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Laureys v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

September 25, 2019

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al., Defendant.



         Plaintiff Brandon Laureys, who is represented by counsel, brings this action against the District of Columbia, five D.C. officers or employees, and two John Does. He has now filed his Third Amended Complaint, which alleges a variety of claims under federal and D.C. law relating to his treatment while incarcerated at the D.C. jail. Dkt. 19. The District of Columbia, the only defendant served to date, moves to dismiss Counts I, II, IV, and VI. Dkt. 20.

         For the reasons explained below, the Court will grant in part and will deny in part the District’s motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed this action in January 2018, Dkt. 1, but did not serve the District of Columbia until March 2018, Dkt. 4; Dkt. 5; Dkt. 6. He has yet to serve any of the remaining defendants. Because far more than 90 days have now expired, the Court has separately ordered that, unless Plaintiff effects service on the remaining defendants on or before October 24, 2019, the Court will dismiss the action without prejudice against those defendants. Dkt. 24.

         After Plaintiff served the District of Columbia, the District moved to dismiss. Dkt. 7. Plaintiff then filed his first amended complaint as of right. Dkt. 8. The District again moved to dismiss, Dkt. 10, and Plaintiff moved for leave to file a second amended complaint, Dkt. 12. The District opposed that motion, Dkt. 14, and, after the Court highlighted “substantial deficienc[ies]” in Plaintiff’s proposed, second amended complaint at a status conference, July 10, 2018 Status Conference Tr. at 23:6, the Court afforded Plaintiff an opportunity to move for leave to file a third amended complaint addressing some of the factual gaps in the proposed second amended complaint, id. at 24:16–21. At that time, the Court cautioned counsel that he would need to plead more than just legal conclusions and would need to plead facts sufficient to satisfy the elements of each claim he seeks to bring. Id. at 3:7–15, 22–25; 6:1–12; 7:20–24. Ultimately, the District took no position regarding Plaintiff’s request for leave to file a third amended complaint, Dkt. 18, and the Court granted Plaintiff’s motion, Minute Order (Aug. 27, 2018).

         The Third Amended Complaint (hereinafter “complaint”) includes seven counts. Dkt. 19. According to the complaint, Plaintiff was “continuously incarcerated from on or about November 14, 2008 until his release on or about January 3, 2018, ” and he was held “for part of that time” at the D.C. jail. Dkt. 19 at 4 (3d Amd. Compl. ¶¶ 16–17). Plaintiff alleges that, while held at the D.C. jail, he was “improperly protected and classified by the defendants” and was improperly “placed with hardened criminals.” Id. (3d Amd. Compl. ¶ 19). He alleges that employees at the D.C. jail were not properly trained or supervised, id. at 4, 6 (3d Amd. Compl. ¶¶ 20, 35), that these employees failed to properly supervise the inmates, id. at 5–6 (3d Amd. Compl. ¶¶ 23, 33–34), that they failed to keep them in their proper locations, id. at 5–6 (3d Amd. Compl. ¶¶ 25, 33), and that they failed to enforce the 8:00 p.m. curfew, id. at 5 (3d Amd. Compl. ¶ 25). He claims that these failures of the jail employees facilitated his injuries at the hands of other inmates. Id. at 6 (3d Amd. Compl. ¶ 35). He also alleges that he was discriminated against because he is “Caucasian.” Id. at 3, 7–8, 11 (3d Amd. Compl. ¶¶ 10, 43, 47–49, 67–68).

