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Proctor v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

November 27, 2018

SHANEL PROCTOR et al., Plaintiffs,
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA et al., Defendants.


          TREVOR N. McFADDEN, U.S.D.J.

         Plaintiffs Shanel Proctor and Charlaine Braxton, two homeless residents of the District of Columbia, are suing the City, Mayor Muriel Bowser, and Deputy Mayor HyeSook Chung (collectively, “the District”) under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the Constitution. They seek an order instructing the District to temporarily store unattended belongings of homeless residents, rather than immediately destroying them. The Court already denied the Plaintiffs' Motions for a Preliminary Injunction and for Class Certification. See Proctor v. District of Columbia, 310 F.Supp.3d 107, 118 (D.D.C. 2018). The Plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint, and the District moved to dismiss. Although a preliminary injunction requires a plaintiff to make a clear showing of a likelihood of success on the merits, a plaintiff must only state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face to survive a motion to dismiss. Given the relaxed standard of review at this stage and the fact-bound nature of the claims at issue, the Court will largely deny the District's Motion to Dismiss.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The District of Columbia has adopted a Protocol for the Disposition of Property Found on Public Space and Outreach to Displaced Persons. Am. Compl. Ex. 2, ECF No. 32-7. The District issued this Protocol to address security, health, and safety concerns for both homeless residents and the public generally. See Proctor, 310 F.Supp.3d at 110. As further detailed in Proctor, the Protocol requires the District to temporarily store certain items found at encampment sites during clearings: important documents, bicycles, tents, or “any permissible belongings designated by an individual for storage within the two provided 40-gallon box/bins, whether through placement in the box/bins, in black trash bags, or through other reasonable or oral means.” Am. Compl. Ex. 2 at Part VLC. Before the District clears an encampment, the Protocol requires officials to post a written notice nearby. Am. Compl. ¶ 5. The notice explains that certain items-such as items marked for storage and items of obvious value-will be stored but that “[a]ll other items visible from this location and not removed from this public space by the above-stated scheduled cleanup time are subject to removal and disposal.” Id. ¶ 38.

         The Plaintiffs allege that the District, in practice, “deems” property as abandoned if the owner is absent at the time of the clearing and he had not told anyone that he wants his belongings stored. Am. Compl. ¶ 51. And the District “deems” property abandoned “if the owner leaves after the clearing team is already on site.” Id. ¶ 52. According to Ms. Proctor, the District destroyed her tent, mattress, birth certificate, Social Security card, and other belongings while she was getting food and charging her phone at Harris Teeter. Decl. of Shane Proctor 1, ECF No. 32-5.

         According to Ms. Braxton, the District took her belongings, as well. Decl. of Charlaine Braxton ¶ 18, ECF No. 32-6. Ms. Braxton claims that even though the District had posted a notice about a scheduled clearing, the clearing did not happen at that time. Id. ¶¶ 9-10. She later spoke to outreach workers and heard that while “certain garbage could be thrown away, other belongings would be stored . . . .” Id. ¶ 10. She states that she told the workers that she wanted her things kept. Id. The next day, she left her tent and belongings and told her neighbors that she would be back, but her items were gone when she returned. Id. ¶¶ 13; 18. She insists that she went to the District storage facility, but she found only some of her belongings. Id. ¶ 18.

         The Plaintiffs seek both declaratory and injunctive relief. They ask for a declaratory judgment rendering the District's practice of destroying the unattended belongings of homeless residents unconstitutional under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. Am. Compl. at 26. And they seek a permanent injunction against the District from destroying unattended belongings of homeless residents. Id.


         A party may move to dismiss a complaint because it “fail[s] to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). A complaint must contain sufficient factual allegations that, if true, “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). In evaluating a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a court must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and accept as true all reasonable factual inferences drawn from well-pled factual allegations. See In re United Mine Workers of Am. Emp. Benefit Plans Litig., 854 F.Supp. 914, 915 (D.D.C. 1994). And “[i]n determining whether a complaint fails to state a claim, [the court] may consider only the facts alleged in the complaint, any documents either attached to or incorporated in the complaint and matters of which [the court] may take judicial notice.” Hurd v. District of Columbia Gov't, 864 F.3d 671, 678 (D.C. Cir. 2017) (internal citation omitted).

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), a complaint may be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The parties invoking the court's jurisdiction bear the burden of establishing standing. Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus, 134 S.Ct. 2334, 2342 (2014). When facing a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1), they “must clearly allege facts demonstrating each element.” Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, 136 S.Ct. 1540, 1547 (2016) (cleaned up). To establish their standing, plaintiffs must allege an injury that is “concrete, particularized, and actual or imminent; fairly traceable to the challenged action; and redressable by a favorable ruling.” Clapper v. Amnesty Int'l USA, 568 U.S. 398, 409 (2013).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. The Plaintiffs Have Adequately Alleged Standing

         There is no dispute that the Plaintiffs meet the typical “case or controversy” requirements of Article III of the Constitution. The question is whether they have standing to obtain injunctive relief. The District argues that the Plaintiffs lack standing to seek prospective injunctive relief because they do not allege a real and immediate threat to their constitutional rights. Defs.' Mem. in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss (“Defs.' Mem.”) 26, ECF No. 39. The Plaintiffs insist that they do face the risk of imminent injury absent judicial relief because they will likely be subjected to clearings in the future, given the history of District clearings. Pls.' Opp'n to Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss 17 (“Pls.' Opp'n”), ECF No. 41.

         “In order to obtain such an injunction, a plaintiff cannot simply allege that he was previously subjected to the defendant's actions.” D.C. Common Cause v. District of Columbia, 858 F.2d 1, 8 (D.C. Cir. 1988). Plaintiffs seeking injunctive relief must show that they are in immediate danger of sustaining some direct injury in the future. City of Los Angeles v. ...

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