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Buzzanca v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

June 14, 2019

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al., Defendants.


          Amit P. Mehta United States District Court Judge


         Plaintiff Anthony Buzzanca alleges he was illegally detained in the District of Columbia Jail (“D.C. Jail”) for 146 days beyond his release date. Notice of Removal, ECF No. 1 [hereinafter Notice], Pl.'s Compl., ECF No. 1-1 [hereinafter Compl.], ¶¶ 1, 8, 9. He brought this action in D.C. Superior Court in September 2018 against the District of Columbia and various John Doe employees of the District of Columbia Department of Corrections (“DOC”), claiming: (1) violation of his constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, et seq., (2) false arrest and false imprisonment, (3) intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED), (4) negligence, and (5) negligent hiring, training and supervision.[1] Compl. ¶¶ 12-50. Defendant District of Columbia removed to this court on December 10, 2018. See Notice. It now moves to dismiss all claims. See generally Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 4 [hereinafter Def.'s Mot.]. For the following reasons, Defendant's Motion is granted in part and denied in part.


         Plaintiff alleges Defendants violated his Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights and are liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Compl. ¶¶ 12-19. The District contends that Plaintiff has not shown that his treatment was the result of a municipal policy, practice, or custom. See Def.'s Mot. at 6-8. The court agrees that Plaintiff has not done so, but will provide him with an opportunity to amend his complaint.

         To impose liability on a municipality under section 1983, Plaintiff must prove that an “action pursuant to official municipal policy” or custom caused the alleged constitutional violation. Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of City of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978). The existence of a policy may be inferred from, among other ways, “the failure of the government to respond to a need . . . in such a manner as to show ‘deliberate indifference' to the risk that not addressing the need will result in constitutional violations.” Baker v. District of Columbia, 326 F.3d 1302, 1306 (D.C. Cir. 2003). Deliberate indifference is an objective standard, “determined by analyzing whether the municipality knew or should have known of the risk of constitutional violations.” Id. at 1307 (citing Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 841 (1994)).

         In his complaint, Plaintiff offers only vague generalizations and no specific facts to support the existence of a causal municipal policy or custom. See Compl. ¶¶ 16, 18.[2] Plaintiff attempts to bolster his Complaint through his opposition brief, contending that recent cases in this Circuit demonstrate Defendant's knowledge of a chronic overdetention problem. See Pl.'s Opp'n to Def.'s Mot., ECF No. 6 [hereinafter Pl.'s Opp'n], at 7-10. Even if the court were to consider these other cases, see Kingman Park Civic Ass'n v. Gray, 27 F.Supp.3d 142, 160 n.7 (D.D.C. 2014) (stating that “a plaintiff cannot amend his or her complaint by the briefs in opposition to a motion to dismiss”), his pleading still would fall short. The Complaint contains no facts that would connect the reasons for overdetention identified and challenged in these other cases to his overdetention. Indeed, as Defendant points out, in one of the cases the court found that, due to decreasing overdetentions and new preventative measures, “the DOC, from February 2008 forward, could not reasonably be found to have been deliberately indifferent to the due process rights of overdetention class members during this period.” Barnes v. District of Columbia, 793 F.Supp.2d 260, 281 (D.D.C. 2011). Plaintiff therefore cannot simply rely on other cases to sufficiently plead a causal municipal policy or custom.

         Accordingly, the court dismisses Plaintiff's section 1983 claim against Defendant but without prejudice. If Plaintiff can plead more facts to support his assertion that District of Columbia policy caused his overdetention, the court will consider those allegations.


         Plaintiff next alleges false imprisonment.[3] To make out a claim of false imprisonment, a plaintiff must plead facts establishing: “(1) the detention or restraint is against [the plaintiff's] will [and] within boundaries fixed by the defendant, and (2) the restraint is unlawful.” Smith v. District of Columbia, 306 F.Supp.3d 223, 260 (D.D.C. 2018) (citing Faniel v. Chesapeake & Potomac Tel. Co., 404 A.2d 147, 150 (D.C. 1979)). Plaintiff clearly has done so here. After all, he alleges that DOC detained him for nearly five months beyond his release date. Compl. ¶¶ 8-9. Defendant's Motion as to this claim is denied.


         Plaintiff advances additional claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED), negligence, and negligent hiring, training and supervision. See Compl. Defendant maintains that sovereign immunity bars Plaintiff's claims. The court disagrees, at least for now.

         The District of Columbia enjoys immunity with regard to its “discretionary functions, ” as opposed to those that are “ministerial.” Nealon v. District of Columbia, 669 A.2d 685, 690 (D.C. 1995) (citing Powell v. District of Columbia, 602 A.2d 1123, 1126 (D.C. 1992)). “[T]he burden of establishing that the official function in question merits absolute immunity rests on the defendant.” Moss v. Stockard, 580 A.2d 1011, 1020 n.18 (D.C. 1990) (citing District of Columbia v. Thompson, 570 A.2d 277, 298 (D.C. 1990)). Here, Defendant claims its implementation of a system for processing records and its procedures for hiring, training, and supervising employees are discretionary functions. Def.'s Mot. at 8-14. But Defendant offers nothing-no law, regulation or policy-to support this proposition. See Ignatiev v. United States, 238 F.3d 464, 466-67 (D.C. Cir. 2001) (denying motion to dismiss where the agency failed to come forward with any internal guidelines or policies that established the challenged action to be discretionary). Instead, Plaintiff cites a number of cases to make its case for immunity. None are on point.

         Take for, for instance, Burkhart v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, in which the D.C. Circuit held that the “hiring, training, and supervising choices [of] WMATA” were discretionary, and therefore immune from suit, based on the express terms of the WMATA Compact. 112 F.3d 1207, 1217 (D.C. Cir. 1997). Defendant identifies nothing comparable to the WMATA Compact to supports its immunity claim here. Likewise, Tucci v. District of Columbia, is a different case. There, the D.C. Court of Appeals held that the District's enforcement of public space and solid waste regulations was discretionary. See956 A.2d 684, 691-92 (D.C. 2008). Decisions regarding whether to institute enforcement proceedings are quintessential discretionary determinations; Defendant identifies no comparable discretionary action here. Finally, Chandl ...

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