COLBERT et al v. DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA et al
MEMORANDUM AND OPINION regarding 9 the District of Columbia's motion to dismiss or for summary judgment. Signed by Judge Rosemary M. Collyer on 12/13/13. (KD)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
KATINA COLBERT, et al.,
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al.,
Civil Action No. 13-531 (RMC)
Katina Colbert (KC) is an intellectually disabled woman who is unable to care for
herself. While living in a group home managed by Total Care Services, Inc., a contractor for the
District of Columbia, KC became pregnant and gave birth to a baby girl with severe medical
problems. The infant, TC, spent most of her short life in the hospital and died when she was just
over a year old. KC’s mother, Jacqueline Colbert, sues the District and its contractor, alleging
constitutional violations and various torts. The District moves to dismiss or for summary
judgment. As explained below, the motion will be granted in part and denied in part, without
Jacqueline Colbert, mother of KC and grandmother of TC, brought this suit
individually, as next friend of KC, and as personal representative of the Estate of TC against
Total Care Services, Inc. (Total Care) and the District of Columbia (collectively, Defendants).
Ms. Colbert alleges that in the fall of 2008 at the direction and request of the District, KC was
hospitalized and underwent a psychological assessment, which revealed that KC needed care and
supervision twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Compl. [Dkt. 1] ¶¶ 7-8. As a result,
KC began residing in a group home operated by Total Care, under contract with the District.
Ms. Colbert alleges that despite the fact that the Defendants knew of KC’s “prior
history of sexual abuse, neglect, her medical conditions, her intellectual disabilities, the
medications she was taking, her medical and psychological status, her lack of ability to
consistently take her medication, her fertility as well as her past and current sexual activity,” id.
¶ 9, they failed to provide appropriate supervision and care to protect KC from foreseeable harm,
id. ¶¶ 11-12. Defendants allegedly “allowed . . . and encouraged [KC] to have unprotected,
nonconsensual sexual intercourse with various men for extended periods in 2010,” id. ¶ 10,
including but not limited to “other residents of the facility and men she was meeting on a one
time/casual basis,” id. ¶ 22(c). KC became pregnant and prematurely delivered TC, a baby girl,
on April 3, 2011. Id. ¶ 10. KC was provided little or no prenatal care. Id. ¶ 13.
Because KC was unable to care for her child, Ms. Colbert was awarded sole
physical custody of TC. Id. ¶ 15. TC was born with significant health problems requiring
multiple surgeries and necessitating extended hospitalization; she died from medical
complications on April 18, 2012, at the age of 12 months and 9 days. Id. ¶¶ 10, 14, 17. It is
unclear where KC currently lives. Compare Compl. ¶ 6 (“Total Care Services is a licensed
provider of services to mentally retarded adults for [the District of Columbia], including a range
of services provided to Colbert from 2008 through the present.”) with id. ¶ 3 (“Colbert is
intellectually disabled and is under the care and supervision of the District of Columbia at a
facility operated by Innovative Life Solutions.”)
The Complaint contains twelve Counts, asserted against both Defendants, unless
Count II––Negligent Hiring and Retention (against Total Care);
Count III––Wrongful Birth;
Count IV––Breach of Fiduciary Duty arising from special
Count V––Negligence Per Se Due to Violation of D.C. Code § 44504(a)(3) and (4) (against Total Care);
Count VI––Violation of the Fifth Amendment pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 1983 (against the District);
Count VII––Violation of D.C. Code §§ 7-1301.02 et seq. and 71305.14;
Count VIII––Violation of D.C. Code §§ 7-1301.02 et seq. and 71305.13 (against the District);
Count IX––Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress;
Count X––Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress;
Count XI––Punitive Damages;
Count XII––Wrongful Death; and
Count XIII––Survival Act. 1
Id. ¶¶ 18-93. Total Care filed an Answer to the Complaint, but the District of Columbia filed a
motion to dismiss or for summary judgment. See Mot. to Dismiss or for Summ. J. [Dkt. 9]
(Mot.); Reply [Dkt. 15]. Ms. Colbert opposes. See Opp’n [Dkt. 12].
The Survival Act claim is erroneously labeled Count XII in the Complaint, when it is really
II. LEGAL STANDARDS AND JURISDICTION
A. Motion to Dismiss
A motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)
challenges the adequacy of a complaint on its face, testing whether a plaintiff has stated properly
a claim. In deciding a motion under Rule 12(b)(6), a court may consider the facts alleged in the
complaint, documents attached to the complaint as exhibits or incorporated by reference, and
matters about which the court may take judicial notice. Abhe & Svoboda, Inc. v. Chao, 508 F.3d
1052, 1059 (D.C. Cir. 2007) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).
A complaint must “give a defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the
grounds upon which it rests.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal
citations omitted). Although a complaint does not need detailed factual allegations, it must
include “more than labels and conclusions” and the facts alleged “must be enough to raise a right
to relief above the speculative level.” Id. “[A] complaint needs some information about the
circumstances giving rise to the claims.” Aktieselskabet Af 21. Nov. 2001 v. Fame Jeans, Inc.,
525 F.3d 8, 16 n.4 (D.C. Cir. 2008) (emphasis in original). To survive a motion to dismiss, a
complaint must contain sufficient factual matter to state a claim for relief that is “plausible on its
face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. “The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability
requirement,’ but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.”
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). A court must treat the complaint’s factual
allegations as true, “even if doubtful in fact,” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, but a court need not
accept as true legal conclusions set forth in a complaint, Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. “Threadbare
recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not
suffice.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.
