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Saddler v. AMEC Foster Wheeler Environment & Infrastructure, Inc.

United States District Court, District of Columbia

May 26, 2017

LARRY SADDLER, Plaintiff,
v.
AMEC FOSTER WHEELER ENVIRONMENT & INFRASTRUCTURE, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          RANDOLPH D. MOSS United States District Judge

         In order to construct a streetcar line in northeast Washington, D.C., the District of Columbia contracted with Dean-Facchina, LLC (“Dean-Facchina”) to provide general contracting services and with Defendant AMEC Foster Wheeler Environment & Infrastructure, Inc. (“AMEC”) to provide construction management services. AMEC's responsibilities included, among other things, twice-daily inspections of the streetcar construction site to ensure that it was safely maintained. On September 26, 2013, Plaintiff Larry Saddler tripped and fell over a construction sign that had been placed on a sidewalk, resulting in serious injuries. Saddler filed a personal injury complaint against the District of Columbia and Dean-Facchina in D.C. Superior Court in 2015. Dkt. 1 at 2 (Compl. ¶ 4); Dkt. 4-4 at 4. Then, a year later, invoking this Court's diversity jurisdiction, he filed a separate complaint against AMEC arising from the same incident. Dkt. 1. In that complaint, Saddler alleges that AMEC failed to use reasonable care in maintaining the safety of the streetcar construction site and that its negligence caused his injuries.

         AMEC now moves to dismiss the present action. Dkt. 4. It argues that, under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(7) and 19, Saddler has failed to join two indispensable parties- the District of Columbia and Dean-Facchina; that joining of the District of Columbia would destroy diversity jurisdiction; and that, accordingly, the Court should dismiss the action in “equity and good conscience” because the action cannot fairly “proceed among the existing parties.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 19(b); Dkt. 4-1 at 8-18. In the alternative, AMEC asserts that the Court should abstain from exercising jurisdiction over this matter under the Colorado River doctrine. See Colo. River Water Conservation Dist. v. United States, 424 U.S. 800 (1976). AMEC argues that, because the D.C. Superior Court is already exercising jurisdiction over a parallel suit involving the same operative facts, this Court should, in the interest of comity, defer to the Superior Court and decline to hear the case, or, at the very least, should stay the present case pending the outcome of the Superior Court action. Dkt. 4-1 at 18-25.

         As explained below, the Court disagrees and will, accordingly, deny AMEC's motion to dismiss on both grounds.

         I. BACKGROUND

         For purposes of the pending motion to dismiss, the Court will assume the truth of the following facts, which are taken from Saddler's complaint. See Dentons U.S. LLP v. Republic of Guinea, 208 F.Supp.3d 330, 334 (D.D.C. 2016) (citing Am. Nat'l Ins. Co. v. FDIC, 642 F.3d 1137, 1139 (D.C. Cir. 2011)).

         As noted above, the District of Columbia awarded Dean-Facchina, a corporate citizen of Florida and Maryland, Dkt. 4-1 at 9, a contract to build a streetcar line, and awarded AMEC, a corporate citizen of Nevada and Georgia, Dkt. 1 at 2 (Compl. ¶ 6); Dkt. 4-1 at 8-9, a contract to provide construction management services for the project, Dkt. 1 at 3 (Compl. ¶¶ 7-8). The streetcar line was to run, in part, along Benning Road from 21st to 26th Streets, and, as Dean-Facchina worked on that segment of the line, it “erected barriers and placed signs around the construction site.” Dkt. 1 at 3 (Compl. ¶ 9). AMEC's role in the project, Saddler alleges, was to inspect the construction site, equipment, and signage for “safety [or] hazardous conditions, ” to “document and report” any “deviations” to Dean-Facchina or the District of Columbia, and to “ensure that [any] deviations were remedied.” Id. (Compl. ¶ 11). Similarly, AMEC was charged with monitoring the safety of the “streets and sidewalks in and around the streetcar construction, ” and it was required to report “any deviations from maintenance of traffic guidelines” to Dean-Facchina or the District of Columbia, and, again, to “ensure that [any] deviations were remedied.” Id. Saddler alleges that AMEC was required to accomplish these tasks by performing “twice[-]daily inspections of the construction project and sites.” Id. (Compl. ¶ 8).

