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Mencias v. Dailey

We were co-counsel for Plaintiff Erlin Mencias in a case brought in federal court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against a police detective who seized Mr. Mencias’s work van and tools in an effort to identify a suspect who had been a passenger in Mr. Mencias’s van. The detective continued to hold the van and tools to try to coerce cooperation from Mr. Mencias for over a year after the van was searched and the items of evidentiary value removed. We argued that a seizure reasonable at its inception because based on probable cause may become unreasonable as a result of its duration or for other reasons and that the detective violated Mr. Mencias’s rights under the Fourth Amendment by continuing the seizure after probable cause had dissipated. We also alleged that the detective violated the Fifth Amendment’s due process clause by failing to provide Mr. Mencias with information regarding the process for seeking return of his property and by telling Mr. Mencias that his van and tools could be returned only if Mr. Mencias provided information to the police as to the identity and whereabouts of the suspect.

In August 2016, after the close of discovery, we filed a motion for partial summary judgment as to Det. Dailey’s liability under § 1983 for violating Mr. Mencias’s Fourth Amendment rights by subjecting him to an unreasonable 15-month seizure of his van and tools. Det. Dailey filed a cross-motion for summary judgment on both claims, and we filed a combined reply in support of our motion and opposition to Det. Dailey’s cross-motion.

On March 30, 2017, the Court granted our motion for partial summary judgment, finding Det. Dailey liable under § 1983 for violating Mr. Mencias’s Fourth Amendment rights. The Court denied in full Det. Dailey’s motion for summary judgment. In ruling for Mr. Mencias, the Court explained that “[s]eizure of a person’s property as bait or as a bargaining chip to elicit information from a third party is not lawful within the Fourth Amendment. Designating the van as evidence does not make it so for purposes of the Fourth Amendment.” The Court also soundly rejected Det. Dailey’s attempt to transfer blame to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

In rejecting Det. Dailey’s assertion of qualified immunity, the Court held that “Defendant stated that he kept the van in order to obtain information from Plaintiff. No reasonable law enforcement officer would believe that keeping a vehicle that has already been searched, and its contents with evidentiary value removed, in order to coerce its owner into providing information to the police, is lawful.”

On August 1, 2017, the Court granted reconsideration of its summary judgment order in part. Specifically, the Court held there is a fact dispute underlying Det. Dailey’s entitlement to qualified immunity on Mr. Mencias’s Fourth Amendment claim. If Det. Dailey received specific direction for the U.S. Attorney’s Office to continue the seizure of Mr. Mencias’s van following the search of the van, the Court will then determine whether, as a matter of law, Det. Dailey is entitled to qualified immunity.

In early August 2018, the parties agreed to settle the case. As part of the settlement, the District of Columbia paid Mr. Mencias the damages that resulted from the seizure of his van and tools, and his attorneys’ fees and costs.

Following the settlement, on August 28, 2018, Det. Dailey filed a motion to vacate the court’s earlier summary judgment opinion that found Det. Dailey had violated the Fourth Amendment. On September 18, 2018, Mr. Mencias filed his opposition to the motion to vacate. On September 11, 2019, the court denied Det. Dailey’s motion to vacate, explaining that he had not identified any error underlying the court’s prior determination that Det. Dailey violated the Fourth Amendment that would justify vacatur. The court further concluded that there were also no extraordinary circumstances warranting relief from the court’s prior determination that Det. Dailey violated the Fourth Amendment.