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Beyene v. Hilton Hotels Corporation

United States District Court, District Circuit

August 5, 2013

MESAFINT BEYENE, Plaintiff,
v.
HILTON HOTELS CORPORATION, LAW Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION ON MOTION FOR JUDGMENT AS A MATTER OF LAW

BARBARA J. ROTHSTEIN, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on a motion for judgment as a matter of law filed by Defendant Hilton Hotels Corporation (hereinafter "Hilton"). See Dkt. #73 (hereinafter "Mot.). Defendant owns and operates the Washington Hilton in Washington, D.C., where Plaintiff, Mesafint Beyene, has been a room service waiter since 1999. See Joint Pretrial Statement (Dkt. #54) at 2. This case was tried before a jury from November 26, 2012 to November 28, 2012. See Nov. 26-Nov. 28, 2012 Minute Entries. Plaintiff's sole claim at trial was one for negligent retention, as Plaintiff alleged that Defendant was negligent in retaining two co-workers whom Plaintiff claimed were assaulting him. Joint Pretrial Statement at 2. The jury was unable to reach a consensus, and on November 29, 2013, the jurors were excused without a verdict being rendered. See Nov. 29, 2013 Minute Entry. In its motion, Defendant contends that Plaintiff was unable to establish the required elements of a claim for negligent retention, and that Defendant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50. See Mot. at 1. Having considered the pleadings herein, and having heard the testimony of the witnesses, the Court finds and rules as follows:

I. LEGAL STANDARD

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(a), "[i]f a party has been fully heard on an issue during a jury trial and the court finds that a reasonable jury would not have a legally sufficient evidentiary basis to find for the party on that issue, " then a court may "grant a motion for judgment as a matter of law against the party on a claim or defense that, under the controlling law, can be maintained or defeated only with a favorable finding on that issue." Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a)(1)(B). "If the court does not grant a motion for judgment as a matter of law made under Rule 50(a), the court is considered to have submitted the action to the jury subject to the court's later deciding the legal questions raised by the motion." Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b). If the moving party renews its motion for judgment as a matter of law following the discharge of the jury, the court may consider the motion and, if appropriate, direct the entry of judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b)(3).

The legal standard for granting a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law is the same whether it is rendered during the trial, under Rule 50(a), or after the jury has been discharged, under Rule 50(b). See Rice v. District of Columbia, 818 F.Supp.2d 47, 54 (D.D.C. 2011). That is, "a court should render judgment as a matter of law when a party has been fully heard on an issue and there is no legally sufficient evidentiary basis for a reasonable jury to find for that party on that issue." Id. (quoting Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 149 (2000)). As a post-trial Rule 50(b) motion is limited to a renewal of a Rule 50(a) motion for judgment as a matter of law, the post-trial motion must be limited to those grounds that were specifically raised in the prior Rule 50(a) motion. Id. at 54-55.

The standard for a Rule 50 motion is similar to the summary judgment standard under Rule 56. Id. Like summary judgment, a court considering a motion for judgment as a matter of law "must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, and may not make credibility determinations or weigh evidence." Id. The evidence supporting the nonmoving party's position, however, "must be more than merely colorable; it must be significantly probative." See Williams v. Johnson, 870 F.Supp.2d 158, 162 (D.D.C. 2012) (internal citations omitted).

II. BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background

Plaintiff began working for Defendant in 1999 at the Washington Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C. Joint Pretrial Statement at 3. Plaintiff works as a server in the room service department of the Washington Hilton. Id. at 4. Plaintiffs' allegations stem from interactions with two of his former co-workers, Jaman Chowdhury and Yazan Saleh. Chowdhury worked at the Washington Hilton from 1983 until January 2012. Id. at 3-4. Saleh worked at the Washington Hilton from August 2005 until November 2008. Id. at 3.

