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Burnett v. Sharma

March 30, 2007

JOYCE BURNETT, PLAINTIFF,
v.
AMAR SHARMA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.
JOYCE BURNETT, PLAINTIFF,
v.
AMAR SHARMA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reggie B. Walton United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter is before the Court on dispositive motions filed on behalf of Amar, Anasuya, and Amit Sharma, Jennifer Jones Renton, Sharma Law Group and Loewinger & Brand, PLLC. The Court will grant the motions in part and deny them in part without prejudice.*fn1

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff alleges that Amar Sharma owns a house at 4801 41st Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. ("the premises"), which he leased to defendant Jennifer Jones Renton. Plaintiff's Final Amended Complaint and Jury Demand ("Final Amd. Compl.") ¶¶ 6, 8, 12. In June 1998, plaintiff sublet a room from Ms. Renton. Id. ¶ 15.

Before she sublet the room, plaintiff raised questions with Ms. Renton about noises coming from the furnace in the basement. Final Amd. Compl. ¶ 14. Ms. Renton told plaintiff that "it was nothing." Id. Mr. Sharma also told plaintiff that "he already had looked into [the noise in the basement] and found it not to be a problem." Id. ¶ 15. Plaintiff "began to feel ill from the beginning of the tenancy," experiencing "severe cold and flu-like symptoms and difficulty concentrating and remembering things in school." Id. ¶ 18. Periodically she "ask[ed] about conditions at the premises and requested repairs."*fn2 Id. ¶ 23. In February 2001, the Washington Gas Company "noted a reading of 400PPM of carbon monoxide in the air and placed a red danger tag on the furnace" after a company representative came to the house at plaintiff's request. Id. ¶ 25. According to plaintiff, "products were leaking from the flu[, and the] chimney was also blocked and had to be repaired." Id. "[T]oxins in the home exceeded all acceptable and/or legal making the home unfit for human habitation." Id. ¶ 27. Plaintiff appears to attribute her physical symptoms and current condition to her continued exposure to the carbon monoxide emitted by the furnace. Id.

According to plaintiff, sometime before February 1999 she "asked about purchasing the premises and the owner said yes." Final Amd. Compl. ¶ 19. She made an offer in writing after having the house inspected in February 1999 and appraised in March 1999. Id. ¶ 20. After allegedly being threatened by Ms. Renton's husband concerning events involving plaintiff's mail, Ms. Renton provided plaintiff with a "Notice to Vacate" on October 18, 1999. Id. ¶ 22. Upon receiving the notice, plaintiff contacted Mr. Sharma "to ask for the entire house." Id. Mr. Sharma "said no," advertised the premises as available to rent, and leased the house to a white couple. Id. Thereafter, Mr. Sharma initiated "several" eviction proceedings against plaintiff in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, Landlord & Tenant Branch, and ultimately, after a jury trial, gained possession of the premises in June 2003. Id. ¶ 24; Memorandum in Support of Defendants Amar, Anasuya, and Amit Sharma's Motion for Summary Judgment ("Sharma Mot."), Exhibit ("Ex.") I (Notice of issuance of writ of possession, L&T No. 51649-01).

Plaintiff brings this action under the following constitutional and statutory provisions:

[T]he Thirteenth Amendment, the Civil Rights Act of 1866, as amended, 42 U.S.C. [§] 1981 et seq., the Fair Housing Act of 1968, as amended (FHA), 42 U.S.C. § 3601 et seq., Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. [§] 12101 et seq., the Civil Rights Act of 1968 § 801 et seq., federal, state statutory and common law[.]

Final Amd. Compl. ¶ 1. She demands compensatory damages, and declaratory, injunctive, and other equitable relief. Id.

II. DISCUSSION

A. The Sharmas' Motion for Summary Judgment

1. Summary Judgment Standard

The Court will grant summary judgment if the movants show that there are no genuine issues of material fact in dispute and that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986); Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). When evaluating a summary judgment motion, the Court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and draw all reasonable inferences in her favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). The party opposing a motion for summary judgment "may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of [her] pleading, but . . . must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Id. at 248; see also Jackson v. Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, 101 F.3d 145, 150 (D.C. Cir. 1996). Factual assertions in the moving party's affidavits may be accepted as true unless the opposing party submits her own conflicting affidavits or documentary evidence. Neal v. Kelly, 963 F.2d 453, 456 (D.C. Cir. 1992).

2. Res Judicata Challenge

Generally, a plaintiff is expected to "present in one suit all the claims for relief that [s]he may have arising out of the same transaction or occurrence." U.S. Indus., Inc. v. Blake Const. Co., Inc., 765 F.2d 195, 205 (D.C. Cir. 1985) (quoting 1B J. Moore, Moore's Federal Practice, ¶ 0.410[1] (1983)). The doctrine of res judicata provides that a final judgment on the merits in a prior suit involving the same parties bars subsequent suits based on the same cause of action. Parklane Hosiery Co. v. Shore, 439 U.S. 322, 326 n.5 (1979). Two cases implicate the same cause of action if they share the same nucleus of facts. Drake v. Fed. Aviation Admin., 291 F.3d 59, 66 (D.C. Cir. 2002), cert. denied, 537 U.S. 1193 (2003) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Res judicata bars not only claims that actually were litigated, but also claims that could have been litigated in the previous action. Allen v. McCurry, 449 U.S. 90, 94 (1980) (citation omitted); I.A.M. National Pension Fund v. Indus. Gear Mfg. Co., 723 F.2d 944, 949 (D.C. Cir. 1983) (noting that res judicata "forecloses all that which might have been litigated previously") (citation omitted); Hardison v. Alexander, 655 F.2d 1281, 1288 (D.C. Cir. 1981).

In order for res judicata to apply, a defendant must show: (1) the identity of parties in both suits, (2) a judgment rendered by a court of competent jurisdiction, (3) a final judgment on the merits, and (4) an identity of the cause of action in both suits. Paley v. Estate of Ogus, 20 F. Supp. 2d 83, 87 (D.D.C. 1998) (citing Brannock Assocs., Inc. v. Capitol 801 Corp., 807 F. Supp. 127, 134 (D.D.C. 1992) (citing U.S. Indus. Inc., 765 F.2d at 205 n.21 )). The Sharmas argue that plaintiff's claims are barred by res judicata because the claims were raised or could have been raised in prior lawsuits filed against them in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia ("Superior Court"). See Sharma Mot. at 12-21.

a. Burnett v. Sharma, Civ. No. 01-5488

Defendants demonstrate that plaintiff filed a civil action, Burnett v. Sharma, Civ. No. 01-5488 ("Civ. No. 01-5488"), in the Superior Court against Amar Sharma and his counsel, the Law Office of Sharma & Bhandari, in July 2001. Sharma Mot., Ex. A (Complaint for Declaratory Judgment, Permanent Injunctive Relief, and Damages Action Involving Real Property, Civ. No. 01-5488). The complaint alleges that Amar Sharma discriminated against plaintiff on the basis of her race (African American) when he refused to sell or lease to her the premises at 4801 41st Street, N.W. in 1999, in violation of the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3601 et seq., the Civil Rights Act of 1866, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1982, and the District of Columbia Human Rights Act, D.C. Code § 1-2501 et seq. See id. ¶¶ 17, 22-23, 44-50. A subsequent amendment to the ...


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