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Turpin v. Ray

United States District Court, District of Columbia

July 12, 2018

CHARLES TURPIN, Plaintiff,
v.
DARNELL RAY, et al., Defendants.

          GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANTS ROWLEY, STRANGE, AND THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA'S MOTION TO DISMISS; DECLINING TO EXERCISE JURISDICTION OVER REMAINING STATE LAW CLAIMS

          RUDOLPH CONTRERAS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Charles Turpin brings suit against Metropolitan Police Department Officers Anthony Rowley and Sharon Strange, the District of Columbia, and landlord Darnell Ray. Mr. Turpin asserts individual and municipal liability claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Officers Rowley and Strange and the District of Columbia for violations of his Fourth Amendment right to freedom from unreasonable seizures. He has also brought common law claims for trespass, false arrest, wrongful eviction, and malicious prosecution against Officers Rowley and Strange, and the common law claim of malicious prosecution against the District of Columbia. He further asserts individual common law claims against Darnell Ray for wrongful eviction, false arrest, and malicious prosecution. For the forthcoming reasons, the Court grants Officers Rowley and Strange's motion to dismiss the § 1983 claims of illegal entry, false arrest, and malicious prosecution. Furthermore, the Court grants the District of Columbia's motion to dismiss the § 1983 municipal liability claim. Finally, the Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Mr. Turpin's remaining state law claims. Thus, the common law claims of false arrest, trespass, wrongful eviction, and malicious prosecution against Officers Rowley and Strange; of malicious prosecution against the District of Columbia; and of wrongful eviction, false arrest, and malicious prosecution against Darnell Ray will be remanded to the D.C. Superior Court.

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND[1]

         Charles Turpin is a District of Columbia resident who, prior to commencement of this action, had been a long-time tenant of Darnell Ray's. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 8-9, ECF No. 5. Mr. Turpin and his partner, Ms. Miles, had lived in an apartment rented from Mr. Ray for at least 10 years. Id. ¶ 8. Ms. Miles's name was on the lease. Id. ¶ 9. Following Ms. Miles's death in 2016, Mr. Ray indicated to Mr. Turpin that he wished to sell the apartment and asked Mr. Turpin to vacate the premises. Id. ¶ 14. In July 2016, Mr. Ray initiated a landlord-tenant case against Mr. Turpin seeking repossession of the apartment. Id. ¶ 15. The lawsuit resulted in a judgment of possession against Mr. Turpin, and on October 13, 2016, the court issued a Writ of Restitution authorizing Mr. Turpin's eviction. Id. ¶ 15-16. The Writ was set to expire seventy-five days from issuance. Id. ¶ 16.

         In the District of Columbia, evictions are carried out by the U.S. Marshals Service. See D.C. Code § 13-302 (“[T]he United States Marshal for the District of Columbia . . . shall serve the process of . . . the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.”); D.C. Super. Ct. Land. & Ten. R. 16 (detailing process by which U.S. Marshal execute writs of restitution); Pl.'s Opp'n Defs.' Mot. Dismiss. (“Pl.'s Opp'n”) Ex. 1, ECF No. 11-1; see also Mendes v. Johnson, 389 A.2d 781, 786-87 (D.C. 1978) (holding evictions may only be executed by appropriate legal process not landlord self-help); D.C. Mun. Regs. tit. 6-A, § 200.11 (“Members of the [police] force shall not serve civil process; nor shall they render assistance in civil cases.”). Acting pursuant to this rule, Mr. Ray paid the required eviction fee to the Marshals Service. Am. Compl. ¶ 17. During the seventy-five-day period in which the Writ of Restitution was active, Mr. Turpin continued to occupy the residence and was never officially removed by the Marshals. See Id. ¶ 19. On December 27, 2016, the Writ of Restitution for Mr. Turpin's eviction expired without the Marshals Service taking any action to execute the eviction. Id. ¶ 18. At some point between when the court issued the Writ of Restitution and when it expired, Mr. Ray changed the locks of the apartment, barring Mr. Turpin from entry. Id. ¶ 19. As a result of the changed locks, Mr. Turpin, who at that time still occupied the apartment, forced entry into the unit by breaking through the rear door. Id. ¶ 20.

         Following Mr. Turpin's re-entry into the apartment he received no communication from Mr. Ray until Mr. Ray called police officers to the premises on December 29, 2016. Id. ¶¶ 21- 23. On first dispatch, the officers that arrived at the scene did not enter the apartment and ultimately declined to intervene in what they deemed a civil matter between a landlord and tenant. Id. ¶ 22. Later that day, Mr. Ray again called the police, and different officers, Officers Rowley and Strange, were dispatched to the premises. Id. ¶¶ 23-24. After speaking with Mr. Ray, who informed them of the eviction proceedings, the officers “indicated to Mr. Turpin that he had been evicted” and needed to come out of the apartment. Id. ¶ 26. During that conversation Mr. Turpin admitted that he had forced entry into the apartment and acknowledged that while eviction proceedings had been entered against him, the Marshals Service had yet to remove him from the apartment. Id. ¶ 25. Mr. Turpin maintained that the Writ of Restitution against him had expired and that he had a right to remain in the apartment. See id. Following this conversation, Officers Rowley and Strange entered the apartment, arrested Mr. Turpin, and forcibly removed him from the premises. Id. ¶¶ 26-30.

