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Leah Whitney Davis v. Bud and Papa

August 8, 2012

LEAH WHITNEY DAVIS, PLAINTIFF, COUNTER-DEFENDANT
v.
BUD AND PAPA, INC., DEFENDANT, COUNTER-CLAIMANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rudolph Contreras United States District Judge

Re Document No.: 11

MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART THE DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

I. INTRODUCTION

This is a personal injury case that stems from an altercation that occurred at a nightclub. The plaintiff alleges that she got into a confrontation with the club's security personnel. In the ensuing scuffle, the plaintiff claims that a security guard tased her in the neck. She brought suit against the nightclub for assault, battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress ("IIED"), and negligence. The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, in which it contends that the plaintiff cannot prove her claim without an expert witness. In her opposition, the plaintiff asks the court to grant summary judgment on her negligence claims, and the court will oblige. The plaintiff nevertheless insists that her claims of assault, battery, and IIED may proceed because they do not require expert testimony. Because the defendant has not shown that the plaintiff's remaining tort claims involve matters that lie beyond the comprehension of a lay jury, the court will deny the defendant's motion in part.

II. FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Around 1:45 a.m. on March 21, 2011, Leah Davis and her sister prepared to leave Layla Lounge, a D.C. nightclub that is operated by the defendant. Compl. ¶ 4. While exiting, Ms. Davis alleges that she exchanged heated words with one of the nightclub's security personnel. Id. The plaintiff alleges that the security guard then forcefully shoved her. Id. As the security guard continued to push her backwards, the plaintiff then heard the crackle of electricity and felt an electric shock; the plaintiff alleges that she was tased in the neck. Pl.'s Stmt. of Facts ¶¶ 1--2. The plaintiff brought suit for assault (Count I), battery (Count II), IIED (Count III), and negligence (Count IV).*fn1 The plaintiff does not bring suit against the individual security guard; she instead claims that the nightclub is vicariously liable for its employee's acts under the doctrine of respondeat superior. Compl. ¶¶ 39--42.*fn2 The defendant moves for summary judgment on all counts.

III. ANALYSIS

A. Legal Standard for a Motion for Summary Judgment

Summary judgment may be granted when "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). A fact is "material" if it is capable of affecting the substantive outcome of the litigation. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute is "genuine" if sufficient evidence exists such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. See Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007).

The principal purpose of summary judgment is to streamline litigation by disposing of factually unsupported claims or defenses and determining whether there is a genuine need for trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323--24 (1986). The moving party bears the initial responsibility of identifying those portions of the record which demonstrate the absence of any genuine issue of material fact. Id. at 323; FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c)(1)(A) (noting that the movant may cite to "depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, . . . admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials"). In response, the non-moving party must similarly designate specific facts in the record that reveal a genuine issue that is suitable for trial. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324.

On a motion for summary judgment, the court must "eschew making credibility determinations or weighing the evidence," Czekalski v. Peters, 475 F.3d 360, 363 (D.C. Cir. 2007), and all underlying facts and inferences must be analyzed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. Nevertheless, conclusory assertions offered without any evidentiary support do not establish a genuine issue for trial. Greene v. Dalton, 164 F.3d 671, 675 (D.C. Cir. 1999).

B. The Court Will Grant the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment on the Plaintiff's Negligence Claims*fn3

The plaintiff initially alleged that the defendant is liable for various forms of negligence. See Compl. ¶¶ 25--38. In general, to prevail on a negligence claim, a plaintiff must show: (1) that the defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff, (2) a breach of that duty, and (3) an injury to the plaintiff that was proximately caused by the breach. Hedgepeth v. Whitman Walker Clinic, 22 A.3d 789, 793 (D.C. 2011). Ordinarily, a defendant owes the plaintiff a duty equivalent to the standard of care deployed by a "reasonable man under like circumstances." RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF TORTS § 283 (1965).

In cases involving crowd control and public safety, courts have often concluded that expert testimony is needed to define the requisite standard of care. Edwards v. Okie Dokie, Inc., 473 F. Supp. 2d 31, 45 (D.D.C. 2007); Varner v. District of Columbia, 891 A.2d 260, 265 (D.C. 2006) (quoting District of Columbia v. Wilson, 721 A.2d 591, 597 (D.C. 1998)); but see Godfrey v. Iverson, 559 F.3d 569, 572 (D.C. Cir. 2009) (emphasizing that expert testimony is not always required). And if expert testimony is necessary to establish the relevant standard of care, a plaintiff's failure to name an expert may be fatal to her claim. Godfrey, 559 F.3d at 572. Here, the defendant asserts that the plaintiff cannot prove her claim without expert testimony on the relevant standard of care. Def.'s Mot. at 8. Because the plaintiff has not named such a witness, the defendant concludes that it is entitled to summary judgment. Id. Although the ...


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