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Brown v. Argenbright Security

October 04, 2001

CARLA BROWN, AS NEXT FRIEND OF OCTAVIA BROWN, APPELLANT
v.
ARGENBRIGHT SECURITY, INC., AND SAFEWAY STORES, INC., APPELLEES



Before Terry, Ruiz, and Glickman, Associate Judges.

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

Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (Hon. A. Franklin Burgess, Jr., Trial Judge)

Argued April 24, 2001

This is an appeal from two orders granting summary judgment to appellees Argenbright Security, Inc., and Safeway Stores, Inc. Carla Brown, on behalf of her twelve-year-old daughter Octavia, sued Argenbright and Safeway for negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, *fn1 and negligent infliction of emotional distress. The complaint alleged that Joseph Hunter, a security guard employed by Argenbright, stopped Octavia on suspicion of shoplifting just as she left a Safeway store and, in the course of searching her, touched her in a sexually improper manner. The complaint also alleged that Octavia's picture was taken and posted in the Safeway store to identify her as a shoplifter, causing her emotional distress.

On this appeal, Ms. Brown argues that the trial court erred in ruling that Argenbright and Safeway were not vicariously liable for Hunter's actions as a matter of law, in dismissing the negligence claims against Safeway, and in dismissing her emotional distress claims against both parties based on the alleged posting of her picture on the bulletin board. As to Safeway, we affirm the judgment in its entirety. As to Argenbright, we conclude that the trial court erred when it ruled that Argenbright could not be held vicariously liable for Hunter's actions as a matter of law. Accordingly, we reverse in part the trial court's order granting summary judgment to Argenbright and remand the case for further proceedings.

I.

Safeway operates a supermarket on Martin Luther King Avenue in Southeast Washington. Argenbright provides unarmed personnel to work as security guards in that supermarket, pursuant to a contract between Safeway and Argenbright's corporate predecessor.

On October 15, 1997, a Safeway employee informed Joseph Hunter, an Argenbright security guard assigned to the supermarket, that he had seen Octavia Brown and her friends steal some candy from the store. Octavia testified in her deposition that she had just left the store when Hunter asked her to come back inside and "pulled" her into the store's security booth. Hunter then emptied the pockets of her jacket *fn2 and began to search her, first touching the upper part of her arm and then the upper portion of her chest between her neck and breasts. Octavia described the search as follows:

Q: What was the next thing he did?

A: Then he went down. He came down.

Q: Your front?

A: Yes.

Q: Did he touch your breasts?

A: Yes.

Q: Did he touch your stomach?

A: Yes. . . .

Q: Now, he was standing in front of you, as I ...


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