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Whittaker v. Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency

United States District Court, District of Columbia

July 29, 2019




         Plaintiff Davida Whittaker brings suit against Defendants Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency for the District of Columbia (“CSOSA”) and the United States for actions related to the probation supervision of Clayton Morris. Mr. Morris had previously been convicted of charges relating to domestic violence against Plaintiff. Plaintiff brings claims against Defendants for negligence, negligent supervision and training, negligent infliction of emotional distress, gross negligence, and vicarious liability. Defendants have moved to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint on multiple grounds. First, Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint on jurisdictional grounds, arguing that this Court does not have jurisdiction over Plaintiff's claims under either diversity jurisdiction or under federal question jurisdiction pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”). Second, Defendants argue that Plaintiff's negligence-related claims should be dismissed as Plaintiff has failed to identify a duty owed to her by CSOSA. Finally, Defendants request dismissal of Plaintiff's claim for the negligent infliction of emotional distress as Plaintiff has not alleged that she was in the zone of danger.

         Upon consideration of the pleadings[1], the relevant legal authorities, and the record for purposes of this motion, the Court GRANTS IN PART AND DENIES IN PART Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. The Court concludes that diversity jurisdiction is not proper as Defendants are not citizens of a state or foreign country. The Court further concludes that CSOSA is not a proper Defendant under the FTCA and that punitive damages are precluded under the FTCA. Accordingly, the Court DISMISSES Defendant CSOSA from this lawsuit and DISMISSES Plaintiff's claims for punitive damages. The Court otherwise DENIES WITHOUT PREJUDICE Defendants' Motion. Additional factual development is required before the Court can more fully address some of Defendants' arguments.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff's claims arise out of events related to CSOSA's probation supervision of Mr. Morris. Plaintiff was the complaining witness in a 2016 domestic violence criminal case in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia brought by the government against Mr. Morris. Compl., ECF No. 1, ¶ 23. Plaintiff was also the complaining witness in a second 2016 domestic violence criminal case in D.C. Superior Court based on Mr. Morris's failure to abide by the conditions of his release in the first domestic violence case and additional threats against Plaintiff while the first case was pending. Id.

         On September 26, 2016, Mr. Morris pled guilty to various charges from both his first and second domestic violence criminal cases. He was sentenced to 180 days in jail, with 90 days suspended, and two years probation, with the sentences to run concurrently. Id. at ¶ 25. CSOSA was in charge of supervising Mr. Morris's probation and was allegedly aware of his history of domestic violence against Plaintiff. Id. at ¶ 26. As a condition of his probation, Mr. Morris was ordered to stay away from and have no contact with Plaintiff. Id. at ¶ 27.

         Following Mr. Morris's release from jail, Plaintiff alleges that on February 16, 2017, Mr. Morris contacted Plaintiff by calling her work landline number several times in violation of the terms of his probation. Id. at ¶ 29. Plaintiff alleges that she promptly informed CSOSA of this violation. Id. Plaintiff states that she emailed Mr. Morris's case manager at CSOSA, explaining that Mr. Morris had contacted her. Plaintiff's email signature contained her work cell phone number. Id. at ¶ 30. CSOSA staff informed Plaintiff that the issue would be addressed. Id.

         Plaintiff alleges that, on February 21, 2017, CSOSA held a visit with Mr. Morris to discuss Plaintiff's allegations. Id. at ¶ 31. During the meeting, CSOSA staff inspected Mr. Morris's phone to determine if he had called Plaintiff's work landline number. In inspecting the phone, Plaintiff alleges that CSOSA staff placed a call to her work landline number using Mr. Morris's phone. Plaintiff alleges that CSOSA staff quickly hung up and did not notify her that CSOSA staff, rather than Mr. Morris, had placed the call. Id.

         Later that day, Plaintiff called CSOSA to notify them that she had again been contacted by Mr. Morris. Id. at ¶ 33. Plaintiff alleges that she was informed that CSOSA staff member Daisy Diallo had actually made the call. Id. Plaintiff contacted the prosecutors who had handled Mr. Morris's underlying criminal cases to alert them to the issues she was having with CSOSA. Id. at ¶ 34. Plaintiff alleges that CSOSA staff members then apologized and acknowledged their mistake. Id.

         Additionally, during the February 21, 2017 meeting between CSOSA and Mr. Morris, Plaintiff alleges that CSOSA showed Mr. Morris a copy of Plaintiff's email, which contained her work cellphone number. Id. at ¶ 32. Plaintiff alleges that, following the meeting, Mr. Morris made calls to her work cellphone number, a number which she had previously not shared with him. Id. at ¶ 35. In these calls, Plaintiff alleges that Mr. Morris threatened her with great bodily harm and death in addition to threatening her daughter. Id.