Each year, the Washington Hilton hosts the White House Correspondents' Dinner, and Plaintiff usually works as a server for the event. Day 1 Tr. (Dkt. #76) 158:18-19. In April or May 2007, shortly before that year's Correspondents' Dinner, Plaintiff allegedly overheard Chowdhury and Saleh discussing their interest in assassinating the President. Day 1 Tr. 159:24-160:3; 161:19-21. Plaintiff reported his co-workers to the Secret Service, the FBI, and Hilton management. See, e.g., Day 1 Tr. 90:10-15; 93:17-94:4; 159:4-5; 161:19-21. The FBI investigated the report, but was unable to substantiate any threat. See Day 2 Tr. (Dkt. #77) 335:12-17.

According to Plaintiff, Chowdhury and Saleh learned of the investigation and suspected that Plaintiff was responsible for the report. See Day 1 Tr. 163:8-20; Day 2 Tr. 235:9-12. Plaintiff testified that the two approached him at work and threatened his life, stating that they would "cut his throat" and send him back to his country.[1] Day 1 Tr. 163:8-20. Plaintiff reported this threat to Bruce Banks, his immediate supervisor. Day 1 Tr. 164:3-20. Banks then contacted Evert Ramos, Plaintiff's second level supervisor, who in turn contacted Atlabachew Akilu, Hilton's Assistant Director of Food and Beverage. Day 1 Tr. 164:17-25; 166:3-8. Akilu contacted Hilton's Human Resources and Security Department. Day 1 Tr. 166:17-18. Patricia Buckley, Hilton's Assistant Director of Human Resources, initiated an investigation. Day 1 Tr. 167:3-22.[2]

At trial, Buckley testified that, at the time, Plaintiff identified two witnesses to the threats against him, Hassan Boudieh and Omar Farouk. Tr. 94:24-25; 184:21-22. Boudieh testified at trial that he was contacted by Buckley at the time of the alleged incident following the Correspondents' Dinner, and stated that he told her that he had not witnessed any threats against Plaintiff. Day 2 Tr. 243:20-24; 244:9-19. Farouk testified at trial that he was contacted by Ramos at the time of the alleged incident, and stated that he told Ramos that he knew nothing about any threats against Plaintiff. Day 2 Tr. 351:25-352:12. Buckley also testified that when she interviewed Chowdhury and Saleh, both denied threatening Plaintiff. Day 1 Tr. 119:6-17.

Without any evidence beyond Plaintiff's report, Hilton management was unable to confirm that a threat occurred, and closed the investigation without terminating or otherwise disciplining Chowdhury or Saleh. Day 1 Tr. 90:4-6; 183:23-25. Nonetheless, at Plaintiff's request, Hilton management did agree to install security cameras in the area around Plaintiff's workspace. Tr. 184:1-15. At the conclusion of the investigation, Buckley submitted a report to Akilu and Hill explaining that Plaintiff's report could not be substantiated. Tr. 84:2-16; 102:25-103:3.

Plaintiff testified that he experienced significant anxiety following the threats. See, e.g., Day 1 Tr. 176:5-7. When leaving work, Plaintiff would request a security escort to the bus because he believed Saleh, Saleh's friend, and other men were waiting for him at the bus stop. Day 1 Tr. 200:5-14. Plaintiff testified that they did not threaten him, but he nonetheless believed they wanted to kill him. Day 1 Tr. 188:15-16. Plaintiff was also afraid in the Hilton locker room which he shared with Chowdhury, Saleh, and other employees. Day 1 Tr. 170:5-8.

Plaintiff testified that because of "what happened to [him], " he developed a number of physical and psychological symptoms including sleeplessness, anxiety, back pain, and a delusional disorder. Day 1 Tr. 180:1-22. Plaintiff offered testimony from a number of medical experts, including his treating psychiatrist, Dr. Amit Patel, and his retained expert, Dr. Theodore Osuala. Dr. Patel testified that he had diagnosed Plaintiff with a delusional disorder. Day 2 Tr. 278:8. Accordingly to Dr. Patel, it was not possible to determine the cause of a delusional disorder and such a disorder usually develops in adulthood for no apparent reason. Day 2 Tr. 286:12-14; 287:8-288:5. Dr. Osuala testified that Plaintiff suffered from a "psychotic disorder not otherwise specified with predominately delusional symptoms." Day 2 Tr. ...


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