Jenkins v. Dist. of Columbia

Citation223 A.3d 884
Decision Date30 January 2020
Docket NumberNo. 16-CV-841,16-CV-841
Parties Ronald JENKINS, et al., Appellants, v. DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al., Appellees.
CourtCourt of Appeals of Columbia District

223 A.3d 884

Ronald JENKINS, et al., Appellants,
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al., Appellees.

No. 16-CV-841

District of Columbia Court of Appeals.

Argued February 28, 2018
Decided January 30, 2020

Gregory L. Lattimer for appellants.

Mary L. Wilson, Senior Assistant Attorney General, with whom Karl A. Racine, Attorney General for the District of Columbia, Todd S. Kim, Solicitor General at the time the brief was filed, and Loren L. AliKhan, Deputy Solicitor General at the time the brief was filed, were on the brief, for appellees.

Before Fisher and Thompson, Associate Judges, and Ferren, Senior Judge.

Thompson, Associate Judge:

Plaintiffs/appellants Ronald and Sharon Jenkins appeal from an order of the Superior Court entering summary judgment in favor of defendants/appellees, the District of Columbia (the "District") and Michael Davis, on plaintiffs' claims brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, their common-law claims of assault and battery, and Mr. Jenkins's common-law claims of false arrest and negligent supervision. We affirm.

I. Background

The following facts are not in dispute. On the afternoon of September 2, 2013, the Jenkinses went to buy crabs at the Wharf, where Mr. Jenkins, who had been driving the Jenkinses' vehicle, got into a verbal altercation with another driver ("the complainant") in the parking lot. According to the Jenkinses, just before the altercation, the other driver had "stolen" the parking

223 A.3d 888

space for which Mr. Jenkins had been waiting. After the altercation, the Jenkinses, having found another parking space, went to make their purchases. Before they returned to their vehicle, a police radio run went out reporting "a traffic dispute that possibly resulted in some type of assault" in which "a knife had been pulled." In response to the radio run, Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) Officer Michael Davis responded to the scene, where he spoke with other officers who were already present and, together with the other officers, began interviewing witnesses.

At the scene, the police officers spoke with a number of individuals about what had occurred. The complainant's nephew, a minor child with the initials "S.M.," told officers that Mr. Jenkins had argued with the complainant while armed with a small, folding pocketknife that had a serrated blade.1 The complainant initially informed a detective that Mr. Jenkins was holding a set of keys in his hand and that he (the complainant) never saw a knife, but, an hour later, through an interpreter, the complainant told police that Mr. Jenkins had "angrily approached him ... [and] produced what appeared to be a small pocket knife ...." An unidentified person told the police that he or she saw the complainant and Mr. Jenkins arguing but did not see Mr. Jenkins with a weapon.2 (Officer Davis stated later, in his deposition, that a woman who was passing by told him that she saw Mr. Jenkins "pull a knife" on the complainant, but this was not mentioned in the officer's written report about the incident.)

While the police were still on the scene, appellants returned to their car, put their purchases in the trunk of their vehicle, and were about to drive off, when two MPD officers stopped them and asked Mr. Jenkins whether he had a knife and whether he had pulled a knife on the complainant. Mr. Jenkins denied having done so and denied having a knife. Mrs. Jenkins corroborated his account, telling the police that her husband "merely mentioned to the complainant that he was waiting next in line for the parking space that the complainant took" and then "walked within eyesight of the complainant to one of the fisherman boats and purchased crabs." The officer told Mr. Jenkins to "stay right there for a minute" while the officer went back to speak with the complainant. When the officer returned, he asked Mr. Jenkins to step out of the car, which he did. Mr. Jenkins then opened the trunk of the car to allow the police to search for a knife. The officers also searched the rest of the vehicle. Mrs. Jenkins stepped out of the vehicle during the vehicle search, and the police looked through her purse as well. Officers also searched in nearby trash cans and under cars in the immediate area, but found no knife. Officer Davis approached Mr. Jenkins and arrested him for assault with a dangerous weapon (ADW) before searching his person and taking all of his personal items out of his pocket.

At some point, an unnamed female police officer approached Mrs. Jenkins and told her to get out of the car because "she was going to search [her]."3 Mrs. Jenkins

223 A.3d 889

walked with the female officer to the police van, where she stood spread-eagle while the female officer patted her down over her clothing and checked her hair (which she was wearing in a braided hairstyle) for a weapon.4

The police officers did not find a knife in the Jenkinses' car or on the person of either Mr. Jenkins or Mrs. Jenkins. Mr. Jenkins was transported to the First District Station for booking and spent the night in jail. At an initial appearance the next day, the government declined to prosecute Mr. Jenkins, and he was released from custody.

