On January 13, 2022, a federal court in Washington, D.C. denied in its entirety a motion to dismiss filed by the District of Columbia. Relman Colfax represents eight individuals engaged in a June 2020 peaceful protest demanding end to the kind of systemic racism and police brutality that have taken the lives of many Black Americans, including George Floyd, Tony McDade and Breonna Taylor. The complaint alleges the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) used excessive force and suppressed free speech by “kettling” Plaintiffs (herding them on to Swann Street and enclosing both ends) and arresting and detaining many of them as part of a mass arrest of almost two hundred people.
The District sought to dismiss portions of Plaintiffs’ First and Fourth Amendment claims, as well as their negligence per se claim under the D.C. First Amendment Assemblies Act (FAAA), which establishes individuals’ right to participate in peaceful assemblies on public streets and sidewalks. In a detailed 26-page opinion, Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia rejected the District’s arguments, holding that Plaintiffs properly alleged the existence of a municipal policy and that MPD officers’ actions on Swann Street were taken pursuant to District policies. She also held that the doctrine of qualified immunity did not bar claims against former MPD Chief Peter Newsham, and that Plaintiffs adequately alleged a constitutional violation.
Further, Judge Howell permitted Plaintiffs First Amendment retaliation claims relating to conditions of confinement to proceed, reasoning that the allegations in the amended complaint support a reasonable inference that Defendants lacked a non-retaliatory motive to detain protestors under harsh conditions—including detainment in painful zip ties and being denied food and water following their arrest—for minor curfew infractions.
Finally, Judge Howell held that Plaintiffs sufficiently alleged a negligence per se claim under the FAAA by asserting that the statute imposes specific duties and that MPD breached those duties—by giving no orders to disperse and using chemical irritants on nonviolent protesters
The Relman Colfax case team includes Jennifer Klar, Gabriel Diaz, Kali Schellenberg, and Gemma Donofrio, with paralegal assistance from Margaret Moran and Brianna Terrell.
A copy of Judge Howell’s decision’s decision is available here.