stated a claim for malicious prosecution under § 1983). Exactly what pretrial restrictions constitute “seizures” for this purpose, however, is less clear. In the D.C. Circuit's only direct discussion of the issue, it concluded that a ten-day commitment to a halfway house constituted a seizure sufficient to support a claim for malicious prosecution. Pitt, 491 F.3d at 511. Courts within this circuit have also held that short periods of detention directly following an arraignment or “being restricted by pretrial conditions and being compelled to appear in court” can constitute a seizure sufficient to state a § 1983 malicious prosecution claim. See, e.g., Mehari v. District of Columbia, 268 F.Supp.3d 73, 82 (D.D.C. 2017); Thorp v. District of Columbia, 142 F.Supp.3d 132, 145-46 (D.D.C. 2015) (suggesting that “drug testing and weekly interviews with court officials” constitute a seizure in context of § 1983 malicious prosecution claim).

         Other circuits have produced a diverse set of standards for discerning whether conditions short of incarceration are sufficient to support a § 1983 malicious prosecution claim. The Second Circuit has held that restrictions on travel and the requirement that a defendant make “periodic court appearances” constitute sufficient limitations on liberty for purposes of a § 1983 malicious prosecution claim. See Murphy v. Lynn, 118 F.3d 938, 946 (2d Cir. 1997). The Third Circuit has found similar terms of pretrial release sufficient to state a § 1983 malicious prosecution claim, and it has expressly recognized that, under its capacious definition of seizure, “nearly all individuals alleging malicious prosecution in cases against public officials will be able to sue under section 1983 because travel restrictions and required attendance at court hearings inhere in many prosecutions.” See Gallo v. City of Philadelphia, 161 F.3d 217, 225 (3d Cir. 1998); see also Id. at 222 (holding that it “amounted to a seizure” when a defendant “was prohibited from traveling outside New Jersey and Pennsylvania” in addition to having to “post a $10, 000 bond, ” “attend all court hearings including his trial and arraignment, ” and “contact Pretrial Services on a weekly basis”). And the Fifth Circuit has held that a “summons to appear in court, coupled with the requirements that [the plaintiff] obtain permission before leaving the state, report regularly to pretrial services, sign a personal recognizance bond, and provide federal officers with financial and identifying information, diminished [the plaintiff's] liberty enough to render him seized under the Fourth Amendment.” Evans v. Ball, 168 F.3d 856, 861 (5th Cir. 1999), abrogated on other grounds by Castellano v. Fragozo, 352 F.3d 939 (5th Cir. 2003) (en banc).

         By contrast, the First and Tenth Circuits have held that compelled pretrial appearances and other common release conditions, without more, are not seizures sufficient to support a § 1983 malicious prosecution claim because, “if the concept of a seizure is regarded as elastic enough to encompass standard conditions of pretrial release, virtually every criminal defendant will be deemed to be seized pending the resolution of the charges against him.” Nieves v. McSweeney, 241 F.3d 46, 55 (1st Cir. 2001); accord Becker v. Kroll, 494 F.3d 904, 915-16 (10th Cir. 2007). Still other circuits have declined to delineate the exact boundaries of what constitutes a pretrial seizure while simultaneously cautioning against an overly broad interpretation that encompasses the standard conditions of pretrial release. See, e.g., Kingsland v. City of Miami, 382 F.3d 1220, 1235-36 (11th Cir. 2004) (holding that being “required to (1) pay a $1, 000 bond; (2) appear at [an] arraignment; and (3) make two trips from New Jersey to Florida to defend herself in court, pursuant to the authority of the state” did not “constitute a significant deprivation of [the plaintiff's] liberty” and therefore did not “constitute[] a seizure violative of the Fourth Amendment”); Karam v. City of Burbank, 352 F.3d 1188, 1193-94 (9th Cir. 2003) (holding that a person not charged with a felony was not seized when only restrictions on liberty were required court ...

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