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Dorsey v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

August 8, 2019

JAMES DORSEY, Plaintiff,
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al., Defendants.



         In June of 2013, officers of the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) attempted a traffic stop on a BMW sedan. The vehicle fled but MPD's subsequent investigation revealed a possible connection between the car and a recent theft in Virginia. Believing it probable that the owner of the car had hidden the stolen items in his residence, MPD officers filed for a warrant to search the residence associated with the car's insurance. As it turns out, the house named on the insurance policy belonged not to the insurance registrant, but to Nika Dorsey (the plaintiff's wife) and her family. Nonetheless, the search turned up a laptop, four cell phones, and a revolver-all of which MPD seized. James Dorsey, the plaintiff here, was subsequently convicted and sentenced to three years of incarceration for possessing the firearm without proper registration. Prior to this suit, Nika Dorsey brought and settled claims against the District of Columbia that the search violated her Fourth Amendment rights and those of her minor children. Now, Mr. Dorsey brings his own suit. As relevant, he alleges that the search of the home and seizure of the devices was improper. The District and the officers move to dismiss the claims against them, or in the alternative for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, the Court will grant their motion for summary judgment.

         I. FACTS

         In June of 2013, MPD officers attempted to execute a stop on a dark BMW sedan and the vehicle fled. Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss Pl.'s Compl. or in the Alternative for Summ. J. (Mot.) [Dkt. 12] at 8-10.[1] The officers communicated the BMW's description and license plate number to Officer William Dempster who conducted a database search for the fleeing sedan. Id. at 10. Through this search Officer Dempster learned of a recent theft-a few days earlier, two people had stolen nine handbags from a Burberry store in Virginia and fled in a car matching the BMW's description. See Dorsey v. United States, 234 F.Supp.3d 1, 5 (D.D.C. 2017); Mot. at 9. Thinking he had a lead on the theft, Officer Dempster compiled a search warrant for the address listed on the car's insurance registration. Mot. at 9-10. In support of the warrant application, Officer Dempster, as affiant, put forth as probable cause that “[i]ndividuals who commit thefts will store the stolen property at their residences or in vehicles which they have access and control until such time they can pawn, sell, trade or use the item to their own benefit.” Ex. B, Mot., Aff. in Supp. of an Appl. for a Search Warrant (Warrant App.) [Dkt. 12-1] at 27. The warrant was granted by a D.C. Superior Court Judge, and MPD officers executed a search on the address. Mot. at 3.

         However, the residence did not belong to the BMW's registrant, and was instead home to Mr. Dorsey, his wife, his wife's mother, and his wife's two children. Mot. at 8. As the Court explained in Nika Dorsey's suit:

Without knocking or announcing their presence, the MPD officers breached the apartment's door, trained weapons on the family inside, detained them, and handcuffed everyone except three-year-old J.C., who was terrified and screamed and cried. The officers refused to release Ms. Dorsey from handcuffs at any time during the search so that she could comfort J.C. As part of their search, the officers confiscated all cell phones and a laptop computer. After two hours of searching, the officers left without any purses.

Dorsey, 234 F.Supp.3d at 6. Mr. Dorsey was later convicted and sentenced for the unregistered possession of a firearm located during the search. Mot. at 9. His wife previously brought suit in this Court against the MPD to vindicate her and her minor childrens' rights, which resulted in a settlement. See generally Dorsey, 234 F.Supp.3d at 1.

         Now, Mr. Dorsey advances his own claims. See generally Compl. [Dkt. 1-1]. Although the Complaint is not a model of cogency, it alleges that Defendants District of Columbia, Officer Dempster, and six other John Doe officers (collectively, District Defendants) engaged in activity that violated the Fourth Amendment as a matter of pattern and policy. Id. ¶ 28.[2],[3] Specifically, Mr. Dorsey alleges that the warrant application lacked evidence that would convince a reasonable police officer that the seized phone and computer would contain evidence relevant to the Burberry theft. Id. ¶ 10. He also alleges that the warrant application relied on overly broad assertions by Officer Dempster regarding the habits of thieves, and therefore that the warrant was improper. Finally, he alleges that the District trained its officers to submit such insufficient affidavits. Id. While the Complaint does not set forth a model 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim, it does sound in the same tenor and the Court evaluates the claim as setting forth a § 1983 claim against the District and MPD officers for violating Mr. Dorsey's Fourth Amendment protections vis-à-vis the search of the apartment and the seizure of the electronics.


         Mr. Dorsey first filed this case in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. James Dorsey v. District of Columbia, C.A. No. 2018 CA 006146 B (D.C. Aug. 27, 2018). The District Defendants removed the action to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1446(b)(2)(A). See Notice of Removal of a Civil Action [Dkt. 1] at 2. The District Defendants then moved for dismissal or, in the alternative, for summary judgment; specifically, arguing that this case is improper under Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994) and that the statute of limitations ran prior to filing. See generally Mot.[4] The motion is ripe for review.[5]


         Motions to dismiss are properly raised in a response to a complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 554, 570 (2007)). A complaint is facially plausible when it pleads facts that allow a court to “draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id.. Although the standard is deferential, it “asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully, ” id., and is unsatisfied when a complaint pleads facts that are “‘merely consistent with' a defendant's liability.” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). While courts considering Rule 12(b)(6) motions accept as true the factual allegations in a complaint, they are not forced to accept the plaintiff's conclusory legal determinations. See id.

         Alternatively, motions for summary judgment should be granted when the moving party demonstrates that there is no genuine dispute of a material fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A party can move for summary judgment at any time before thirty days after the close of discovery. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(b). The moving party has the burden of proving that there is no material dispute of fact, and under our Local Rules can do so by providing a list of material facts not in dispute which are to be taken as true unless controverted by the nonmoving party in their opposition filing. LCvR 7(h)(1). Once such facts are established, courts rely on them to determine whether the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “[W]here a defendant has moved for summary judgment under Rule 56 as an alternative to dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6), ‘the decision regarding whether or not to treat motion to ...

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