Offutt v. Dist. of Columbia, Civil Action 1:21-cv-02589 (TSC)

CourtUnited States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
Docket NumberCivil Action 1:21-cv-02589 (TSC)
Decision Date30 September 2022



Civil Action No. 1:21-cv-02589 (TSC)

United States District Court, District of Columbia

September 30, 2022



Plaintiff Michael Offutt, proceeding pro se, has sued the District of Columbia for violating his Fourth Amendment and Due Process rights, and for assault, false arrest, and defamation. ECF No. 1, Compl. The District has moved to dismiss Plaintiff's lawsuit, arguing that Plaintiff failed to effectuate service of process, and that in any event, he has failed to state a valid claim for relief. ECF No. 14, Def. Mot. For the reasons explained below, the court will GRANT the District's motion and dismiss Plaintiff's lawsuit.


On March 27, 2020, the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) arrested Plaintiff for simple assault. Compl. at 2, 6. According to MPD's arrest report, which Plaintiff attaches to his Complaint, he and Jocelyn Johnson were “involved in a verbal dispute” when Plaintiff “escalated the scene” by telling Johnson: “Get the fuck out my car before I put my hands on you.” Id. at 7. Johnson was carrying a child at the time and began walking away, at which point Plaintiff allegedly chased after Johnson and grabbed at her clothing. Id. MPD Officer Abanoub Rezkalla intervened and “conducted a straight leg strike” to “redirect [Plaintiff] from [Johnson]” and


arrested Plaintiff. Id. The next day, Plaintiff was released from custody with no charges. Id. at 8.

Plaintiff alleges that he was unlawfully arrested in violation of the Fourth Amendment and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, that during his arrest, MPD officers assaulted and falsely arrested him, and that MPD's arrest report describing the incident defames him. Id. at 2. In support of his claims, Plaintiff asserts that the arrest report contains “misleading and incorrect or missing information.” Id. He alleges that the report was “misleading” because it lists Plaintiff and Johnson as “Reporting Individuals,” even though neither he nor Johnson reported the incident to MPD, omits hospital records showing that Plaintiff was “badly injur[ed]” during his arrest, and omits a statement from Officer Rezkalla's partner, Officer Damon Jedlicka, who allegedly stated at some point that he did not see Plaintiff assault Johnson. Id. at 2-3. Plaintiff requests $100,000 in damages, “removement of” his criminal record, and an apology from MPD. Id. at 5.

Plaintiff filed his Complaint on September 10, 2021-approximately 17 months after his arrest. Id. at 1. On October 14, 2021, the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia (“OAG”) received a copy of Plaintiff's Complaint, without attachments or a copy of the summons, via regular, first-class mail. Def. Mot. at 4. Five days later, Plaintiff attempted to personally hand deliver a copy of the summons to Alicia Dupnee, who he identified as a paralegal specialist for the District. ECF No. 9. The court struck Plaintiff's Proof of Service “for failure to comply with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure which provide that ‘[a]ny person who is at least 18 years old and NOT a party may serve a summons and complaint.'” Minute Order (Oct. 29, 2021) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(c)(2)).


On February 11, 2022, Plaintiff tried again to serve the District. Def. Mot. at 5. He emailed a copy of the summons to OAG Administrative Assistant Tonia Robinson, but did not include a copy of the Complaint, id. at 5, 8-9, as is required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4.

On three occasions, the court reminded Plaintiff of his obligation to effectuate service and warned him that failure to effectuate service may result in the court dismissing his lawsuit. See ECF No. 5, Order at 1 (“Plaintiff is hereby reminded of his obligation to serve a copy of the summons and complaint in a manner that complies with Rule 4[(j)] of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.”); ECF No. 7, Order Dismissing the United States at 2 (“Plaintiff is hereby reminded that service must be made within 90 days of the filing of his Complaint.”); Min. Order (Oct. 26, 2021) (“Should Plaintiff fail to effectuate service of process in a timely manner . . . the court may dismiss the action.”). To date, Plaintiff has not properly effectuated service.

The District moves to dismiss Plaintiff's lawsuit on two grounds. First, the District argues that pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(5), dismissal is warranted because Plaintiff has not effectuated service on the District in violation of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4. Def. Mot. at 6-8. Second, it argues that Plaintiff has not stated a valid claim for relief because he has not pled facts establishing municipal liability under Monell v. Dep't of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978), and that any common tort law claims are barred by the applicable statute of limitations. Id. at 8-10.


A. Rule 12(b)(5)

When a defendant moves to dismiss for insufficient service of process, “[t]he plaintiff bears the burden of proving that he has effected proper service.” Jouanny v. Embassy of Fr. In the U.S.,


220 F.Supp.3d 34, 37 (D.D.C. 2016). “[T]o do so, [they] must demonstrate that the procedure employed satisfied the requirements of the relevant portions of Rule 4 [governing summonses] and any other applicable provision of law.” Light v. Wolf, 816 F.2d 746, 751 (D.C. Cir. 1987) (quoting 4A Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice & Procedure § 1083 (4th ed.)). “[U]nless the procedural requirements for effective service of process are satisfied, a court lacks authority to exercise personal jurisdiction over the defendant.” Candido v. District of Columbia, 242 F.R.D. 151, 160 (D.D.C. 2007). As a result, “[f]ailure to effect proper service is . . . a ‘fatal' jurisdictional defect, and is grounds for dismissal.” Jouanny, 220 F.Supp.3d at 38. The court has discretion to dismiss the claim or allow the plaintiff to correct service of process. See Wilson v. Prudential Fin., 332 F.Supp.2d 83, 89 (D.D.C. 2004).

B. Rule 12(b)(6)

A motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint. See Browning v. Clinton, 292 F.3d 235, 242 (D.C. Cir. 2002). “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is plausible when the factual content allows the court to “draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. A plaintiff's factual allegations do not need to be “detailed,” but “the Federal Rules demand more than ‘an unadorned,...

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