D.C. Superior Court Opinions

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E.g., November 18, 2017
E.g., November 18, 2017
Format: XXX-DWLR-XXXX
  • D.C. Superior Court

    Family Law

    Reunification / Abuse of Discretion / Magistrate Judge’s Ruling / Permanency Goal / Neglect

     

    In a child neglect and abuse case, magistrate judge’s denial of request to change the permanency goal from reunification to adoption was error. Magistrate judge’s conclusion that the government had not proved that the presumption in favor reunification had been rebutted was abuse of discretion. Magistrate’s findings of fact demonstrate that the presumption had been rebutted by a preponderance of the evidence. Trial court’s findings demonstrated that the reunification plan was reasonable. Case plans were tailored to meet concerns and the biological mother had notice of the plan and steps required for reunification. Record demonstrates that Child and Family Services Agency made reasonable efforts to ameliorate the conditions that led to the adjudication of neglect. Social workers provided the biological mother with contact information for therapeutic services, SmartTrip cards so she could attend therapy sessions, and repeatedly met with her to discuss her behavior and progress. Trial court abused discretion when relying on a judicially-noticed previous order to conclude that the government failed to prove the biological mother did not make adequate progress. Magistrate’s conclusion that the goal change from reunification to adoption was inappropriate was an abuse of discretion. Factual findings supported a goal change and the government’s evidence satisfied the preponderance of evidence standard. Magistrate’s failure to make conclusions of law about the biological father was not an abuse of discretion. Reunification with the father was never the goal and the father never participated in the proceedings. Denial of request to change permanency goal from reunification to adoption vacated and reversed and magistrate’s judgment modified in part.  

  • D.C. Superior Court

    Employment Law

    D.C. Human Rights Act / Retaliation / Gender Discrimination / Discrimination Based on Family Responsibilities / Adverse Action

     

    In an employment suit against a local news station, Plaintiff has failed to meet the prima facie showing required to support her claims for gender discrimination, gender retaliation, and family responsibility discrimination and retaliation. Changing Plaintiff’s schedule to include working on weekend days, causing her to use paid vacation time to avoid working Saturdays, is not an adverse action. Plaintiff does not allege that Defendant changed the terms of her employment, nor was she reprimanded due to her request for a different schedule. While Petitioner was the only full-time female anchor at the news station, she has not otherwise provided factual support for her allegations that the working environment was a “boys club.” Plaintiff did not complain about the schedule that allegedly privileged male employees until after the allegedly retaliatory activity had occurred. The D.C. Human Rights Act does not require employers to schedule employees in ways that allow them to attend school functions and otherwise spend time with their families. Motion to dismiss granted.

  • D.C. Superior Court

    Probate Law

    Withdrawal of Life Support / Guardian ad Litem / Substituted Judgment Standard / Best Interests Inquiry

     

    When an incapacitated person’s wishes regarding end-of-life care are unclear, the “best interests” inquiry is the appropriate approach to take regarding the “substituted judgment” standard as applied to withdrawal of life support. Decisionmakers should consider objective factors to determine what course of treatment is in the incapacitated person’s best interests. The Court considers the patient’s pattern of conduct regarding prior treatment decisions, religious beliefs, extent of mental and physical disability, prognosis, capacity for pleasure and pain, degree of humiliation and dependency, the probable side effects of continued treatment, and the views of family members. Here, the patient repeatedly refused treatment for a substance abuse problem, there is no evidence that her religious beliefs were opposed to withdrawal of life support, patient had no brain activity or response to stimuli, patient’s prognosis was terminal and irreversible, patient enjoyed no “quality of life,” patient was totally dependent on others for her bodily functions, continued treatment would lead to ulcers and cardiac arrest, and patient’s adult children support withdrawal from life support. Petition for consent to withdrawal of life support granted. 

  • D.C. Superior Court
    Evidence
    Expert Testimony / Sovereign Immunity / Failure to Warn / Proprietary Function / Reliability of Testimony

    Expert witness may testify in negligence suit over a slip and fall at a metro station. Plaintiff’s negligence suit does not implicate Defendant’s discretionary functions, as failing to warn about slippery conditions is a proprietary function. Expert opinion testimony based on years of professional experience, in-person observation, and review of photographs, deposition testimony, and other materials is admissible to show that Defendant was on notice about the slippery conditions at a metro station. Motion in Limine to Preclude Testimony of Plaintiff’s Expert denied.

     

  • Civil Procedure

    Presumptive Right of Access to Judicial Records

     

    Video recordings of deposition by Presidential candidate Donald Trump in a contract dispute are accessible by media organizations. Intervenors, as media organizations, have standing for the limited purpose of seeking access to court records. Presumptive right of access to judicial records applies in the present matter since the video recordings were filed (1) into the current record in connection with dispositive motions; (2) without seal; and (3) in an active civil case. In considering whether to grant access to judicial records, courts must weigh “the interests advanced by the parties in light of the public interest and the duty of the courts.” The mere possibility that the recordings may be used in negative attack ads during in an election campaign is “inherently speculative” and Plaintiff has not shown that the video recordings contain any “scandalous, libelous, or other unduly prejudicial material warranting denial of media access.” Since this case is set for bench trial there is no risk that the release of the video records could result in juror taint. Intervenors’ request for future video recordings is premature and speculative, and must be made when there is a ripe controversy.

