United States District Court, District of Columbia
CHRISTOPHER R. COOPER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
It is a
sad reality of American life that a white citizen of
Washington, D.C. would feel a need to report an African
American teenager and his friends to the police for simply
congregating in a public establishment. It is also lamentable
(but thankfully not tragic in this instance) that the young
man, having committed no crime, would feel the urge to run
when the police arrived to investigate. Both actions are born
of fear on either side of the country's racial divide.
But while those fears may animate this case, they do not
case instead turns on a miscommunication between the 911
dispatchers who took the citizen's complaint and the
patrol officers to whom it was relayed. That the officers
received erroneous information about the nature of the
complaint immunizes their use of force to detain the young
man. And if the miscommunication was simply negligent, which
seems likely, then the dispatchers, too, would be immune from
suit. The present record, however, does not allow for a
definitive determination of the dispatchers' mental
state. The Court will therefore await further briefing after
limited discovery before reaching that issue.
the Court are motions to dismiss, and on one issue an
alternative motion for summary judgment, filed by the
individual police officers and dispatchers who are named as
defendants in this case. The District of Columbia joins both
sets of motions. Because the defendants have predominantly
moved for dismissal, the Court draws the following factual
background from Plaintiff Jason Goolsby's Amended
Complaint. See, e.g., Browning v. Clinton,
292 F.3d 235, 242 (D.C. Cir. 2002).
October 12, 2015, Goolsby and two other young
African-American men walked into the vestibule of a Citibank
in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington, D.C. to use
an ATM. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 12, 14. A Caucasian family of
three-a mother, father, and baby in a stroller- approached.
Id. ¶¶ 15-16. Goolsby held the door open
for the family to enter. Id. ¶ 17. He then
overheard the mother say she had left something in the car,
and the family left the bank without using the ATM.
Id. ¶ 18.
leaving, the woman called 911. Id. ¶ 20. She
reported to the dispatcher that she felt uneasy about Goolsby
and the other two young men standing in the vestibule.
Id. ¶¶ 20, 23, 51. The dispatcher then
“relayed false and/or misleading information” to
several District police officers, informing them that they
were responding to “an imminent or already attempted
robbery.” Id. ¶¶ 26-27, 29-34.
the responding officers arrived, they observed Goolsby and
his friends walking down the street near the bank.
Id. ¶¶ 37-38. They then “converged
on the teenagers as if they were apprehending a dangerous
felon.” Id. ¶ 40. One of the officers
drove his SUV directly toward Goolsby “at a very high
rate of speed” before exiting the car and yelling at
Goolsby to get down on the ground or he would pepper spray
him. Id. ¶¶ 41-42. Goolsby instead fled.
Id. ¶ 42. Following a “short pursuit,
” the officers caught Goolsby and “violently
slamm[ed] [him] to the ground, ” “twist[ed] [his]
arm to a gut-wrenching degree while [he] screamed in pain,
” and handcuffed him. Id. ¶¶ 44-45,
Goolsby was handcuffed, the officers contacted the woman who
had placed the 911 call. Id. ¶ 48. The woman
informed the officers that there had been no robbery, but
that she had been alarmed by the young men's presence and
thought the police should investigate. Id.
¶¶ 50-51. After speaking to the woman, the officers
informed Goolsby that he had been detained because of the 911
call and released him. Id. ¶¶ 53-54.
Goolsby alleges that he suffered unspecified “severe
injuries to his face, left arm, neck, back, and thighs”
at the hands of the officers. Id. ¶ 57.
subsequently brought suit against the District of Columbia as
well as the individual officers and dispatchers involved in
the incident. He alleged violations of his constitutional
rights under the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, premised on claims of
illegal arrest or seizure, use of excessive force, and
deprivation of his due process rights. Id.
¶¶ 78-95. He also raised parallel D.C. law claims
for negligence, false imprisonment, assault and battery, and
intentional infliction of emotional distress against the
individual defendants as well as against the District of
Columbia under a respondeat superior theory of liability.
