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Mixon v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority

October 23, 2008

NORMAN E. MIXON, APPELLANT
v.
WASHINGTON METROPOLITAN AREA TRANSIT AUTHORITY, APPELLEE



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. (CA-8592-04) (Hon. Judith E. Retchin, Trial Judge).

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

Argued September 10, 2008

Before NEBEKER, TERRY, and SCHWELB, Senior Judges.

Appellant, Norman Mixon, fell and was injured in a subway station in downtown Washington. He sued the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) for negligence, seeking to recover damages for his injuries. The trial court granted WMATA's motion for summary judgment, and appellant noted this appeal. We find no error and, accordingly, affirm the judgment of the trial court.

I.

While descending a flight of stairs in the Metro Center subway station on November 14, 2001, appellant fell and injured himself. At the time of the fall, appellant was en route from his place of employment in downtown Washington to his home in suburban Virginia. As he was descending the stairs to reach the lower level of the station, he lost his footing on one of the bottom steps, fell forward, and struck his head on the side of a train, which was standing on the track. He testified in his deposition that "something" on the stairs caused him to slip.*fn1 Bystanders and WMATA employees assisted appellant until emergency medical personnel arrived and took him to George Washington University Hospital. Appellant suffered a laceration of the eyelid requiring stitches, some bruising and lacerations to his arms and legs, as well as other injuries.

Appellant filed a complaint alleging that his injuries were the result of "negligence or willful or wanton misconduct of [WMATA] who failed to act with due care in [its] management of the Metro facility at the Metro Center subway station." In due course, after discovery, WMATA filed a motion for summary judgment, and appellant filed a response. The trial court granted WMATA's motion in a brief order, stating that appellant "cannot prove a prima facie case of negligence against [WMATA]." The court observed in a footnote that appellant, in his opposition to the motion, asserts, for the first time, that . . . he now recalls that he slipped on grease and/or oil left on the stairs following maintenance work by defendant and/or its agents. . . . This claim, however, is not presented in the form of evidence and contradicts all the evidence before the Court showing that plaintiff is unsure what alleged dangerous condition caused him to slip and fall.

This appeal followed.

II.

Summary judgment is properly granted when the pleadings and other materials on file demonstrate that there is no genuine issue of material fact to be resolved at a trial. See, e.g., Urban Masonry Corp. v. N & N Contractors, Inc., 676 A.2d 26, 30 (D.C. 1996); Burch v. Amsterdam Corp., 366 A.2d 1079, 1083-1084 (D.C. 1976). A defendant who moves for summary judgment may meet his burden of production by showing an absence of proof on one or more essential elements of the plaintiff's claim. The burden then shifts to the non-moving party - in this case, appellant - to present evidence showing the existence of genuine issues of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). And it must indeed be evidence. The non-moving party "may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of the adverse party's pleading," but must submit, in response to the motion, "specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Super. Ct. Civ. R. 56 (e). "Mere conclusory allegations on the part of the non-moving party are insufficient to stave off the entry of summary judgment." Musa v. Continental Insurance Co., 644 A.2d 999, 1002 (D.C. 1994).

Appellant first argues that the trial court denied him his Seventh Amendment right to a trial by jury by granting summary judgment in favor of WMATA.*fn2 His argument is, in essence, a facial challenge to the constitutionality of the summary judgment procedure. But the constitutionality of summary judgment has long been settled. See, e.g., Sartor v. Arkansas Natural Gas Corp., 321 U.S 620, 627 (1944) ("the purpose of the [summary judgment] rule is not to cut litigants off from their right of trial by jury if they really have issues to try" (emphasis added; citations omitted)); see also Fidelity & Deposit Co. of Maryland v. United States, 187 U.S. 315, 320 (1902) (stating that a summary judgment-type procedure then in effect in the District of Columbia did not deprive the plaintiff of "the right of trial by jury," but rather spared the court from "frivolous defenses").

Summary judgment is simply a procedural tool which enables courts to dispose of cases that present no jury-triable issues without the time and expense of a jury trial. See Nader v. de Toledano, 408 A.2d 31, 42--43 (D.C. 1979), cert. denied, 444 U.S. 1078 (1980). It is "properly regarded not as a disfavored procedural shortcut, but rather as an integral part of the Federal Rules [and the Superior Court rules] as a whole, which are designed 'to secure the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of every action.' " Celotex, 477 U.S. at 327 (citations omitted). Thus, when no genuine issue of fact exists for resolution by the trier of fact, no jury trial is required by the Seventh Amendment. Barber v. Kimbrell's, Inc., 577 F.2d 216, 221 n.12 (4th Cir.) ("Where summary judgment is properly granted, no Seventh Amendment issue arises"), cert. denied, 439 U.S. 934 (1978). In this case the trial court had to decide whether there was any material issue of fact to be determined by a fact-finder. Because (as we shall explain) we find no error in the trial court's ruling that there was no such material issue of fact, it necessarily follows that appellant did not suffer injury to any interest protected by the Seventh Amendment.

III.

Appellant argues that, in any event, the trial court erred when it granted summary judgment in favor of WMATA because genuine issues of material fact existed for jury resolution with regard to WMATA's negligence. He contends that WMATA employees left grease or oil on the station stairs, that WMATA was aware or should have been aware of this hazardous condition, and that it negligently failed to remedy the ...


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