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Matthews v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

January 16, 2019

ALEXANDER OTIS MATTHEWS, as Personal Representative for the Estate of Ezana Alexander Matthews, Plaintiff,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          RANDOLPH D. MOSS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         The matter is before the Court on Defendant District of Columbia's motion to dismiss. Dkt. 5. Plaintiff Alexander Otis Matthews, proceeding pro se, is suing the District under the District's Survival Statute, D.C. Code § 12-101, as the personal representative of his son, Ezana Alexander Matthews (“Mr. Matthews”). Plaintiff alleges that a Metropolitan Police Department (“MPD”) first responder and MPD detective acted tortiously and violated Mr. Matthews's constitutional rights when they failed to render medical aid and failed to investigate the circumstances surrounding his death. Although Plaintiff has undoubtedly suffered a great loss, the Court concludes that he has failed to state a claim for relief. The Court will, accordingly, GRANT the District's motion to dismiss. Dkt. 5.

         I. BACKGROUND

         For purposes of the pending motion, the Court accepts as true the facts alleged in the complaint, Dkt. 1. See Wood v. Moss, 572 U.S. 744, 755 n.5 (2014); see also Williams v. Ellerbe, 317 F.Supp.3d 144, 146 (D.D.C. 2018).

         Plaintiff's son, Ezana Alexander Matthews, served in the United States Army. Dkt. 1-1 at 6 (Compl. ¶ 7). Mr. Matthews returned home to the District after being honorably discharged and lived with his paternal grandmother on Capitol Hill. Id. (Compl. ¶¶ 7-8). Upon his return, Mr. Matthews's family and friends noticed that he was “socially withdrawn” for “long periods” of time and “affected by bouts of extreme paranoia and anxiety.” Id. (Compl. ¶ 8). Nevertheless, Mr. Matthews “downplayed” his condition and refused to seek treatment. Id.

         On May 4, 2017, Mr. Matthews's grandmother returned home to find Mr. Matthews hanging in a bedroom. Id. (Compl. ¶ 9). She called 911 and was “told to cut [Mr. Matthews] down immediately.” Id. (Compl. ¶ 10). She “ran to a neighbor's home across the street and came back with a group of young men who were able to physically perform the task.” Id. She then waited for “the responding authorities.” Id.

         Upon arriving at the scene, the responding MPD officer allegedly “made no effort to provide oxygen to Mr. Matthews, to employ a ventibreather or automatic external defibrillator, to check his core body temperature, or to attempt CPR.” Id. at 7 (Compl. ¶ 11). The officer's conduct, according to Plaintiff, was “in clear violation of all applicable laws, statutes, regulations, [and] MPD special and general orders when encountering unconscious persons.” Id. Plaintiff further claims that the responding officer and a “detective assigned to the case” were “wholly negligent in their investigation of the circumstances surrounding [his son's] death.” Id. (Compl. ¶ 12). The officers allegedly “made no effort to inquire into the possible causes or circumstances” of Mr. Matthews's suicide. Id. They did not, for example, “examine the contents of his electronic devices or . . . his notebooks where he kept daily journals of his thoughts and activities.” Id. Finally, Plaintiff alleges that the police report failed to provide “an accurate record of the circumstances regarding Mr. Matthews's suicide and death.” Id. at 8 (Compl. ¶ 13).

         Plaintiff's complaint asserts three sets of claims. First, Plaintiff alleges that the District violated Mr. Matthews's Fifth and Eighth Amendment rights by failing adequately to train and supervise MPD officers in responding to emergency situations, id. at 10 (Compl. ¶¶ i, k), and Mr. Matthews's Fifth Amendment rights by failing to investigate the cause and circumstances of his death, id. (Compl. ¶ l). Second, he alleges that the District was negligent in failing adequately to train and supervise its officers in responding to emergency situations, id. at 9 (Compl. ¶ g); that it was negligent and grossly negligent in failing to provide proper assistance upon arriving at the scene, id. at 9-10 (Compl. ¶¶ h-i); and that it was negligent and negligent per se in failing to investigate the cause and circumstances of Mr. Matthews's death, id. at 10 (Compl. ¶ m). Third, he alleges that the responding officer's failure to administer medical assistance constitutes intentional infliction of emotional distress. Id. (Compl. ¶ j).

         On May 29, 2018, the District moved to dismiss the case. Dkt. 5. Plaintiff opposed the motion. Dkt. 13. He also moved to serve Cathy Lanier-who he believed to be the MPD Chief at the time of his son's death-and to compel limited discovery to obtain the identities of the responding officer and his or her supervisor. Id. at 5. The Court construed Plaintiff's motion to serve as a motion to amend the complaint to add Lanier as a defendant and denied the motion as futile because the District represented that she was not employed by the MPD at the time of the events at issue. See Minute Order (Oct. 4, 2018). The Court, however, granted Plaintiff's motion for limited discovery and ordered that the District disclose the identities of the first responder and his or her supervising officer. Id. The District turned over this information on October 30, 2018. Dkt. 20. On January 4, 2019, Plaintiff filed a motion to amend his complaint to add Officer Zachary Powell, Sergeant Michael Cashman, and Chief Peter Newsham as defendants. Dkt. 22. The Court granted that motion on the condition that Plaintiff file his amended complaint on or before February 1, 2019. Minute Order (Jan. 11, 2019). The Court now turns to the District's motion to dismiss. Dkt. 5.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         A motion to dismiss brought under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) is designed to “test[ ] the legal sufficiency of a complaint.” Browning v. Clinton, 292 F.3d 235, 242 (D.C. Cir. 2002). In evaluating a motion to dismiss, the Court “must first ‘tak[e] note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state [the] claim' to relief, and then determine whether the plaintiff has pleaded those elements with adequate factual support to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Blue v. District of Columbia, 811 F.3d 14, 20 (D.C. Cir. 2015) (alterations in original) (internal citation omitted) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 675, 678 (2009)). Although “detailed factual allegations” are not necessary to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007), “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, [if] accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face, '” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).

         III. ANALYSIS

         For the reasons set forth below, the Court concludes that Plaintiff has failed to state a claim for relief under the U.S. Constitution or D.C. common law.

         A. Plaintiff's ...


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