Robinson v. Pezzat, 15–7040.

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
Citation818 F.3d 1
Docket NumberNo. 15–7040.,15–7040.
Parties Marietta ROBINSON, Appellant v. Sarah PEZZAT, et al., Appellees.
Decision Date01 April 2016

Tobias S. Loss–Eaton argued the cause for appellant. With him on the briefs was Frank R. Volpe.

John D. Martorana, Assistant Attorney General, Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia, argued the cause for appellees. With him on the brief were Karl A. Racine, Attorney General, Todd S. Kim, Solicitor General, and Loren L. AliKhan, Deputy Solicitor General. Holly M. Johnson, Assistant Attorney General, entered an appearance.

Before: GARLAND,* Chief Judge, TATEL, Circuit Judge, and SILBERMAN, Senior Circuit Judge.

Opinion for the Court filed by Circuit Judge TATEL



, Circuit Judge:

We return once again to the familiar yet significant issue of the proper role of the district court at summary judgment. In this section 1983

action, plaintiff sought to hold police officers liable for unlawfully seizing her property in violation of the Fourth Amendment when the officers shot and killed her dog while executing a search warrant. The district court granted summary judgment to the officer who first shot the dog on the grounds that plaintiff's eyewitness account of the shooting was uncorroborated and contradicted by other evidence. Because the district court improperly assumed the "jury functions" of making "[c]redibility determinations, ... weighing ... the evidence, and ... drawing ... legitimate inferences from the facts," Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986)

, we reverse this portion of the judgment. We affirm the grant of summary judgment to another officer who shot the dog, as well as to the District of Columbia.


In the summer of 2010, the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) obtained a warrant to search appellant Marietta Robinson's home after her grandson was arrested while in possession of marijuana. Around 9 p.m. on the evening of June 15, a police squad consisting of nine officers arrived at Robinson's house to execute the warrant. In her deposition, Robinson testified that when she heard someone "knocking very hard" on the door, her dog Wrinkles, a thirteen-year-old female pit bull/German shepherd mix, "barked to let [her] know that somebody was there." Robinson Dep. at 15, 24. Having owned Wrinkles since she was a puppy, Robinson acknowledged that the dog would sometimes bark and growl when "stranger[s] [came] in the house." Id. at 16–17.

Robinson testified that after the police identified themselves, she opened the inner door to her home, leaving the screen door in place. Wrinkles barked again, then "sat down and [was] quiet." Id. at 23. According to several officers, however, Wrinkles "lunge[d] out," "showing [her] teeth" in an aggressive manner. McLeod Dep. at 42; see also Selby Dep. at 94; Boteler Dep. at 112. Both Robinson and the officers agree about what happened next: Robinson asked the lead officer, appellee Sergeant James Boteler, if she could put Wrinkles "in the back yard or ... in the bathroom" while the police executed the warrant and, in response, Boteler instructed her to place the dog in the bathroom, which was immediately adjacent to and visible from the front door. Robinson Dep. at 26, 31.

Boteler testified that he "yelled pretty loud" to the officers behind him to warn them that there was a "dog in the bathroom." Boteler Dep. at 73–74. Officer Sarah Pezzat, another appellee, testified that although she never heard a warning, she knew that a dog was in the house because she "could easily hear the dog barking and growling." Pezzat Dep. at 69. Pezzat also testified that she heard Boteler and Robinson discussing where to put the dog and "something about the dog being in a backroom." Id.

When Robinson opened the front door after securing Wrinkles, the officers rushed inside. Pezzat, with gun drawn, was at least the fifth officer to enter the home. After several others bypassed the bathroom, Pezzat opened the door, which Boteler testified violated police protocol. Typically, Boteler explained, the first officer to encounter a door would "stop, clear that area, and then move to the next area," unless there was a reason not to do so, such as the presence of a dog, which was "why several officers passed that door and did not open that door." Boteler Dep. at 100–02. Other officers warned that there was a "[d]og on the left" as the search team entered, Ledesma Dep. at 23, 46–47, and heard Wrinkles barking. Pezzat recalled hearing no such warnings.

