Kenley v. Dist. of Columbia, Civil Action No. 14–1232 JEB

CourtUnited States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
Citation83 F.Supp.3d 20
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 14–1232 JEB
PartiesWilliam Kenley, Plaintiff, v. District of Columbia, et al., Defendants.
Decision Date13 March 2015

83 F.Supp.3d 20

William Kenley, Plaintiff
District of Columbia, et al., Defendants.

Civil Action No. 14–1232 JEB

United States District Court, District of Columbia.

Signed March 13, 2015

83 F.Supp.3d 27

Grey A. Gardner, Gardner Law PLLC, Richard Alan Seligman, Law Offices of Richard Seligman, Washington, DC, for Plaintiff.

Sarah L. Knapp, Steven J. Anderson, Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia, Washington, DC, for Defendants.


JAMES E. BOASBERG, United States District Judge

In this lawsuit, Plaintiff William Kenley recounts a particularly unpleasant experience with the Metropolitan Police Department. On June 20, 2013, he alleges that he witnessed MPD officers assaulting and arresting his friend without any justification, so he began to videotape the interaction on his cellphone. In response, an officer charged at him, knocked his phone from his hands, and pushed him to the ground. MPD officers then gathered at the scene and conspired to arrest him in retaliation for his recording and to cover up their wrongful conduct. In furtherance of this plan, Kenley alleges, they falsely claimed that he had goaded his dog to attack one of the officers. As a result, he was arrested, detained overnight, and formally charged with assault on a police officer. An unknown officer also contacted his employer to inform it of his arrest, causing him to be suspended from work until the prosecutor eventually moved to dismiss the charges.

This course of events precipitated this action against the District of Columbia and four MPD officers for violations of Kenley's First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendment rights and for related state-law torts. Defendants have filed separate Motions to Dismiss, alleging defects in certain of these claims, and Kenley now seeks leave to amend his Complaint. Defendants oppose on the ground that amendment would be futile. The Court agrees with respect to some claims, but not others. It will, accordingly, grant Plaintiff's Motion to Amend in part, allowing certain causes of action to proceed against certain Defendants.

I. Background

Taking the facts as alleged in the proposed Amended Complaint, the Court begins with Kenley's observing Metropolitan Police Department officers' false arrest of his friend, Richard Jones, on June 20, 2013. See Am. Compl., ¶¶ 1, 8, 10–11. One of the officers, Adam Shaatal, had approached Jones's parked car and, “for no apparent reason,” demanded that he produce identification and step out of his vehicle. Id., ¶ 9. When Jones “voiced offense” at the officer's “hostile and threatening approach and asked why he was being questioned,” Shaatal told Officer Michael Littlejohn that Jones was resisting arrest. Id., ¶¶ 9–10. The two proceeded to place Jones in a chokehold, beat with him a baton, and force him to the ground. Id., ¶ 10.

Kenley, “standing a safe distance away,” started videotaping the incident on his cellphone. Id., ¶ 11. He “repeatedly noted

83 F.Supp.3d 28

... that Jones was not resisting.” Id. As Shaatal placed Jones in handcuffs, he looked at Kenley and told Officer Brandon Baldwin to “get him back.” Id. Baldwin subsequently “charged” at Kenley, intentionally knocking his cellphone from his hands and shoving him “violently” to the ground. Id., ¶ 12. Kenley dropped his phone and suffered injuries to his left ankle as a result. Id.

Around the same time, Kenley's mother opened the front door of his house, and his dog came running out. Id., ¶ 13. The officers drew their guns and pointed them at Kenley and his dog. See id. “[I]n an effort to defuse the situation,” Plaintiff took the dog back inside. Id.

Officers Shaatal, Littlejohn, and Baldwin then met with other officers who had arrived at the scene. See id., ¶ 16. During this meeting, which lasted for an “extended period of time,” Shaatal, Littlejohn, Baldwin, Sergeant Jonathan Dorrough, and others “agreed to falsely charge Mr. Kenley with assaulting a police officer” and to “institute criminal proceedings” against him in order to intimidate him and “cover up their wrongful conduct.” Id., ¶¶ 16–18. In aid of this effort, Officer Shaatal claimed that Kenley had assaulted him by instructing his dog to “get him, sic him.” Id., ¶ 20. Kenley was arrested, and Baldwin, who “knew or should have known” that Shaatal's claim was false, wrote up an arrest report based on his accusation. Id. Shaatal told Kenley: “Next time, mind your business ... see you in court ... animal control is coming for your dog ... there goes your job.” Id., ¶ 14 (internal quotation marks omitted).

