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Muhammad v. Village Learning Center

October 13, 2005

HADDIYYAH MUHAMMAD, APPELLANT,
v.
VILLAGE LEARNING CENTER, APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CA526-04). (Hon. Melvin R. Wright, Trial Judge).

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

Submitted September 20, 2005

Before FARRELL and REID, Associate Judges, and KING, Senior Judge.

Appellant Haddiyyah Muhammad filed a complaint against appellee Village Learning Center, seeking damages for alleged negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress. In response to an order dismissing the complaint under Super. Ct. Civ. R. 4 (m), Ms. Muhammad filed a "motion to extend time for service and for other relief," including an order to reinstate the complaint. The trial court denied the motion and Ms. Muhammad noticed an appeal. Because the trial court failed to address the request that the complaint be reinstated, we vacate its order of dismissal and remand this case to the trial court for an informed exercise of discretion.

FACTUAL SUMMARY

The record on appeal shows that Ms. Muhammad, the grandmother and guardian of L.E. and D.W., filed her complaint in the trial court on January 23, 2004. She alleged that on or about January 22, 2001, a teacher at appellee's public charter school drove his son, L.E., and another student "to an isolated area, where he tried to urge [his son and the other child] to attack L.E." As a result of this incident, L.E. allegedly "began to suffer from bladder problems, frequent urination, which worsened." On January 30, 2001, a substitute teacher refused L.E.'s request to go to the bathroom, and instead, gave him a cup and directed him "to urinate in the cup in the presence of the class." L.E. felt "ashamed" and "humiliated." The complaint declared that as a result of the first two incidents, another teacher in appellee's school "began a campaign of harassment of [Ms. Muhammad's] wards," which resulted in a door being slammed on one of her wards, D.W., on February 12, 2001. On the same day, the arm of the same ward was injured.

Ms. Muhammad included two causes of action in her complaint. One alleged negligent infliction of emotional distress on L.E., as well as negligent supervision of the child. The other cause of action claimed negligent supervision of D.W., causing injury, physical and mental pain and distress. She demanded "in excess of $50,000."

On April 2, 2004, in accordance with Super. Ct. Civ. R. 4 (m), the trial court entered an order dismissing the complaint without prejudice, when Ms. Muhammad failed to "file either an acknowledgment of service or proof of service of the summons [and the complaint] . . . ." Ms. Muhammad filed a "motion to extend time for service and for other relief." As reasons for her motion she indicated that

1. The prior counsel is no longer in practice.

2. The complaint was not served.

3. The complaint would be served in the next 10 days.

The motion explicitly requested both "an extension of time to serve the summons and complaint," and "reinstate[ment of] this case." The trial judge denied the motion to extend time, but was silent as to the reinstatement of the case. Only one reason was given for the trial court's denial of the request for extension of time: "The . . . matter . . . was dismissed without prejudice by the Civil Clerk's Office pursuant to Superior Court Civil Procedure Rule 4 (m) on April 2, 2004."

ANALYSIS

Ms. Muhammad contends that the trial court "misread" her motion. Specifically, she claims that the trial court overlooked the fact that she requested reinstatement of her complaint, and asked for ten ...


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