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SHAMLOO v. LIFESPRING

April 11, 1989

FRIEDA SHAMLOO, Plaintiff,
v.
LIFESPRING, INC., et al., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: REVERCOMB

 GEORGE H. REVERCOMB, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

 The plaintiff filed her complaint in this action on October 11, 1988, seeking compensation for injuries allegedly received as a result of her participation in three Lifespring training programs in December 1979 and January, 1980. The complaint alleged that the plaintiff's participation in the programs "occurred as a result of the recruitment, marketing, and/or high pressure selling tactics originated by the defendants and not because she independently decided to participate in the aforesaid trainings." Complaint para. 11. As alleged by the plaintiff, defendants, acting through their agents, "acted in a coercive manner" and represented that the program would be safe and helpful to her, upon which representations she relied. Complaint para. 14. As described in the complaint, the "trainings" offered by Lifespring included (para. 16)

 
. . . psychological techniques; group pressures which resulted from manipulation of other participants by defendants' personnel in charge of the training sessions; mind control techniques which caused plaintiff to lose her ordinary psychological defenses; emotional confrontations which caused plaintiff to become emotionally distraught and disoriented and unable to cope with reality; physical deprivation through exhausting marathon sessions, limitation of food, sleep and access to bathroom facilities; the intentional infliction of emotional distress; and abandonment once her psychological balance had been disturbed.

 The plaintiff alleges (para. 18) that she exhibited "unusual and/or atypical emotional and psychological behavior" as a result of the methods listed above, and that the defendant failed to respond adequately "in part because of the large number of persons in the program and because the program followed a set and established pattern not tailored to the individual needs of each participant." Complaint para. 19.

 The plaintiff alleges that her participation caused "a psychological decompensation, acute and permanent psychological injuries and severe and continuing depression, mood swings and other mental pain and suffering," requiring extensive mental health care including seven weeks of psychiatric hospitalization. Complaint para. 20.

 Paragraphs 21 and 22 of the complaint allegedly explain why this lawsuit was filed in October, 1988, although the plaintiff's experiences with Lifespring date from late 1979 and early 1980. The plaintiff explains that "plaintiff was unable to comprehend the cause of her injuries and to comprehend and assert her legal rights" "because of the injuries" she suffered (para. 21), and that she first discovered the causal link between Lifespring and her problems "upon reading an October 1987 Washington Post article about Lifespring." Complaint para. 22.

 On December 23, 1988, and January 6, 1989, the defendants moved for judgment on the pleadings, or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. Aside from the additional personal defense of defendant Hanley, (lack of personal jurisdiction), which is preserved for later consideration, the grounds of the motions are the same. The defendants' motion argues that all of the plaintiff's claims are barred by the statute of limitations, and that various counts of the complaint are invalid as a matter of law.

 Pursuant to D.C. Code Ann. § 12-301 (1981), the statute of limitations on the plaintiff's claims is three years, and the defendants point out accurately that since the relevant Lifespring courses took place nine years ago, the claims are time-barred absent an exception tolling the running of the limitation period. The plaintiff's opposition to this motion argues that she is entitled to the "discovery rule" exception to the statute of limitations, based on a claim that she was legally non compos mentis for a significant portion of the statutory period.

 I. Plaintiff's Motion to Amend the Complaint.

 The decision whether to grant leave to amend is within this Court's discretion pursuant to Rule 15(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Although amendment is generally granted with liberality, the District Court may deny amendments if they appear to be in bad faith, or would be dilatory or futile. The defendants opposed the motion for leave to file an amended complaint, arguing that the plaintiff claimed mental incapacity for the first time in response to the pending motion to dismiss, and also that an attempt to amend the complaint is an inadequate response to the motion for summary judgment defendants have sought in the alternative, since pleadings alone are not sufficient to rebut a motion for summary judgment. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986). Since that time, however, the plaintiff has submitted affidavits of the plaintiff, her sister, and Dr. Gary Glass. Defendants argue that the plaintiff's affidavits are irrelevant, since they do not answer their arguments that plaintiff understood that the Lifespring personnel were not licensed professionals, (making the discovery rule inapplicable), and that even were the Court to apply the discovery rule, the affidavits establish that plaintiff knew of her injury more than three years before filing the complaint, had reason to know of the causal connection between her injury and Lifespring, and knew or should have known of some evidence of wrongful conduct by defendants in 1979 and 1980. See Bussineau v. President and Directors of Georgetown College, 518 A.2d 423 (D.C. 1986). *fn1"

 In the context of a motion for judgment on the pleadings, the Court notes that the Federal Rules provide that "knowledge, and other condition of mind of a person may be averred generally." Fed. R. Civ. P. 9(b). The Court finds that it was clear even from the original complaint that the plaintiff was alleging lack of "knowledge" during the limitation period due to long-term mental and emotional impairment. Although the plaintiff did not allege non compos mentis status in those words prior to the proposed amendments, the unamended complaint made it clear to the Court that her argument was that the psychological effects of the training prevented her from realizing the nature and source of her problems during the years following her participation in Lifespring training. As an answer to defendants' argument that the claims are time-barred, the plaintiff has sought to amend the complaint to clarify ...


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