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ROBERTSON v. AMERICAN AIRLINES
United States District Court, District of Columbia
December 16, 2002
KATHLEEN ROBERTSON, PLAINTIFF,
AMERICAN AIRLINES, INC. ET AL., DEFENDANT.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ricardo M. Urbina, United States District Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION STRIKING THE DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY
Before addressing the merits of this negligence action, the court first
must resolve a dispute over the application of the local rules of civil
procedure to the pending motions for summary judgment. Plaintiff Kathleen
Robertson is suing American Airlines ("AA") and its parent, AMR
Corporation ("AMR"), (collectively, "the defendants") for damages
resulting from injuries she allegedly sustained during an AA flight. In
their motion for summary judgment, the defendants present several
defenses. The plaintiff, however, argues that the defendants are not
entitled to summary judgment given their alleged failure to comply with
the requirements of the court's Local Civil Rules 7.1(h) and 56.1. For
the reasons that follow, the court strikes the defendants' motion.
The plaintiff alleges the following facts. On September 10, 1998, the
plaintiff traveled on an AA flight from Denver, Colorado, to Chicago,
Illinois. Pl.'s Opp'n to Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. ("Pl.'s Opp'n") at
2-3. She was traveling at the time with a gel pack to relieve back
discomfort. Id. at 3. During the flight, she approached an AA flight
attendant, explained that her gel pack had become warm, and asked him if
he might "make it cold again." Id. The
flight attendant took the gel
pack and disappeared from her sight. Id. He returned with a package,
wrapped in an air-sickness bag, in which he had placed a piece of dry
ice. Id. After the plaintiff placed the package on her back, she
sustained thermal burns. Id.
One year later, on September 7, 2001, the plaintiff filed a complaint
in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia alleging negligence and
recklessness by the defendants and requesting compensatory and punitive
damages. Notice of Removal dated Nov. 20, 2001. The defendants
subsequently removed the action to this court. Id. On August 16, 2002,
after discovery closed, the defendants filed a motion for summary
judgment, arguing that the Warsaw Convention bars the plaintiff's
action, that District of Columbia law bars punitive damages in this
case, and that District of Columbia law shields AMR from liability.
Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. ("Defs.' Mot.") at 2. The defendants'
memorandum in support of their motion begins with a one-paragraph section
entitled "Statement of Material Facts Not in Genuine Dispute" that
outlines the circumstances of the injury as well as the defenses to
liability. Id. at 1-2. The defendants' statement does not include
citations to the record, but a footnote states that "[a] full discussion
of material facts with references will be found in the arguments below."
Id. at 1-2 & 1 n. 1.
The plaintiff filed an opposition to the defendants' motion on
September 20, 2002. As part of her argument against summary judgment for
the defendants, the plaintiff contends that because the defendants'
statement is not separate and contains no citations to the record, it
does not comply with Local Civil Rules 7.1(h) and 56.1. Pl.'s Opp'n at 6
n. 6. Accordingly, citing to caselaw in this circuit, she urges the
court to strike the defendants' statement and deny the defendants summary
judgment. Id. Presumably in case the court refuses to do so, however,
the plaintiff supplies her own "supplemental" statement of material facts
not in dispute in addition to a statement of material facts that are in
dispute. Pl.'s Supplemental Statement of Undisputed Material Facts; Pl.'s
Statement of Disputed Material Facts.
In their reply, the defendants vigorously dispute the plaintiff's
contention that their statement does not satisfy the local rules. Defs.'