B. Motion for Summary Judgment
Under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment shall
be granted “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.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); accord Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986). Moreover, summary judgment is properly
granted against a party who “after adequate time for discovery and upon motion . . . fails to make
a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party’s case, and on
which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317,
In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court must draw all justifiable
inferences in the nonmoving party’s favor and accept the nonmoving party’s evidence as true.
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. A nonmoving party, however, must establish more than “the mere
existence of a scintilla of evidence” in support of its position. Id. at 252. In addition, the
nonmoving party may not rely solely on allegations or conclusory statements. Greene v. Dalton,
164 F.3d 671, 675 (D.C. Cir. 1999). Rather, the nonmoving party must present specific facts that
would enable a reasonable jury to find in its favor. Id. at 675. If the evidence “is merely
colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted.” Anderson, 477
U.S. at 249-50 (citations omitted).
The Court has federal question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 because Count
VI alleges a violation of K.C.’s rights under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution,2
The Fifth Amendment provides in pertinent part that no person “shall be deprived of life,
liberty, or property, without due process of law,” see U.S. Const. amend. V, and the Fourteenth
Amendment similarly provides that “no State shall . . . deprive any person of life, liberty, or
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See Compl. ¶ 1. All other Counts assert violations of D.C. law.
In its discretion, a federal court may exercise supplemental jurisdiction over local law claims
joined with federal claims. See 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c).
The Complaint also alleges diversity jurisdiction, presumably because Jacqueline
Colbert is a resident of Maryland and Total Care is a resident of Washington, D.C. See Compl.
¶¶ 1, 4-6. Diversity jurisdiction applies to suits between citizens of different states where the
amount in controversy exceeds the sum of $75,000. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). However,
diversity jurisdiction does not apply to the District of Columbia; like a State, the District is not a
“citizen” of itself and therefore cannot be a “citizen” of a State different from Maryland.
Barwood, Inc. v. District of Columbia, 202 F.3d 290, 292 (D.C. Cir. 2000); Long v. District of
Columbia, 820 F.2d 409, 413-14 (D.C. Cir. 1987). In addition, “diversity jurisdiction is lacking
if there are any litigants from the same state on opposing sides.” Prakash v. American Univ.,
727 F.2d 1174, 1178 n.25 (D.C. Cir. 1984).
Diversity is absent in the present case. Jacqueline Colbert sues on her own behalf
and as “next friend” of KC, her daughter who resides in the District of Columbia. See Compl.
¶ 3. The legal representative of “an infant or incompetent shall be deemed to be a citizen only of
the same State as the infant or incompetent.” 28 U.S.C. § 1332(c)(2). That is, in her capacity as
property, without due process of law,” see U.S. Const. amend. XIV. Because the District of
Columbia is a federal enclave, it is subject to the Fifth Amendment and not the Fourteenth,
which applies to the States. Propert v. District of Columbia, 948 F.2d 1327, 1330 n.5 (D.C. Cir.
1991) (citing Bolling v. Sharpe, 347 U.S. 497, 499 (1954)). The ultimate legal analysis is the
same, however, and cases analyzing States’ liability under the Due Process clause of the
Fourteenth Amendment can be relied upon to analyze the District’s liability under the Due
Process clause of the Fifth Amendment. See Piechowicz v. United States, 885 F.2d 1207, 1214
n.9 (4th Cir. 1989).
next friend of KC, Jacqueline Colbert is deemed to be a citizen of the District. Since Total Care
also is a resident of the District, there is no diversity of citizenship in this matter. 3
The District of Columbia moves to dismiss, or for summary judgment, with
regard to the alleged violation of KC’s Fifth Amendment rights to due process and equal
protection. The District contends that the Complaint fails to state a due process claim because
(1) the Complaint does not allege that KC was in involuntary custody; (2) KC was voluntarily
committed to the custody of the District and thus the District did not have a constitutional duty to
protect her from harm caused by third persons; and (3) the Complaint fails to allege facts
sufficient to show that a D.C. custom or policy was a driving force behind KC’s alleged
constitutional injury. With regard to the Complaint’s equal protection claim, the District asserts
that the Complaint fails to allege any facts to support such a claim. Ms. Colbert opposes.
A. Count VI ––Fifth Amendment Substantive Due Process Claim
Count VI of the Complaint alleges that the District is liable for violating KC’s
substantive due process rights:
50. At all times relevant hereto, Plaintiff Katina Colbert was a
ward of the District of Columbia and was completely dependent on
the District of Columbia for her care, protection, and well-being.
51. From September 2008 until and including the present, the
District of Columbia provided [KC] with an environment which
was unsafe and inadequate to meet her basic needs. This
environment included untrained staff who failed to follow
established procedures by not supervising [KC] to the point where
she was impregnated without her consent.
Ms. Colbert also sues as the personal representative of the Estate of TC. Section 1332(c)(2),
Title 28, provides that a legal representative of an estate is deemed to be a citizen of the same
state as the decedent. The Complaint does not indicate where TC was domiciled.
52. The District of Columbia, through its contractual relationship
with Defendant Total Care, knew or should have known about the
substandard quality of care given to Plaintiff Colbert by the Total
Compl. ¶¶ 50-53. Count VI further alleges that the District violated the Fifth Amendment
through its deliberate indifference to KC’s need for supervision, birth control, and medical care,
by placing her in an unsafe environment where there was a high risk of unprotected sexual
activity and unwanted pregnancy. Id. ¶¶ 58-60.