         On September 26, 2013, Saddler, a resident of the District of Columbia, was walking on the Benning Road sidewalk near the corner of Benning and 21st Street, N.E., “when he tripped and fell over a dangerously placed sign.” Id. at 4 (Compl. ¶ 12). Saddler alleges that the “skinny rods at the base protruding” from the sign “t[ook] up nearly half of the sidewalk;” that “two poles on the street corner . . . obscur[ed]” part of the sign from view; and that the sign was “placed [on] the sidewalk facing the street” rather than facing “oncoming pedestrians.” Id. (Compl. ¶¶ 13-15). The sign, Saddler asserts, had been in this “dangerous position” for “at least [four] days prior to” his fall, and he alleges that, during this four-day period, “AMEC had made multiple inspections of the site” but failed to remedy the situation. Id. (Compl. ¶¶ 16-17). Saddler claims that, as a result of the fall, he “suffered serious injury” that “required numerous surgeries” and necessitated a “long period of recovery” and “ongoing therapy.” Id. at 5 (Compl. ¶¶ 20-22).

         “[I]n connection with this incident, ” Saddler brought a personal injury suit in D.C. Superior Court against the District of Columbia and Dean-Facchina in September 2015. Id. at 2 (Compl. ¶ 4); Dkt. 4-4 at 4. A year later, invoking this Court's diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a), Saddler filed the present action, asserting claims for negligence and negligence per se against AMEC arising from the same incident. See Dkt. 1. AMEC has moved to dismiss the complaint under Rule 12(b)(7), or, in the alternative, for the Court to abstain from exercising its jurisdiction under the Colorado River doctrine. See Dkt. 4-1.

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. 12(b)(7) Motion to Dismiss

         AMEC first argues that the Court should dismiss Saddler's complaint because he has “failed to join indispensable parties” under Rules 12(b)(7) and 19. Dkt. 4 at 1. AMEC acknowledges that a suit between Saddler and AMEC satisfies 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)'s diversity requirement-Saddler is a resident of the District of Columbia, AMEC is a corporate resident of Nevada and Georgia, and more than $75, 000 is at stake. See Dkt. 4-1 at 8-9. It argues, however, that under Rule 19(a), the District of Columbia and Dean-Facchina “must be joined” as defendants, Fed.R.Civ.P. 19(a)(1), and that joinder of the District would destroy diversity jurisdiction, Dkt. 4-1 at 9. According to AMEC, this requires dismissal of the action under Rule 19(b), because the case cannot proceed with the District of Columbia as a party, yet, “in equity and good conscience, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 19(b), ought not proceed among the existing parties without the District, Dkt. 4-1 at 11-12. The Court disagrees.

         Rule 12(b)(7) permits a defendant to move to dismiss a complaint for “failure to join a party under Rule 19.” Rule 19, in turn, “establishes a two-step procedure for determining whether an action must be dismissed because of the absence of a party needed for a just adjudication.” Cherokee Nation of Okla. v. Babbitt, 117 F.3d 1489, 1495-96 (D.C. Cir. 1997). First, the Court “must determine whether the absent party is ‘necessary' to the litigation according to the factors enumerated in Rule 19(a); if so, the [C]ourt must order that the absent party be joined.” Id. at 1496. “If a necessary party cannot be joined”-because, for example, doing so would deprive the Court of jurisdiction-the Court “must turn to the second step, examining the factors in Rule 19(b) to ‘determine whether in equity and good conscience, the action should proceed among the parties before it, or should be dismissed, the absent person being regarded as indispensable.'” Id. (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 19(b)).[1] Here, the Court need not proceed to the second step of the Rule 19 analysis because AMEC's challenge fails at the first step.

         As an initial matter, the Court cannot accept AMEC's premise that joining the District of Columbia as a defendant would defeat diversity jurisdiction. AMEC's argument appears to presume that the District of Columbia is itself a “citizen” of the District of Columbia, and that joinder of the District in a case brought by Saddler, who is a D.C. resident, would thus defeat diversity. See Dkt. 4-1 at 9 (“[T]he Government of the District of Columbia shares citizenship in the District of Columbia with Plaintiff.”). It has been established for over a century, however, “that a State is not a ‘citizen' for purposes of the diversity jurisdiction.” Moor v. Alameda Cty., 411 U.S. 693, 717 (1973). The same holds true, moreover, for the District of Columbia, see Long v. District of Columbia, 820 F.2d 409, 414 (D.C. Cir. 1987), which constitutes a “State[]” for purposes of § 1332, see 28 U.S.C. § 1332(e). As the D.C. Circuit has explained:

The only “State” of which the District could conceivably be a citizen is the District itself; thus, the District is subject to diversity jurisdiction only if the District is a citizen of itself. We cannot subscribe to such a bizarre characterization of the District of Columbia. As we have noted, the Supreme Court has held repeatedly that the fifty states are not citizens of themselves . . . . We can think of no reason for holding that the fifty states are not citizens of themselves, but the District is a citizen of itself. The rationale underlying the Supreme Court's teaching is that a whole cannot be a citizen of the whole. This rationale applies as well to the District of ...

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