United States District Court, District of Columbia
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER
L. FRIEDRICH, United States District Judge
dispute arises from an interaction between the plaintiffs and
a Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA)
police officer, William O'Brien (O'Brien). Before the
Court is WMATA's Motion to Dismiss and Officer
O'Brien's Partial Motion to Dismiss the Amended
Complaint. Dkt. 14. For the reasons that follow, the Court
will grant WMATA's motion, and the Court will grant in
part and deny in part O'Brien's motion.
plaintiffs, Mark Anthony Hawkins (Hawkins) and his
four-year-old daughter Sparkle Hawkins (Sparkle), left the
Verizon Center at approximately 9:45 p.m. on February 17,
2017 after attending a performance of Disney on Ice. Am.
Compl. ¶ 10, Dkt. 13. The sidewalk was filled with
children and parents leaving the show. Id.
¶¶ 10-11, 30. Hawkins carried Sparkle on his hip as
they left. Id. ¶ 12. Near the sidewalk where
the pedestrians were leaving the stadium, O'Brien-an
officer in WMATA's police force, the Metro Transit Police
Department-drove a marked police vehicle. Id.
¶¶ 7, 10-14. As O'Brien drove by the crowd, the
side view mirror of his vehicle allegedly hit Sparkle's
arm, and she began to cry. Id. ¶¶ 13-15.
According to the complaint, O'Brien stopped, got out of
his vehicle, and drew his gun which he pointed at Hawkins.
Id. ¶ 16. While walking from his car to the
crowd, O'Brien shouted at everyone- Hawkins, Sparkle, and
other pedestrians-and “seemed ready to use his
weapon.” Id. ¶¶ 16-17. Other police
officers shouted at O'Brien, urging him “to put
away his weapon, ” id. ¶ 17, and at some
point as the other officers approached the scene, O'Brien
backed down, returned to his vehicle, and drove off,
id. ¶ 18. After the incident, Hawkins and
Sparkle allegedly “continue to suffer” from the
“emotional and psychological trauma, ”
id. ¶ 20, and Hawkins fears the police will not
protect him and might even harm him in the future,
id. ¶¶ 21-22.
August 29, 2017, Hawkins and Sparkle filed their complaint in
the Superior Court for the District of Columbia, alleging six
counts against WMATA and O'Brien. Dkt. 1-2. The
defendants removed the case to federal court, see
Notice of Removal, Dkt. 1-5, and then moved to dismiss all
claims against WMATA and to dismiss in part the claims
against O'Brien pursuant to Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6)
of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, see
Defs.' Original Mot., Dkt. 6. Subsequently, in their
brief in opposition to the defendants' motion to dismiss,
the plaintiffs sought to amend their complaint. Pls.'
Original Opp'n at 4, Dkt. 9-1 (“Here Plaintiff
seeks to amend his complaint and bring suit on his own
behalf and also Sparkle Hawkins who is a minor. We seek
opportunity to file an Amended Complaint to that
regard.”). Even though the plaintiffs did not move to
amend pursuant to Rule 15(a), the Court construed the
plaintiffs' request as a motion for leave to amend, and
granted the motion. Dkt. 12; see Fed. R. Civ. P.
15(a). The plaintiffs filed their amended complaint on
February 27, 2018. Dkt. 13. The defendants again moved to
dismiss the claims against WMATA in their entirety and to
partially dismiss the claims against O'Brien. Dkt. 14.
Rule 12(b)(1), a party may move to dismiss an action or claim
when the court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). A motion for dismissal under Rule
12(b)(1) “presents a threshold challenge to the
court's jurisdiction.” Haase v. Sessions,
835 F.2d 902, 906 (D.C. Cir. 1987). Federal district courts
are courts of limited jurisdiction, and it is “presumed
that a cause lies outside this limited jurisdiction.”
Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co., 511 U.S. 375,
377 (1994). Thus, to survive a Rule 12(b)(1) motion, the
plaintiff must demonstrate that the court has jurisdiction by
a preponderance of the evidence. Lujan v. Defs. of
Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992).
ruling on a Rule 12(b)(1) motion, the court must treat the
plaintiff's factual allegations as true and afford the
plaintiff the benefit of all inferences that can be derived
from the facts alleged.” Jeong Seon Han v.
Lynch, 223 F.Supp.3d 95, 103 (D.D.C. 2016) (internal
quotation marks and citation omitted). Those factual
allegations, however, receive “closer scrutiny”
than they would in the Rule 12(b)(6) context. Id.
Also, unlike when evaluating a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court
may consider documents outside the pleadings to evaluate
whether it has jurisdiction. See Jerome Stevens Pharm.,
Inc. v. FDA, 402 F.3d 1249, 1253 (D.C. Cir. 2005). If
the court determines that it lacks jurisdiction, the court
must dismiss the claim or action. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1),
Rule 12(b)(6), a party may move to dismiss for failure to
state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P.