         Also on February 21, 2017, Plaintiff again contacted CSOSA to inform them that Mr. Morris had made new threats against her. Plaintiff alleges that CSOSA staff informed her that there was an active warrant for the arrest of Mr. Morris for this behavior. Id. at ¶ 36. However, Plaintiff alleges that at the time CSOSA made this assurance, the arrest warrant was not actually active. Plaintiff further alleges that CSOSA had the wrong phone number for Mr. Morris which hindered attempts to contact him. Id.

         On February 23, 2017, Plaintiff met with CSOSA staff. Id. at ¶ 37. During this meeting, Plaintiff alleges that CSOSA informed her that CSOSA staff member Ms. Diallo had shown Mr. Morris a copy of Plaintiff's email and had possibly disclosed other information to Mr. Morris. Id. Later that day, Plaintiff alerted a supervisor at CSOSA and the prosecutors from the underlying cases about these issues. Id. at ¶ 38. Plaintiff alleges that, based on this information, a representative of the United States Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia contacted the judge from Mr. Morris's two criminal domestic violence cases to arrange an emergency “show cause” hearing addressing the situation. Id.

         Also on February 23, 2017, Plaintiff alleges that police attempted to execute the arrest warrant for Mr. Morris relating to his threats to and contact with Plaintiff. Id. at ¶ 40. Plaintiff alleges that police were not able to serve the arrest warrant on Mr. Morris because CSOSA had failed to obtain the apartment number where Mr. Morris resided. Lacking an apartment number, police were unable to serve Mr. Morris with the arrest warrant. Id.

         Plaintiff further alleges that CSOSA staff were unable to provide an absolute confirmation that Mr. Morris was wearing his GPS monitor. Id. However, Mr. Morris's GPS data did show that he had spent time at a metro stop one block away from Plaintiff's residence. Id. at ¶ 41. Plaintiff contends that CSOSA staff could not confirm whether or not they had disclosed her new address or other information to Mr. Morris and recommended that Plaintiff move residences to protect herself. Id. at ¶ 42. Plaintiff states that she did in fact move to a new address following her conversations with CSOSA. Id. at ¶ 45.

         The judge from Mr. Morris's two domestic violence criminal cases conducted an emergency show cause hearing on March 2, 2017 regarding Mr. Morris's threats to and contact with Plaintiff. Id. at ¶ 43. Following the hearing, CSOSA staff emailed Plaintiff informing her that Mr. Morris's probation had been revoked for violating the conditions of his release and that he would serve the remaining 90 days of his sentence in jail. Id. at ¶ 44.

         Based on these events Plaintiff brings five claims against Defendants CSOSA and the United States. In Count 1, Plaintiff brings a claim of negligence; in Count 2, Plaintiff brings a claim of negligent supervision and training; in Count 3, Plaintiff brings a claim of negligent infliction of emotional distress; in Count 4, Plaintiff brings a claim of gross negligence; and in Count 5, Plaintiff brings a claim of vicarious liability.


         1. 12(b)(1) Motion to Dismiss Standard

         Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint under Rule 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. A court must dismiss a case pursuant to Rule of 12(b)(1) when it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction. In determining whether there is jurisdiction, “the court may consider the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts evidenced in the record, or the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts plus the court's resolution of disputed facts.” Coal. for Underground Expansion v. Mineta, 333 F.3d 193, 198 (D.C. Cir. 2003) (quoting Herbert v. Nat'l Acad. of Scis., 974 F.2d 192, 197 (D.C. Cir. 1992)) (internal quotation marks omitted). “At the motion to dismiss stage, counseled complaints, as well as pro se complaints, are to be construed with sufficient liberality to afford all possible inferences favorable to the pleader on allegations of fact.” Settles v. U.S. Parole Comm'n, 429 F.3d 1098, 1106 (D.C. Cir. 2005). In spite of the favorable inferences that a plaintiff receives on a motion to dismiss, still that “[p]laintiff bears the burden of proving subject matter jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence.” Am. Farm Bureau v. E PA, 121 F.Supp.2d 84, 90 (D.D.C. 2000). “Although a court must accept as true all factual allegations contained in the complaint when reviewing a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), [a] plaintiff['s] factual allegations in the complaint ... will bear closer scrutiny in resolving a 12(b)(1) motion than in resolving a 12(b)(6) motion for failure to state a claim.” Wright v. Foreign Serv. Grievance Bd., 503 F.Supp.2d 163, 170 (D.D.C. 2007) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted).

         2. 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss Standard

         Even if the Court does have jurisdiction, Defendants argue that many of Plaintiff's claims should be dismissed under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Under 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. ...

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