Reply at 1-5. The defendants rely on the text of Local Civil
Rules 7.1(h) and 56.1 to argue that the requirements for the movant's statement
of material facts as to which there is no genuine issue differ from the
requirements for the non-movant's statement of material facts as to which
there is a genuine issue. Id. at 2-3. Specifically, they argue that
only the non-movant need provide a "separate, concise statement" of
material facts for which there is a genuine issue. Id. at 2. Because
they, as the movants, provided a statement of material facts directing
the court to the arguments that in turn provides references to the
record, they believe that they have complied with the local rules.*fn1
Id. at 3. Finally, the defendants take issue with the plaintiff's
statement of undisputed material facts and submit their own
"supplemental" statement that contests the allegedly undisputed nature of
those facts. Id. at 4-5; Defs.' Supplemental Statement of Disputed
A. Legal Standard for Local Civil Rule 56.1*fn2
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) directs courts to render
judgments on motions for summary judgment "if the pleadings,
depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together
with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to
any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a
matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c); Burke v. Gould, 286 F.3d 513, 517
(D.C. Cir. 2002). To further simplify matters, Local Civil
Rule 56.1 supplements Rule 56 by setting forth specific procedures for the parties
to follow in moving for or opposing summary judgment. LCvR 56.1; Burke,
286 F.3d at 517. First, Rule 56.1 informs parties moving for summary
[a] motion for summary judgment shall be accompanied
by a statement of material facts as to which the
moving party contends there is no genuine issue, which
shall include references to the parts of the record
relied on to support the statement.
LCvR 56.1. The rule then instructs parties opposing such a motion that
[a]n opposition to such a motion shall be accompanied
by a separate concise statement of genuine issues
setting forth all material facts as to which it is
contended there exists a genuine issue necessary to be
litigated, which shall include references to the parts
of the record relied on to support the statement.
The Rule 56.1 procedure "isolates the facts that the parties assert are
material, distinguishes disputed from undisputed facts, and identifies
the pertinent parts of the record." Burke, 286 F.3d at 517 (citing
Gardels v. Cent. Intelligence Agency, 637 F.2d 770, 773 (D.C. Cir.
1980)); Jackson v. Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner,
101 F.3d 145, 151 (D.C. Cir. 1996) (same). Thanks to Rule 56.1, the
district court is not "obligated to sift through hundreds of pages of
depositions, affidavits, and interrogatories in order to make [an]
analysis and determination of what may, or may not, be a genuine issue of
material disputed fact." Burke, 286 F.3d at 518 (citing Twist v. Meese,
854 F.2d 1421, 1425 (D.C. Cir. 1988)). Instead, the rule "places the
burden on the parties and their counsel, who are most familiar with the
litigation and the record, to crystallize for the district court the
material facts and relevant portions of the record." Jackson, 101 F.3d
at 151 (citing Twist, 854 F.2d at 1425).
Although the rule's directive to movants varies slightly from the
rule's directive to non-movants, both the movant and the non-movant bear
the obligation of clarifying relevant issues for the district court.
LCvR 56.1; Burke, 286 F.3d at 519 (citing Gardels, 637 F.2d at
our court of appeals has stated, the purposes of the rule "clearly are
not served when one party, particularly the moving party, fails in his
statement to specify the material facts upon which he relies." Gardels,
637 F.2d at 773 (referring to the predecessor local rule).
Because the rule helps the district court maintain docket control and
decide motions for summary judgment efficiently, the D.C. Circuit has
repeatedly upheld district court rulings that hold parties to strict
compliance with this rule. Burke, 286 F.3d at 517; Jackson, 101 F.3d at
150; Gardels, 637 F.2d at 773.
B. The Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment
Does Not Comply with Local Civil Rule 56.1
Pointing to the textual difference in the rule's requirements for
movants and non-movants, the defendants argue that they are in compliance
with the rule. Defs.' Reply at 2-3. Because the rule's instructions do
not require the movant's statement of undisputed material facts to be
"separate" or "concise," the defendants argue that striking their
statement for such perceived failures would "transform undisputed facts
to disputed facts (and certainly would run counter to [the rule's]
purpose of streamlining the litigation process)." LCvR 56.1; Defs.' Reply
The defendants' parsing of Rule 56.1 misses the point entirely. It is
true that the rule's direction to movants varies slightly from its
instructions to non-movants. LCvR 56.1 (requiring that motions for
summary judgment "be accompanied by a statement" of undisputed material
facts, while requiring that oppositions to such motions "be accompanied
by a separate concise statement" of disputed material facts); see also
Jackson, 101 F.3d at 153 n. 6. But the issue here is not whether or not
the movant's statement of material facts must be separate or concise.
