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Stevens v. ARCO Management of Washington D.C.

May 25, 2000


Before Steadman and Reid, Associate Judges, and Pryor, Senior Judge.

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

Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (Hon. Ellen Segal Huvelle, Trial Judge)

(Argued January 21, 2000 Decided May 25, 2000)

Appellant slipped and fell on a stairway in public housing owned by the United States but managed by appellee. Appellant brought suit in federal court against both the United States and appellee, but that suit was dismissed for want of jurisdiction under the Federal Tort Claims Act. Appellant's subsequent negligence action against appellee filed in the D.C. Superior Court was dismissed based on the expiration of the District of Columbia's statute of limitations. Because we read the federal supplemental jurisdiction statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1367, as extending the local statute of limitations for thirty days beyond the pendency of the parties' federal case (a time period that appellant met in refiling the suit in the Superior Court), we reverse and remand.


On December 23, 1994, appellant Phalisha Stevens fell on the stairs of Benning Park Terrace, a property within the District of Columbia, allegedly due to negligent maintenance of the stairway. Her attorney informed the property manager of the incident. In response, appellee ARCO Management of Washington, D.C., Inc. (ARCO) replied by letter, stating that the subject property "is under the control of the United States Department of Housing & Urban Development" (HUD). The letter informed appellant's attorney that any tort claim had to be filed via an enclosed claim form. The form was completed and returned to ARCO, who forwarded it to HUD. On March 15, 1996, HUD denied the claim, stating that "[t]he Project Manager is under contract with [HUD]. Under this contract, HUD indemnifies the Project Manager for certain types of claims related to management of Multifamily HUD-owned . . . Projects. This claim falls under this indemnification." Upon this representation, appellant requested insurance and indemnity information and documentation from ARCO. Notwithstanding HUD's previous denial of the claim, ARCO responded only by providing the name and address of a HUD contact person, stating that "HUD was self-insured at the time of the alleged accident and all claims must be filed with them."

Appellant's next step was to file suit in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia against HUD and ARCO on December 4, 1997. Appellant alleged injuries resulting from the negligence of an employee of ARCO or HUD, and based the suit on both the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 28 U.S.C. § 2671 et seq., and common law negligence. *fn1 The United States filed a motion to dismiss the action against it, contending that it did not have control over the property, that ARCO was an independent contractor managing the property, and that any negligence would have been by an employee of ARCO and not the United States. On July 20, 1998, the court granted the motion and dismissed the case. The court concluded that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the United States on the FTCA claim *fn2 and that it therefore lacked supplemental jurisdiction over appellant's common law negligence claims against ARCO.

Appellant filed the present action in the Superior Court against ARCO within thirty days of the dismissal in federal court, but well beyond three years from the date of the injury. The trial court subsequently granted ARCO's motion to dismiss, ruling that the District's three-year statute of limitations had expired. *fn3


Among other arguments, *fn4 appellant invokes a federal statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1367(d), asserting that the statute granted her an additional thirty days within which to refile the suit in Superior Court. In pertinent part, 28 U.S.C. § 1367 provides:

(a) . . . in any civil action of which the district courts have original jurisdiction, the district courts shall have supplemental jurisdiction over all other claims that are so related to claims in the action within such original jurisdiction that they form part of the same case or controversy. . . .

(c) The district court may decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over a claim under subsection (a) if --

(1) the claim raises a novel of complex issue of State law,

(2) the claim substantially predominates over the claim or claims over which the district court ...

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