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Hall v. District of Columbia

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit

August 11, 2017

Michele Hall, Appellant
District of Columbia, et al., Appellees

          Argued March 10, 2017

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia No. 1:13-cv-00324

          Gregory L. Lattimer argued the cause and filed the briefs for appellant.

          Lucy E. Pittman, Assistant Attorney General, Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia, argued the cause for appellees. With her on the brief were Karl A. Racine, Attorney General, Todd S. Kim, Solicitor General, and Loren L. AliKhan, Deputy Solicitor General.

          Before: Rogers, Millett and Pillard, Circuit Judges.



         This case arises from restaurant patron Michelle Hall's claims that employees of Cities Restaurant and Lounge, and the Metropolitan Police Department officers they summoned, reacted overly harshly when she raised a question about her bill and temporarily left the restaurant. Hall appeals the district court's final judgment against her resulting from dismissal of some of her damages claims on the pleadings, and others on summary judgment.

         Hall celebrated her birthday with friends at Cities. Near the end of the evening, Hall was surprised by some of the charges on her bill due to what turned out to be mis-communication with the promoter who had set up the party for her. Before the billing question was fully resolved or Hall's party disbanded, some additional people on Hall's guest list arrived late and texted her; rather than pay a cover charge to join her at Cities, the late arrivals said they would go to a no-cover-charge bar across the street and asked Hall to join them for a quick drink. Hall then stepped out of Cities temporarily to greet those friends at the bar opposite. When she did so, Cities still held Hall's credit card and driver's license, and several of Hall's celebrants stayed at the table at Cities with the bill, Hall's purse, her phone, and her birthday gifts.

         Cities employees responded as if Hall's departure were an attempt to avoid paying her bill. They called the police to report felony theft of services. The responding officers located Hall at the bar across the street and broke down the door of the single-occupancy bathroom where Hall and a friend were freshening their makeup and using the toilet. Without asking her any questions about what happened at Cities, Hall contends, the police handcuffed Hall, dragged her out of the bar, and detained her on the sidewalk and then in a squad car for about forty-five minutes. While she was sitting handcuffed in the police cruiser, Hall asked a passing officer who had not been involved in her initial arrest why she was being held. The officer replied that Hall had walked out on her bill. Hall objected that she had not; indeed, Cities still had her credit card and driver's license. The officer, hearing that information for the first time, went into the restaurant and came back with a receipt charging the full amount of Hall's bill to her credit card. Hall promptly signed the receipt and the officer released her.

         Hall brought this suit for damages against the District of Columbia, its officers, Cities, and its manager. The district court dismissed some of Hall's claims on the pleadings and, after discovery, granted summary judgment in defendants' favor on the rest. We affirm in part, vacate in part, and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.


         Because Hall's claims were dismissed either on the pleadings or at summary judgment, the factual background draws inferences in Hall's favor from her complaint and from facts revealed through discovery. See Mpoy v. Rhee, 758 F.3d 285, 287 (D.C. Cir. 2014) (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009)); Tolan v. Cotton, 134 S.Ct. 1861, 1863 (2014) (per curiam). Needless to say, where there are evidentiary conflicts, jurors might well find the facts differently. Our recitation of events, as definitive as it may sound, is thus necessarily provisional due to the procedural posture of the district court's ruling.

         In 2012, Michelle Hall, who lived and worked in Washington, D.C., arranged through event promoter Ryan White to have her twenty-ninth birthday party at Cities Restaurant and Lounge, located at 919 19th Street Northwest. White had coordinated Hall's birthday party at Cities the previous year, and Hall understood that she would again be served two free bottles of alcohol as incentive to bring her business to Cities. When Hall arrived at Cities for the party on March 17, Cities requested that Hall leave her credit card and identification with restaurant employees, which she did.

         Several hours later, after the group consumed three bottles of alcohol and some food, a server presented Hall with a bill for $1, 104.74. It reflected a charge of $935.04 for the food and all three of the bottles of alcohol the group had consumed, plus a $169.70 tip. Because Hall had not expected to pay for the first two bottles of alcohol, she texted her objection to Ryan White, the party promoter, who responded that she was mistaken; Cities had not agreed to provide any free bottles of alcohol this time. Hall felt misled, and when White stopped responding to Hall's text messages, she spoke with manager Seyhan Duru, who alerted the restaurant owner to the dispute. Meanwhile, Hall's party guests, who had agreed to contribute money for the food and third bottle consumed, started putting cash in a bill book towards paying the check.

