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R. v. District of Columbia

July 31, 2006

R., PLAINTIFF,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Richard W. Roberts United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Jacqueline R. sued the District of Columbia and others on her own behalf, and as guardian of her minor son, Ronnie, alleging common law and federal civil rights claims, stemming from a sexual assault against Ronnie at an overnight camp owned and operated by the District. At trial, the jury found in favor of the plaintiff and awarded damages in the amount of $550,000. After the trial, the District moved for judgment as a matter of law, or for a new trial and to stay execution of the judgment, and Jacqueline R. moved for taxation of costs and to enforce the judgment. Because the District had proper notice of the plaintiff's claim, defendant's motion for judgment as a matter of law will be denied. Because the defendant was not entitled to a special interrogatory for the jury and because plaintiff's closing argument was not improper and did not unfairly prejudice the defendant, defendant's motion for a new trial will be denied. Because plaintiff is entitled only to limited copying costs, plaintiff's motion for taxation of costs will be granted in part and denied in part. Defendant's motion to stay the execution of the judgment will be denied as moot and plaintiff's motion to enforce the judgment will be denied without prejudice.

BACKGROUND

In the summer of 2001, the plaintiff enrolled her son Ronnie in an overnight camp run by the District. During the time Ronnie was at the camp, "Mark," another camper, sexually assaulted him. The plaintiff brought this action against the District and others alleging, among other things, that the District directly or by the acts of its agents or employees breached its duty of care to the plaintiff by failing to properly staff and supervise the camp and cabins, failing to properly discipline and expel Mark from the camp, tolerating an abusive environment at the camp and failing to intervene following reports of Mark's attempted sexual assault on Ronnie and other campers, failing to prevent the alleged assault on Ronnie despite knowledge of Mark's inappropriate and violent behavior, failing to provide safe sleeping cabins or have adult supervision within the vicinity, failing to establish an atmosphere at camp such that victims could have disclosed the incidents of assault and prevented the abuse of Ronnie, and failing to properly discharge duties in loco parentis to supervise, care for and protect Ronnie. (See Compl. at 13-15.)

Before trial, the District moved to dismiss the common law claims against it arguing that the plaintiff failed to provide the District with proper notice of her claim before filing suit as is required by D.C. Code § 12-309. The District claimed plaintiff's notice was inadequate and attached to that motion a one-page version of a police report, known as a P.D. 123, concerning this event that did not include or refer to any accompanying investigation notes. (Def.'s Mot. for Partial Dismissal, Att. 1.) In her opposition, the plaintiff attached a longer version of the police report, which included investigation notes, stating that the District's motion erroneously excluded twenty pages of a twenty-one page police report. (Pl.'s Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. for Partial Dismissal at 8-9.) In its reply, the District did not object to the longer version, referred to the investigation notes as "the report," but did not explicitly agree that the police report included the notes. (Def.'s Reply in Support of Mot. for Partial Dismissal at 3 n.2.)

The P.D. 123 police report*fn1 identified the approximate date of the incident and the names of the perpetrator and several victims, and stated that both the victims and the perpetrator were campers; that the perpetrator was 11 years old; that the victims' ages were 10 and 12; that one of the campers sexually assaulted other campers in multiple incidents; that the assaults took place at the camp in the evening; and that the overnight camp was owned and run by the District of Columbia. (See Decl. Detective Sergeant Hines, Ex. B at 10-11, 15, 17.)

The motion was denied because the longer version of the police report containing a notation in the investigation notes that "Mark is the oldest and he was in charge" met the notice requirement, and the "Defendant, in its reply, [did] not contest the fuller version of the police report submitted by the plaintiff." R. v. District of Columbia, 370 F. Supp. 2d 267, 270, 274 (D.D.C. 2005).

At the close of the evidence at trial, the District requested a special interrogatory to ensure that the jury's verdict was based on findings of sufficient foreseeability of Mark's criminal act. (Def.'s Mot. for J. as a Matter of Law at 12-13.) This request was denied. (Id. at 13.)

During closing arguments, the plaintiff's attorney said that "in everything we do in life we value people and children more than property. You cannot even buy a house [nowadays] in town for $500,000." (Trial Tr. 6/1/06 1st p.m. at 63; see Def.'s Mot. for J. as a Matter of Law at 13.) The District's objection to the mention of a dollar amount was overruled after the District could not provide any authority to support the objection. Although the District was given the opportunity to brief the issue (Trial Tr. 6/1/06 1st p.m. at 65; 6/1/06 2d p.m. at 1), the District never did.

DISCUSSION

I. MOTION FOR JUDGMENT AS A MATTER OF LAW OR FOR A NEW TRIAL

The District now moves for judgment as a matter of law, arguing that the investigation notes are not police reports under § 12-309 and the police report did not satisfy the notice requirement of § 12-309 without the investigation notes. The District also moves for a new trial, arguing that without a special verdict form, there was no basis "to determine whether the factual findings of the jury support a claim that it was foreseeable that 'Mark' would commit a serious felony," and that the plaintiff's attorney's mention of the price of a house during closing arguments prejudiced the District.

A. Mandatory notice requirement of D.C. Code ...


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