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Kelly v. Gaton

United States District Court, District of Columbia

May 31, 2019

LARTASHA KELLY, Plaintiff
v.
ANTHONY GATON, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          COLLEEN KOLLAR-KOTELLY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Lartasha Kelly brings this suit against the District of Columbia and Metropolitan Police Department (“MPD”) Officer Anthony Gaton for the events leading to her arrest on June 29, 2018. According to her Amended Complaint, on that day, MPD officers, including Officer Gaton, responded to a call during which they witnessed Plaintiff slap the face of another woman. Without issuing any verbal commands or providing Plaintiff with the opportunity to comply, Plaintiff alleges that Officer Gaton conducted a “takedown” of Plaintiff, slamming her to the ground and fracturing her pelvis. Plaintiff brings claims for negligence and battery against the District of Columbia and Officer Gaton. Additionally, Plaintiff brings a claim against Officer Gaton for violating her Fourth Amendment right to be free from the use of excessive force. Defendants have moved for dismissal of each of Plaintiff's claims, arguing that she has failed to state a claim for which relief may be granted.

         Upon consideration of the pleadings, [1] the relevant legal authorities, and the record as a whole, the Court will GRANT IN PART and DENY WITHOUT PREJUDICE IN PART Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. The Court GRANTS IN PART Defendants' motion and concludes that Plaintiff has failed to allege a distinct claim of negligence, separate and apart from Officer Gaton's alleged use of excessive force. Accordingly, the Court will DISMISS WITHOUT PREJUDICE Plaintiff's Count One negligence claim. The Court further DENIES WITHOUT PREJUDICE the remainder of Defendants' motion, concluding that Plaintiff has sufficiently alleged claims for battery and for the violation of her Fourth Amendment rights. Additional factual development is necessary before the Court can further evaluate these two claims.

         I. BACKGROUND

         For the purposes of the motion before the Court, the Court accepts as true the well-pled allegations in Plaintiff's Complaint. The Court does “not accept as true, however, the plaintiff's legal conclusions or inferences that are unsupported by the facts alleged.” Ralls Corp. v. Comm. on Foreign Inv. in the United States, 758 F.3d 296, 315 (D.C. Cir. 2014).

         Plaintiff alleges that on June 29, 2018, MPD officers, including Officer Gaton, were called to her location at 3915 R St. S.E. in response to an altercation between Plaintiff and another female. Am. Compl., ECF No. 9, ¶ 7. As Officer Gaton approached Plaintiff, he witnessed her slap the face of the other female. Id. Plaintiff alleges that no weapons were used, that the slap did not cause serious injury, and that she did not attempt further violence. Id. Plaintiff further claims that she made no attempt to flee the scene, to resist Officer Gaton, or to strike him or the other officers. Id.

         In response to Plaintiff's slap of the other female, Plaintiff claims that Officer Gaton did not issue any verbal commands, but instead immediately and violently slammed Plaintiff to the ground. Id. In slamming Plaintiff to the ground, Officer Gaton fell on top of Plaintiff. Id. at ¶ 8. Plaintiff alleges that she is 5'3'' tall and weighs 131 pounds while Officer Gaton is 6' tall and is believed to weigh approximately 280 pounds. Id. At the time that Officer Gaton is alleged to have body slammed Plaintiff, Officer Gaton was accompanied by two other officers who were available to assist him. Id. at ¶ 7.

         Following her encounter with Officer Gaton, Plaintiff was taken to George Washington Hospital where she was found to have a fractured pelvis. Id. at ¶ 8. Later that day, all criminal charges against her were dropped. Id.

         Plaintiff initially brought suit in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, but Defendants removed the case to this Court. See Notice of Removal, ECF No. 1. Once in this Court, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint. See Am. Compl., ECF No. 9. Defendants have moved to dismiss each of the claims in Plaintiff's Amended Complaint.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).[2] According to Rule 12(b)(6), a party may move to dismiss a complaint on the grounds that it “fail[s] to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). “[A] complaint [does not] suffice if it tenders ‘naked assertion[s]' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 557 (2007)). Rather, a complaint must contain sufficient factual allegations that, if accepted as true, “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         III. DISCUSSION

         In her Amended Complaint, Plaintiff brings three claims. In Count One, Plaintiff brings a negligence claim against the District of Columbia and Officer Gaton. Am. Compl., ECF No. 9, ¶¶ 9-13. Plaintiff contends that Officer Gaton violated the national standard of care by using a “violent ‘take down' when the offense for which Plaintiff was being arrested was minor in nature; there was no appreciable risk of serious injury to others or to [Officer Gaton] and Plaintiff did not resist or attempt to flee.” Id. at ¶ 11. In Count Two, Plaintiff brings a battery claim against the District of Columbia and Officer Gaton. Id. at ¶¶ 14-16. Plaintiff argues that Officer Gaton intentionally used excessive and unjustified force when he executed a “violent ‘take down'” in these circumstances. Id. at ¶ 15. Finally, in Count Three, Plaintiff alleges that Officer Gaton violated her civil rights under the Fourth Amendment by unjustifiably and unreasonably using excessive force. Id. at ¶¶ 17-21. Defendants move to dismiss all of the claims in Plaintiff's Amended Complaint. The Court will address each of Defendants' arguments for dismissal in turn.

         A. Plaintiff's Negligence Claim

         First, Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiff's Count One claim for negligence. Defendants contend that Plaintiff's negligence claim should be dismissed because she has failed to allege a distinct claim of negligence, separate and apart from Officer Gaton's use of excessive force. The Court agrees and finds that Plaintiff's ...


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