12(b)(6). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a complaint
“must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as
true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on
its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S.
662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly,
550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Although “detailed factual
allegations” are not required, a plaintiff must provide
“more than an unadorned,
the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation, ”
id., and must “raise a right to relief above
the speculative level, ” Twombly, 550 U.S. at
555. To state a facially plausible claim, the plaintiff must
plead “factual content that allows the court to draw
the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the
misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. A
complaint alleging “facts [that] are ‘merely
consistent with' a defendant's liability . . .
‘stops short of the line between possibility and
plausibility of entitlement to relief.'”
Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).
evaluating a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, 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) (internal
quotation marks omitted). Conclusory allegations, however,
are not entitled to an assumption of truth, and even
allegations pleaded with factual support need only be
accepted insofar as “they plausibly give rise to an
entitlement to relief.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at
679. Along with the allegations within the four corners of
the complaint, the court can consider “any documents
either attached to or incorporated in the complaint and
matters of which [it] may take judicial notice.”
EEOC v. St. Francis Xavier Parochial Sch., 117 F.3d
621, 624 (D.C. Cir. 1997). Finally, a Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal
for failure to state a claim “is a resolution on the
merits and is ordinarily prejudicial.” Buchwald v.
Citibank, N.A., No. 13-cv-0210, 2013 WL 5218579, at *5
(D.D.C. Sept. 17, 2013) (quoting Okusami v. Psychiatric
Inst. of Wash., Inc., 959 F.2d 1062, 1066 (D.C. Cir.
1992)); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 41(b).
The Caption of the Amended Complaint
defendants argue that the Court should dismiss Sparkle
Hawkins's claims because the case caption is improper. In
particular, the caption lists “Mark Anthony
Hawkins” as the plaintiff without indicating that he is
“next friend” of his daughter Sparkle.
See Defs.' Mem. at 7, Dkt. 14. In response, the
plaintiffs seek to amend the case caption with “next of
friend, ” but they do not move for leave to amend.
See Pls.' Opp'n at 5, Dkt. 15-1.
10(a) requires all parties to be listed in the caption of the
complaint, Fed.R.Civ.P. 10(a), but errors in captions are
common and need not “be viewed as  fatal defect[s],
” 5A Wright & Miller, Federal Practice &
Procedure § 1321 (3d ed. 2004 & Supp. 2017); see
Williams v. Bradshaw, 459 F.3d 846, 849 (8th Cir. 2006)
(“While a caption is not determinative as to who is
party to a suit, we think that it is entitled to considerable
weight when determining who the plaintiffs to a suit are
since plaintiffs draft complaints.”); Marsh v.
Butler Cty., 268 F.3d 1014, 1023 n.4 (11th Cir. 2001),
abrogated on other grounds by Bell Atl. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007) (“[T]he caption of
the complaint is not part of the statement of the claim under
Rule 8. The caption is something apart, being mandated by a
different rule: Fed.R.Civ.P. 10. The caption is chiefly for a
court's administrative convenience.”). In Nicol
v. Baird, for example, the plaintiff incorrectly named
an individual defendant as the executor of the estate against
which the plaintiff sought relief. 234 F.2d 691 (D.C. Cir.
1956). The D.C. Circuit affirmed the dismissal of claims
against the individual defendant whose “name nowhere
appear[ed] in the body of the complaint, ” but allowed
the case to proceed against a trust company that “had
been served with a complaint which demanded relief against it
in its capacity as executor.” Id. at 691.
similar context, the U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted Rule
3 of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure as providing a
jurisdictional bar to courts of appeals considering unnamed
parties when the caption of the notice of appeal simply says
“et al.” after one party's name.
Torres v. Oakland Scavenger Co., 487 U.S. 312,
315-17 (1988) (rejecting such an appeal where the unnamed
parties were “never named or otherwise
designated” in the notice of appeal). But the Court
recognized that “the rules of procedure should be
liberally construed” and “‘mere
technicalities' should not stand in the way of
consideration of a case on its merits.” Id. at
316. When “a litigant files papers in a fashion that is
technically at variance with the letter of a procedural rule,
a court may nonetheless find that the litigant has complied
with the rule if the litigant's action is the functional
equivalent of what the rule requires.” Id. at
316-17; see also Milanovich v. Costa Crociere,
S.p.A., 938 F.2d 297, 298 (D.C. Cir. 1991) (holding that
a caption styled “Gregory Milonovich, et
ux.” satisfied Appellate Rule 3(c) because
“et ux.” was more specific than
“et al.” and the notice of appeal
referred to the husband and wife as “plaintiffs”
in the plural).
technical deficiency at issue in this case does not warrant
dismissal of Sparkle's claims because the
defendants had more than adequate notice that Hawkins is
representing his daughter. The original complaint listed
Sparkle in the caption, though it improperly indicated that
Sparkle was suing in her own capacity. Compl. at 1, Dkt. 1-2.
