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Richard Luna v. Ronald Rambo

January 27, 2012

RICHARD LUNA,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
RONALD RAMBO,
DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: James E. Boasberg United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

In 2006, Plaintiff Richard Luna entered into a contract with an entity called the SCS Contracting Group, LP to renovate his home in Northeast Washington. Dissatisfied with its work after two months, Luna ordered SCS to vacate the premises in March 2007. He then sued SCS and its principals in D.C. Superior Court the next month, asserting various claims for misrepresentation, negligence, and violations of D.C. law. Two years later, the parties entered into a settlement agreement. One month later, Plaintiff turned around and filed this suit against Ronald Rambo, one of SCS's supervisors. Rambo has now moved for summary judgment, arguing that the settlement agreement and the doctrine of res judicata preclude this suit. Agreeing with the latter point, the Court will grant the Motion.

I.Background

On Dec. 8, 2006, Plaintiff and SCS entered into an agreement, whereby SCS was to renovate Plaintiff's residence at 1230 Linden Pl., N.E., in exchange for $158,500. See Compl., Exh. A (Agreement). Stephen C. Sieber, as owner of SCS, signed the contract. See id. at 4. Defendant Rambo started working full time for SCS in late 2005 or early 2006 and was a field manager and later a master supervisor there. See Motion, Exh. 1 (Declaration of Ronald Rambo) at 1.

The Complaint alleges that SCS began work on Jan. 19, 2007, following which Luna believed work was being improperly done, causing him ultimately to notify SCS to secure the house and vacate it. See Compl. at 4-5. Luna had paid SCS over $100,000 by the time he asked it to cease work. Id. at 7. Consistent with the contract, Luna paid some of that sum in checks made out to Sieber and some in checks made out to Rambo. See Compl., Exh. D (images of checks); Agreement at 4. He also alleges that he now has incurred over $200,000 in additional costs to return the home to a habitable condition. See Compl. at 2.

On April 11, 2007, Plaintiff filed an action in the Superior Court against SCS, Sieber, and another SCS officer named Christopher Petito. See Mot., Exh. 12 (Sup. Ct. Complaint). In his 23-page Complaint, which lists 27 separate counts, Plaintiff alleged myriad misrepresentations and violations of D.C. consumer-protection laws, all arising from the work SCS did on his house. Id. As the docket sheet from this case amply demonstrates, the case, which included counterclaims, was extensively litigated until the parties agreed that all claims and counterclaims would be dismissed in Nov. 2009. See Motion, Exh. 9 (docket sheet). The dismissal finally occurred because the parties had entered into a settlement agreement on Oct. 28, 2009. See Motion, Exh. 13 (Settlement Agreement).

According to the Agreement, entered into among Luna, Sieber, and SCS, the parties "desire to end the litigation between them because it has grown excessively burdensome to them, and [they] further desire to foreclose new litigation." Id. at 1. All parties to the Agreement consented to the dismissal of all claims against one another in any court. Id. at 2. The other terms demonstrated the parties' intent for a broad agreement and release of claims.

This Agreement notwithstanding, Luna then filed the current suit on Dec. 8, 2009, less than a month after his preceding suit had been dismissed as settled. In the instant Complaint he sues only Rambo, but makes the same claims arising out of the same facts as his prior case. This Court, believing that a resolution of the preclusive effect of the settlement agreement was advisable before engaging in full litigation, permitted limited discovery and briefing on this issue only. See Order of June 6, 2011. Rambo has now filed his Motion for Summary Judgment.

II.Legal Standard

Summary judgment may be granted if "the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247--48 (1986); Holcomb v. Powell, 433 F.3d 889, 895 (D.C. Cir. 2006). "A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by citing to particular parts of materials in the record." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(A). "A fact is 'material' if a dispute over it might affect the outcome of a suit under the governing law; factual disputes that are 'irrelevant or unnecessary' do not affect the summary judgment determination." Holcomb, 433 F.3d at 895 (quoting Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 248). An issue is "genuine" if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. See Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007); Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 248; Holcomb, 433 F.3d at 895.

The party seeking summary judgment "bears the heavy burden of establishing that the merits of his case are so clear that expedited action is justified." Taxpayers Watchdog, Inc. v. Stanley, 819 F.2d 294, 297 (D.C.Cir.1987). "Until a movant has met its burden, the opponent of a summary judgment motion is under no obligation to present any evidence." Gray v. Greyhound Lines, East, 545 F.2d 169, 174 (D.C. Cir. 1976). When a motion for summary judgment is under consideration, "the evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in [its] favor." Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 255; see also Mastro v. Potomac Electric Power Co., 447 F.3d 843, 849--50 (D.C. Cir. 2006); Aka v. Washington Hospital Center, 156 F.3d 1284, 1288 (D.C. Cir. 1998) (en banc); Washington Post Co. v. U.S. Dep't of Health and Human Services, 865 F.2d 320, 325 (D.C. Cir. 1989).

The nonmoving party's opposition, however, must consist of more than mere unsupported allegations or denials and must be supported by affidavits, declarations, or other competent evidence, setting forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). The non-movant is required to provide evidence that would permit a reasonable jury to find in its favor. Laningham v. United States Navy, 813 F.2d 1236, 1242 (D.C. Cir. 1987). If the non-movant's evidence is "merely colorable" or "not significantly probative," summary judgment may be granted. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 249--50; see Scott, 550 U.S. at 380 ("[W]here the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is 'no genuine issue for trial.'") (quoting Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986)).

III.Analysis

In moving for summary judgment, Defendant Rambo first argues that the Agreement bars this suit because Luna expressly released SCS, which includes Rambo. See Motion at 8-15. It is not disputed that under the Agreement, "Luna consents to the dismissal of all claims he may have against Stephen C. Sieber and the SCS Contracting Group, LP, in any Court . . . ." See Agreement at 2. The question is whether Rambo, as an agent of SCS, is protected by such release from a suit against him individually. ...


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