Smith v. Lanier

Decision Date27 April 2011
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 08–0808(ESH).
Citation779 F.Supp.2d 79
PartiesLeola SMITH, et al., Plaintiffs,v.Cathy L. LANIER, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Columbia

779 F.Supp.2d 79

Leola SMITH, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
Cathy L. LANIER, et al., Defendants.

Civil Action No. 08–0808(ESH).

United States District Court, District of Columbia.

April 27, 2011.


[779 F.Supp.2d 81]

James R. Klimaski, Lynn Ilene Miller, Klimaski & Associates, P.C., Washington, DC, for Plaintiffs.Dwayne C. Jefferson, D.C. Attorney General's Office, Washington, DC, for Defendants.

[779 F.Supp.2d 82]

MEMORANDUM OPINION
ELLEN SEGAL HUVELLE, District Judge.

Plaintiffs Leola Smith and Dion ‘Franklin have sued the District of Columbia and various Metropolitan Police Department (“MPD”) officers,1 seeking to recover damages based on alleged constitutional violations and common law torts arising from the search of Smith's home and Franklin's apartment, at 1812 9th Street, NW, in Washington, D.C. Defendants have moved for summary judgment on all claims (Defs.’ Mem. of Supp. P. & A., Jan. 30, 2011 [“Defs.' Mot.”] ). For the reasons set forth below, defendants' motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

BACKGROUND
I. FACTSA. The Property

At all times relevant to this case, Smith and Franklin lived at 1812 9th Street, NW (the “Property”). (Defs.' Statement of Uncontested Material Facts [“SOMF”] ¶¶ 4–5.) Franklin rented an apartment from Smith, who owned the Property. (Defs.' Mot., Ex. 14, Smith's Resps. To Defs.' Interrogs. [“Smith Resps.”], at 3.) The Property is a three-story, red brick building on the corner of 9th Street and Westminster Street. (Pls.' Opp'n to Defs.' Mot. [“Pls.' Opp'n”], Ex. 13, Photos of the Property [“Photos”], at 1.) Three gas meters are in the backyard of the Property, behind a fence. (Pls.' Opp'n, Ex. 8, Dep. of Leola Smith [“Smith Dep.”], at 145.) At the time of the search, there were three occupied apartments in the building. (Pls.' Opp'n at 2.) Smith's apartment occupied the first floor of the Property and the floors above; the other two apartments were in the basement. (Smith Dep. at 131; Pls.' Opp'n, Ex. 3, Dep. of Officer Thomas Ellingsworth [“Ellingsworth Dep.”], at 106.)

The basement apartments—one occupied by Franklin, the other by a pair of Russian students—were separated from the street by a gate with a bolt lock. (Smith Resps. at 3.) Behind the gate was a short hall that ended with doors to the left and right. (Pls.' Opp'n, Ex. 7, Dep. of Dion Franklin [“Franklin Dep.”], at 76.) The doors both had locks. (Smith Resps. At 3.) According to Franklin, his door was painted with a “2,” indicating his apartment number. (Franklin Dep. at 81.) The façade of the building did not list separate addresses for each apartment and the apartments did not have separate doorbells. (SOMF ¶¶ 7, 9.) Whether Franklin's apartment had a separate mailbox is disputed, but plaintiffs assert that he had a “separate mailbox outside his apartment door accessible to the letter carrier.” ( Compare Pls.' Statement of Genuine Issues of Material Fact ¶ 2.G with SOMF ¶ 7.) According to Franklin, his apartment had a “totally different kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, living room than upstairs.” (Franklin Dep. at 114.)

B. The Warrant

On July 13, 2007, Officer Thomas Ellingsworth, a six-year veteran of the MPD, submitted an affidavit to a D.C. Superior Court judge as part of an application for a warrant to search the Property. (Defs.' Mot., Ex. E, Search Warrant [“Search Warrant”], at 2.) The affidavit described the Property as a “reddish brick single family house with the numerals '1812' posted

[779 F.Supp.2d 83]

at the left of the front door in white on a dark background.” ( Id.)

According to Ellingsworth's affidavit, an MPD Confidential Informant (“CI”) contacted him and told him that individuals were selling crack cocaine from within the house. ( Id.) Ellingsworth traveled with the CI to the house and watched “it” enter from an unmarked vehicle that was parked within eyesight of the front door and the entire house. (Ellingsworth Dep., at 31, 44.) According to Ellingsworth, once the CI was “inside the building” (and presumably out of view), “it” knocked on the “house door.” (Search Warrant, at 2.) The CI entered Smith's apartment; Ellingsworth described the first floor entrance as a “wrought-iron gate” at the top of a stairway with a set of brown, “French-style” doors behind it. (Ellingsworth Dep., at 35.) After returning to the car, the CI told Ellingsworth that an unknown person let “it” enter the Property and sold “it” crack cocaine. (Search Warrant, at 2.) Ellingsworth testified that after finishing his conversation with the CI, he took another drive by the house “to get a good look at it” before returning to the office to type up his affidavit. (Ellingsworth Dep. at 66–67.) Ellingsworth testified that he only saw the gate and French-style doors at the top of the staircase and did not see any other door into the house. ( Id.)

