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Wesby v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

June 25, 2019

THEODORE WESBY, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING IN PART AND DEFERRING RULING IN PART ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR ENTRY OF AN ORDER OF RESTITUTION; DENYING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR ENTRY OF AN ORDER FOR PAYMENT OF COURT-ORDERED COSTS

          RUDOLPH CONTRERAS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This case comes to this Court on remand from the U.S. Supreme Court, which reversed the entry of partial summary judgment to Plaintiffs against Defendants the District of Columbia and Metropolitan Police Department officers. Having satisfied the judgment by paying $680, 000 to Plaintiffs after the D.C. Circuit affirmed the district court, Defendants now seek repayment of those funds as well as payment by Plaintiffs of Defendants' court-ordered Supreme Court litigation costs. For the reasons explained below, the Court grants in part and defers ruling in part on Defendants' motion for restitution. The Court orders restitution by The Law Offices of Gregory Lattimer, LLC (“Lattimer Law”), the law firm of Plaintiffs' then-counsel Gregory Lattimer, for the portion of the payment allocated to Lattimer Law as part of its contingency fee agreement with Plaintiffs. The Court defers ruling on the motion for an order of restitution by Plaintiffs of the remainder of Defendants' payment, and directs Plaintiffs, Lattimer, and Defendants to mediation on the issue. And because Defendants have not established that any further action by this Court is necessary on the issue, the Court denies the motion for entry of an order for payment of Defendants' Supreme Court litigation costs.

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         The Court presumes familiarity with the prior opinions related to this case, both at the district court level and on appeal, and confines its discussion to the facts most relevant to the present motion. See Wesby v. District of Columbia (“Wesby I”), 841 F.Supp.2d 20 (D.D.C. 2012); Wesby v. District of Columbia (“Wesby II”), 765 F.3d 13 (D.C. Cir. 2014); District of Columbia v. Wesby (“Wesby III”), 138 S.Ct. 577 (2018). Plaintiffs are sixteen partygoers who brought suit against the District of Columbia (the “District”) and five officers of the District's Metropolitan Police Department (together with the District, “Defendants”) after they were arrested at a house party. See Wesby III, 138 S.Ct. at 584. Plaintiffs brought claims for false arrest under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and for false arrest and negligent supervision by the District under D.C. law. See Id. At the summary judgment stage, the district court found that the officers had lacked probable cause to arrest Plaintiffs. See Wesby I, 841 F.Supp.2d at 35. The court entered summary judgment for Plaintiffs on some of their § 1983 and state law false arrest claims, as well as on Plaintiffs' negligent supervision claim against the District. See id at 48-49. After a damages-only trial, the jury awarded Plaintiffs $680, 000 in compensatory damages and the district court entered judgment for Plaintiffs in the same amount. See Verdict Form 1-2, ECF No. 73; Judgment 1 (Nov. 9, 2012), ECF No. 75.

         On appeal, the D.C. Circuit affirmed. Wesby II, 765 F.3d at 31. The Circuit concluded, inter alia, that there was no probable cause to arrest Plaintiffs. See Id. at 19. Defendants were subsequently unsuccessful in both their petition for rehearing en banc, see Wesby v. District of Columbia, 816 F.3d 96, 96 (D.C. Cir. 2016), and motion for a stay of the mandate to seek certiorari, see Order at 1, ECF No. 97. On May 19, 2016, Defendants satisfied the judgment by submitting payment of $685, 003.27 to Lattimer Law. See Satisfaction of J. 1, ECF No. 107; Check from the District to Lattimer Law, Lattimer Resp. Pls.' Opp'n Mot. Restitution Ex. 4, ECF No. 143-4. Forty percent of the judgment, or $272, 000, was set off as Lattimer Law's legal fees, and $408, 000 was distributed to Plaintiffs according to their recovery at trial-where some plaintiffs were awarded $35, 000 and some $50, 000, yielding distributions after attorney's fees of $21, 000 and $30, 000, respectively. See Pls.' Distribution Statements, Decl. of Aderson Francois Ex. C, ECF. No. 137-4. The remaining $5, 003.27 constituted post-judgment interest for the period between November 9, 2012, and Defendants' payment of the judgment on May 19, 2016. See Lattimer Resp. 12 n.2.[1]

         The Supreme Court granted certiorari, and ultimately issued an opinion reversing the Circuit and the district court. Wesby III, 138 S.Ct. at 588. The Supreme Court departed from the lower courts in finding that the arresting officers had probable cause to arrest Plaintiffs and, in any event, were entitled to qualified immunity. See Wesby III, 138 S.Ct. at 589-90. It accordingly reversed and remanded the case for entry of summary judgment to Defendants, see Wesby, 138 S.Ct. at 593, awarding Defendants $5, 197 in costs for their appeal, see Judgment 3, Wesby v. District of Columbia, No. 12-7127 (D.C. Cir. Feb. 23, 2018), ECF No. 1719300.

