D.C. Superior Court Opinions

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E.g., March 29, 2017
E.g., March 29, 2017
Format: XXX-DWLR-XXXX
  • 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.

  • D.C. Superior Court

    Tort Law

    Public Duty Doctrine / Derivative Discretionary Function Immunity / Federal Preemption / D.C. Consumer Protection Procedures Act

    Motions for judgment as a matter of law in suit over elevated lead levels in District water supply after a change in disinfecting agents caused lead to leach into the water from certain pipes are granted in part and denied in part. Negligence claims against Defendant are barred by the Public Duty Doctrine, which applies to claims against the Water and Sewer Authority just as it would against claims against the District itself. Defendant is not entitled to a motion for judgment as a matter of law under derivative discretionary function immunity because Plaintiffs are not arguing the water was inherently dangerous nor trying to hold Defendant liable for the federal government’s decision to switch from chlorine to chloramine. Derivative immunity only protects non-federal actors when their decisions are directed and significantly controlled by the federal government. Plaintiffs’ claims are not preempted by Environmental Protection Agency regulations since the underlying federal statute directs states to adopt regulations for chemicals in drinking water that are “no less stringent” than the federal regulations, implying state authority to adopt more stringent regulations. Since there is no conflict based on state overregulation, there is no implicit federal preemption. Defendant is not a “merchant” under the D.C. Consumer Protection Procedures Act and that Act does not grant a private right to sue for “damages for personal injury of a tortious nature.” Defendant’s motion for judgment as a matter of law based on the public duty doctrine is granted with respect to Plaintiffs’ negligence claims and denied with respect to all other claims. Defendant’s motion for judgment as a matter of law based on derivative discretionary function immunity and federal preemption is denied. Defendant’s motion for judgment as a matter of law on Plaintiffs’ claims under the CPPA is granted. All negligence claims and CPPA claims are dismissed.

  • D.C. Superior Court

    Family Law

    Paternity / Child Support / DNA Testing / Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity

    A DNA test disproving biological paternity after the deadlines for rescinding paternity in D.C. Code § 16-909.01(a-1) and challenging paternity in D.C. Dom. Rel. Rule 60(b) does not vacate conclusive establishment of paternity. Even if twelve years is a reasonable period of delay under the “catch all” provision in D.C. Dom. Rel. Rule 60(b)(6), the statute clearly precludes that provision’s application in cases of voluntary acknowledgement of paternity. There is insufficient factual basis on the record for Respondent to meet his burden to show the mother of the minor children committed fraud by knowingly misrepresenting his paternity. Magistrate judge’s application of Rule 60(b)(6) to vacate the valid voluntary acknowledgment of paternity was error. Motion for review granted. Order disestablishing paternity vacated and order explaining findings reversed. Petition for child support reinstated and remanded.

  • D.C. Superior Court

    Tort Law

    Defamation / Qualified Common Interest Privilege / Malice / Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

     

    Dismissal of suit by proprietor of a biodiesel company against commercial landlord for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress due to alleged false statements made to neighbors and the D.C. Fire Department granted in part and denied in part. Allegation that Defendants’ representative made a false report the D.C. Fire Department, which subsequently referred the matter to the Environmental Protection Agency, in not so unspecific as to warrant dismissal for failure to plead sufficiently specific facts. Allegations that defamatory statements were made by a party acting within the scope of agency for Defendants are consistent with the allegations and sufficiently detailed to allow Defendants to craft a responsive pleading. While a statement reporting hazardous materials to the Fire Department is protected by the qualified common interest privilege, Plaintiff has shown sufficient evidence of express malice or malice in fact to possibly overcome the privilege. Plaintiff has not sufficiently alleged a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress as she does not allege that Defendants took any action that would be “utterly intolerable in a civilized community” and her alleged mental anguish and stress do not rise to the level of severe emotional distress required by case law. Motion to dismiss granted as to Count II (intentional infliction of emotional distress) but denied as to Count I (defamation).

  • D.C. Superior Court

    Insurance Law

    Business Crime Coverage / Separate “Occurrence”

     

    Multiple acts of theft by an employee constitute a single “occurrence” under the “Business Crime” provision in the employer’s insurance policy. The definition in the policy was written in the disjunctive, not to create alternatives but rather to broadly define “occurrence” to encompass factual situations where an employee commits one act of theft, commits multiple acts of theft, or a series of thefts. Given the ability of a dishonest employee to create substantial financial loss—which is unlike the risk posed by an unplanned accident—it is within the reasonable expectations of the insurer and insured that the coverage for employee theft is based on all loss resulting from an employee’s dishonest motive. Defendant’s motion for partial summary judgment is granted on Counts I and II.

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