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Parker v. Martin

August 17, 2006


Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CA-947-00) (Hon. Cheryl M. Long, Trial Judge).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: King, Senior Judge

Argued June 27, 2006

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

This is an appeal from the entry of summary judgment to the defendants in an action for damages on account of lead poisoning. We reverse the judgment in part and remand for further proceedings.

Between 1979 and July 1984, Louise Parker and her two teenage children resided as tenants in an apartment at 1600 A Street, Unit 2, in Northeast Washington, D.C. ("the Property"). On November 13, 1980, Louise Parker's daughter, appellant Cynthia Parker, gave birth to appellant David Matthews (collectively "the Parkers"). The property was owned by appellees Dr. Harold and Ms. Jametta Martin*fn1 ("the Martins") and managed by appellee Phoebea Queen ("Queen").*fn2 The lease agreement between Louise Parker and the Martins named Louise Parker's teenage daughter, Cynthia Parker, as a resident but was never amended to include David Matthews as an occupant of the premises.*fn3 In the complaint David Matthews was characterized as "an invitee of the tenant during 1983 to 1985." In June 1983, tests revealed that the David Matthews had elevated levels of lead in his blood.

In August 1983, Queen received a Housing Code Violation Notice requiring abatement of lead-based paint from the Property.*fn4 This was the first notice Queen received regarding lead paint in the Property.*fn5 Queen spoke with Louise Parker regarding the Violation Notice and Louise Parker told Queen that David Matthews, almost three years old at the time, had tested positive for lead poisoning. At Dr. Martin's direction, Queen hired Mr. Owens and Mr. Brown to remove the lead paint and repaint the Property. In November 1983, a Housing Inspector approved the lead paint removal and abated the violation.*fn6 No fine was imposed by the District of Columbia against either the Martins or Queen.

Attributing David Matthews' lead poisoning to his exposure to lead-based paint at the Property, the Parkers filed a complaint in February 1996 against Queen and two other persons who were misidentified as the owners of the Property.*fn7 Upon discovering the error, the civil action was terminated in September 1996 by the filing of a joint praecipe of dismissal against all parties with prejudice.*fn8 A second lawsuit against Queen was later filed; however, it was dismissed in March 1999, because Queen was never served. Finally, the Parkers brought this action against Queen and the Martins in February 2000, alleging damages due to the lead poisoning of David Matthews while he resided at the Property between November 1980 and July 1984.

The February 2000 complaint charged Queen and the Martins with negligence by either causing or allowing the continued existence of lead-based paint on the Property's exterior and interior walls, doors, floors, ceilings and woodwork and knowingly allowing lead-based paint to chip and flake thereby rendering the Property unsafe and dangerous, and unfit for human habitation. As a consequence of the defendants' actions, Cynthia Parker alleged David Matthews had ingested lead-based paint and paint dust and, as a result, had suffered permanent brain damage and other serious injuries for which they were entitled to compensation. Cynthia Parker also sought compensation for herself for the loss of her child's services. Along with compensatory damages, punitive damages were requested and, under the Consumer Protection Procedures Act, treble damages and reasonable attorneys' fees.

Following a lengthy period of discovery, the Martins and Queen each moved for summary judgment on multiple grounds. On June 24, 2003, the trial court granted Queen's motion for summary judgment on the merits and on Queen's contention that appellants' claims against her were barred based on res judicata.*fn9 With respect to the latter, the trial court ruled that the erroneous quadrant and the wrong naming of owners did not alter the core allegation in both complaints, specifically, that David Matthews was exposed to lead paint at the time that he resided in the Property managed by Queen and owned by the Martins. The trial court also ruled on the merits and concluded that the causes of action failed for lack of evidence that Queen had notice of any lead paint hazard in the Property prior to the August 1983 Violation Notice.

On February 11, 2004, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the Martins on the merits.*fn10 The trial court ruled that appellants' negligence causes of action against the Martins also failed for lack of evidence of notice and that appellants' Consumer Protection Procedures Act ("CPPA") claims were precluded because the CPPA was not applicable to landlord-tenant relations and did not authorize the award of damages for personal injuries of a tortious nature. The trial court also held that there was no evidence of willful, reckless or malicious conduct such as would be necessary to support appellants' claims for punitive damages, and that District of Columbia law does not recognize a parent's cause of action for loss of services of a minor child.


On appeal, the Parkers contend that the trial court erred in rejecting their negligence and CPPA claims and their effort to hold the Martins and Queen personally liable. "In reviewing a trial court's grant of summary judgment, we make an independent review of the record and employ the same standards as does the trial court in initially considering the motion." Croce v. Hall, 657 A.2d 307, 309-10 (D.C. 1995) (citation omitted). This court must determine whether the party awarded summary judgment demonstrated that there is no genuine issue of material fact in dispute and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Childs v. Purll, 882 A.2d 227, 232 (D.C. 2005). The record is viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Settles v. Redstone Dev. Corp., 797 A.2d 692, 694 (D.C. 2002) (citation omitted).

A. Negligence Claims

"Generally, in order to prevail on a claim of negligence, the plaintiff must establish a duty of care, a deviation from that duty, and a causal relationship between that deviation and an injury sustained by the plaintiff." Youssef v. 3636 Corp., 777 A.2d 787, 792 (D.C. 2001). Issues of negligence frequently "are not susceptible of summary adjudication, but should be resolved by trial in the ordinary manner." Croce, 657 A.2d at 310 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). "However, the question of whether a defendant owes a duty to a plaintiff under a particular set of circumstances is 'entirely a ...

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