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Sibert-Dean v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority

November 8, 2010

MARGERETTA SIBERT-DEAN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
WASHINGTON METROPOLITAN AREA TRANSIT AUTHORITY DEFENDANT,
v.
NORMA JEAN WOODSON, THIRD-PARTY DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ricardo M. Urbina United States District Judge

Re Document No. 48

MEMORANDUM OPINION

DENYING THE THIRD-PARTY DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

I. INTRODUCTION

This personal injury action comes before the court on the motion for summary judgment of third-party defendant Norma Jean Woodson. Woodson contends that she entered into a settlement agreement with the plaintiff and, through her insurance company, executed a release that shields her from any further liability in this matter. The defendant, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority ("WMATA"), acknowledges that the release absolves Woodson of any further exposure to monetary damages, but argues that Woodson must remain a third-party defendant in this action, as a determination that Woodson was jointly responsible for the plaintiff's injuries would reduce WMATA's liability to the plaintiff. For the reasons discussed below, the court denies Woodson's motion.

II. FACTUAL & PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The plaintiff alleges that on February 14, 2006, she was a passenger on a WMATA bus traveling south on Georgia Avenue in Northwest Washington, D.C. Compl. ¶¶ 7-8. The plaintiff contends that due to the bus operator's carelessness, he failed to see a vehicle traveling north in the opposite lane on Georgia Avenue make a left turn in front of the bus. Id. ¶ 9. That vehicle was operated by Woodson. Id.; WMATA's 3d Party Compl. ¶ 8. Once the bus operator saw the vehicle passing in front of him, he allegedly attempted to perform a defensive driving maneuver to avoid an accident. Compl. ¶ 11. That maneuver allegedly caused the plaintiff to be thrown from her seat into a steel handrail pole on the bus, knocking her unconscious. Id. ¶ 12. The plaintiff alleges that as a result of the accident, she has suffered serious and ongoing physical injury. Id. ¶ 3.

In November 2008, the plaintiff commenced a negligence action against WMATA in the Superior Court for the District of Columbia. See generally id. The complaint did not contain any claims against Woodson and did not name Woodson as a defendant. See generally id. On December 11, 2008, WMATA removed the action to this court. See generally Notice of Removal. Subsequently, on December 18, 2008, WMATA filed a third-party complaint against Woodson seeking contribution or indemnification. See generally WMATA's 3d Party Compl. The third-party complaint states that Woodson's negligence in operating her vehicle proximately caused the plaintiff's injuries. Id. ¶ 11. A jury trial is scheduled for February 2011.

The matter is now before the court on Woodson's motion for summary judgment. See generally Woodson's Mot. for Summ. J. ("Woodson's Mot."). Woodson contends that before the plaintiff commenced this lawsuit against WMATA, she sought to settle her claims against Woodson by contacting Woodson's insurance company. Id. at 6. According to Woodson, the parties negotiated a settlement agreement, pursuant to which the plaintiff agreed not to pursue any claims against Woodson in exchange for cash consideration. Id. Woodson contends that the settlement and release shields her from any additional liability in this matter and that as a result, she is entitled to summary judgment. Id.

WMATA opposes Woodson's motion for summary judgment. See generally WMATA's Opp'n to Woodson's Mot. ("WMATA Opp'n"). The plaintiff, who does not have a claim against Woodson, see generally Compl.,*fn1 did not participate in the briefing on Woodson's motion, which is now ripe for adjudication.

III. ANALYSIS

A. Legal Standard for Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate when "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Diamond v. Atwood, 43 F.3d 1538, 1540 (D.C. Cir. 1995). To determine which facts are "material," a court must look to the substantive law on which each claim rests. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A "genuine issue" is one whose resolution could establish an element of a claim or defense and, therefore, affect the outcome of the action. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322; Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court must draw all justifiable inferences in the nonmoving party's favor and accept the nonmoving party's evidence as true. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. A nonmoving party, however, must establish more than "the mere existence of a scintilla of evidence" in support of its position. Id. at 252. To prevail on a motion for summary judgment, the moving party must show that the nonmoving party "fail[ed] to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at ...


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