Id. ¶¶ 60-77, 96-104.
original complaint was served on the District alone, since he
did not know the identities of the individual officers and
dispatchers. The District subsequently moved to dismiss or,
alternatively, for summary judgment on the D.C. law claims;
because the individual defendants had not yet been served,
the District's motion did not address any of the section
1983 constitutional claims. On June 8, 2017, the Court held a
hearing on the motion to dismiss. It then denied the motion
without prejudice, directing the District to identify the
individual defendants so as to allow Goolsby to effectuate
service. See Minute Order (June 9, 2017). The Court
deferred resolution of the D.C. common law claims pending the
individual defendants' responses. See id.
has now filed an amended complaint and effectuated service on
the individual defendants. The individual defendants and the
District have again moved to dismiss the case, filing two
separate motions: one by the police officer defendants (the
“Officers”) and one by the dispatcher defendants
(the “Dispatchers”), with the District joining
both motions as to the respective respondeat superior claims
against it. The Dispatchers have also moved for summary
judgment on Goolsby's Fourth Amendment claim. The Court
held a further hearing on May 22, 2018. It will now grant
both motions in part, deny both motions in part, and again
reserve ruling on Goolsby's D.C. law claims.
Motion to Dismiss
District and all individual defendants have primarily moved
to dismiss Goolsby's complaint under Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). To withstand such a 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) (citation omitted). When
resolving a 12(b)(6) motion, the Court must treat as true the
factual allegations in the complaint and draw all reasonable
inferences in the non-moving party's favor. See,
e.g., Lee v. District of Columbia, 733
F.Supp.2d 156, 159 (D.D.C. 2010). However, the Court need not
accept legal conclusions in the complaint. See,
Motion for Summary Judgment
Dispatchers have additionally moved for summary judgement on
Goolsby's section 1983 Fourth Amendment claims against
them. A party will be granted summary judgment if it can show
that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that it
is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed.
R. Civ. P 56(a). A factual dispute is “material”
if the resolution “might affect the outcome of the suit
under the governing law” and “genuine” if
“the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could
return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson
v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). When
deciding a motion for summary judgment, the Court must
“‘examine the facts in the record and all
reasonable inferences derived therefrom in a light most
favorable to' the nonmoving party.” Robinson v.
Pezzat, 818 F.3d 1, 8 (D.C. Cir. 2016) (citation
individual defendants have also moved to dismiss the
constitutional claims against them on the ground that their
actions are protected by qualified immunity. Public officials
will have immunity from suit under section 1983 unless their
conduct violated “clearly established statutory or
constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have
known.” Mullenix v. Luna, 136 S.Ct. 305, 308
(2015) (per curiam) (citation omitted). The unlawfulness of
the official's actions must have been “clearly
established at the time” of the official's conduct.
District of Columbia v. Wesby, 138 S.Ct. 577, 589
(2018) (citation omitted). The burden is on the plaintiff
“to show that the particular right in question-narrowly
described to fit the factual pattern confronting the
[official]-was clearly established.” Dukore v.
District of Columbia, 799 F.3d 1137, 1145 (D.C. Cir.
2015) (citation omitted).
violate a clearly established right, “existing law must
have placed the constitutionality of the officer's
conduct ‘beyond debate.'” Wesby, 138
S.Ct. at 589. Moreover, “the clearly established law
must be ‘particularized' to the facts of the
case.” White v. Pauly, 137 S.Ct. 548, 552
(2017) (per curiam). The Supreme Court has cautioned that
this specificity and particularity is “especially
important in the Fourth Amendment context, where . . . [i]t
is sometimes difficult for an officer to determine how the
relevant legal doctrine . . . will apply to the factual
situation the officer confronts.” Mullenix,
136 S.Ct. at 308 (alteration in original); see also
Wesby, 138 S.Ct. at 590. While this does not require
“‘a case directly on point, '”
“‘a body of relevant case law' is usually
necessary to ‘clearly establish the answer'”
in the Fourth Amendment context. Wesby, 138 S.Ct. at
590 (citations omitted). Indeed, the Supreme Court has
“stressed the need to ‘identify a case where an
officer acting under similar circumstances . . . was held to
have violated the Fourth Amendment.'” Id.
(citation omitted) (alteration in original); see also
Kisela v. Hughes, 138 S.Ct. 1148, 1153 (2018) (per
curiam). Cases establishing general principles of law
“do not by themselves create clearly established law
outside ‘an obvious case.'” White,
137 S.Ct. at 552 (citation omitted).
determining whether qualified immunity will protect the
officials in any particular case, the Court applies a
two-part test: (1) whether the officials “violated a
federal statutory or constitutional right” and (2)
whether “the unlawfulness of their conduct was
‘clearly established at the time.'”
Wesby, 138 S.Ct. at 589 (citation omitted). The
Court has the ...