Ms. Colbert brings her Fifth Amendment claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983,
Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance,
regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the
District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any
citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction
thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities
secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party
injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper
proceeding for redress.
Constitutional claims against municipalities under § 1983 are subject to a two-factor analysis.
See Baker v. District of Columbia, 326 F.3d 1302, 1306 (D.C. Cir. 2003) (citing Collins v. City
of Harker Heights, 503 U.S. 115, 120 (1992)). A court must find that the plaintiff suffered “a
predicate constitutional violation,” id. (citation omitted), and that “a custom or policy of the
municipality caused the violation,” id.; see also Monell v. Dep’t of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658,
694 (1978) (“[I]t is when execution of a government’s policy or custom, whether made by its
lawmakers or by those whose edicts or acts may fairly be said to represent official policy, inflicts
the injury that the government as an entity is responsible under § 1983.”).
First, the Court must “identify the exact contours of the underlying right said to
have been violated” and determine “whether the plaintiff has alleged a deprivation of a
constitutional right at all.” County of Sacramento v. Lewis, 523 U.S. 833, 841 n.5 (1998). Here,
Ms. Colbert asserts a substantive due process violation of KC’s Fifth Amendment liberty
A citizen’s liberty interest, protected by due process, includes a right to be free of
damage to bodily integrity and security caused by the State. 4 See Youngberg v. Romeo, 457 U.S.
307, 316 (1982); Doe v. Taylor Indep. Sch. Dist., 15 F.3d, 443, 451 (5th Cir. 1994) (en banc). In
contrast, a State’s “failure to protect an individual from private violence, even in the face of
known danger, does not constitute a violation of the Due Process Clause.” Butera v. District of
Columbia, 235 F.3d 637, 647 (D.C. Cir. 2001) (emphasis added) (citing DeShaney v. Winnebago
County Social Servs. Dep’t, 489 U.S. 189, 197 (1989). That is, a State has a general
constitutional duty to protect individuals from harm caused by State actors, but it does not have a
general constitutional duty to protect individuals from harm caused by private actors. This is
because the Due Process Clause limits State power; it is not a guarantee of safety and security.
DeShaney, 489 U.S. at 195. “[T]he Constitution does not guarantee due care on the part of state
officials; liability for negligently inflicted harm is categorically beneath the threshold of
constitutional due process.” County of Sacramento, 523 U.S. at 849 (emphasis added).
A State, however, does have an affirmative duty to protect an individual from
harm caused by third parties in two circumstances: (1) when government creates a “special
relationship” by taking an individual into custody or (2) when government affirmatively
endangers the individual. DeShaney, 489 U.S. at 199-201; Butera, 235 F.3d at 647-651.
1. “Special Relationship” Requires Involuntary Custody
Ms. Colbert insists that the District established a “special relationship” with KC
because: she is intellectually disabled, see Compl. ¶ 3; she needs supervision twenty-four hours a
The Court uses the word “State” to indicate the District of Columbia as well as the 50 States.
day seven days a week, id. ¶ 8; she lives under the care and supervision of the District through
the District’s contractor Total Care, id. ¶¶ 5-6; and she is a “ward” of the District, completely
dependent on it for her care, protection, and well-being, id. ¶ 50. The District seeks dismissal or
judgment in its favor, arguing that the Complaint fails to allege that the District took KC into its
custody involuntarily and, thus, it had not established a “special relationship” as defined in this
context. The District argues that since KC was voluntarily committed to its care, the District had
no Fifth Amendment duty to protect KC from privately-caused harm.
The parties agree that, under Supreme Court law, a State assumes a constitutional
duty to protect an individual from harm from third parties when the State has created a “special
relationship” by taking the individual into custody. They debate whether such custody must be
The Supreme Court has held that the constitutional duty of care arises in cases
involving involuntary custody. In Youngberg v. Romeo, 457 U.S. 307 (1982), the mother of a
mentally disabled man asserted his constitutional right to safe conditions of confinement and to
be free from bodily restraint. The Supreme Court held that the State has a duty to provide
“conditions of reasonable care and safety” to a person who is involuntarily committed to a state
mental hospital. Youngberg, 457 U.S. at 324; accord Estelle, 429 U.S. at 103-04 (State has a
duty to provide prisoner with medical care because prisoner was deprived of his liberty and was
unable to obtain care for himself).
Youngberg and Estelle dealt with an involuntarily committed mental patient and
an incarcerated prisoner, respectively. These cases do not apply when addressing whether the
State has a duty to protect an individual who is not in State custody. DeShaney, 489 U.S. at 201.
The Supreme Court addressed the question of whether a State had a constitutional duty of care to
a person not in custody in DeShaney v. Winnebago County Social Services. There, the issue was
whether a State had a duty of care to protect a child from third party harm, where the child was
not in State custody. The Supreme Court determined that a child who was severely beaten by his
father when in his father’s custody did not have a due process claim against a State social service
agency––even though agency personnel had reason to know of the physical abuse and failed to
remove the child from his father’s custody. Id. at 202-03.
The DeShaney Court first explained that a State’s duty of care under tort law is
broader than a State’s narrow duty of care under the Constitution:
It may well be that, by voluntarily undertaking to protect [the
child] against a danger it concededly played no part in creating, the
State acquired a duty under state tort law to provide him with
adequate protection against that danger. But the claim here is
based on the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment,
which, as we have said many times, does not transform every tort
committed by a state actor into a constitutional violation.
