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Williams v. Park Place Inc.

United States District Court, District of Columbia

December 16, 2019

SYLVIA WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
PARK PLACE INC, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION [DKT. # 29, 31]

          RICHARD J. LEON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Sylvia Williams brings various common law and federal claims arising from her allegedly unlawful arrest and prosecution after an incident at a nightclub in the District of Columbia. See Compl. 5-12 [Dkt. # 1-2]. She seeks to hold Officer Maynor Gonzalez ("Officer Gonzalez") and the District of Columbia ("the District") (collectively, "the District defendants") liable for Officer Gonzalez's actions during and after Williams' arrest. Williams also seeks to hold Park Place, Inc. ("Park Place") and its owner, Marc Barnes ("Barnes") (collectively, "the Park Place defendants") liable for Officer Gonzalez's conduct as well as Barnes' role in her alleged false arrest and malicious prosecution.

         Pending before me are the District defendants' and the Park Place defendants' motions for summary judgment. See Park Place Mot. for Summ. J. ("Park Place Mot."); District Mot. for Summ. J. ("District Mot.") [Dkt. # 29, 31]. Upon consideration of the briefing, the relevant law, and the entire record, and for the reasons stated below, the Park Place defendants' motion for summary judgment is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part, and the District of Columbia defendants' motion for summary judgment is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

         BACKGROUND

         The events giving rise to these claims took place on August 8, 2015, when Williams went to the Park, a restaurant and nightclub in the District of Columbia. Pl.'s Resp. to District Defs.' Statement of Undisputed Facts ("Pl.'s District SOF") ¶ 2 [Dkt. # 36]. Williams and her friend, Kelly Heath, were standing on the third floor near the elevator, while Park Place employees were attempting to move patrons away from the elevator to keep the entrance and adjacent walkway clear. Pl.'s District SOF ¶¶ 2-5. According to the Park Place defendants, Williams refused to move from the walkway area. Park Place Defs.' Statement of Undisputed Material Facts ("Park Place SOF") ¶ 22 [Dkt. #29-1]. According to Williams, she never refused to leave, but she did take issue with the way Park Place employees were, in her view, rudely moving patrons. Pl.'s District SOF ¶¶ 5, 6.

         At some point, Barnes arrived on the third floor and spoke with Williams. Pl.'s District SOF ¶¶ 5, 6. The parties dispute what happened next. According to Barnes, he asked Williams to relocate and, after she refused several times, he asked her to leave the Park. Park Place SOF ¶ 23. Barnes claims that Williams then pushed him in the chest, causing him to move backwards because he was on crutches. Park Place SOF ¶ 24. Williams denies ever pushing Barnes or refusing to leave. Pl.'s Response to Park Place Defs.' Statement of Undisputed Facts ("Pl.'s Park Place SOF") ¶¶ 23-24 [Dkt. # 37-2]; see also Pl.'s Opp'n to Park Place Mot. for Summ. J ("Opp'n to Park Place"), Ex. 8 Heath Aff. She stated that she told Barnes one of his employees had pushed her, and Barnes "responded in a rude, nasty way." Opp'n to Park Place, Ex. 6 Williams Dep. Tr. 76:1-3 [Dkt. # 37-1]. At that point, according to both Williams and Heath, they decided to leave. Id. at 76:17-19; Opp'n to Park Place, Ex. 8 Heath Aff.

         That night, Officer Gonzalez, a District of Columbia Metropolitan police officer, was working reimbursement detail outside the Park. Pl.'s District SOF ¶ 8. Under the reimbursement program, the Metropolitan Police Department ("MPD") assigns police officers to private establishments, like the Park, to provide police service. Park Place SOF ¶¶ 1, 4; Pl.'s Park Place SOF ¶¶ U 4, 6. Officers working reimbursement detail are on "full-duty status" and are authorized to take police action, including making arrests, if necessary. See Park Place SOF ¶¶ 3, 6, 11, 14; Pl.'s Park Place SOF ¶¶ 3, 6, 11, 14. While on detail, they remain employees of MPD and are paid by the MPD for their time. Pl.'s District SOF ¶¶ 6, 9. They do not receive any training from the private establishments, nor are they paid directly by them. Park Place SOF ¶¶ 7, 9-10; Pl.'s Park Place SOF ¶¶ 7, 9-10. Police officers on detail at the Park remain outside the establishment except in limited circumstances, such as when an altercation is reported. Pl.'s Park Place SOF ¶ 13.