After the Jenkinses filed their lawsuit, the District of Columbia and Officer Davis moved for summary judgment on all of the Jenkinses' claims. Reviewing the undisputed facts (and disregarding Officer Davis's deposition testimony about an unnamed woman who claimed to have seen Mr. Jenkins with a knife), the Superior Court concluded that "sufficient evidence existed for Officer Davis to make a determination of probable cause to arrest Mr. Jenkins for [ADW]." The court granted summary judgment in favor of the District and Officer Davis on all of Mr. Jenkins's claims (making no distinction between the § 1983 and common-law claims).

Addressing Mrs. Jenkins's claims, the Superior Court reasoned that "the combination of proximity and marriage [was] an insufficient basis" for probable cause to search Mrs. Jenkins as "an aider and abettor of Mr. Jenkins'[s] alleged criminal conduct" or as an accessory after the fact. The court also reasoned that while the facts known to the officers supported a reasonable suspicion that Mrs. Jenkins might be in possession of the knife, the facts were insufficient to support a reasonable belief that Mrs. Jenkins was both armed and dangerous. Concluding, however, that there was no clearly established law regarding whether an officer may search "the accompanying passenger after a search of the arrestee driver and the vehicle itself proved fruitless" and that "the right of an individual not to be searched under the circumstances of the instant case is not clear," the court determined that "a clearly known right was not violated when a search was performed on Mrs. Jenkins" and that "qualified immunity applies." The court therefore granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants on Mrs. Jenkins's claims.

II. Discussion

A. Mr. Jenkins's claims

Summary judgment is warranted "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Super. Ct. Civ. R. 56(a). Our review of an order granting summary judgment is de novo [.]" Perkins v. District of Columbia , 146 A.3d 80, 84 (D.C. 2016).

Mr. Jenkins asserts that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment because there were "no undisputed facts indicating that Mr. Jenkins had a knife" on the date of the alleged offense and "an abundance of evidence indicating that [he] did not." As to the first of these points, the short answer is that the issue in this case is not whether Mr. Jenkins actually committed the offense of ADW or possessed a pocketknife on the date in

223 A.3d 890

question. "[T]he relevant inquiry in a false arrest defense is not what the actual facts may be but rather what the officers could reasonably conclude from what they were told and what they saw on the scene." Enders v. District of Columbia , 4 A.3d 457, 470-71 (D.C. 2010) ; see also Wright v. City of Philadelphia , 409 F.3d 595, 602 (3d Cir. 2005) ("[T]he constitutional validity of the arrest does not depend on whether the suspect actually committed any crime."). The issue in this case is whether, at the time of Mr. Jenkins's arrest and based on the facts (undisputedly) known to Officer Davis and the other officers at the scene, there was probable cause to believe that Mr. Jenkins had committed a criminal offense (specifically, ADW). See Bradshaw v. District of Columbia , 43 A.3d 318, 323 (D.C. 2012) ("A police officer may justify an arrest [and defeat a wrongful arrest claim brought under § 1983 and a common-law false arrest claim] by showing that he or she had probable cause, in the constitutional sense, to make the arrest.").

"Probable cause to arrest exists where the facts and circumstances within the police officers' knowledge and of which they had reasonably trustworthy information are sufficient in themselves to warrant a man or woman of reasonable caution in the belief that an offense has been or is being committed." Butler v. United States , 102 A.3d 736, 739 (D.C. 2014) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also District of...

To continue reading

Request your trial
2 cases
  • Ulysse v. Stokes
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • September 30, 2021
    ...their conduct was privileged only if it was objectively reasonable and if they subjectively believed it was lawful. See Jenkins v. D.C., 223 A.3d 884, 902 (D.C. 2020). Ulysse's Claims against Stokes for Assault and Battery. In an effort to suggest that Stokes subjectively believed that his ......
  • Kelly v. Gaton
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • November 15, 2021
    ...that Officer Gaton is entitled to a qualified privilege for tackling Plaintiff to the ground in the course of arresting her. See Jenkins, 223 A.3d at 900 (“[W]e can decide case on the basis of privilege and therefore need not definitively decide whether the [officer's conduct] was lawful.”)......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT