United States District Court, District of Columbia
ROSEMARY M. COLLYER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
of 2013, after a failed attempt at a traffic stop by officers
of the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department
(MPD), a search was conducted of a residence believed to be
inhabited by the owner of the vehicle. As it turns out, the
house belonged not to the vehicle owner, but to Nika Dorsey
(the Plaintiff's wife) and her family. 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. During his criminal trial, Mr. Dorsey was
represented by Raymond Jones.
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. The Court granted the motion for
summary judgment filed by the District of Columbia and the
MPD officers, thereby leaving only Mr. Dorsey's claims
against his counsel, Mr. Jones. Mr. Dorsey's complaint
appears to raise claims of ineffective assistance of counsel
and malpractice against Mr. Jones. Mr. Jones moves to
dismiss, or in the alternative for summary judgment. However,
because this Court no longer has jurisdiction over the case,
the Court will remand the case to the Superior Court of the
District of Columbia to resolve Mr. Dorsey's claims
against Mr. Jones.
facts related to the MPD search and seizure were described in
the Court's order granting the District's motion for
summary judgment and will not be repeated in full here. See
Dorsey v. District of Columbia, No. 19-cv-191, 2019
WL 3753336, at *1-2 (D.D.C. Aug. 8, 2019). The Court will
only summarize the facts as they pertain to Mr. Jones'
representation of Mr. Dorsey.
2013, MPD conducted a search of the residence occupied by Mr.
Dorsey, his wife, his wife's mother, and his wife's
two children. Id. at *1. During the search, the
police discovered a firearm and Mr. Dorsey was charged with
the unregistered possession of said firearm. Id. at
*2. Mr. Dorsey was originally represented by the District of
Columbia Public Defender Service and another private
attorney, but by the time of trial Mr. Jones was his counsel.
See Def. Jones' Mot. to Dismiss or in the Alternative
Mot. for Summ. J. (Mot.) [Dkt. 22] at 2.
trial, DNA analyst Andrea Borchardt-Gardner testified about
the genetic material collected from the firearm and indicated
that she “develop[ed] a partial DNA profile (i.e.,
eight of the fifteen locations that would constitute a full
profile)” and that profile was from a male contributor.
Id. She further testified that she compared the DNA
profile found on the firearm with Mr. Dorsey's DNA
profile and determined they were consistent. Id. Her
conclusion at trial was not that Mr. Dorsey was a definitive
match, but that he “could not be excluded as a possible
contributor of the partial DNA profile recovered from the
gun.” Id. at 3. In addition to her testimony
about the specific profile located on the firearm, Ms.
Borchardt-Gardner testified about DNA analysis in general and
DNA transfer. Compl. [Dkt. 1-1] ¶ 17.
Dorsey alleges that Mr. Jones failed to cross examine Ms.
Borchardt-Gardner about her “romantic relationship with
someone in the U.S. Attorney [sic] Office” which the
trial court indicated might be “reversible
error.” Id. ¶ 19. In addition, Mr. Dorsey
challenges Mr. Jones' decision not to hire and call an
independent DNA expert. Id. ¶¶ 21-23.
Finally, Mr. Dorsey alleges that Mr. Jones failed to move to
suppress the search warrant that resulted in the location of
the firearm. Id. ¶ 23. After a presentation of
all the evidence, a jury convicted Mr. Dorsey of unlawful
possession of a firearm and he was sentenced to three years
in prison. Id. ¶ 24.
Dorsey's complaint does not specifically indicate the
legal theories behind his allegations against Mr. Jones, but
the Court interprets his claims as legal malpractice under
D.C. common law and ineffective assistance of counsel
pursuant to D.C. Code § 23-110.
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. Super. Ct. 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) because the claims against the
District and MPD officers involved a federal question. 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; and the Court granted the
motion leaving only Mr. Dorsey's claims against his
counsel, Mr. Jones. See Dorsey, 2019 WL 3753336. Mr. Jones
also moved to dismiss or for summary judgment. The motion is
ripe for review.
Supreme Court has determined that “a federal court
generally may not rule on the merits of a case without first
determining that it has jurisdiction over the category of
claim in suit (subject-matter jurisdiction) and the parties
(personal jurisdiction).” Sinochem Int'l Co. v.
Malaysia Int'l Shipping Corp., 549 U.S. 422, 430-31
(2007) (citing Steel Co. v. Citizens for Better
Env't, 523 U.S. 83, 93-102 (1998)). A court may not
“assume jurisdiction for the purpose of deciding the
merits of the case.” Id. at 431. Thus, even if
the parties do not raise the question of jurisdiction, the
Court must sua sponte consider whether it has the power to
decide the claims presented.
this case was removed from Superior Court upon consent of all
Defendants it included claims against the District of
Columbia and MPD officers that qualified the case for
federal-question jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C. § 1331. The
claims against Mr. Jones were also removed based on the
Court's supplemental jurisdiction over related questions.
See 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a). However, now that the federal
claims have been dismissed, the only remaining claims lack
the requisite connection to federal court. Mr. Dorsey's
claims of legal malpractice and ineffective assistance of
counsel both raise questions of D.C. law, not federal law,
and were properly brought in Superior Court. Additionally,
the Complaint ...