  • D.C. Superior Court

    Family Law

    Termination of Parental Rights / Adult Adoption / Power in Equity

     

    Termination of parental rights is appropriate in the case of an adult adoption where a couple in a same-sex relationship entered into the adoption in order to gain certain legal protections that were unavailable to them because they could not get married at the time and now wish to get married. Court has power in equity to grant consent petition since the legislature has not limited the Court’s inherent powers to provide equitable relief. The D.C. Code only contemplates terminating parental rights over minor children, not self-sufficient adults who would gain rights upon termination. Even if constrained by statute, the Court may still grant consent because termination is in Petitioner’s best interests. Termination is in accordance with D.C. public policy recognizing parental rights over adults differently than over children. Petitioner’s Consent Petition for Termination of Parental Rights granted.

  • D.C. Superior Court

    Criminal Law

    Sentencing / Double Jeopardy / Due Process

     

    Sentences for First Degree Murder that were improperly applied under an old mandatory minimum that had been raised by the time of conviction are corrected to reflect the appropriate, higher minimum sentence. Since a sentence is a nullity if it is at a variance with the controlling statute, an upward correction does not violate the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment. The Court of Appeals has not yet held that a substantial delay renders a sentence final for Double Jeopardy purposes. Defendants do not generally have a due process right to the correction of an illegal sentence. While the delay in addressing the illegal sentence has been extremely long, Defendants have not demonstrated this case is so egregious that it violates Due Process. Government’s motion for correction of sentence is granted.

  • D.C. Superior Court

    Tort Law

    Contributory Negligence / Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices / Traffic Control Device

     

    Question of Decedent’s negligence is disputed. Contributory negligence does not bar recovery if Defendant violated a statute enacted to benefit a plaintiff and Plaintiff claims Defendant violated applicable requirements such as having an arrow board. Defendant’s failure to use an arrow board to accompany the truck involved in the vehicle accident that gave rise to the suit violated the requirements of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices and the D.C. Manual. Defendant’s motion for summary judgment is denied and Plaintiff’s cross-motion for partial summary judgment is granted.

  • D.C. Superior Court

    Home Rule

    Local Budget Autonomy Act of 2012 / Home Rule Act of 1973 / Anti-Deficiency Act / Preemption / Delegation

     

    The Local Budget Autonomy Act of 2012 (“Budget Autonomy Act”) is not invalid under the Home Rule Act. Congress failed to veto the Budget Autonomy Act during its review period and so that Act must be presumed to be valid. The Budget Autonomy Act applies only to local revenues in the General Fund, not the federal payment to the District, and accordingly does not impermissibly implicate a federal function or property in violation of the Home Rule Act. The Budget Autonomy Act does not impermissibly change budgeting practice in violation of the Home Rule Act since the language and history of the Home Rule Act indicates that the Budget Autonomy Act is consistent with Congress intention to grant the District’s residents local self-government. There is no conflict with the Anti-Deficiency Act since Congress delegated budget autonomy to the District and the General Fund consists of local revenues, which would not trigger that Act. Plaintiff and Plaintiff-Intervenor’s motions for judgment granted. Defendant’s motion for cross-judgment denied.

  • D.C. Superior Court

    Wrongful Conviction

    Unjust Imprisonment Act / Compensatory Damages / Sovereign Immunity / Medical Expenses Lost Wages

     

    Plaintiff is awarded $13,234,527 arising from a wrongful conviction that resulted in over twenty-five years imprisonment, which created numerous physical and psychological injuries. Unjust Imprisonment Act’s waiver of sovereign immunity does not limit recovery to just the years Plaintiff spent actually imprisoned. The compensable period begins upon issuance of the guilty verdict. Time spent on parole, reimprisonment for parole violations, and post-release damages are all compensable. All damages caused by Plaintiff’s unlawful imprisonment, including for injuries suffered at non-District facilities, injuries inflicted by third parties during incarceration, and illness contracted while incarcerated, are compensable. In regards to Plaintiff’s imprisonment, damages in the amount of $400,000 a year are appropriate. Higher rates are appropriate when compensating a plaintiff who has been incarcerated for longer periods of time and the imprisonment led to severe distress and emotional pain, estrangement from loved ones, addiction to intravenous drugs, and contracting HIV and Hepatitis C. Damages relating to Plaintiff’s parole amount to $100,000 a year. Post-parole damages are set at $100,000 a year and will last until 2019, which Plaintiff is unlikely to live beyond due to the illnesses he contracted while in prison. Plaintiff is awarded $412,082 in medical expenses. Plaintiff is entitled for lost wages for the period of his incarceration and after his release. As an African American man without a high school degree, Plaintiff is entitled to lost wages of $955,963.

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