D.C. Superior Court Opinions
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Defendant is enjoined from enforcing confidentiality agreement with a witness in an age discrimination suit. Defendant cannot use a confidentiality agreement to control or otherwise limit interactions between Plaintiff and a witness. Defendant offers no counter-argument about how it would be prejudiced and the witness will be the subject of much discovery if Plaintiff’s allegations are true. Plaintiff’s motion for a protective order to prevent obstruction of witnesses granted in part.
DC Human Rights Act / Common Law Abusive Discharge / 42 U.S.C. § 1981 / Hostile Work Environment / Discriminatory Termination
A plaintiff’s litigation to conclusion of a DC Human Rights Act (“DCHRA”) claim against one defendant before the Office of Human Rights (“OHR”) precludes a later claim in court against another defendant that is based on essentially the same facts and legal theories. All claims that were previously raised against Plaintiff’s former supervisor in the OHR that are now raised against Defendant are dismissed. Plaintiff has not set forth an actionable claim of common law abusive discharge as termination for insisting that Defendant perform verifications in accordance with unspecified “federal regulations” as that is not a specified claim recognized by the DC Court of Appeals and has not made a showing that an officially declared policy warrants the creation of a new exception to the at-will doctrine. Plaintiff’s racial origin need not have been the express subject of harassing incidents in order to establish a prima facie case of hostile work environment under § 1981. Plaintiff has presented sufficient indirect evidence of pretext as the hostile treatment against her could reasonably be inferred to arise from racial animus and Defendant’s explanation for her termination—that she was “edgy” and “defensive”—may have been the result of her discriminatory treatment. Motion for summary judgment granted in part and denied in part.
Intrafamily Offense Act / Civil Protection Orders / Destruction of Property as an Offense “Upon a Person”
The crime of malicious destruction of property may fall under the Intrafamily Offense Act’s (“IFA”) definition of an offense “upon a person” such that it could justify the issuance of a civil protection order (“CPO”). Damaging the property of another person can instigate further physical violence, act as a precursor to a violent act, or intimidate the other party in the same manner as an act of violence would, and may represent one aspect of a pattern of violent domination and control. Where an act of destruction of property potentially serves as a precursor to, threat or instigator of, or substitution for violence, or otherwise comprises part of a violent or intimidating pattern of domination and control, the issuance of a CPO would properly serve the IFA’s goals. Accordingly, the destruction of a phone and car immediately before and after a physical assault and the destruction of a victim’s car in order to express displeasure and exert control are consistent with the underlying purpose of the IFA. Recklessly damaging a door in order to open when no one else is home does not serve the IFA’s purpose.
Quitclaim Deed / Incapacity / Inter Vivos Gift / Donative Intent
Quitclaim deed of property transferred to neighbor is disaffirmed and voided. Decedent was incapacitated when he transferred the property to a neighbor. The transfer of the property is better viewed as an inter
vivos gift rather than a contract. Past work performed on the property cannot be consideration for a contract. Decedent never manifested donative intent since (1) he was incapacitated at the time of transfer and therefore could not understand the nature of the transaction; (2) testimony indicated he never believed the property belonged to anyone but him; and (3) he never gave up possession. Even if the transfer were viewed as a contract it would be voidable because of the incapacity. Decedent’s representatives have the authority to disaffirm the Quitclaim deed. Petition to void deed granted.
Collateral Source Rule / Medicare
The collateral source rule permits a plaintiff to seek damages for the full amount of medical expenses, including the amount written off by the hospital pursuant to the Medicare reimbursement formula. When a person pays into the Medicare system she has bargained for that benefit and under the collateral source rule she should receive the benefit of that bargain. Defendant’s motion in limine to exclude evidence of non-compensable hospital charges written off under federal Medicare program is denied.
Civil Protection Order / Stalking
Petition for Civil Protection Order (“CPO”) denied because the underlying behavior is constitutionally protected and thus does not constitute the offense of stalking. A website and flyers denouncing sex offender registries and the public employees who operate them constitutes speech on matters of public concern. Photographs that were improperly taken and used do not alter the protected nature of the speech and pictures taken in public buildings showing only a person’s physical appearance and government-owned furniture and fixtures do not implicate any privacy interest. While the website and pictures may have caused Petitioner emotional distress, the First Amendment protects offensive and inflammatory speech. While the acts of surreptitiously photographing Petitioner and distributing flyers in her place of work could fall within the scope of the stalking statute, there is no evidence that Respondent was directing his message at Petitioner rather than speaking in the context of public discourse. Even if the Court found Respondent’s behavior violated the stalking statute, the court would not exercise its discretion to grant a CPO since one in this situation would be inconsistent with the purposes of the Intrafamily Offense Act, the benefits to Petitioner would be outweighed by the resulting chilling effect on speech, and the availability of other remedies against enjoining Respondent’s speech based purely on content.
