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Judah v. Reiner

February 03, 2000

ALLISON MARIE JUDAH, APPELLANT
v.
BURTON REINER AND MORRIS MANAGEMENT, INC., APPELLEES



Before Terry and Steadman, Associate Judges, and King, Senior Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Terry, Associate Judge

Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (Hon. Lee F. Satterfield, Trial Judge)

Argued January 14, 1999

This personal injury case began with the harassment of two young girls, appellant Allison Judah and her friend Tiara Dews, by two men with pit bull terriers. *fn1 The two girls sought refuge in the lobby of an apartment building, but were ordered to leave by a man claiming to be the resident manager. When the girls left the building, the men continued their assault, and Allison Judah was bitten by one of the dogs.

Ms. Judah filed suit against the owner of the building (Burton Reiner), the management company (Morris Management, Inc.), and the man who claimed to be the resident manager (initially identified as "John Doe"), alleging two counts of assault, one count of battery, and one count of negligence. In the first count, Judah claimed that the purported resident manager intentionally placed her in fear that he would inflict imminent bodily harm upon her if she did not leave the building. Counts two and three were based on the theory that the resident manager intentionally caused Judah to leave the building when he knew with substantial certainty that making her leave would cause her to fear that the men and the dogs would inflict imminent bodily harm upon her. In count four, Judah alleged that the resident manager breached his duty to refrain from evicting her when he reasonably should have known that making her leave would expose her to a substantial risk of serious bodily injury. Ms. Judah also maintained that Reiner and Morris Management ("Morris") were vicariously liable for the actions of the man who claimed to be the resident manager.

The trial court dismissed the second and third counts of Judah's complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, on the ground that the purported resident manager could not be held liable for assault and battery based on Judah's exposure to harm from the two men and their dogs. Following discovery, the court granted appellees' motion for summary judgment on the remaining assault count and the negligence count. Judah challenges both of these rulings on appeal. We hold that summary judgment in appellees' favor was warranted on all four counts, because Judah failed to proffer sufficient facts to establish the existence of an agency relationship and because she never named the man who actually evicted her as a defendant.

I.

A. Factual Background

On the evening of February 19, 1996, while walking home after working on a school project, Allison Judah and Tiara Dews encountered two men, each of whom had a pit bull terrier on a leash. The men began harassing the girls and pursued them for several blocks. Attempting to escape, the girls ran into the lobby of an apartment building at 1428 Euclid Street, N.W. One of the men followed the girls into the lobby, while the other remained outside. The resultant commotion drew the attention of a man living in the first apartment on the ground floor. This man, later identified as William Ragsdale, came out of his apartment and declared, "I am the manager. You are making too much noise. You have to get out." Judah and Dews informed him that they were being chased by two men with dogs and pleaded for his assistance. Ragsdale responded by raising his voice and stating, "You can leave from the front, you can leave from the back, but you have to get out."

After further protests were unavailing, Judah and Dews finally complied with his demand, leaving through a back door into an alley connected to the street. Almost immediately, they were intercepted by the two men, who used their pit bulls to corner the girls at the bottom of a stairwell. The men then ordered Judah and Dews to remove their clothing. When the girls refused, one of the men released his dog, ordering it to attack. *fn2 The dog bit Ms. Judah severely on the lower leg. *fn3 One of the two men then pried the animal's mouth open, and the girls managed to escape by climbing over a fence at the end of the alley. Judah was bitten again by one of the dogs, this time on the foot, as she was climbing the fence. Once over the fence, the girls ran to a nearby bus stop, where some Howard University students came to their aid and summoned an ambulance.

B. The Trial Court's Rulings

The trial court dismissed counts two and three of the complaint on the ground that Ms. Judah had failed to allege that William Ragsdale was the source of the apprehended harm. Later, after the completion of discovery, the court granted appellees' motion for summary judgment on the two remaining counts, ruling that Reiner and Morris could not be held vicariously liable for the acts of William Ragsdale. The court ruled that there was insufficient evidence of an employment relationship between Morris and William Ragsdale because there was "no evidence that Morris Management, Inc., recognized William as the resident manager, consented to William acting as the resident manager, or knew that he held himself out to be the resident manager." Additionally, the court held that even if an employment relationship existed, acting as a security guard or evicting trespassers was outside the scope of that employment. *fn4 Ms. Judah challenges all of these rulings on appeal.

II.

A. Respondeat ...


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