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AU & Associates, Inc. v. Howard University

United States District Court, District of Columbia

April 27, 2016

AU & ASSOCIATES, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
HOWARD UNIVERSITY, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

JAMES E. BOASBERG United States District Judge.

Asserting that Howard University refused to pay for consulting services for which it had contracted, Plaintiff AU & Associates, Inc. brought this action against the institution. Before the initial scheduling conference could even take place, AU filed this Motion for Summary Judgment. Because Howard correctly points out that the Motion relies on facts that are genuinely disputed, the Court will deny it.

I. Background

The parties generally agree on most of what happened here. AU and Howard entered into a contract on December 6, 2013, for consulting services, which was then expanded in scope by an amended contract, in a letter dated February 20, 2015. See Compl., ¶ 6; Answer, ¶ 6 (admitting termination). AU responded by sending numerous demand letters seeking payment, which the University has refused to honor. See Compl., ¶ 7; Answer, ¶ 7 (admitting receipt of letters and refusal to pay).

Plaintiff initiated this suit in the District of Columbia Superior Court in November 2015, and it was removed here on diversity grounds the following month. See ECF No. 2. After Howard answered but before the initial scheduling conference had occurred, AU filed this Motion.

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 fact is “material” if it is capable of affecting the substantive outcome of the litigation. See Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 248; Holcomb, 433 F.3d at 895. A dispute 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, 477 U.S. at 248; Holcomb, 433 F.3d at 895. “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” or “showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1).

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 [its] favor.” Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 255; see also Mastro v. PEPCO, 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). 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. See 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. See Laningham v. Navy, 813 F.2d 1236, 1242 (D.C. Cir. 1987).

III. Analysis

In seeking summary judgment, AU relies on two central documents. It first argues that Howard’s Answer “admit[s] virtually all the Plaintiff’s allegation[s].” Mot. at 2. It also points to an email from Defendant, which it contends acknowledges $84, 412 of the debt. Id. at 2-3. Unfortunately for Plaintiff, this evidence is considerably oversold.

First, while the Answer admits the existence of the contract, its amendment, its termination, and AU’s demand letters, see Answer, ¶¶ 2-7, it expressly denies “that Plaintiff provided the services listed in the bills.” Id., ¶ 5. Howard, furthermore, asserts various affirmative defenses, asserting, inter alia, that it did not breach the contract, that Plaintiff failed to comply with certain obligations, and that AU has been paid for all services actually performed. See id. at 2-3. The Answer, consequently, cannot support Plaintiff’s assertion that Howard has conceded liability.

Second, the email in question was sent from Howard Vice President and General Counsel Florence W. Prioleau on October 28, 2015, to one of ...


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