Afterwards, Dorrough secured the area and canvassed it for witnesses. See id., ¶ 21. At least two were interviewed, and one of whom gave a statement that when the dog ran outside, Kenley did not encourage it to attack, but instead said, “Mom, put her back in the house.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). That evening or the next morning, Dorrough told Baldwin about the exculpatory statement. Although Baldwin, the “papering officer,” and Dorrough, the supervising officer, were allegedly required to turn over all witness statements to the U.S. Attorney during the “papering” process–i.e., the prosecution's initial screening of the case for formal charging–they did not disclose this statement. See id., ¶¶ 22–23. Nor did Shaatal. See id., ¶ 22. Baldwin and Littlejohn also did not divulge to the prosecution that they were present when the dog ran out and that they did not hear Kenley say “get him, sic him.” See id., ¶ 19.

As a result of the officers' actions, Kenley was detained overnight, presented in court, and charged with felony assault on an officer. See id., ¶ 20. Sometime after the arrest, an unknown officer also informed Kenley's employer of the charges, and he was suspended from work without pay while the case was pending. See id., ¶ 15. Over a month after the incident, the witness statement and “exculpatory evidence” were finally turned over to the prosecutor. See id., ¶¶ 25–26. After receiving this information and conducting an investigation, the prosecutor moved to dismiss the charges against Kenley, and his case was dismissed on September 18, 2013. See id., ¶ 26.

Plaintiff suffered a number of injuries as a result of this incident, including “lost wages, medical expenses[,] ... emotional distress, and ... damage to his professional reputation.” Id., ¶ 40. He thus filed an initial Complaint in D.C. Superior Court on June 20, 2014, against Officers Shaatal, Littlejohn, and Baldwin, as well as Sergeant Dorrough and the District of Columbia. He alleged a variety of claims under

83 F.Supp.3d 29

42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the U.S. Constitution, along with several state-law tort claims. The District removed the case to federal court and thereafter filed a Partial Motion to Dismiss. See District Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 4. The individual Defendants followed suit, filing their own separate Partial Motions to Dismiss. See ECF Nos. 7, 8, 12, 14. Plaintiff now moves to file an Amended Complaint.

II. Legal Standards

A plaintiff may amend his complaint once as a matter of course within 21 days of serving it or within 21 days of being served a responsive pleading. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(1). Otherwise, the plaintiff must seek consent from the defendant or leave from the Court. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(2). The latter “should [be] freely give[n] ... when justice so requires.” Id. In deciding whether to deny leave to file an amended complaint, courts may consider “undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive on the part of the movant, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, undue prejudice to the opposing party by virtue of allowance of the amendment, futility of amendment, etc.” Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182, 83 S.Ct. 227, 9 L.Ed.2d 222 (1962). But in this Circuit, “it is an abuse of discretion to deny leave to amend unless there is sufficient reason.” Firestone v. Firestone, 76 F.3d 1205, 1208 (D.C.Cir.1996).

In the present case, Defendants do not argue undue prejudice, delay, or bad faith; instead, they contend only that the Court should not grant leave because amending the Complaint would be futile. Courts need not grant leave to amend if the proposed amendments would still render a complaint deficient. See In re Interbank Funding Corp. Sec. Litig., 629 F.3d 213, 218 (D.C.Cir.2010). That is to say, “a district court may properly deny a motion to amend if the amended pleading would not survive a motion to dismiss.” Id. ; see also James Madison Ltd. v. Ludwig, 82 F.3d 1085, 1099 (D.C.Cir.1996) (“Courts may deny a motion to amend a complaint as futile ... if the proposed claim would not survive a motion to dismiss.”).

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides that a complaint may be dismissed if it fails “to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” In evaluating a motion to dismiss, the Court must “treat the complaint's factual allegations as true ... and must grant plaintiff ‘the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged.’ ” Sparrow v. United Air Lines, Inc., 216 F.3d 1111, 1113 (D.C.Cir.2000) (quoting Schuler v. United States, 617 F.2d 605, 608 (D.C.Cir.1979) ) (internal...

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