         While Hall's friends remained at Cities and attempted to work something out with Duru and Cities' owner, Hall went to a bar across the street to meet friends who had arrived at the tail end of the party at Cities and did not wish to pay Cities' forty-dollar cover charge to enter just as the group was finishing up there. Because Cities had stamped Hall's hand for re-entry and the restaurant retained the credit card and driver's license she had handed over when she arrived, and because Hall left her birthday presents, her purse, her cell phone, and most of her friends at Cities, and had told the server to leave the bill on the table as they were "still working on it, " J.A. 100, she did not anticipate that the restaurant would have any concerns about her temporarily leaving the premises.

         Shortly thereafter, however, a Cities employee called the police to report that an "intoxicated female" wearing a yellow sundress had refused to pay her bill. J.A. 165. The police apparently registered the call as a report of "theft one of services, " or felony theft in the first degree, meaning the value of what was stolen exceeded $1000. Lee Dep., 25:16-18, Mar. 9, 2015; D.C. Code § 22-3212(a). The call was puzzling given the record evidence showing that Cities had swiped and received approval for a $935.04 charge to Hall's credit card eleven minutes before the police report recorded the call from Cities.

         Police arrived and entered the bar opposite Cities. According to Hall's account, they found Hall in the bathroom, announced themselves as the police and ordered Hall to open up, almost immediately broke down the door, "slammed" her against a wall, See Hall Dep., 49:1, Feb. 12, 2015, handcuffed her, and dragged her out of the bar, all without asking her any questions to verify Cities' complaint. The police detained Hall, restraining her in what Hall alleged and some of the evidence confirmed to be varying positions of discomfort, for approximately forty-five minutes.

         Hall complained that her handcuffs were too tight. The arresting officer, Alice Lee, responded by tightening the cuffs. Lee forced Hall to her knees on the sidewalk, where Hall's underwear was exposed to passers-by and her knees scraped and bruised by the concrete. Lee repeatedly tightened Hall's handcuffs, and even yanked Hall's handcuffed arms behind her. When Hall asked Lee "What's going on?" Lee responded "[Theft of] services." Hall Dep. 49:18-50:4. Officer Lee did not identify herself to Hall. Only after Lee had brought Hall into the street could Hall read Lee's badge number. Officer Lee placed the handcuffed Hall in the back of a police cruiser.

         As noted above, what could be viewed as Cities' and the police's over-reaction to Hall's dissatisfaction about a liquor charge she had not anticipated was quickly resolved as soon as an officer listened to Hall's version of events. While Hall was sitting handcuffed in the police vehicle with the window down, she asked another police officer why she was detained. When the officer responded that Hall had walked out on her bill, Hall objected that she most certainly had not; in fact, she had even left her credit card with Cities' staff. The officer went into Cities, came out with a credit card receipt charging Hall for the full bill and, when she promptly signed it, he released her.

         Hall suffered emotional trauma, cuts and bruises, and an injured wrist. She sued the District, Officer Lee and Lee's partner (an unknown John Doe officer), Cities, and its manager Seyhan Duru. The complaint alleged excessive force and assault and battery by Officers Lee and Doe, intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress by the officers and Duru, negligence on the part of all defendants, conversion by Cities, defamation by Cities and Duru, and false arrest and false imprisonment in violation of state law and the United States Constitution against the officers. Officer Doe does not seem to have been identified and is not listed as a party on appeal. See Appellant Br. Certificate as to Parties, Ruling, and Related Cases.