Habitual Late Payment of Rent / Redemption of Tenancy
Plaintiff landlord is entitled to a non-redeemable judgment of possession. A tenant habitually late in paying rent is not entitled to redeem tenancy. Rent payments are habitually late where the late payments—24 over the course of 3 years—were consistently and willfully late. Once notice was provided and Defendant failed to cure she lost the opportunity to redeem her tenancy.
D.C. Anti-SLAPP Act / LIKELY TO SUCCEED ON THE MERITS / PROVABLY FALSE STATEMENTS / FAIR COMMENT PRIVILEGE / ACTUAL MALICE / INTENTIONAL INFLICTION OF EMOTIONAL DISTRESS / 12(B)(6) MOTION TO DISMISS
Anti-SLAPP and 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss a defamation suit brought by a scientist against media organizations and writers over accusations of data fraud are denied. A Plaintiff seeking to show he is likely to succeed on the merits on a defamation claim in response to an anti-SLAPP motion must satisfy a standard comparable to that used for a motion for judgment as a matter of law. Assertions that Plaintiff’s research was “fraudulent,” “bogus,” “scientific misconduct,” and “data manipulation” are not mere opinion or hyperbole but statements based on provably false facts sufficient to demonstrate a prima facie case for libel. Fair Comment privilege is not available where challenged statements are misstatements of fact. Where Plaintiff’s work has been investigated and found accurate several times, continued accusations that Plaintiff’s work is “intellectually bogus” shows a reckless disregard for the truth sufficient to indicate that further discovery may uncover evidence of actual malice and possibly sustain a finding of intentional infliction of emotional distress. Defendants’ motion to dismiss pursuant to 12(b)(6) is denied for the same reasons.
“Law of the Case” Doctrine / Reasonable Business Expectancy / Proximate Cause Requirement in Misappropriation of Trade Secrets
In a suit over alleged tortious interference in a bidding process for a contract to train air traffic controllers, Defendants are entitled to summary judgment on claims of tortious interference, misappropriation of trade secrets, and misappropriation of confidential business information. The “law of the case” doctrine does not bind a court when the prior ruling was on a different type of motion on a different legal and factual record. Plaintiff cannot succeed on a claim of tortious interference with business and unfair competition where it cannot establish it had valid business expectancy in receiving the contract or as a subcontractor. Plaintiff does not have commercially reasonable business expectancy when their claim rests on speculative assertion that it would have won a contract as prime bidder in a situation where the contracting agency maintained discretion over selecting a bid. Neither the Court nor a jury is empowered to determine what the contracting agency would have qualitatively decided in a situation different from the one at bar and the Court cannot find Plaintiff’s expectancy matured beyond “wishful thinking.” Plaintiff lacks valid business expectancy as a subcontractor where it merely has an agreement to negotiate in good faith for a subcontract with the party it claims would have received the contract absent the alleged interference. There is no dispute of material fact regarding alleged aiding and abetting of a conflict of interest and misappropriating trade secrets and propriety information where Plaintiff proffers documents from the contracting agency that discuss issues related to the contract but provides no evidence connecting those documents to Defendant. Defendant’s motion for summary judgment on Plaintiff’s claim of misappropriation of trade secrets denied where there is a question of material fact over Defendant’s possession of allegedly misappropriated documents. Plaintiff must demonstrate the element of proximate causation to succeed in a misappropriation claim, like any other tort action. In light of Plaintiff’s failure to submit a bid in a highly discretionary bidding process, any conclusion that Defendant’s alleged misconduct is the proximate cause of the alleged arm would be purely speculative.
Acknowledgment of Paternity
Written acknowledgment of paternity does establish paternity—or serve as condition precedent to the ensuing legal obligations—where it was improperly executed and subsequent DNA testing has determined that Defendant is not the biological father. Acknowledgement does not does not establish paternity when it is not signed under oath with written and oral notice of the alternatives to, legal consequences of, and the rights and responsibilities arising from paternity, in accordance with D.C. Code § 16-909.01 (a)(1). Respondent’s DNA test results provide conclusive proof of non-paternity in the absence of contrary evidence.