D.C. Superior Court Opinions

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E.g., January 16, 2018
E.g., January 16, 2018
  • D.C. Superior Court

    Family Law

    Common Law Marriage / Legal Separation


    Plaintiff has not established by clear and convincing evidence or a preponderance of the evidence that the parties were in a common law marriage. Parties did not enter into an express mutual agreement to be married. Neither party remembered the date they were allegedly married. Neither party subsequently told friends or family members that they were married. The parties did not inscribe and exchange rings, as they had discussed doing to commemorate their marriage. The parties maintained separate finances. Plaintiff did not object when Defendant told him that he intended to marry someone else. Complaint for legal separation dismissed.

  • D.C. Superior Court

    Civil Protective Order 

    Interfamily Offenses Act / Stalking / First Amendment


    City Council member has not alleged two instances of stalking, as required under D.C. Code § 22-3133 (a), against a journalist and therefore cannot receive a civil protected order. Forty-seven text messages sent in a single night, many consisting of personal attacks, are not speech protected under the First Amendment and constitute a basis for stalking. Posts on a Facebook page created as a forum to discuss matters of community interest is protected First Amendment speech and cannot form a basis for stalking. Aggressive questioning at a public community forum is protected by the First Amendment. Going to Petitioner’s house to photograph his car to investigate any parking tickets related to a proposal before the Council pertained to a matter of public concern as is therefore protected speech and does not form a basis for stalking. Request for a civil protective order denied.

  • 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
    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.