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Edward Baltimore, et al v. District of Columbia

January 6, 2011

EDWARD BALTIMORE, ET AL., APPELLANTS,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, APPELLEE.



Appeals from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CAB7470-08) (Hon. Brook Hedge, Trial Judge)

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reid, Associate Judge:

(Argued April 1, 2010

Before REID, GLICKMAN,and BLACKBURNE-RIGSBY, Associate Judges.

Appellants, several former residents of the Franklin School Men's Shelter ("Franklin Shelter")*fn1 and the Committee to Save Franklin Shelter ("the Committee") (collectively "appellants" or "plaintiffs"), filed a complaint against the District of Columbia for declaratory and injunctive relief which alleged constitutional and statutory violations, negligence per se, and several tort claims. Consistent with the trial court's ruling, we hold that the District of Columbia Homeless Services Reform Act ("the HSRA") grants a homeless person or client a statutory entitlement to shelter in severe or frigid weather (as defined) but does not create a direct or implied entitlement to any other particular service. In addition, on this record, we do not discern denial by the District of any procedural rights to which appellants were entitled under the HSRA. We further conclude that a homeless person or client who receives medical or other services in the District from a provider does not have a protected property right or interest in those services grounded either in the Constitution or any District of Columbia statute; the exception is the statutory entitlement to shelter in severe or frigid weather. Finally, we agree with the trial court that appellants have not established legally viable claims for negligence per se, intentional infliction of emotional distress or conversion. Consequently, we conclude that the trial court did not err in granting summary judgment in favor of the District, nor did it err in denying other motions filed by appellants in the trial court. Hence, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

FACTUAL SUMMARY

The record reveals that the Franklin Shelter, which was located in the 900 block of 13th Street, in the Northwest quadrant of the District of Columbia, provided overnight accommodation for homeless males; the shelter was operated by Catholic Charities under a contract with the District government. Men were allowed to go through intake for the night's bed space starting at 4 p.m. They were required to leave at 7 a.m. the following morning. Although they could not stay at the Franklin Shelter during the day, they could leave personal belongings there in the footlockers.

In July 2008, the Council of the District of Columbia considered the closing of the Franklin Shelter. The shelter's staff conducted exit interviews with the residents on September 10, 2008. The Council approved the Franklin Shelter Closing Requirements Emergency Act of 2008 on September 16, 2008 ("the Shelter Closing Emergency Act"), and the act was sent to the Mayor for signature.

The District closed the Franklin Shelter very early on the morning of September 26, 2008. Sometime in the afternoon on that same day, plaintiffs filed a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief (Eric Sheptock v. Fenty, CAB6954-08). The Mayor signed the Shelter Closing Emergency Act into law on September 30, 2008. On September 30, and October 1, 2008, the trial court (the Honorable Stephanie Duncan-Peters) heard testimony on plaintiffs' motion for a temporary restraining order to preclude the closing of Franklin Shelter. Judge Duncan-Peters denied the motion, essentially because of her conclusion that the plaintiffs could not prevail on the merits of the lawsuit. The judge also determined that the Committee, an unincorporated association, did not have standing to sue.*fn2

Plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed their complaint on October 21, 2008; however, they filed a second Complaint for Declaratory Judgment on October 22, 2008, and a Supplemental and Amended Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief on December 19, 2008 (Edward Baltimore v. District of Columbia, CAB7470-08).*fn3 As the litigation unfolded and discovery proceeded, the parties filed numerous motions; these included the District's December 18, 2008 "motion to dismiss or in the alternative for summary judgment" and its January 9, 2009 "motion to dismiss plaintiff's supplemental amended complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief or, in the alternative, for summary judgment."*fn4 On February 3, 2009, the trial court held a hearing on the District's "motion to dismiss or in the alternative for summary judgment." Approximately one month after the hearing, plaintiffs filed their March 9, 2009 "motion to stay proceeding pending discovery and pending submission of federal claims in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia[,] or in the alternative[,] motion to amend complaint for preliminary and permanent injunction."*fn5

On May 11, 2009, the trial court resolved all of the outstanding motions.*fn6 The trial court determined that (1) the plaintiffs' due process and takings claims failed because they were unable to establish a constitutionally protected right or interest in the continued operation of Franklin Shelter; (2) the Homeless Services Reform Act ("HSRA") "expressly states that there is no entitlement to services except for shelter in severe weather pursuant to D.C. Code § 4-754.11(5)"; (3) neither the HSRA nor the Frigid Temperature Protection Amendment Act ("Frigid Temperature Act") mandate that the "Mayor . . . provide specific shelter at a specific place"; and (4) "the imminent closure was well known" and since plaintiffs d[id] not have a constitutional right to shelter at the Franklin Shelter, there was no legal duty on the part of [the District] to provide notice and an opportunity to be heard before the actual closing." (Order at 6-7.)

