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Taylor v. Guida

United States District Court, District of Columbia

September 30, 2019

DELPHINE TAYLOR, Plaintiff,
v.
JEREMY GUIDA, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          REGGIE B. WALTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         The plaintiff, Delphine Taylor, brings this civil action against Jeremy Guida, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (“WMATA”) police officer, asserting common law claims of negligence (Count One) and assault and battery (Count Two), see Complaint (“Compl.”) ¶¶ 8- 14, as well as an excessive force claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (2012) (Count Three), see id. ¶¶ 15-18.[1] Currently pending before the Court is the Motion for Summary Judgment by Jeremy Guida (“Def.'s Mot.”). Upon careful consideration of the parties' submissions, [2] the Court concludes for the following reasons that it must grant in part and deny in part the defendant's motion for summary judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The following facts are undisputed by the parties, unless otherwise indicated. On January 27, 2016, the plaintiff “exited through the fare gates at [the] Gallery Place [/Chinatown] metro [s]tation” without paying the required fare. Def.'s Facts ¶¶ 1-2, 39; see Pl.'s Facts ¶ 4; Pl.'s Opp'n, Exhibit (“Ex.”) 1 (Deposition of Jeremy Guida (“Guida Dep.”)) 9:13-19, 14:1-7, 16:10- 17:6; Def.'s Mot., Ex. 1 (Deposition of Delphine Taylor (“Taylor Dep.”)) 78:14-15. Upon seeing the plaintiff exit without paying, the defendant stopped the plaintiff and “arrested her for fare evasion.” Pl.'s Facts ¶ 6; see Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. 1 (Guida Dep.) 24:15-19; Def.'s Facts ¶¶ 4, 6, 41-44; Def.'s Mot., Ex. 1 (Taylor Dep.) 78:15-22. After the defendant handcuffed the plaintiff, he represents that he “visually and physically inspect[ed] the handcuffs” to “check[] for adequate room and slackness” by both “looking to see if there [were] gaps on each side and . . . mak[ing] sure that the handcuffs c[ould] move along the wrist . . . back and forth from side to side or . . . up and down.” Def.'s Facts ¶¶ 47-49; see Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. 1 (Guida Dep.) 26:18- 28:20. The plaintiff disputes the defendant's account, see Pl.'s Disputed Facts ¶ 2 (denying that the defendant “ever moved the handcuffs along her wrists”), and asserts that immediately after the defendant placed her in handcuffs, “she complained that they were too tight, ” but the defendant “refused to loosen them.” Pl.'s Facts ¶ 11; see Def.'s Mot., Ex. 1 (Taylor Dep.) 79:1- 2, 94:13-17, 103:11-12, 115:5-13.

         Thereafter, while waiting to be transported to the First District Station of the Metropolitan Police Department for processing, the plaintiff “complained [to another police officer] of overtight handcuffs.” Pl.'s Facts ¶ 13; see Def.'s Facts ¶ 52; Def.'s Mot., Ex. 1 (Taylor Dep.) 118:3-16. According to the defendant, he then “approached [the] [p]laintiff . . . and checked the handcuffs . . . by both visual inspection and physical inspection of moving the handcuffs along [the] [p]laintiff's wrists.” Def.'s Facts ¶ 53; see Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. 1 (Guida Dep.) 33:16-36:9. However, according to the plaintiff, “[n]o one attempted to move the handcuffs up and down her wrist or from side to side after they were placed on her.” Pl.'s Facts ¶ 14; see Def.'s Mot., Ex. 1 (Taylor Dep.) 118:7-9. The plaintiff was then transported to the First District Station, see Def.'s Mot., Ex. 1 (Taylor Dep.) 120:7-16; see also Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. 1 (Guida Dep.) 41:3-11, where the handcuffs were removed, see Def.'s Mot., Ex. 1 (Taylor Dep.) 120:17-121:7; Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. 1 (Guida Dep.) 47:12-21.

         On December 27, 2016, the plaintiff filed her Complaint in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia against the defendant, another WMATA police officer, and WMATA. See Compl. at 1. On January 18, 2017, WMATA removed the case to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1441(a), (c), 1446 (2012). See Notice of Removal at 1. Thereafter, the Court dismissed WMATA as a defendant after concluding that “sovereign immunity bars the plaintiff's . . . claims against [it], ” Order at 8 (Aug. 16, 2017), ECF No. 14, and dismissed the Complaint as to the other WMATA police officer “given the plaintiff's oral stipulation of dismissal of all claims against [the other WMATA police officer], ” Order at 1 (June 22, 2018), ECF No. 24. The defendant then filed his motion for summary judgment, which is the subject of this Memorandum Opinion.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A court may grant a Rule 56 motion for summary judgment only if “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “A fact is material if it ‘might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law,' and a dispute about a material fact is genuine ‘if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.'” Steele v. Schafer, 535 F.3d 689, 692 (D.C. Cir. 2008) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, “[t]he evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in h[er] favor.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. “Credibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge . . . ruling on a motion for summary judgment.” Id. The movant has the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact and that the non-moving party “fail[ed] to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

         In responding to a motion for summary judgment, the non-moving party “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). Accordingly, the non-moving party “must set forth specific facts showing that there [are] genuine issue[s] for trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. “The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [non-moving party's] position . . . [is] insufficient” to withstand a motion for summary judgment; rather, “there must be [some] evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [non-movant].” Id. at 252.

         III. LEGAL ANALYSIS

         The defendant argues that “all three [remaining] counts [of the plaintiff's Complaint] must be dismissed as a matter of law.” Def.'s Mot. at 2.[3] Specifically, he contends that the Court must grant summary judgment in his favor on (1) the plaintiff's excessive force claim because the defendant “enjoys qualified immunity for his actions, ” id. at 3; (2) the plaintiff's battery claim because the plaintiff “has failed to produce admissible [evidence] that [the defendant's] actions were not objectively reasonable, ” id. at 2; and (3) the plaintiff's negligence claim because the plaintiff has “pled an intentional tort[] masquerading as a negligence claim, ” id., and “has failed to produce admissible evidence regarding the national standard of care for the methodology by which officers must check for handcuff tightness of arrestees, ” id. at 9. The Court will address each of the defendant's arguments in turn.

         A. Liability Under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count Three)

         Where, as in this case, a plaintiff brings a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the defendant may raise the affirmative defense of qualified immunity. See Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 815 (1982). The doctrine of qualified immunity shields police officers, including WMATA police officers, [4] “from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009) (quoting Harlow, 457 U.S. at 818). Once a defendant asserts the defense of qualified immunity, the burden then falls to the plaintiff to show that the police officer is not entitled to the protection afforded by qualified immunity. See Winder v. Erste, 905 F.Supp.2d 19, 28 (D.D.C. 2012). A defendant is not entitled to qualified immunity if the plaintiff establishes that (1) the defendant's conduct violated a constitutional right, and (2) the right was “clearly established” at the time of the defendant's conduct. Pearson, 555 U.S. at 231.

         “[W]hether a . . . defendant's conduct violates the ‘clearly established' constitutional rights of the plaintiff is a pure question of law that must be resolved by the [C]ourt.” Pitt v. District of Columbia, 491 F.3d 494, 509 (D.C. Cir. 2007).

To decide the issue of whether or not the non-movant may survive summary judgment [on a Section 1983 claim]-i.e., whether [s]he has provided enough evidence that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in h[er] favor-the [C]ourt must first identify the version of events that best comports with the summary judgment standard and then ask[] whether, given ...

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