Robinson testified that while standing near the entryway, she saw Pezzat open the bathroom door, "sho[o]t once, and then Wrinkles comes running out, got up and ran out the bathroom. Then [Pezzat] shot again. Then she backed out my door." Robinson Dep. at 44. Repeating the point, Robinson testified that "[w]hen [Pezzat] shot the first time, Wrinkles got up. And when Wrinkles got up to come towards her, then she shot again." Id. at 45–46. When the District of Columbia's attorney asked whether it was Robinson's testimony "that Wrinkles was on the floor—lying on the floor" in the bathroom, Robinson replied, "Yes." Id. at 46. Asked how she knew that, Robinson explained, "Because when she first opened the door—when she had the gun in her hand, at first I ... thought she was going to shoot me. But then when she ... turned the [k]nob and pushed the door, ... it wasn't pointed towards me no more." Id. Robinson then testified—for the third time—that "the first shot, Wrinkles got up.... The second shot, Wrinkles ran out the bathroom." Id. at 47.

After Wrinkles made it out of the bathroom, Robinson testified, the dog ran to her and collapsed on the ground. Although Robinson never saw Wrinkles bite Pezzat, she acknowledged that Wrinkles would have bitten the officer "[i]n defense of herself, after being shot at.... [I]f you shoot a dog, most likely they're going to attack you." Id. at 55.

Officer Pezzat had a very different view of what happened. She testified that after opening the bathroom door, she "saw that there was a dog inside of the room. I tried to close the door, but it was too late. The dog was already coming out of the room at me. And I picked up my leg to protect myself, and the dog bit down on my foot" once "the dog was already most of the way out of the room." Pezzat Dep. at 73, 81. According to Pezzat, it was at that point—after the dog bit her—that she shot the animal. Echoing Pezzat, another officer, appellee Christian Glynn, testified that before Pezzat fired, Wrinkles "was barking, very angry and charged at Officer Pezzat," then "latched on and bit Officer Pezzat's foot and started shaking her" and "pulling her down and into the bathroom." Glynn Dep. at 58–59. Sergeant Boteler testified that before hearing any gunfire, he too saw Wrinkles biting Pezzat "just outside the bathroom in the hallway." Boteler Dep. at 104.

Although Robinson testified that Wrinkles collapsed next to her feet after the shooting, Officer Richard McLeod, also an appellee, testified that Wrinkles began "coming towards" him, deeper into the house. McLeod Dep. at 43. Another officer testified that McLeod fired at least a half-dozen shots at Wrinkles, toward the front of the house. According to Robinson, Wrinkles fled up the stairs to get away from the shots, but McLeod kept firing. In the end, officers blocked Wrinkles from climbing the stairs, and she died on the landing.

According to Robinson, officers then took her clean laundry from the top of the washing machine and "cover[ed] the dog up and the blood up with my clean clothes." Robinson Dep. at 77–78. Officer Adrian Ledesma testified that they covered Wrinkles "with like a white sheet or something like that," Ledesma Dep. at 33, and Boteler confirmed that he placed one of Robinson's sheets over Wrinkles' body. While searching the house, officers left bloody "fingerprints on [Robinson's] curtains"; "two whole [bloody] handprints" and a third partial print on Robinson's sofa, which she had to throw away; bloody handprints on the walls and doors, "inside the closet," and "[o]n the two fans ... in the living room"; "smudges of blood on ... [e]very picture that was on the wall that came down"; and blood "splattered all over" a painting made by Robinson's brother, which looked like "somebody had just took and threw blood." Robinson Dep. at 62, 66–73. Robinson kept a water cooler "at [her] front door," and after the officers left, "you could see the blood where they washed their hands. Blood there and fingerprints all over." Id. at 80. Robinson also saw officers "jumping on" her clothes dryer multiple times, breaking the door. Id. at 79. Boteler acknowledged that the police did nothing to clean up the house, and recalled a captain saying that "the dog's blood is her property. It's going to be up to her or her family to clean it up, not us." Boteler Dep. at 130–31.

Mrs. Robinson filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against Officers Pezzat and McLeod, several other officers involved in the shooting and the search, and the District of Columbia, seeking damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983

and various D.C. statutes. Robinson alleged, among other claims, that the officers had made illegal seizures under the Fourth Amendment both by shooting Wrinkles and by damaging her property during the subsequent search.

The district court granted summary judgment for defendants on all claims. It first found that "[t]here is no genuine dispute that Wrinkles posed an imminent threat" to the officers and that their conduct was thus reasonable. Robinson v. Pezzat, 83 F.Supp.3d 258, 267–68 (D.D.C.2015)

. The court explained:

Plaintiff argues that her uncorroborated version of events creates a genuine dispute of material fact precluding summary judgment. I disagree. To withstand summary judgment, a plaintiff must advance more than a scintilla of doubt as to her claims.

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