Ellingsworth testified that as part of the review of his affidavit, he had a paralegal in the U.S. Attorney's Office check the records on the property. ( Id. at 78 (“you go to a paralegal. She does a records check ...”).) The paralegal determined that a search warrant had been executed at the property and informed Ellingsworth of this fact. ( Id.) A review of the warrant, which was issued in 1995, reveals the target of the search as 1812 9th St., NW, apartment number two. (Pls.' Opp'n, Ex. 9, History of Search Warrants Issued.) It is unclear whether Ellingsworth personally examined this file, or if he was even told of the reference to “apartment number two.”

On July 13, Judge Robert Tignor approved the warrant for a search of the Property. (SOMF ¶ 2.)

C. The Search

On July 14, Sergeants Petz and Moye and Officers Ellingsworth, Pepperman, Yammine, Harris, and Baker arrived at the Property to conduct the search. (Pls.' Opp'n at 2.) Smith was not in her apartment at the time, although her nephew, Robert Jones, was present. (Smith Resps. at 2.) Franklin was in his basement apartment. ( Id.)

At about 6:55 p.m., the officers broke down the doors to Smith's first floor apartment, breaking the locks and splitting the doors. (Smith Resps. ¶ 5.) Smith testified that during their search of her apartment, they crushed her antique vases, figurines and jewelry and destroyed approximately twenty-five pairs of shoes. (Pls.' Opp'n at 32–34.) The officers then “went back outside and destroyed the door jambs and locks” of the basement apartments. (Am. Compl. ¶ 40. See also Franklin Dep. at 81.) It is unclear how long the officers were in Franklin's apartment, although Franklin estimated that they stayed “about two hours” from 6:45 to 8:45.2 (Franklin Dep. at 115.) According to Franklin, the police cut open his mattress, damaged his clothes, and scratched his watches. (Pls.' Opp'n at 35–36.) Franklin also testified that the officers asked him “why your apartment ” so messy and

[779 F.Supp.2d 84]

whether he knew “anything about any drug activity upstairs.” (Franklin Dep. at 113 (emphasis added).) He responded that he “live[d] down here” and “don't know what goes on upstairs,” and was only upstairs “when I'm paying my rent or so on.” ( Id.) The officers did not find cocaine or narcotic paraphernalia anywhere in the house, although they recovered two boxes of .45 caliber ammunition.3 (SOMF ¶ 6.)II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On May 9, 2008, Smith filed a complaint against the District of Columbia, Cathy Lanier and the named officers. The District and Lanier filed a motion to dismiss, which the Court denied. Smith v. Lanier, 573 F.Supp.2d 6 (D.D.C.2008). Defendants submitted a motion for reconsideration, along with various photographs of the Property, which the Court also denied. Smith v. Lanier, Civ. No. 08–cv–808, Mem. Op. filed Oct. 27, 2008 [Dkt. No. 35].

Smith then filed an amended complaint that added Franklin as a plaintiff and included allegations that Officer Ellingsworth had either lied or acted with reckless disregard to the truth in preparing his affidavit. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 65–76.) The amended complaint included eight causes of action. Counts I–III allege that the named officers violated 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by executing a warrant based on a facially deficient affidavit (Count I), by executing a warrant that was facially deficient (Count II), and by conducting an unreasonable search (Count III). Count IV alleges a civil conspiracy on the part of the officers to violate § 1983. Count V alleges that the officers committed “intentional tortious destruction of property” during their search. Count VI alleges negligence against the officers. Count VII alleges that the District was liable for the claims under respondeat superior; Count VIII alleges that Lanier and the District were liable for negligently training and supervising the officers.

Defendants filed a new motion to dismiss the amended complaint, which the Court denied in part, declining to dismiss plaintiffs' intentional tort and negligence claims and holding that further factual development was necessary to resolve the constitutional and conspiracy claims. (Dkt. No. 35.) The Court did, however, dismiss Count VII in its entirety and Count VIII as to Lanier. ( Id.) Discovery closed on January 15, 2011, and defendants now move for summary judgment.

STANDARD OF REVIEW
I. SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Summary judgment is appropriate only if the “pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions, and affidavits filed pursuant to discovery show that, first, ‘there is no genuine issue as to any material fact’ and, second, ‘the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.’ ” Pardo–Kronemann v. Donovan, 601 F.3d 599, 604 (D.C.Cir.2010) (quoting Holcomb v. Powell, 433 F.3d 889, 895 (D.C.Cir.2006) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). “A fact is ‘material’ if a dispute over it might affect the outcome of a suit under the governing law; factual disputes that are ‘irrelevant or unnecessary’ do not affect the summary judgment determination.” Holcomb, 433 F.3d at 895 (quoting ...

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  • Williams v. Dodaro, Civil Action No. 1:07–CV–1452 (JDB).
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    • U.S. District Court — District of Columbia
    • August 31, 2011
    ...address the exhaustion argument in her opposition to the summary judgment motion. See Def.'s Reply Br. at 3 (citing Smith v. Lanier, 779 F.Supp.2d 79, 93 (D.D.C.2011) (“It is well understood in this Circuit that when a plaintiff files an opposition to a dispositive motion and addresses only......
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