Id. at 201-02 (citations omitted). The DeShaney Court further explained that whether the State
had a constitutional duty of care hinges on whether the victim was in State custody:
[W]hen the State by the affirmative exercise of its power so restrains an
individual’s liberty that it renders him unable to care for himself, and at
the same time fails to provide for his basic human needs––e.g., food,
clothing, shelter, medical care, and reasonable safety––it transgresses the
substantive limits on state action set by the Eighth Amendment and the
Due Process Clause. The affirmative duty to protect arises not from the
State’s knowledge of the individual’s predicament or from its
expressions of intent to help him, but from the limitation which it has
imposed on his freedom to act on his own behalf. In the substantive due
process analysis, it is the State’s affirmative act of restraining the
individual’s freedom to act on his own behalf––through incarceration,
institutionalization, or other similar restraint of personal liberty––which
is the “deprivation of liberty” triggering the protections of the Due
Process Clause, not its failure to act to protect his liberty interest against
harms inflicted by other means.
DeShaney, 489 U.S. at 200 (citations omitted). Critically, the Supreme Court found that a
special relationship is created when a State “takes a person into its custody and holds him there
against his will.” Id. at 199-200 (emphasis added). Such deprivation of liberty gives rise to a
State duty to “assume some responsibility for [the person’s] safety and general well-being”
because it has “render[ed] him unable to care for himself.” Id. at 200.
While the Supreme Court did not address the question of what type of State
custody gives rise to a constitutional duty of care, the majority of the Circuits that have
addressed the question have found that only involuntary custody triggers a constitutional duty of
care to protect from harm caused by third persons, relying on the language in the DeShaney
decision that a special relationship arises only when a State “takes a person into its custody and
holds him there against his will,” id. at 199-200, “through incarceration, institutionalization, or
other similar restraint of personal liberty,” id. at 200. The First, Second, Third, Fifth, and Ninth
Circuits have held that only involuntary commitment to State custody gives rise to a “special
relationship” and thus a constitutional duty of care, whereas voluntary commitment does not.
See Monahan v. Dorchester Counseling Center, 961 F.2d 987 (1st Cir. 1992); Brooks v. Guiliani,
84 F.3d 1454 (2d Cir. 1996); Torisky v. Schweiker, 446 F.3d 438 (3d Cir. 2006); Walton v.
Alexander, 44 F.3d 1297 (5th Cir. 1995) (en banc); Campbell v. State of Washington Dep’t of
Social & Health Servs., 671 F.3d 837 (9th Cir. 2011). These Circuits agree that “the involuntary
nature of the commitment [is] determinative.” Brooks v. Guiliani, 84 F.3d at 1466. There are no
cases directly on point in the D.C. Circuit.
In Campbell, a developmentally delayed adult, Justine Booth, was found
unconscious in a bathtub while she was in the care of the State of Washington’s State Operated
Living Alternative (SOLA) program; Ms. Booth died a week later. 671 F.3d at 839. Her mother,
Ms. Campbell, sued, asserting that the State deprived Ms. Booth of her due process right to safe
physical conditions while she was in State custody. Ms. Booth was a cognitively disabled adult
with an IQ of fifty-nine; she had been diagnosed with a severe seizure disorder. Id. When she
was eighteen, she and her mother requested that she be placed in the SOLA program so that she
could live a “somewhat independent” life; thereafter, Ms. Booth moved into a SOLA-operated
home with two other developmentally-disabled roommates. Id. at 844. Ms. Booth could
withdraw from the SOLA program at any time. Id. Even so, Ms. Campbell argued that her
daughter’s commitment to State custody in fact was involuntary because: (1) SOLA placed locks
on the doors of the home, preventing residents’ ability to leave; (2) the State controlled the home
where Ms. Booth lived; (3) the State controlled Ms. Booth’s transportation, diet, and wardrobe;
and (4) the State controlled how and when Ms. Booth bathed. Id. at 843.
The Ninth Circuit held that the State of Washington had no constitutional duty of
care toward Ms. Booth because her participation in SOLA was voluntary. 671 F.3d at 843-845.
The Circuit found that the restraints on liberty cited by her mother were merely part of SOLA’s
efforts to ensure Ms. Booth’s safety and that the State’s “performance of the very acts for which
an individual voluntarily enters [S]tate care does not transform the custodial relationship into an
involuntary one.” Id. at 844. The Campbell court also rejected the argument that Ms. Booth’s
limited mental abilities rendered her under the control of the State, i.e. that “[d]ue to her
cognitive impairments she could not leave the SOLA home without permission from her
caregivers.” Id. Ms. Booth’s intellectual limitations were “not the product of state action; they
were limitations she brought with her into custody” and there was no evidence that SOLA
employees took actions that caused her mental capacity to worsen. Id. The Circuit concluded
that Ms. Booth and her mother had requested placement in the SOLA program and could
withdraw that request at any time, rendering the State’s custody of Ms. Booth a “far cry” from
“institutionalization or other similar restraint of personal liberty” sufficient to show that the she
was held “against [her] will.” Id. (citing DeShaney, 489 U.S. at 199-201).
Similarly, in Walton, the Fifth Circuit held that a State school for the deaf had no
constitutional duty to protect a hearing-impaired student from sexual assault by another student.
