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Felder v. Wmata

United States District Court, District of Columbia

May 21, 2015

CORNIELIUS FELDER, As Administrator of the Estate of Harold Ingram, Plaintiff,
v.
WMATA, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

THOMAS F. HOGAN, Senior District Judge.

Pending before the Court is Defendant Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint In Part [ECF No. 7], which seeks the dismissal of the plaintiff's causes of action for (1) negligent training and instruction and (2) compensatory damages pursuant to the Virginia Wrongful Death Act. Upon consideration of the legal briefs filed by the parties, the Court finds that oral arguments are not necessary and, for the reasons that follow, it will grant the motion in part with respect to the claim for negligent training and instruction. A ruling regarding the motion to dismiss the claim for compensatory damages pursuant to the Virginia Wrongful Death Act will be the subject of a memorandum opinion that will be issued separately.

BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL POSTURE

According to the allegations contained in the plaintiff's Complaint, on October 6, 2013, Harold Ingram was working for a Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority ("WMATA") subcontractor on a project to replace part of the Red Line metro rail track when he was fatally struck by a section of rail that was suspended from a Pettibone Speed Swing being operated by a WMATA employee. Compl. ¶¶ 5-8, 13, 29 [ECF No. 7-2]. On October 17, 2014, this lawsuit was commenced in the D.C. Superior Court by Cornelius Felder, who is Harold Ingram's son and the personal representative for Mr. Ingram's estate. Compl. ¶¶ 2, 4 (identifying Cornelius Felder). Although the Complaint fails to set forth separately-titled counts, it appears to allege the following causes of action: (1) negligence by the WMATA employee who operated the Speed Swing, (2) negligent failure to train and instruct the WMATA employee who operated the Speed Swing, (3) negligent failure to inspect, maintain, and detect a defect in a hydraulic fluid hose that ruptured, (4) and negligent failure to conduct a "proper" job briefing at the site of the accident. Compl. ¶¶ 31-48.

In accordance with Section 81 of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Regulation Compact (the "WMATA Compact"), which provides that federal district courts shall have concurrent original jurisdiction over suits against WMATA, D.C. Code § 9-1107.01(81) (West 2014), WMATA removed the case to this Court. On November 19, 2014, WMATA filed the pending motion to dismiss. Less than a month later, the parties notified the Court that WMATA had stipulated that the employee operating the Speed Swing was acting within the scope of his employment and, based on that stipulation, the plaintiff dismissed the lawsuit against the employee. Def.'s Stipulation Regarding Scope of Employment & Pl.'s Notice of Dismissal of [ECF No. 9]. As a result of the voluntary dismissal, WMATA is the only remaining defendant in this case.

LEGAL STANDARDS

The defendant moved to dismiss the plaintiff's Complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) on the ground that WMATA is immune from liability for negligent training and instruction. Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss Pls.'s Complaint In Part 7 [ECF No. 7]. The defendant also moved to dismiss the compensatory damages claim in accordance with Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim for relief. Id. at 11. Because the Court finds that the defendant's first challenge is more properly considered under the rubric of Rule 12(b)(6), see Sierra Club v. Jackson, 648 F.3d 848, 853 (D.C. Cir. 2011) (indicating that a claim that an agency's action was not justiciable because it involved a discretionary function should have been considered under Rule 12(b)(6) rather than Rule 12(b)(1)), the Court will assess both challenges to determine whether the plaintiff has stated a claim for which relief can be granted.

Pursuant to Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, to survive a motion to dismiss a complaint "must contain... a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief...." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). "Under the Supreme Court's rearticulation of pleading requirements in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009), and Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007), [t]o survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Rollins v. Wackenhut Servs., Inc., 703 F.3d 122, 129 (D.C. Cir. 2012) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678).

Consistent with these principles, the Court employs a two-prong approach to consideration of whether a complaint's dismissal is warranted. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. First, "a court considering a motion to dismiss can choose to begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth." Id. As the Supreme Court has explained, "the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Thus, "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id.

Second, after identifying any well-pleaded factual allegations, "a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Id. at 679. Allegations are plausible "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. at 678. The Court's evaluation of the complaint to determine whether it states a plausible claim for relief is "a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id. at 679.

DISCUSSION

WMATA contends that the plaintiff's claims for negligent training and instruction must be dismissed because WMATA is immune from liability for such claims pursuant to Section 80 of the WMATA Compact. Def.'s Mem. of P. & A. In Support of Its Mot. to Dismiss Pl.'s Compl. 3, 4-5 [ECF No. 7-1]. There appears to be no dispute between the parties about the legal principles that apply, but the plaintiffs argue that dismissal of the negligent training and instruction claim would be premature before discovery is conducted, Pl.'s Opp'n Br. 3 [ECF No. because "[d]iscovery might reveal that there are in fact specific WMATA policies and procedures related to the training of employees like [the Speed Swing operator], " id. at 4.

"In 1966, acting pursuant to the Compact Clause of the Constitution, U.S. Const. art. I, § 10, cl. 3, Congress approved the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Compact between Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia to deal with growing traffic problems in the Washington area." Beebe v. WMATA, 129 F.3d 1283, 1285 (D.C. Cir. 1997). This agreement is referred to as the "WMATA Compact." Burkhart v. WMATA, 112 F.3d 1207, 1216 (D.C. Cir. 1997). "In signing the WMATA Compact, Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia conferred upon WMATA their respective sovereign immunities." Beebe, 129 F.3d at 1287. Accordingly, Section 80 of the WMATA Compact "provides that [t]he Authority shall be liable... for its torts and those of its Directors, officers, employees and agents committed in the course of any proprietary function... but shall not be liable for any torts occurring in the performance of a governmental function.'" Burkhart, 112 F.3d at 1216 (quoting former D.C. Code § 1-2431(80), now D.C. Code § 9-1107.01(80)).

The D.C. Circuit has "acknowledged... that section 80 of the WMATA Compact provides a limited waiver of WMATA's sovereign immunity for torts committed in the conduct of any proprietary function, but not for torts occurring in the performance of a governmental function." KisKA Constr. Corp. v. WMATA, 321 F.3d 1151, 1158 (D.C. Cir. 2003) (internal quotation marks omitted and emphasis added). "Unless the limited waiver of immunity applies, the district court lacks jurisdiction to enter a judgment against [WMATA]." Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). "[T]he question of whether an activity is a ...


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