D.C. Superior Court Opinions

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E.g., January 16, 2018
E.g., January 16, 2018
Format: XXX-DWLR-XXXX
  • 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.

  • D.C. Superior Court

    Discovery

    Deposition of Opposing Counsel / Shelton Test / Quashing a Subpoena

     

    Defendant may depose counsel for Plaintiff regarding the specific notice given required pursuant to the Deed of Trust and D.C. Code in a lien priority dispute since: (1) Plaintiff’s counsel is the only person who can testify to the information sought, which relates to a conversation he had with the recorder of deeds and whether the counsel had actual knowledge that a recording did not effectively attach real property; (2) the information is relevant and crucial to the defense and Plaintiff’s position that his judgments were first in time, first in right; and (3) the information sought does not include privileged materials, such as matter relevant to counsel’s litigation strategy. Plaintiff’s motion to quash under Superior Court Civil Rule 45(c)(3) denied.

  • D.C. Superior Court

    Liability

    Negligence / Negligence Per Se / Public Duty Doctrine / Special Relationship Exception / Specific Beneficiary

     

    Special duty exception to the public duty doctrine applies to Plaintiff. Plaintiff is both a foreseeable plaintiff and an express member of the class the law was designed to protect: suppliers of material and labor. Plaintiff is a specific beneficiary under the District’s little Miller Act (section 2-201.01), which was promulgated by the District as the sole remedy for contractors, subcontractors, and material men doing business with the District. Plaintiff reasonably relied on that statute and on the District’s representation that contractors who are awarded contracts by the District have provided the District with satisfactory payment bond. Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment granted.

  • D.C. Superior Court

    Civil Procedure

    Amending a Complaint / Interlocutory Appeal / Interest of Justice

     

    Plaintiffs have not established good cause to amend the complaint after they already caused considerable delay by filing an interlocutory appeal. The interest of justice, the fifth factor in the five factor test, would not be served by allowing the Plaintiffs to amend their complaint given the special circumstances presented. Courts favor the fair and speedy adjudication of claims and disfavor piecemeal litigation as a matter of policy. Granting of the plaintiffs’ motion would not only be incompatible with this court’s policy. Plaintiffs’ Motion for Leave to Amend denied.

  • D.C. Superior Court

    Family Law

    Child Support / Paternity / Acknowledgment of Parentage / Fraud / Order for Genetic Testing

     

    Magistrate’s finding that Respondent’s Acknowledgment of Parentage “was not made knowingly, voluntarily, or informed of its legal consequences to Respondent” and therefore was “not valid under D.C. Code § 16-909.01(a)” was error. There was no basis for the magistrate to reach that conclusion since Respondent’s credited testimony, at best, establishes that he does not remember signing the Acknowledgement of Parentage or receiving any papers on the day of the child’s birth. The Respondent stated that he believed he had been the father of the minor child when the child was born and conceded that he was at the hospital with the Petitioner when the minor child was born and confirmed his name, date of birth, and social security number at the time of the minor child’s birth, which all appear on the Acknowledgement of Parentage form. The record does not show that Respondent met his burden for proving fraud, which must be established by clear and convincing evidence and not “conclusory and unsupported assertion of forgery.” The magistrate order did not address Respondent’s presumed paternity of the minor child. Respondent did met the requirements for overcoming the presumption that he is the father of the minor child as he did not institute proceedings within the time period of D.C. Code § 16-2342(c) and can claim no relief under that section. Since Respondent was the presumed parent, a genetic test should not have initially been ordered. Remanded for further proceedings.

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