The plaintiff argued that the State had created a special relationship with the student who resided
at the school because the school severely restricted the conditions under which he could leave,
and controlled his schedule of duties, classes, and daily activities. The Fifth Circuit found that
the student “attended the school through his own free will (or that of his parents) without any
coercion by the state,” that he had the “option of leaving at will,” and that “[a]lthough [his]
freedom was curtailed, it was he who voluntarily subjected himself to the rules and supervision
of school officials.” 44 F.3d at 1305; accord Stevens v. Umsted, 921 F. Supp. 530, 537 (C.D. Ill.
1996) (when a visually-impaired, developmentally-disabled student voluntarily attended a staterun school, the State did not have a constitutional duty to protect him from sexual assault by a
The First Circuit reached the same conclusion in Monahan v. Dorchester. While
being transported from a mental health center to a group home, Mr. Monahan leapt out a van and
was hit by a car. He sued the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, claiming that his injury was
caused by the State’s failure to provide adequate psychiatric treatment and supervision in
violation of his right to substantive due process. The First Circuit held that the State did not have
a constitutional duty of care to protect Mr. Monahan from third-party harm since he had been
voluntarily, not involuntarily, committed to its care. Because Massachusetts did not restrain Mr.
Monahan “against his will,” the Constitution did not impose any responsibility on the State for
his safety and well-being vis-à-vis third parties. 961 F.2d at 992 (quoting DeShaney, 489 U.S. at
199-200). The First Circuit explained:
To be sure, Monahan’s mental condition may have made him
functionally dependent on his caretakers, but no more so than is
true of many other noncommitted ill persons in a hospital or
outpatient setting. His helplessness was not attributable to the
state’s having taken him into custody involuntarily. . . . Here,
where it was Monahan’s own mental condition alone that impinged
upon his freedom to leave, it was not the state that deprived him of
Id. The Third Circuit similarly held in Torisky v. Schweiker, 446 F.3d 438, that the State did not
owe a constitutional duty of care to a mental health patient in state custody when the patient was
free to leave. “[W]hen a patient provides valid consent to enter a state mental treatment facility,
there is no deprivation of liberty at all.” Torisky, 446 F.3d at 446.
While the D.C. Circuit has not analyzed whether voluntary custody can give rise
to a constitutional duty of care, it has addressed the circumstances under which a “special
relationship” can arise. In Butera, a mother sued the District of Columbia and members of the
Metropolitan Police Department alleging that her son’s due process rights were violated when he
was beaten to death while working as an undercover operative for the police department. Butera,
235 F.3d at 641. Relying on Harris v. District of Columbia, 932 F.2d 10, 13-15 (D.C. Cir.
1991), to find that “custody,” for the purpose of determining whether a special relationship has
been created, is “narrowly construed,” Butera held that the District did not have a constitutional
duty of care and was not liable for a violating the victim’s due process rights under § 1983.
Butera, 235 F.3d at 648; compare Smith v. District of Columbia, 413 F.3d 86, 95 (D.C. Cir.
2005) (holding that the District of Columbia had a constitutional duty of care to an adjudicated
delinquent youth who was committed to the District’s custody involuntarily and noting that
“formal indicia” of commitment were relevant to whether a “special relationship” existed).
Harris exemplifies this Circuit’s narrow reading of “custody.” The suit was
brought after Mr. Harris’s death caused by a drug overdose while the decedent was in police
“custody.” Mr. Harris was at a nightclub when he began sweating profusely, rolling on the floor,
and screaming that he did not want to die. Harris, 235 F.2d at 11. Believing that Mr. Harris was
overdosing on phencyclidine (PCP), an employee of the club flagged down police officers. The
officers tried to speak to Mr. Harris, but he was nonresponsive and continued to flail violently
and to rant and rave. Id. To ensure Mr. Harris’s safety, the officers placed him in handcuffs and
leg restraints and locked him in a police van while they completed the paperwork necessary to
take Mr. Harris to a psychiatric hospital. Id. When an officer checked on Mr. Harris, he tried to
escape and they struggled, bumping Mr. Harris’s head in the process. Id. at 12. When an officer
next checked, Mr. Harris had stopped breathing so the officers took him to a hospital emergency
room instead of the psychiatric hospital. Mr. Harris was pronounced dead shortly after he
arrived at the emergency room. Id.
Mr. Harris’s estate brought suit against the officers, but the D.C. Circuit held that
they were protected by qualified immunity because there was no clearly established
constitutional duty to obtain earlier medical assistance for Mr. Harris. As support for this
conclusion, the Circuit found that: “Harris had not been formally committed, either by
conviction, involuntary commitment, or arrest, to the charge of the District” and thus “the
government had not entered into a special relationship with Harris.” Id. at 14. That is, Harris
was not in involuntary custody––despite the fact that the officers had placed him in handcuffs
and leg restraints and held him in the back of a police van. Id. at 11. 5
But see Ringuette v. City of Fall River, 888 F. Supp. 258, 268 (D. Mass. 1995) (State had a
constitutional duty to protect persons who are taken into protective custody because of
incapacitation and who lack the capacity to give knowing, intelligent and voluntary consent).
While it might be argued that Mr. Harris was under “arrest,” this Circuit relied on
an earlier point in the chain of events leading to Mr. Harris’ handcuffs-and-locked-in-van
circumstance: “[T]he special relationship here, if any, . . . had to be created by the very act of the
officers in picking up Harris in response to his pleas for help. Harris’ inability to take care of
himself, moreover, was not due to anything the officers did but was instead a direct result of his
ingestion of PCP.” Id. at 361. The Circuit rejected the assertion that the State assumes a
constitutional duty of care by making initial efforts to help someone who by reason of his own
actions is unable to help himself, thereby refusing to “constitutionalize” the tort law principle
that “although no one has an obligation to rescue a person in need, if they attempt a rescue they
assume a duty to perform it well, for in attempting the rescue they are reducing the chance that a
more skilled individual might come to the person’s aid.” Id. at 362.