         The district court granted a motion to dismiss all claims against the District and the officers except the common law battery claim. Hall v. District of Columbia, 73 F.Supp.3d 116 (D.D.C. 2014). Cities and its manager Seyhan Duru did not file or join any motion to dismiss. The parties then conducted discovery, deposing Hall, Officer Lee, Duru, two of Hall's friends-Kay Vollans and Gary Jones-who were at Cities with her that night, and a radiologist who examined Hall's injured wrist after the incident Officer Lee, Cities, and Duru then moved for summary judgment on all remaining counts. The court granted judgment to Officer Lee on the battery claim, concluding that no reasonable jury could conclude that her use of force was unjustified, and granted summary judgment to Cities and Duru on the common law tort claims against them. See Hall v. District of Columbia, No. 13-cv-324, 2016 WL 1452325 (D.D.C. Apr. 12, 2016). Hall appealed.

         We affirm the dismissal of the intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress claims and the negligence claims against Officer Lee and the District of Columbia. We also affirm the grant of summary judgment to Duru on all claims against him. We vacate the judgment on all remaining claims and remand for further proceedings. The allegations of the complaint suffice to make out claims under section 1983 of false arrest and excessive force, as well as common law assault, false arrest, and false imprisonment against Officer Lee. The evidence suffices to create material factual disputes on the common law battery claim against Officer Lee, and the defamation, negligence, and conversion claims against Cities.


         We group the claims into three clusters for analysis, each of which turns on one of three common issues. First, relevant to the common law claims against Cities, did Cities employees act reasonably and in good faith in calling the police to report Hall's alleged theft of services? Second, was the police arrest and detention of Hall reasonable under the Fourth Amendment? And, third, did police use excessive force against Hall, or was their force justified by resistance on Hall's part? We apply settled District of Columbia law. Our analysis is not intended to express any view on the ultimate resolution of Hall's claims, nor is it intended to modify D.C. law.

         I. Common Law Claims against Cities and Duru Resolved on Summary Judgment

         The viability of the first group of claims turns on whether a reasonable jury would be required on the summary judgment record to find that Cities, through its employees, acted reasonably toward Hall, called the police in good faith, and charged her only for what she owed, or whether Hall has triable common law tort claims because the evidence could support contrary determinations. The district court granted summary judgment to Cities and its manager Seyhan Duru on all counts against them. We review the grant of summary judgment de novo, examining "the facts in the record and all reasonable inferences derived therefrom in a light most favorable to" Hall. Robinson v. Pezzat, 818 F.3d 1, 7-8 (D.C. Cir. 2016) (quoting DeGraff v. District of Columbia, 120 F.3d 298, 299-300 (D.C. Cir. 1997)). Because, as the district court correctly held, the record contains no triable factual disputes material to the tort claims against Cities employee Seyhan Duru, we affirm the grant of summary judgment in his favor. As to Cities, however, we conclude that material factual disputes preclude summary judgment in its favor on all claims against it.

         a. The Record Does Not Support Claims Against Seyhan Duru

         Hall's tort claims against Duru charge him with negligence, negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and defamation for calling the police and falsely accusing Hall of theft. See Compl. ¶ 36. Discovery failed to corroborate the allegation that Duru placed the 911 call. Instead, the only record evidence directly on point identifies manager Carla Urquhart as the Cities employee who called the police to report that Hall refused to pay. See J.A.165; Lee Dep., 62:6-16. Duru testified that he did not communicate with the police at all. See Duru Dep., 38:1-41:22, Mar. 9, 2015. The record identifies Urquhart as someone to whom the responding officers spoke in person. See Lee Dep., 62:6-16; see id. 29:22-30:16. Hall failed in discovery to ask Urquhart whether Duru or anyone else told her to call the police. In her own deposition, Hall admitted that she had not been in a position to observe and so could not testify who made the phone call. Hall did not testify to any other interaction between Duru and the police. See Hall Dep., 31:4-32:8.

         Hall contends that Duru's responsibility for calling or directing an employee to call the police can be inferred from Duru's role as the manager with whom Hall spoke about the bill. But the record does not support that inference. Hall testified that she initially disputed the bill with Duru, and that Duru then went to get the restaurant's owner. The owner and Duru then spoke with Hall's friend, Kay Vollans, and later with another of Hall's friends named Alana Hill. Hall Dep. 20:20-21:13; 23:7-25:19. Duru was not the only Cities employee to speak with Hall or her party about the bill dispute, nor is there any ...

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