         On March 30, 2018, Defendants moved this Court to order restitution from Plaintiffs and Lattimer of the payment made in satisfaction of the now-reversed November 9, 2012 judgment, plus post-judgment interest, as well as to order Plaintiffs to pay the $5, 197 in costs ordered by the Supreme Court. See Defs.' Mot. Restitution, ECF No. 114. After determining that the motion created a conflict between him and Plaintiffs, Lattimer withdrew as Plaintiffs' counsel. See Lattimer Mot. Withdraw, ECF No. 122; Min. Entry (Nov. 15, 2018). Lattimer then filed his opposition to the motion for restitution on November 16, 2018, see Lattimer Opp'n Mot. Restitution, ECF No. 130, with Defendants filing their reply on November 28, 2018, see Defs.' Reply Sup. Mot. Restitution (“Defs.' First Reply”), ECF No. 131. Represented by new, court-appointed counsel, Plaintiffs filed their opposition to the motion on April 9, 2019. See Pls.' Opp'n Mot. Restitution, ECF No. 137. Antoinette Colbert, the representative for the estate of one of the deceased plaintiffs, filed her own opposition the same day. Colbert Opp'n Mot. Restitution, ECF No. 139. Because Plaintiffs' arguments rested in significant part on accusations of malpractice by their former counsel, Lattimer filed a response to Plaintiffs' opposition on April 30, 2019, see Lattimer Resp., and Plaintiffs filed a surreply on May 2, 2019, see Surreply, ECF No. 147. Finally, Defendants filed their reply to Plaintiffs' opposition on May 7, 2019. See Defs.' Reply Pls.' Opp'n Mot. Restitution (“Defs.' Second Reply”), ECF No. 145. Defendants' motion is now ripe for decision.

         III. ANALYSIS

         Defendants have moved for restitution of the $685, 003.27 payment made to Lattimer Law in satisfaction of the 2012 judgment, an award of post-judgment interest accruing from May 19, 2016, as well as for this Court to order payment by Plaintiffs of Defendants' court-ordered Supreme Court litigation costs.[2] As an initial matter, the Court denies the motion with respect to Defendants' Supreme Court litigation costs. The Supreme Court has already issued an order mandating that Plaintiffs pay the $5, 197 in costs, and Defendants do not explain why a further order from this Court is necessary for that order to be enforceable.[3] In addition, the Court defers ruling on the motion as to any restitution owed, and by whom, on the share of the judgment distributed to Plaintiffs. Having taken into consideration the arguments of Defendants, Plaintiffs, and Lattimer as to the equities of restitution in the rather unique circumstances of this case, the Court refers the parties to mediation for a potential resolution of the issue.

         With these preliminary matters addressed, the Court now considers whether Defendants are entitled to restitution from Lattimer Law-and Lattimer himself-on the share of the judgment Lattimer Law retained as attorney's fees. Defendants argue that they are entitled to restitution of the judgment because “[t]he right to recover what one has lost by the enforcement of a judgment subsequently reversed is well established.” Defs.' Mem. Supp. Mot. Restitution 4 (quoting Baltimore & Ohio R.R. Co. v. United States, 279 U.S. 781, 786 (1929)), ECF No. 114. Pointing out that restitution is an equitable remedy left to the Court's discretion, Lattimer makes two arguments for why restitution is unavailable, which the Court addresses in turn. See Lattimer Opp'n 5-11. The Court first reviews Lattimer's argument that restitution is improper because the negligent supervision judgment against Defendants was not reversed by the Supreme Court. Next, the Court reviews whether Defendants' failure to post a bond and agreement to pay the judgment after they lost on appeal in exchange for Plaintiffs withdrawing their request for a writ of attachment bars restitution. Finding neither of these arguments persuasive, the Court finally addresses whether restitution by Lattimer Law and Lattimer himself is warranted here. On the basis of the arguments and record before it, the Court concludes that only restitution from Lattimer Law would be adequate to prevent unjust enrichment. The Court accordingly grants in part the motion for restitution, and orders restitution by Lattimer Law of the attorney's fees portion of Defendants' payment in satisfaction of the 2012 judgment, plus post-judgment interest accruing from May 19, 2016.

         A. The Supreme Court Resolved Plaintiffs' Negligent Supervision Claim

         Before reaching Defendants' right to recover under restitution, the Court must address Lattimer's argument that Defendants have not “ultimately and completely prevailed on the merits.” Lattimer Opp'n 4. Lattimer contends that the Supreme Court's decision “did not address [P]laintiffs' separate and distinct claim of negligent supervision, ” Lattimer Opp'n 3-4, and that because this “tort claim for damages directly against the District . . . has not been disturbed, ” id. at 4, payment in satisfaction of the general jury verdict should also remain undisturbed. See Id. at 3-5. Defendants retort that “[t]here is no question that Defendants prevailed entirely and completely on all claims.” Defs.' First Reply at 2. The Court agrees.

         First, the Supreme Court's decision in Wesby III unambiguously indicates that the Court intended to reach all of Plaintiffs' claims, and that Defendants ultimately and completely prevailed on the merits. The Supreme Court expressly stated that “the District and its officers are entitled to summary judgment on all of the partygoers' claims.” Wesby III, 138 S.Ct. at 589; see also Id. at 589 n.6 (“The partygoers do not contest that the presence of probable cause defeats all of their claims.”). And the Supreme Court noted that the negligent supervision claim was predicated on a finding that the officers lacked probable cause to arrest Plaintiffs, see Wesby III, 138 S.Ct. at 584 (“The partygoers' claims ...


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