Some courts have rejected the proposition that DeShaney limited Youngberg to
involuntarily-committed persons. The Fourth Circuit, for example, rejected the claim that the
State had no constitutional duty of care to a suicidal individual taken into custody at his family’s
request. See Buffington v. Baltimore County, 913 F.2d 113 (4th Cir. 1990). Buffington involved
an individual who committed suicide while he was in police custody awaiting emergency
psychiatric treatment. The government argued that it had no constitutional duty of care under
DeShaney because the deceased had been taken into custody at his family’s request. Id. at 119.
The Fourth Circuit viewed this argument as focusing on the reason for taking an individual into
custody and found that the reason for custody is not relevant to deciding whether the government
had a constitutional duty of care. Id. The court determined that the State had an affirmative due
process duty to prevent the detainee from committing suicide. Id. at 119-120; accord Merideth
v. Grogan, 812 F. Supp. 1223 (N.D. Ga. 1992) (intoxicated suicidal individual who was jailed at
the request of his family was entitled to due process protection), aff’d, 985 F.2d 579 (11th Cir.
1993) (Table). The Seventh Circuit also has rejected the proposition that the State has a
constitutional duty of care only where custody is involuntary. See Camp v. Gregory, 67 F.3d
1286, 1296 (7th Cir. 1995) (just because a child was voluntarily placed in foster care did not
mean that that the State could never be liable for a subsequent deprivation of due process);
McMahon v. Tompkins County, Civil No. 95-1134, 1998 WL 187421, *3 (N.D.N.Y. Apr. 14,
1998) (voluntary placement in foster care triggers the same due process duty of care that
involuntary placement triggers).
While puzzled by the finding in Harris that an incapacitated person, in handcuffs
and held in a police van, was not “involuntarily” in police custody, this Court is bound by D.C.
Circuit precedent. In light of Butera, which recently relied on Harris and its very narrow
construction of “custody,” this Court is bound to a narrow interpretation of “custody” for the
purpose of triggering a constitutional duty of care. Therefore, in line with the First, Second,
Third, Fifth, and Ninth Circuits and their interpretation of the Supreme Court’s decision in
DeShaney, this Court finds that only involuntary commitment triggers the District’s
constitutional duty of care to protect an individual from harm caused by non-state actors. The
facts alleged here––that KC was a “ward” of the District, that she was intellectually disabled,
unable to attend to her own daily needs, and encouraged to have nonconsensual sex with other
residents and men she met on a one time basis––do not assert that she was involuntarily
committed to District custody, giving rise to a constitutional to prevent harm to her from third
The Court is mindful that whether KC’s confinement was voluntary or
involuntary is question of fact, not of formality. “[C]ommitments formally labeled as
‘voluntary’ may arguably amount to de facto deprivations of liberty from their inception.”
Torisky, 446 F.3d at 446; see Harvey v. Mohammed, 841 F. Supp. 2d 164, 186-87 (D.D.C. 2012)
(describing D.C. statutory scheme governing commitment of mentally retarded adults). Further,
a commitment that was initially voluntary “may, over time, take on the character of an
involuntary one.” Torisky, 446 F.3d at 446; accord Shelton v. Arkansas Dep’t of Human Servs.,
677 F.3d 837, 840 (8th Cir. 2012) (a patient’s status at the time of admission is not necessarily
dispositive because it may change later from voluntary to involuntary).
The threshold question in the present case is whether KC was committed to the
custody of the District voluntarily or involuntarily. 6 Ms. Colbert alleges that KC was a “ward”
but does not assert facts sufficient to show that KC was “involuntarily” committed to the custody
of the District. Count VI, alleging a constitutional violation under § 1983, will be dismissed
2. Endangerment Requires Affirmative Action
Ms. Colbert also attempts to state a claim under the “State endangerment” theory
in her opposition brief. See Opp’n at 24-26. “[U]nder the State endangerment concept, an
individual can assert a substantive due process right to protection by the District of Columbia
from third-party violence when District of Columbia officials affirmatively act to increase or
create the danger that ultimately results in the individual’s harm.” Butera, 235 F.3d at 651
(emphasis added). Here, Ms. Colbert alleges that the District failed to take action––that it failed
If KC were involuntarily committed, the District of Columbia might be liable under § 1983, but
only if Ms. Colbert can establish that the District was so deliberately indifferent to KC’s
constitutional rights that it “shocks the conscience.” Butera, 235 F.3d at 651-52 (quoting County
of Sacramento, 523 U.S. at 847 n.8); accord Estate of Phillips v. District of Columbia, 455 F.3d
397, 403 (D.C. Cir. 2006). This “stringent requirement exists to differentiate substantive due
process, which is intended only to protect against arbitrary government action, from local tort
law.” Butera, 235 F.3d at 651.
to supervise and failed to provide medical care––not that it took any affirmative action that
increased or created the danger that resulted in harm to KC. Because the Complaint fails to
allege any affirmative action by District officials, it fails to allege a claim pursuant to the “State
B. Equal Protection
In addition to alleging that KC’s liberty interests were violated, Count VI also
attempts to allege that her Fifth Amendment right to equal protection was violated. To allege an
equal protection claim, a plaintiff must assert that the government intentionally treated her
differently from others who were similarly situated and that there is no rational basis for the
difference in treatment. 3883 Conn. LLC v. District of Columbia, 336 F.3d 1068, 1075 (D.C.