The amended complaint lists both Hawkins and Sparkle and
notes that Hawkins is acting in a representative capacity.
See Am. Compl. ¶ 5. Specifically, the
body of the amended complaint says that Hawkins is
“representing his minor daughter, Sparkle
Hawkins.” Id. For these reasons, the
plaintiffs have satisfied the “functional
equivalent” of Rule 10(a) and provided adequate notice
to the defendants of Sparkle's claims. Cf.
Torres, 487 U.S. at 317.
the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure evince a “clear
preference to resolve disputes on their merits.”
Cohen v. Bd. of Trustees of the Univ. of Dist. of
Columbia, 819 F.3d 476, 482-83 (D.C. Cir. 2016). In the
interest of a “just, speedy, and inexpensive
determination” of this case, see Fed. R. Civ.
P. 1, the Court will look to the body of the amended
complaint in determining the parties to this case: here, Mark
Anthony Hawkins in his own capacity and as next friend of his
daughter, Sparkle. Therefore, the Court will not dismiss
Sparkle's claims based on an error in the caption.
and Sparkle's tort claims against WMATA, however, will be
dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). A
state is immune from federal suits brought by the state's
own citizens or the citizens of another state unless the
state waives its sovereign immunity or Congress validly
abrogates that immunity. See Jones v. WMATA, 205
F.3d 428, 431-32 (D.C. Cir. 2000). WMATA originates in a
Compact signed by Maryland, Virginia, and the District of
Columbia, and it enjoys the sovereign immunity of those
signatories to the WMATA Compact have only partially waived
sovereign immunity for tort actions. The WMATA Compact states
that WMATA “shall not be liable for any such torts
occurring in the performance of a governmental function,
” but WMATA “shall be liable for its contracts
and for its torts and those of its Directors, officers,
employees and agent[s] committed in the conduct of any
propriety function.” D.C. Code § 9-1107-01(80). The
“threshold question, ” therefore, “is
whether WMATA's operation of the Transit Police Force
constitutes a governmental or a proprietary function within
the terms of the Compact.” Morris v. WMATA,
781 F.2d 218, 220 (D.C. Cir. 1986). Governmental functions,
as opposed to proprietary ones, are activities that
“amount to ‘quintessential' governmental
function[s], like law enforcement.” Beebe v.
WMATA, 129 F.3d 1283, 1287 (D.C. Cir. 1997); accord
Burkhart v. WMATA, 112 F.3d 1207, 1217 (D.C. Cir. 1997).
“WMATA's police activities are an exercise of
governmental function” for which WMATA has not waived
sovereign immunity. Dant v. WMATA, 829 F.2d 69, 74
(D.C. Cir. 1987). Furthermore, even activities that are not
“governmental functions” are protected by
sovereign immunity if they involve decisions that are
discretionary in nature. Burkhart, 112 F.3d at 1217.
For example, “employment decisions are not
quintessential governmental functions” because
“private entities also hire and fire employees, ”
but such employment activities are still protected by
sovereign immunity when they are discretionary.
Beebe, 129 F.3d at 1287. Relevant here, the
“hiring, training, and supervision choices that WMATA
faces are choices ‘susceptible to policy
judgment'” and thus discretionary in nature.
Burkhart, 112 F.3d at 1217; see also Id.
(elaborating that WMATA has “broad power” and
discretion in the supervision context to account for policy
considerations, such as “budgetary considerations,
employee privacy rights, and the need to ensure public
safety, ” and in the training context, considerations
such as “fiscal constraints, public safety, the
complexity of the task involved, the degree of harm a wayward
employee might cause, and the extent to which employees have
deviated from accepted norms in the past”).
alleged torts occurred in the performance of WMATA Metro
Transit Police activities. O'Brien was on duty, in his
uniform, and driving a marked Metro Transit Police vehicle
when the alleged offenses were committed. Am. Compl.
¶¶ 7-9, 13-18. Because such police activities
amount to a governmental function, WMATA cannot be held
liable for the alleged torts that occurred during those
activities, i.e., for all tort claims except Count
IV. D.C. Code § 9-1107-01(80); Dant, 829 F.2d
at 74. And WMATA's supervision and training of the police
force, and specifically of O'Brien, are either police
activities that amount to a governmental function or
discretionary activities; either way, WMATA cannot be held
liable via Count IV (negligent supervision). See
Dant, 829 F.2d at 74; Burkhart, 112 F.3d at
1217. Therefore, the Court will dismiss the tort claims
Common Law Torts