Rather, the issue is whether the statement "include[s] references to the
parts of the record relied on to support the statement" so as to isolate
the material facts, distinguish disputed from undisputed facts, and
identify the pertinent parts of the record. LCvR 56.1; Burke, 286 F.3d at
518. Accordingly, the relevant question before the court is whether the
defendants' statement, by directing the court to the body of the
defendants' argument and the references contained therein, fulfills that
Common sense and a survey of this circuit's precedent make clear that
the answer is no. Past decisions emphasize that the movant's statement
must specify the material facts and direct the court and the non-movant
to those parts of the record which the movant believes support the
statement. Gardels, 637 F.2d at 773. Merely incorporating entire
affidavits and other materials without reference to the particular facts
recited therein is not sufficient. Id. (finding that the movant's
brief, "amorphous" statement incorporating by reference its answer and
various affidavits did not satisfy the predecessor local rule to
Rule 56.1). In contrast, a statement that logically and efficiently reviews
relevant background facts, each of which includes a citation to the
record and none of which contain argument, clearly is sufficient.
Jackson, 101 F.3d at 148, 153 n. 6 (concluding that the movant law firm's
statement that described the firm's operations, hiring processes, and
terms of employment and provided citations to the record satisfied the
predecessor local rule).
Here, the defendants' statement consists of one thirteen-sentence
paragraph that more closely resembles a memorandum's introduction than a
traditional statement of material facts. Defs.' Mot. at 1-2. The first
eight sentences briefly describe the factual and procedural history of
the case, while the last five preview the defendants' arguments for
summary judgment. Id. None of the sentences is followed by a citation
to the record. Id. Moreover, the
remainder of the memorandum, which the
statement adopts by reference and which spans 30 pages, liberally mixes
facts with argument. Id. at 1 n. 1, 5-34. In short, the statement does
nothing to assist the court in isolating the material facts,
distinguishing disputed from undisputed facts, and identifying the
pertinent parts of the record. Burke, 286 F.3d at 518. Nor does it
provide the non-movant "an opportunity fairly to contest the movant's
case." Id. at 519; Pl.'s Opp'n at 7 n. 7 (noting that without a
statement of undisputed material facts, the plaintiff is unable to
respond specifically to the defendants' arguments).
Accordingly, the court finds that the defendants' statement does not
comply with Rule 56.1. The court declines to adopt the plaintiff's
suggestion of striking the statement and denying the defendants summary
judgment. Pl.'s Opp'n at 6 n. 6; Burke, 286 F.3d at 518 (noting, in the
context of a non-movant's failure to comply with the rule, that
potentially severe results can follow admission of the opposing party's
facts). Instead, the court strikes the defendants' motion for summary
judgment, and permits the defendants to refile a motion that complies
with the letter and spirit of the rule and provides the plaintiff the
opportunity to "fairly contest" the defendants' case. Id. at 519.
C. The Court Directs the Plaintiff to Clarify Her Position Regarding
On a separate matter, the court notes that in her opposition to the
defendants' motion for summary judgment, the plaintiff states that
"[b]ased on discussions with Defendants' counsel, the plaintiff
anticipates that Defendant AMR Corp. will be dismissed without
prejudice." Pl.'s Opp'n at 1 n. 1. Toward that end, she directs her
arguments only to defendant American Airlines. Id. at 1-2.
By its plain terms, this statement seems to concede that AMR is not
properly named as a defendant in this action. It is unclear, however,
whether this perception is an accurate interpretation of the plaintiff's
position. As a result of today's ruling, the parties now will have an
opportunity to revise their submissions. Accordingly, in the interest of
justice, the court expects the plaintiff to clarify her position with
regard to defendant AMR, and to take direct action to ensure that the
correct parties are before the court.
For the foregoing reasons, the court finds that the defendants'
statement does not comply with Rule 56.1 and strikes the defendants'
motion for summary judgment. An Order directing the parties in a fashion
consistent with this Memorandum Opinion is separately and
contemporaneously issued this 16th day of December, 2002.
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