Cir. 2003) (citing Village of Willowbrook v. Olech, 529 U.S. 562, 564 (2000)). Gender-based
classifications give rise to heightened scrutiny, as a “classification relying explicitly upon gender
peculiarly suggests that the [S]tate is pursuing an improper purpose.” Pitts v. Thornburgh, 866
F.2d 1450, 1454 (D.C. Cir. 1989).
The Complaint, however, makes no allegation that the District intentionally
treated KC different from similarly situated individuals or that it intentionally discriminated
against her based on her gender. The Complaint merely states the legal conclusion that KC’s
right to equal protection was violated:
61. The actions and policies of the Defendant as described herein
denied [KC] the equal protection of the law by infringing [KC’s]
right to be free from harm and to have adequate health and
habilitative care to protect her from dangerous, unprotected sexual
activity and unwanted pregnancy.
62. As a direct result of the actions and policies of Defendant as
described herein, [KC] suffered a denial of her equal protection
rights and an unconstitutional deprivation of liberty in violation of
her rights under the Fifth Amendment to the United States
Compl. ¶¶ 61-62. The Court is not required to accept as true legal conclusions set forth in the
Complaint, see Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, and “while legal conclusions can provide the framework
of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations.” Id. at 679.
In response to the motion to dismiss, Ms. Colbert contends that “men in the care
of [the District and Total Care] were not allowed and encouraged to have sex with strangers, nor
coerced into having sex with staff” and that KC was. 7 Opp’n at 24. Ms. Colbert’s opposition
brief, however, does not cure the inadequacy of the Complaint because a complaint may not be
amended by filing an opposition to a motion to dismiss. Arbitraje Casa de Cambio, S.A. de C.V.
v. U.S. Postal Serv., 297 F. Supp. 2d 165, 170 (D.D.C. 2003). Thus, the equal protection claim
will be dismissed without prejudice.
C. Procedural Due Process
Ms. Colbert also attempts to make out a procedural due process claim under an
“entitlement theory” by alleging she was denied procedural due process rights provided by D.C.
Code § 7-1305.10(e) and (f). See Opp’n at 26-28. D.C. Code § 7-1305.10(e) and (f) provide:
(e) Alleged instances of mistreatment, neglect or abuse of any
individual shall be reported immediately to the Director and the
Director shall inform the individual’s counsel, parent or guardian
who petitioned for the commitment, and the individual’s advocate
for a person with an intellectual disability of any such instances.
There shall be a written report that the allegation has been
thoroughly and promptly investigated (with the findings stated
therein). Employees of facilities who report such instances of
mistreatment, neglect, or abuse shall not be subjected to adverse
action by the facility because of the report.
The allegation in the Opposition brief extends further than the allegations of the Complaint.
The Complaint does not allege that KC had sex with staff at Total Care, and instead alleges that
she had sex with “other residents of the facility and men she was meeting on a one time/casual
basis.” Compl. ¶ 22.
(f) An individual’s counsel, parent or guardian who petitioned for
commitment and an individual’s advocate for a person with an
intellectual disability shall be notified in writing whenever
restraints are used and whenever an instance of mistreatment,
neglect or abuse occurs.
This procedural due process allegation is made in the Opposition to the District’s motion and not
in the Complaint. Again, a complaint may not be amended via an opposition to a motion to
dismiss, see Arbitraje, 297 F. Supp. 2d at 170, and no procedural due process claim will be
D. Custom or Policy
The District also moves to dismiss Count VI for failure to allege that a D.C.
custom or policy caused the alleged constitutional violation. To state a claim against the District
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege that a custom or policy of the District of
Columbia caused the constitutional violation. Feirson v. District of Columbia, 506 F.3d 1063,
1066 (D.C. Cir. 2007) (citing Monell, 436 U.S. at 694). Further, to state a claim for failure to
train or supervise, a plaintiff must allege “that the need for more or different training or
supervision was so obvious and the inadequacy so likely to result in a violation of constitutional
rights that the policymakers can be said to have been deliberately indifferent to the need,” with
facts to support the allegation. Rogala v. District of Columbia, 161 F.3d 44, 56 (D.C. Cir. 1998)
(citing City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 388-89 (1989)). “Pleading a single instance of a
constitutional violation––that does not itself establish municipal policy––without connecting it to
an existing, unconstitutional policy is not sufficient to state a claim under § 1983.” Trimble v.
District of Columbia, 779 F. Supp. 2d 54, 58 (D.D.C. 2011).
The Complaint sets forth only conclusory allegations that the alleged
constitutional violations were caused by a D.C. custom or policy. The Complaint alleges:
53. At all times relevant hereto, it was the policy of the District of
Columbia . . . to provide unsafe surroundings for persons in their
care, without adequate supervision and medical care and to neglect
to monitor those environments to ensure that appropriate medical
and habilitative care was provided. This policy and procedure was
intentional and/or deliberately indifferent to the Constitutional
rights of [KC] and caused the injuries complained of herein.
54. Upon information and belief, other individuals with policy
making authority for the District of Columbia tacitly approved of
or ratified the actions of lower ranking officials in allowing Colbert
to reside in the conditions described herein. Such conduct by
policymakers amounts to [an] unlawful policy or custom for which
the District of Columbia is liable.
55. Upon information and belief, it was the custom of the District
of Columbia to improperly place intellectually disabled residents in
unsafe environments such as that provided by the Total Care
Defendants without adequate supervision and medical care as
required by law.