         Following his arrest, Mr. Turpin was charged with destruction of property and resisting arrest and was prosecuted fully. Id. ¶ 29. Mr. Turpin's trial took place on July 9, 2017, and the next day, he was acquitted on all counts. Id. ¶ 31. On October 6, 2017, Mr. Turpin commenced this action in D.C. Superior Court, which the District of Columbia then removed to federal court. See Notice of Removal, ECF No. 1. Mr. Turpin has brought individual and municipal liability claims for Fourth Amendment violations pursuant to § 1983 against Officer Rowley, Officer Strange, and the District of Columbia, as well as common law tort claims against Officer Rowley, Officer Strange, the District of Columbia, and Mr. Ray. See generally Am. Compl. Before the Court today are motions to dismiss from Officers Rowley and Strange, the District of Columbia, and Mr. Ray. Each motion is now ripe for decision.

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require that a complaint contain a “short and plain statement of the claim” in order to give the defendant fair notice of the claim and the grounds upon which it rests. Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2); accord Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (per curium). A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) does not test a plaintiff's ultimate likelihood of success on the merits, but rather whether a plaintiff has properly stated a claim. See Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974). A court considering a motion to dismiss presumes the complaint's factual allegations are true and must construe them in a light most favorable to the plaintiff. See, e.g., United States v. Philip Morris, Inc., 116 F.Supp.2d 131, 135 (D.D.C. 2000).

         While it is not necessary for the plaintiff to plead all elements of a prima facie case in the complaint, “[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter . . . 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)). Assuming all factual allegations are true, a plaintiff's right to relief must rise above “the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-56 (2007) (citations omitted). A court need not accept a plaintiff's legal conclusions as true, see Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, nor presume the veracity of legal conclusions couched as factual allegations. See Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements” will therefore not withstand a motion to dismiss. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         IV. ANALYSIS

         Officers Rowley and Strange contend that Mr. Turpin has failed to state a claim for violations of his Fourth Amendment rights, and that even if he has stated valid claims, the officers are entitled to dismissal on the constitutional claims on qualified immunity grounds. Defs.' Mem. P. & A. Supp. Mot. Dismiss (“Defs.' Mem.”) at 6-12, ECF No. 9. Officers Rowley and Strange further assert that they are entitled to common law privilege for the additional false arrest and trespass claims, and that Mr. Turpin has failed to state claims for wrongful eviction and malicious prosecution. Id. at 12-14. The District of Columbia contends that Mr. Turpin has failed to both adequately plead a “deliberate indifference” municipal liability claim under § 1983, as well as state a claim for common law malicious prosecution. Id. at 15-18. Finally, Mr. Ray argues that Mr. Turpin has failed to state proper claims for wrongful eviction, false arrest, and malicious prosecution. See generally Def. Ray's Mem. Supp. Mot. Dismiss (“Def. Ray's Mem.”), ECF No. 20-1. The Court will address each argument in turn.

         A. § 1983 Claims Against Officers Rowley and Strange

         Mr. Turpin has brought § 1983 claims against Officers Rowley and Strange, alleging they violated his Fourth Amendment rights against warrantless entry and unreasonable seizure when they (1) entered his apartment without a search warrant or the occurrence of exigent circumstances; (2) arrested him without a corresponding arrest warrant or probable cause; and (3) initiated criminal proceedings against him with “full knowledge” of the illegality of the arrest. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 32-57. Officers Rowley and Strange contend, given Mr. Turpin's unresolved tenancy status and his admission that he had participated in the destruction of property on the premises, that: (1) no predicate constitutional violations occurred because Mr. Turpin had no expectation of privacy in the home and probable cause existed for his arrest; and (2) even if a violation occurred, the officers are nonetheless entitled to qualified immunity because the violations were not “clearly established” under the circumstances. Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 243-44 (2009); see Defs.' Mem. at 6-12.

         The Supreme Court has identified a clear mandate for courts to resolve qualified immunity questions at the earliest possible stage of litigation, leading this Court to assess Officers Rowley and Strange's entitlement to qualified immunity at the motion to dismiss phase. Pearson, 555 U.S. at 231. While this Court recognizes a recent reluctance among other courts in this Circuit to make qualified immunity determinations prior to trial, the facts before the Court coupled with the case law regarding both Mr. Turpin's expectation of privacy in the apartment in question and probable cause surrounding his arrest allow for a qualified immunity assessment at this stage. See Jiggetts v. Cipullo, 285 F.Supp.3d 156, 172 (D.D.C. 2018) (discussing circuit trend).

         1. § 1983 Illegal Entry Claim

         Mr. Turpin alleges that Officers Rowley and Strange violated his Fourth Amendment rights by illegally entering his apartment without a warrant or exigent circumstances. See Am. Compl. ¶¶ 32-42. Officers Rowley and Strange assert that Mr. Turpin has not pleaded sufficient facts to establish a reasonable expectation of privacy in the apartment at the time that would have entitled him to Fourth Amendment protection in the first place, but that even if he had, the officers are nonetheless entitled to qualified immunity for their actions. Defs.' Mem. at 8. The Court finds that clearly established law did not prohibit Officers Rowley and Strange's conduct under the circumstances, and that therefore, qualified immunity protects their ...


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