         As the incident between Williams and Barnes was occurring, Park Place employees requested that Officer Gonzalez provide assistance. Pl.'s Park Place SOF ¶ 26. According to Officer Gonzalez, when he arrived on the third floor, Barnes told him that Williams had pushed Barnes. District Mot., Ex. 2 Gonzalez Dep. Tr. at 77:1-5 [Dkt. # 31-2]; District Defs.' Statement of Undisputed Facts ("District SOF") ¶ 10 [Dkt. #31]. Officer Gonzalez also stated that after he began questioning Williams, she pushed him and cursed at him. District SOF ¶10; District Mot., Ex. 2 Gonzalez Tr. at 80:2-18. Williams avers that she never pushed Officer Gonzalez. Park Place SOF ¶ 27; Pl.'s District SOF ¶ 10. Officer Gonzalez, who was in full police uniform, did not arrest Williams at that time. Pl.'s District SOF ¶11; District Mot., Ex. 2 Gonzalez Tr. at 114:3-5. Per his account, he instead escorted her out of the Park because it was crowded and loud inside, and he wanted to avoid having to raise his voice to speak to her. District SOF ¶ 12; District Mot., Ex. 2 Gonzalez Tr. at 81:4-9. At this point, Barnes asked Officer Gonzalez to obtain Williams' identification so that Barnes could issue a notice barring her from the Park. Park Place SOF ¶ 30. According to Officer Gonzalez, Williams then "essentially fled the scene," and he pursued her in an attempt to stop her and continue his investigation. Park Place SOF ¶¶ 30-31; District SOF ¶ 12; District Mot., Ex. 2 Gonzalez Tr. 91:9-19. Williams claims that she and Heath were not escorted out by Officer Gonzalez, but instead voluntarily exited the Park. Pl.'s District SOF ¶12.[1]

         Outside of the Park, Officer Gonzalez followed Williams. Pl.'s District SOF ¶ 13. He stated that he attempted to stop her and that in doing so, grabbed her elbow and told her she was not free to leave. District Mot., Ex. 2 Gonzalez Tr. 96:4-6; 105:8-12 (describing his "control hold" on Williams' arm). Officer Gonzalez testified that Williams began yelling that Officer Gonzalez was hurting her and making references to Freddie Gray. Id. at 110:2-10. Officer Gonzalez "keyed" his microphone to record the exchange and called for additional police assistance. Park Place SOF ¶ 32; District Mot., Ex. 2 Gonzalez Tr. 105:2-6; see also Pl.'s Park Place SOF ¶ 32.

         According to Williams, she and Heath were approached by police as they were walking to their car, asked a number of questions, and told not to move. Opp'n to Park Place, Ex. 6 Williams' Dep. Tr. at 99:3-101:8. Williams stated the police officers were "evasive," and "Officer Gonzalez was very aggressive." Id. at 103:8-104:2. She testified that Officer Gonzalez "went to cuff [her]" without saying why, he was "grabb[ing her] and .. . yanking [her] around," and he was "menacing." Id. at 104:3-10. Williams claims that after she said he was hurting her, he "squeez[ed her] arm, pinch[ing her.]" Id. at 104:11-22.

         A security camera above the sidewalk where Williams was approached and arrested recorded the exchange. See District Mot. at 13. That footage, which has no sound, depicts two police officers, one of whom is Officer Gonzalez, approaching Williams and Heath on the sidewalk and speaking with them. See generally Opp'n to Park Place, Ex. 9, Bank Video, 8/9/2015. After some discussion, Williams then turned and took a step away from the officers, at which point Officer Gonzalez grabbed her by the arm. Id. at 7:06. He put her arms behind her back and placed cuffs on her. Id. at 7:16. Officer Gonzalez then stood next to Williams holding her arm for several minutes. Id. at 7:32-10:37. During this period, Williams appeared to try to pull away from Officer Gonzalez multiple times, but he continued to hold on to her arm. Id.

         Williams was arrested and charged for simple assault, assault on a police officer, and unlawful entry. Pl.'s District SOF ¶ 14; Opp'n to Park Place, Ex. 3 at 1. Her criminal case proceeded to trial in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, at which Barnes testified that he asked Williams to relocate, she refused, and she pushed him in the chest. Opp'n to Park Place, Ex. 2 D.C. Sup. Ct. Transcript of Proceedings at 27:8-11; 28:18-25. During the trial, the Government decided not to further prosecute the case, and the charges against Williams were dismissed. Id. at 49:5-6; Opp'n to Park Place, Ex. 3 at 1. Williams subsequently moved to seal her records in that criminal case. Opp'n to Park Place, Ex. 3 at 1. On January 22, 2016, the Superior Court granted the motion and further found by a preponderance of the evidence that Williams "did not commit the offense for which she was arrested." Id.

         On August 8, 2016, Williams filed a civil complaint in the Superior Court for the District of Columbia against the Park Place and District defendants, seeking compensatory and punitive damages. See Compl. On September 29, 2016, the District defendants removed the case to this Court, see Notice of Removal [Dkt. #1], and on October 12, 2018, the District defendants and the Park Place defendants moved for summary judgment, see District Mot.; Park Place Mot. [Dkt. # 29, 3l].[2] Those motions are now fully briefed and ripe for decision.

         LEGAL ...


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