Compl. ¶¶ 53-55. These threadbare recitals are insufficient to state a claim. See Iqbal, 556 U.S.
at 678 (“Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory
statements, do not suffice.”)
Ms. Colbert offers additional allegations in her responsive pleading. She asks the
Court to take judicial notice that the District of Columbia has been judicially found to be
deliberately indifferent to the needs of developmentally disabled persons in its care. She notes
Evans v. Williams, 139 F. Supp. 2d 79 (D.D.C. 2001), in which the district court approved a
settlement between D.C. and a class of disabled individuals to remedy the District’s failure to
provide adequately for their health, safety, and welfare. The class consisted of individuals who
resided at a facility called Forest Haven, since closed, as a result of an involuntary commitment.
See Harvey v. Mohammed, 841 F. Supp. 2d 164, 187 (D.D.C. 2012) (describing Evans). The
Evans court held in 2007 that the D.C. Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities
Administration (MRDDA) had seriously and continuously failed to comply with court orders
regarding health, safety, and welfare of disabled persons at Forest Haven. Evans v. Fenty, 480 F.
Supp. 2d 280, 298, 325 (D.D.C. 2007). The plaintiff in Harvey v. Mohammed established the
existence of a D.C. policy of disregard for the medical needs of disabled individuals by relying
on the Evans case. 841 F. Supp. 2d at 187. However, the Harvey plaintiff had been an Evans
class member. Id.
MRDDA no longer exists; it has been replaced by the Department on Disability
Services (DDS). See Evans v. Fenty, 701 F. Supp. 2d 126, 137-38 (D.D.C. 2010). The new
policies of DDS have been found to have brought the District into compliance with three parts of
the nine areas specified by the Evans consent orders: staff training, safeguarding personal
possessions, and adequate budget. See Evans v. Gray, Civil No. 76-293(ESH), 2012 WL
5305790, at *1 (Oct. 26, 2012). Ms. Colbert does not allege any new facts since 2012 that would
alter the Evans findings.
Critically, Ms. Colbert’s reliance on the Evans consent orders does not provide a
factual basis for the allegation that the District of Columbia had a custom or policy that affected
KC in 2010. She has not alleged facts showing that KC was a member of the Evans class. She
has not alleged that, during the relevant time period, DDS had the same policies of indifference
to medical needs that MRDDA had. Accordingly, due to the failure to allege the requisite
custom or policy under Monell, Count VI will be dismissed without prejudice.
E. Punitive Damages
Count XI of the Complaint claims punitive damages against the District, which
has moved to dismiss because it is immune from punitive damages unless extraordinary
circumstances exist, see Daskalea v. District of Columbia, 227 F.3d 433, 447 (D.C. Cir. 2000),
which are not alleged here. Ms. Colbert has not responded. See Hopkins v. Women’s Div., Gen.
Bd. of Global Ministries, 284 F. Supp. 2d 15, 25 (D.D.C. 2003) (“It is well understood in this
Circuit that when a plaintiff files an opposition to a dispositive motion and addresses only certain
arguments raised by the defendant, a court may treat those arguments that the plaintiff failed to
address as conceded.”), aff'd, 98 F. App’x 8 (D.C. Cir. 2004). Count XI will be dismissed
against the District; it remains against Total Care.
F. Supplemental Jurisdiction
Each of Ms. Colbert’s remaining claims alleges violations of D.C. law, and the
Court maintains only supplemental jurisdiction over such claims. See 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c).
However, if the Court dismisses the federal law claims in this case over which it has original
jurisdiction, the Court may decline supplemental jurisdiction under § 1367(c). 28 U.S.C. §
1367(c)(3); Shekoyan v. Sibley Int’l, 409 F.3d 414, 423 (D.C. Cir. 2005). The decision whether
to exercise supplemental jurisdiction after dismissal of all federal claims is “purely
discretionary.” Carlsbad Tech., Inc. v. HIF Bio, Inc., 129 S. Ct. 1862, 1866 (2009). In
exercising such discretion, district courts consider judicial economy, convenience, comity, and
fairness. Shekoyan, 409 F.3d at 424. In the usual case, these factors point toward declining
jurisdiction. Id. (citing Carnegie-Mellon Univ. v. Cohill, 484 U.S. 343, 350 n.7 (1988)).
“Certainly, if the federal claims are dismissed before trial, even though not insubstantial in a
jurisdictional sense, the state claims should be dismissed as well.” United Mine Workers v.
Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 726 (1966).
Because the Court will dismiss without prejudice Count VI, the only federal law
claim in this case and will grant Ms. Colbert the opportunity to amend the Complaint, the Court
cannot determine at this juncture whether it will elect to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over
the remaining D.C. law claims. The District’s motion to dismiss or for summary judgment with
regard to the D.C. law claims will be denied without prejudice.
For the reasons set forth above, the motion to dismiss or for summary judgment
filed by the District of Columbia [Dkt. 9] will be granted in part and denied in part. Count VI
(Fifth Amendment claim) will be dismissed without prejudice; Count XI (punitive damages
claim) will be dismissed as to the District of Columbia with prejudice. The District of
Columbia’s motion will be denied without prejudice as to the D.C. law claims. Ms. Colbert will
have a reasonable period of time to file an amended complaint; if she fails to timely file, the
dismissal of Count VI shall be deemed with prejudice. A memorializing Order accompanies this
Date: December 13, 2013
ROSEMARY M. COLLYER
United States District Judge
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