The trial court further declared that the District did not violate the Shelter Closing Emergency Act which took effect on September 30, 2008, and expired on December 30, 2008, because (1) the Shelter Closing Emergency Act had not yet become law when Franklin Shelter closed on September 26, 2008; (2) it was no longer law when the February 3, 2009 hearing was held on the summary judgment motion; and that nevertheless, (3) the Mayor complied with the Shelter Closing Act's reporting requirement when it became law on September 30, 2008. (Order at 8)

With respect to plaintiffs' tort claims, the trial court ruled that the claims for conversion and intentional infliction of emotional distress ("IIED") failed. The conversion claim failed because the belongings of the men who slept at Franklin Shelter "were made available for [them] to pick up and at no time were converted to the public's use or benefit." The judge noted that the vast majority of footlockers transported from Franklin Shelter to the 801 East Shelter had been claimed, that "the District ha[d] not disposed of the property, and that presumably [the men] who ha[d] not already done so may still claim their property." Furthermore, the notice posted to Franklin Shelter on September 26, 2008, the day the shelter was closed, provided a telephone contact number if a person needed transportation to the 801 East Shelter. Franklin Shelter staff also stood outside the shelter on September 27, 2008 through October 4, 2008 (during regular intake hours) "to inform residents of the closure, the location of their belongings, and [to] provide transport to retrieve their belongings." (Order at 9.) Regarding the IIED claim, the judge declared that plaintiffs "[could not] establish, as a matter of law, [the element of] outrageous conduct" because the District lawfully closed Franklin Shelter. The court found no evidence demonstrating that the District caused personal documents of men housed at the shelter to be "abandoned" outside Franklin Shelter. (Order at 10-13).

ANALYSIS

Appellants essentially raise statutory and constitutional issues, negligence per se, and common law claims relating to the closing of the Franklin Shelter. Legal questions, including those relating to the grant of summary judgment, are subject to de novo review. See Sears v. Catholic Diocese of Washington, 5 A.3d 653, 657 (D.C. 2010); Andrade-Sorto v. Allstate Ins. Co., 982 A.2d 669, 670 (D.C. 2009). "'Summary judgment is properly granted only if there are no genuine issues of material fact in dispute and if the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.'" New Econ. Capital, L.L.C. v. New Mkts. Capital Grp., 881 A.2d 1087, 1094 (D.C. 2005) (quoting Jack Baker, Inc. v. Office Space Dev. Corp., 664 A.2d 1236, 1240 (D.C. 1995)). "We review the trial court's grant of summary judgment de novo." Allen v. Schultheiss, 981 A.2d 610, 614 (D.C. 2009) (citation omitted).

"In construing a statute the primary rule is to ascertain and give effect to legislative intent and to give legislative words their natural meaning." Banks v. United States, 359 A.2d 8, 10 (D.C. 1976) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). "Statutory interpretation is a holistic endeavor, and, at a minimum, must account for a statute's full text, language as well as punctuation, structure, and subject matter." Cook v. Edgewood Mgmt. Corp., 825 A.2d 939, 946 (D.C. 2003) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Words "are inexact tools at best and for that reason there is wisely no rule of law forbidding resort to explanatory legislative history no matter how clear the words may appear on superficial examination." Citizens Ass'n of Georgetown v. Zoning Comm'n of the District of Columbia, 392 A.2d 1027, 1033 (D.C. 1978) (citation omitted). "If related statutes conflict, we must reconcile them." Abadie v. District of Columbia Contract Appeals Bd., 843 A.2d 738, 742 (D.C. 2004) (citing Gonzalez v. United States, 498 A.2d 1172, 1174 (D.C. 1985)).

The Statutory Claims

Homeless Services Reform ...


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