Dog Walk Leads to Federal Court

A Park Police Officer stopped and arrested a man for violating the Washington, DC dog leash law and for assault on a police officer and the dog walker spent the night in a DC jail. The dog walker sued the federal employee in her personal capacity and the case went to federal court.

A federal judge has dismissed the lawsuit brought against a U.S. Park Police Officer in her personal capacity by an irate dog owner. (Wasserman v. Rodacker, D.D.C. Civil Action No. 06-1005, 7/19/07)

Park Police Officer Rodacker saw Wasserman walking his two dogs without having them on a leash in a Washington, D.C. park. She ordered him a couple of times to stop, but he refused to do so and refused to answer the officer’s questions. Rodacker eventually stopped and arrested Wasserman for violating the D.C. leash law and for assault on a police officer. She claimed that Mr. Wasserman had resisted arrest; Wasserman claimed that Rodacker used unnecessary force in detaining him.

Wasserman ended up spending an evening as a guest of the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department in its central cell block. He was charged with the violation of the leash law, but not with the assault on an officer charge. (Opinion, pp. 2-3)

Wasserman eventually sued Rodacker in D.C. Superior Court for assault, battery and illegal imprisonment. He did not deny that he was in violation of the D.C. leash law. Rather, he argues that Rodacker had no probable cause to arrest him because the leash law was invalid. (p. 14)

The United States removed the case to federal court and the U.S. government was added as a defendant. It then moved to dismiss Wasserman’s case since Rodacker had qualified immunity from suit and because Wasserman had not exhausted his administrative remedies by filing an administrative claim as required by the Federal Tort Claims Act.

Citing the Federal Employees Liability Reform and Tort Compensation Act of 1988 (28 U.S.C. §2679(d)(1), the court ruled that since the U.S. had certified that Rodacker was acting "within the scope of her employment" at the time of the incident, then the U.S. was the proper defendant in the case and that sole jurisdiction was with the federal courts.

Further, Wasserman’s sole remedy was under the Federal Tort Claims Act, and, since he failed to file an administrative claim, he was out of luck. Finally, insofar as his complaint was a "constitutional tort" (i.e. he was claiming that Rodacker had some how violated his constitutional rights), the court found that the Park Police Officer had immunity from suit.

Wasserman argued that there was no probable cause to arrest him; however, the court disagreed since Rodacker had seen Wasserman in violation of a law that had not been invalidated. (p. 14)

Wasserman also argued that since he was not charged with the assault on a police officer, and the only charge against him was violation of the leash law—a misdemeanor—it violated his constitutional rights to detain him overnight in D.C. lockup. The court responded that this "does not alone present a constitutional violation." (p. 15)

In short, case dismissed.

About the Author

Susan McGuire Smith spent most of her federal legal career with NASA, serving as Chief Counsel at Marshall Space Flight Center for 14 years. Her expertise is in government contracts, ethics, and personnel law.