United States District Court, District of Columbia
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
COLLEEN KOLLAR-KOTELLY United States District Judge
case stems from a violent incident that occurred on a
Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority
("WMATA") bus on August 21, 2015. Plaintiff Earl
Coates alleges that armed gunmen approached the bus at a bus
stop and turned off its power by accessing an unlocked
"shutoff panel" on the bus's exterior. The
gunmen then attacked the bus, firing multiple gunshots before
fleeing. Plaintiff, a passenger on the bus, was struck twice
and injured. He brings this lawsuit against WMATA asserting
several negligence-based causes of action, including a
request for punitive damages.
the Court is Defendant WMATA's  Motion to Dismiss.
WMATA argues that Plaintiffs claims are barred by the
doctrine of sovereign immunity. Specifically, WMATA argues
that it is immune from negligent design claims and that the
gravamen of Plaintiff s Complaint is that WMATA was negligent
in designing its buses to include unlocked exterior shutoff
panels. WMATA also argues that it is immune from claims for
consideration of the pleadings, the relevant legal
authorities, and the record for purposes of this motion, the
Court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART WMATA's Motion to
Dismiss. The Court agrees with WMATA that Plaintiffs claims
are barred by the doctrine of sovereign immunity to the
extent they are premised on WMATA's use of unlocked
shutoff panels on its buses. The Court also agrees with WMATA
that Plaintiffs request for punitive damages is barred.
However, Plaintiff s Complaint also contains allegations
regarding allegedly negligent actions of WMATA's bus
driver that are separate and distinct from WMATA's
decision to use unlocked shutoff panels. To the extent
Plaintiff s claims are based on these allegations, they are
not barred by WMATA's sovereign immunity. WMATA's
other arguments for dismissing these claims were raised for
the first time in WMATA's  Reply to Plaintiffs
Opposition to Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, and will not
be considered at this time.
WMATA's Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED
IN PART. Plaintiffs claims are DISMISSED to the extent they
are predicated on the design of the shutoff panels on
WMATA's buses. Plaintiffs request for punitive damages is
also DISMISSED. WMATA's Motion to Dismiss is DENIED to
the extent Plaintiff s claims are based on the actions of
WMATA's bus driver that are unrelated to the unlocked
purposes of the motion before the Court, the Court accepts as
true the well-pleaded allegations in Plaintiffs Complaint.
The Court does "not accept as true, however, the
plaintiffs legal conclusions or inferences that are
unsupported by the facts alleged." Ralls Corp. v.
Comm. on Foreign Inv. in U.S., 758 F.3d 296, 315 (D.C.
Cir. 2014). The Court recites only the background necessary
for the Court's resolution of the pending Motion to
August 21, 2015, Plaintiff was a passenger on a WMATA bus
travelling on the W8 Anacostia Loop route in Washington, D.C.
Compl., ECF No. 1-3, ¶¶ 6-7. After making what
appeared to be a normal stop, the WMATA bus driver opened the
door for an individual waiting at the bus stop. Id.
¶¶ 8-9. The individual refused to board the bus,
and the WMATA driver eventually closed the door. Id.
¶ 10. Before the bus could drive away, however, another
individual disabled the bus by accessing the shutoff panel on
its exterior. Id. ¶¶ 11-12. The shutoff
panels on WMATA's buses are unlocked and labeled with the
words "Battery Disconnect Switch Inside."
the bus's power was cut off, the bus driver left the bus,
leaving the bus passengers "stranded" in the dark.
Id. ¶¶ 14, 30. The driver did not inform
the passengers about the situation. Id. ¶ 30.
The driver "abandon[ed] the bus" and made no
attempt to turn the bus's power back on. Id.
¶¶ 15, 30. While the passengers were waiting on the
bus in the dark, an individual fired a gun into the bus,
striking Plaintiff twice. Id. ¶¶ 17, 19.
The bus driver did not attempt to contact any authorities or
officials to report the situation. Id. ¶ 30.
on these allegations, Plaintiff asserts several
negligence-based causes of action, including a request for
punitive damages. Id. ¶¶ 24-42. WMATA
moves to dismiss under Federal Rules of Procedure 12(b)(1)
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1)
Rule 12(b)(1), the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing
that the court has subject matter jurisdiction.
Georgiades v. Martin-Trigona, 729 F.2d 831, 833 n.4
(D.C. Cir. 1984) ("It is the burden of the party
claiming subject matter jurisdiction to demonstrate that it
exists."). A court must accept as true all factual
allegations contained in the complaint when reviewing a
motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1). Banneker
Ventures, LLC v. Graham, 798 F.3d 1119, 1129 (D.C. Cir.
2015) ("As it must on motions to dismiss for failure to
state a claim, a district court considering a motion to
dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction accepts the
allegations of the complaint as true."). "Where
necessary to resolve a jurisdictional challenge under Rule
12(b)(1), 'the court may consider the complaint
supplemented by undisputed facts evidenced in the record, or
the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts plus the
court's resolution of disputed facts.'"
Id. (quoting Herbert v. Nat'l Acad, of
Scis., 974 F.2d 192, 197 (D.C. Cir. 1992)).
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)
Rule 12(b)(6), a party may move to dismiss a complaint on the
grounds that it "fail[s] to state a claim upon which
relief can be granted." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). "[A]
complaint [does not] suffice if it tenders 'naked
assertion[s]' devoid of 'further factual
enhancement.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S.
662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly,
550 U.S. 544, 557 (2007)). Rather, a complaint must contain
sufficient factual allegations that, if accepted as true,
"state a claim to relief that is plausible on its
face." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. "A claim
has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual
content that allows the court to draw the reasonable
inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct
alleged." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. In deciding a
Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court may consider "the facts
alleged in the complaint, documents attached as exhibits or
incorporated by reference in the complaint, " or
"documents upon which the plaintiffs complaint
necessarily relies even if the document is produced not by
the plaintiff in the complaint but by the defendant in a
motion to dismiss." Ward v. District of Columbia
Dep't of Youth Rehab. Servs., 768F.Supp.2d 117, 119
(D.D.C. 2011) (citations omitted).
argues that Plaintiffs claims are barred by the doctrine of
sovereign immunity. As explained in more detail below, the
Court agrees that Plaintiff s claims are barred by sovereign
immunity to the extent they are factually premised on
WMATA's use of unlocked shutoff panels on its buses.
However, the Court concludes that Plaintiffs claims are not
barred to the extent they are premised on allegedly negligent
actions of WMATA's bus driver. The Court will not
consider WMATA's other arguments for dismissing such
claims, as they were raised for the first time in WMATA's
Reply brief. Finally, the Court agrees with WMATA that
Plaintiffs request for punitive damages is barred.
WMATA's Sovereign ...