         Plaintiff recounts three alleged instances when he was physically injured, twice by other inmates and once by a jail employee. First, Plaintiff alleges that in the evening of November 29, 2009, when inmates were supposed to be within their cells, an inmate punched him in the eye, causing a serious injury. Id. at 5 (3d Amd. Compl. ¶¶ 25–27). Second, he alleges that on February 5, 2010, Defendant “Sergeant Ekwanna sprayed [him] with mace for about eight . . . seconds for no valid reason, ” injuring him. Id. (3d Amd. Comp. ¶¶ 28, 30). Third, he alleges that, on or about March 28, 2010, he was “assaulted by three . . . inmates when he was in his protective cellblock, ” beaten with a broomstick, and cut on his face with razors. Id. at 6 (3d Amd. Compl. ¶¶ 32, 34). Following this last incident, Plaintiff alleges that the warden of the D.C. jail used “threat[s]” to try to convince him “to sign papers to prosecute the perpetrators of the March 28, 2010 incident and [to] waive liability against the defendants [named in the present action]” and that, in fact, he “was placed in solitary confinement . . . for more than five . . . months as punishment for failing to sign” the papers. Id. at 7 (3d Amd. Compl. ¶¶ 40–42). According to Plaintiff, this action was taken in “retaliation by persons in charge of policy, including the Warden, [the] directors of the Department of Corrections[, ] Lieutenant Taylor[, ] and all defendants.” Id. (3d Amd. Compl. ¶ 41). He also alleges that he was “denied legal counsel and medical treatment” following this incident, id. (3d Amd. Compl. ¶ 44), and that “[o]n numerous occasions, including March 28, 2010, unsupervised inmates hit [him] with feces.” Id. at 6 (3d Amd. Compl. ¶ 38).

         The District of Columbia moves for partial dismissal of Counts I, II, IV, and VI of Plaintiff’s complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Dkt 20.


         “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. 544, 570 (2007)). Well-pleaded complaints include “factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. Raising the “sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully” is not enough. Id. In evaluating a 12(b)(6) motion, the Court “accept[s] facts alleged in the complaint as true and draw[s] all reasonable inferences from those facts in the plaintiff[’s] favor.” Humane Soc’y of the United States v. Vilsack, 797 F.3d 4, 8 (D.C. Cir. 2015). This focus on the factual content of the complaint means that “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         III. ANALYSIS

         Plaintiff’s complaint is not a picture of clarity. With respect to each of the four counts that the District moves to dismiss, however, the Court will attempt to identify the nature of the claim asserted and the facts alleged in support of that claim. The Court will then determine whether those facts are sufficient to state the claim for relief. Because only the District of Columbia has been served, the Court will limit its analysis to the sufficiency of Plaintiff’s claims against the District.

         A. Count I: “Violation of Civil Rights pursuant to Title 42 Section 1983 of the United States Code”

         In Count I, Plaintiff seeks to recover from the District of Columbia under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for a series of alleged violations of his First, Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Dkt. 19 at 7 (3d Amd. Compl. ¶ 45). To state a claim for municipal liability under § 1983, a plaintiff must clear two hurdles. First, he must allege “a predicate constitutional violation.” Baker v. District of Columbia, 326 F.3d 1302, 1306 (D.C. Cir. 2003). Second, as required under Monell v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978), and its progeny, he must allege facts sufficient to support a plausible inference “that a custom or policy of the municipality caused the violation.” Baker, 326 F.3d at 1306. Each requirement “is separate and serves [a] different purpose[ ], ” id., and a plaintiff’s failure to plead facts sufficient to satisfy either hurdle requires dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6).

         With respect to the first hurdle, the District correctly observes that the District of Columbia is a federal entity subject to the Fifth Amendment, and not the Fourteenth Amendment, to the Constitution, see Bolling v. Sharpe, 347 U.S. 497, 499 (1954); Propert v. District of Columbia, 948 F.2d 1327, 1330 n.5 (D.C. Cir. 1991), and thus Plaintiff’s Fourteenth Amendment claim must be dismissed. The District also argues that Plaintiff has failed to allege a predicate First Amendment violation, but it offers little or no analysis of Plaintiff’s First Amendment claim. As the District recognized, Plaintiff alleges that he was “threatened and punished”-and, in particular, was placed in solitary confinement for five months-because he refused to identify his assailants and because he refused to waive his right to bring suit against the District. Dkt. 20 at 6; Dkt. at 7 (3d Am. Compl. ¶¶ 40–41). It is not obvious to the Court that this allegation fails to state a claim under the First Amendment, which, among other things, protects the right to petition the government by bringing suit. See BE & K Constr. Co. v. NLRB, 536 U.S. 516, ...

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