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Richardson v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

August 24, 2018




         Plaintiff Andrea Richardson, a transgender woman, claims that she was sexually assaulted by her male cellmate while incarcerated in the District of Columbia jail-specifically, its Central Detention Facility in Southeast D.C. She brought this lawsuit against the District and several jail officials alleging that they failed to protect her from the assault. The defendants have moved for summary judgment on some of her claims, including her claim that the jail officials violated the Eighth Amendment by acting with deliberate indifference toward the risk of her assault.

         Richardson's Eighth Amendment claim names, as defendants, Warden William Smith in his individual and official capacities and several unknown jail officials designated as “John Does I-X.” Richardson concedes that because she did not identify the John Doe defendants during discovery, her Eighth Amendment claim against them should be dismissed without prejudice. As for Warden Smith: The undisputed facts concerning his role in the alleged assault show that he did not violate Richardson's clearly established constitutional rights. He is therefore entitled to qualified immunity in his individual capacity. And Richardson has offered no evidence that a District policy or practice of ignoring inmates' concerns about the risk of assault caused the purported Eighth Amendment violation here, as would be required to support her official-capacity claim against Smith. The Court will therefore grant summary judgment on Richardson's Eighth Amendment claim. And because that is her sole federal claim, the Court will remand the rest of the case to the District of Columbia Superior Court.

         I. Background

         The District of Columbia's Department of Corrections has a formal policy for housing “transgender, transsexual, inter-sex, and gender variant persons who are incarcerated.” Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. Ex. G (“Housing Policy”), at 1. It enacted these protocols in the wake of the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 (“PREA”), 34 U.S.C. §§ 30301-30309, a statute that prompted the creation of national standards for state prisons and jails to take effect in 2012. See 28 C.F.R. §§ 115.11-115.93.

         At the time of Richardson's incarceration, the Department's policy provided as follows: When individuals arrived in D.C. jail whose “gender-related expression, identity, appearance, or behavior differ[ed] from their biological sex, ” those individuals were to be housed alone during the intake process and assessed to determine whether they should be designated as transgender. Housing Policy at 3-4. Inmates designated as transgender then had a right to go before the Transgender Housing Committee within 72 hours of their arrival. Id. at 4-5. The Committee was made up of a physician, a mental health worker, a jail supervisor, a case worker, and a volunteer who is a member of the transgender community or an expert on transgender issues. Id. at 3. In its hearings, the Committee would consider the inmate's “records and assessments, including an interview with the inmate, ” to decide whether the inmate should be housed in the general male population, the general female population, or “protective custody.” Id. at 5. An inmate would be housed in protective custody when there was “reason to believe the inmate presents a heightened risk to him/herself or to others or where the inmate fears he or she will be vulnerable to victimization in any other housing setting.” Id. at 5-6. The protective custody could last “only for the period during which the heightened risk and/or fear exists, ” id. at 6, a limitation demanded by the PREA, 28 C.F.R. § 115.43; see also id. § 115.42 (barring jails from placing transgender inmates “in dedicated facilities, units, or wings solely on the basis of such identification or status” unless required by consent decree).

         The Committee would forward its housing recommendation to the jail's warden for final approval. If the warden disagreed with the Committee's recommendation, he needed to explain his disagreement in writing to the Director of the Department, who then had the power to override the Committee.

         Inmates could also waive the right to a hearing by agreeing to be housed with the general population of their biological sex and signing a form to that effect. That is what Richardson did when she arrived at D.C.'s Central Detention Facility in June 2014. At that time, she identified as female and was undergoing hormone therapy in preparation for sex-reassignment surgery. She had fully developed breasts, dressed in traditionally feminine clothing, and wore make-up. In her interactions with inmates and prison employees, she went by Andrea rather than by her legal name, Andre. During her intake, Richardson opted to waive her hearing and to be housed in the general male population, and she signed the required form indicating that. Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. Ex. A. She testified that she made this choice because she believed, based on statements of Committee members, that she was choosing between (1) being celled alone or with another transgender female within the larger male population or (2) being housed “essentially in isolation.” Pl.'s Opp'n at 6; see Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. Ex. D (“Richardson Depo.”), at 79 (Richardson testifying that the Housing Committee told her “that if you wanted to be housed with your sexual expression . . . you would be segregated from everyone else”).

         Warden William Smith, who had begun his tenure at the Central Detention Facility only a few months before Richardson's arrival, signed off on her decision. He testified in his deposition that he was not particularly aware of Richardson or of any attributes that placed her at a high risk of sexual violence relative to other transgender inmates. Pl.'s Opp'n Ex. 2 (“Smith Depo.”), at 25-26, 28-29.

         Richardson had her own cell for the first few months of her detention. But on July 18, 2014, [1] following two inmate suicides, the Department's Director ordered that all inmates in the general jail population be required to share cells. Richardson was transferred to a cell with a male inmate, Richard Glover. She testified that as soon as she was told that she was being moved, she explained to a prison guard that she was not supposed to be bunked with men, and she “begged him not to move [her] in a cell with a man.” Richardson Dep. at 81.

         Richardson alleges that as soon as the two began sharing a cell, Glover began sexually harassing her, groping her, and even telling her that “one day I am going to rape you.” Compl. ¶ 15. She says that on several occasions she complained to at least three guards and her case manager about Glover's behavior and asked to be moved to a different cell. Richardson Dep. at 82-88. She also claims to have submitted three written grievances, though no written records of these grievances were produced during discovery. Id. at 84-85.

         According to Richardson, her complaints were to no avail because on August 25, 2014, Glover raped her. Compl. ¶ 22. Glover purportedly threatened to kill Richardson if she told anyone. Id. ¶ 23. But Richardson told a guard about the attack as soon as she was able. She was taken to a nearby hospital and a rape kit was administered. Glover was later charged in D.C. Superior Court with first degree sexual abuse, kidnapping, and threatening to kidnap or injure a person.

         Before the alleged assault, there was no express indication in Glover's record that he posed a high risk of committing sexual abuse. See Defs' Mot. Summ. J. Ex. F, at 4-5. (The jail's policies, consistent with the PREA, require that officials evaluate inmates for a risk of sexual violence and indicate any such risk in their records. See 28 C.F.R. 115.41(e).) A penological expert, however, has opined that because Glover was “a fully sexual functioning male career criminal, who was facing a lengthy stay in federal prison, ” it was “eminently foreseeable that at some time [he] might sexually assault Ms. Richardson.” Pl.'s Opp'n Ex. 3, at 4.

         In November 2015, Richardson filed suit in D.C. Superior Court against the District of Columbia, Warden Smith in his individual and official capacities, and ten unknown Department of Corrections employees (designated “John Does I-X”) in their individual and official capacities. She brought tort claims under D.C. law for negligence; intentional infliction of emotional distress; negligent infliction of emotional distress; and negligent supervision, retention, and training. She also alleged, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, that Warden Smith and the John Doe defendants violated her rights under the Eighth Amendment. The defendants removed the case to federal court on the basis of her federal § 1983 claim. Notice of Removal, ECF No. 2; see 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b).

         After discovery, the defendants filed a motion for partial summary judgment. They sought judgment on Richardson's claims for negligent infliction of emotional distress; negligent supervision, retention, and training; and violation of the Eighth Amendment. Richardson agrees that her negligent-supervision claim should be dismissed, ...

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