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Blake v. Securitas Security Services, Inc.

United States District Court, District Circuit

August 26, 2013

KEON BLAKE, Plaintiff,


JAMES E. BOASBERG, District Judge.

This case arises out of an unusual and unfortunate accident. On October 15, 2010, Plaintiff Keon Blake attended a dance at McKinley Technology High School in Washington, where he was a student. Defendant Securitas Security Services, Inc., a private contractor, was engaged to provide security for the event. Some time that evening, after smoking marijuana, Blake jumped or fell from a third-floor balcony at the school, suffering serious injuries. He brings this action against Securitas, alleging that but for Defendant's negligent acts, he would not have been able to access the balcony. Discovery having concluded, Securitas now moves for summary judgment, arguing both that Plaintiff cannot establish proximate cause and that he was contributorily negligent as a matter of law. As the Court agrees with the latter contention, it will grant the Motion.

I. Background

Viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, the facts show that in 2010, he was a student at McKinley Tech. See Mot., Statement of Undisputed Material Facts (Def.'s SUMF) at 1. On the evening of October 15, the school held a homecoming dance in its gym, which Blake attended. See id. Before the dance, Blake and several of his friends went to an abandoned lot across the street from the school to smoke marijuana. See id. at 1-2. He later admitted that he knew from past experience that smoking marijuana impaired his thinking, and that on this particular occasion, it made him feel "weird." See id. at 1. Afterwards, Blake and his friends returned to the school to attend the dance. See id.

Assistant Principals Guillaume Gendre and Michael Moss, who were supervising the event, observed at some point that Blake was at the center of a commotion among the students in the gym. See id. Moss noted that Blake, who was leaning on his friends for support, "looked to be under the influence of something.'" See id. (quoting Mot., Exh. A (Deposition of Michael Moss) at 41:1-41:13). At this point, Moss remained in the gym while Gendre escorted Blake into a breezeway separating the gym from the main part of the school building and questioned him about his behavior. See id. Shortly thereafter, they were joined by Kevohn McCormick, another student and a friend of Blake's, but the boys then left the breezeway and entered the main school building, despite Gendre's objections. See id. Gendre followed them into the main building and asked Dean of Students Gregory Bacon, who was in his office, to assist him. See id. Gendre and Bacon then followed Blake and McCormick up a flight of stairs to the third floor of the building, where McCormick's locker was located. See id. at 3.

At some point during their interaction, Blake admitted to Bacon that he had smoked "some weed, '" see id. (quoting Mot., Exh. E. (Deposition of Gregory Bacon) at 37:7-37:16), and then inexplicably urinated into McCormick's open locker. See id. at 4. Blake later recalled experiencing "tunnel vision" at the time. See id. Gendre subsequently left the third floor of the school to seek additional assistance, telling Bacon to "stay put with the children, do not let them go anywhere, stay with them.'" See id. (quoting Mot., Exh. C (Deposition of Guillaume Gendre) at 44:13-44:19). Shortly after Gendre left, Blake, again without apparent motivation, took off running down the third-floor hallway in the direction of the atrium. See id. Bacon did not attempt to stop Blake, nor did he or McCormick follow him. See id. at 5. Eventually, Blake reached the third-floor balcony overlooking the atrium, ducked under a set of protective cables, climbed over the balcony's guard railing, and fell or jumped to the atrium floor some four stories below. See id. Blake survived the fall but suffered significant injuries. See Compl., ΒΆ 16.

On the night of the accident, Defendant Securitas was providing security services at McKinley Tech under a contract with the District of Columbia, administered by the Metropolitan Police Department. See Def.'s SUMF at 5-6. The contract required Securitas to post six security guards at the school during regular hours and to provide additional security personnel for after-school events upon request. See id. at 6. That night, Securitas had three guards on duty at the school: two in the gym and one at the main entrance. See id. According to his deposition testimony, Gendre left Bacon alone with Blake on the third floor because he had received no response in his attempt to radio the security guard posted at the main entrance and had gone downstairs to find him. See Gendre Dep. at 44-45, 88-90. When Gendre arrived at the main entrance, he found the guard, Officer DuWarren Purvis, asleep. See id. at 44-47. Gendre then woke Purvis, who called 911, before returning to the group on the third floor. See id. at 47. By the time he returned, however, Blake had already fallen from the balcony. See Def.'s SUMF at 5.

Blake brought this suit in the Superior Court for the District of Columbia on July 24, 2012, asserting that his injuries were caused by several instances of Securitas's negligence on the night of the accident, including Officer Purvis's falling asleep and failing to respond to Gendre's original distress call. Securitas removed the case to federal court on August 15, 2012. The Court now considers Securitas's Motion for Summary Judgment, filed at the conclusion of discovery.

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 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." Id . 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 the 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, "[t]he evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. at 255; see also Mastro v. Potomac Elec. Power Co. , 447 F.3d 843, 850 (D.C. Cir. 2006); Aka v. Wash. Hosp. Ctr., 156 F.3d 1284, 1288 (D.C. Cir. 1998) ( en banc ); Wash. Post Co. v. United States Dep't of Health and Human Servs. , 865 F.2d 320, 325 (D.C. Cir. 1989). 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). 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 nonmovant 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 nonmovant's evidence is "merely colorable" or "not significantly probative, " summary judgment may be granted. Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. at 249-50.

III. Analysis

Blake asserts two possible theories of negligence in this case. He argues first that Securitas was negligent for "retaining Officer Purvis despite his history of poor job performance, " and second that Purvis - and thus Securitas - was negligent for "failing to respond to [Gendre's] emergency call" on the night of the accident. See Opp. at 5. Under Blake's first theory, if Securitas had appropriately documented Purvis's apparent habit of sleeping on the job, it would have warned or terminated him, and he would not have been employed on October 15. See id. at 8. In Blake's view, "if [Purvis] was terminated, a competent guard would have been working the night of the dance and would have responded to Gendre's call for assistance." Id . According to this theory, if a competent guard had responded, Gendre would not have left Blake's side and Gendre - or someone - could have prevented him from reaching the balcony from which he ultimately fell. See id. at 9-11. Here, Blake's first theory of negligence merges into the second: if Purvis himself had not been negligent in failing to respond to Gendre's emergency call, Gendre could have prevented Blake's ultimate injuries. See id.

Defendant contends that Blake cannot prevail on either theory. Instead, it argues that it is entitled to summary judgment for two reasons: first, Plaintiff cannot demonstrate that his injuries were proximately caused by Securitas's negligence, see Mot. at 17, and second, Plaintiff was contributorily negligent as a matter of law. See id. at 11. While Securitas presents strong arguments on the ...

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