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Grimes v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

March 30, 2018

PATRICIA GRIMES, as the next best friend and Personal Representative of the Estate of Karl Grimes, Plaintiff,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al. Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION [DKT. #101]

          RICHARD J. LEON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Decedent Karl Grimes ("K.G.") was a juvenile offender in Defendant District of Columbia's custody ("District"). On or about August 29, 2005, K.G. was committed to the Oak Hill Juvenile Detention Facility ("Oak Hill"). See Compl. ¶¶ 10, 17 ("Compl.") [Dkt. #1]. Decedent's mother Patricia Grimes ("Grimes" or "plaintiff) filed this suit alleging that on or about November 23, 2005, K.G. was attacked by several Oak Hill residents, resulting in his death. Id. ¶¶ 11> 15. According to plaintiff, the attack occurred because "the facility was under-staffed and/or improperly-staffed to accomplish the detention of young males in a reasonably safe environment." Id. ¶ 12. The District of Columbia "knew of the unsafe conditions at the Oak Hill Facility, " but, "through deliberate indifference, did nothing." Id. ¶ 18. Plaintiff alleges that the District's "deliberate indifference" to these conditions violated decedent's Eighth Amendment rights. Id. ¶ 21. Plaintiff also alleges negligent hiring, training, and supervising on the part of the District.[1] Id. ¶ 26.

         Before this Court is the District's Renewed Motion for Summary Judgment. [Dkt. #101]. For the reasons that follow, the Motion is GRANTED.

         BACKGROUND

         The District's Renewed Motion for Summary Judgment follows a very lengthy and somewhat convoluted path of judicial proceedings, with multiple modifications to the discovery schedule and multiple trips to our Court of Appeals.

         I. Proceedings Following November 6, 2009 Scheduling Order

         On November 6, 2009, the Court issued its Scheduling Order. [Dkt. #34]. That Order specified that Rule 26(a)(1) Initial Disclosures would be due on November 30, 2009; Written Discovery Requests on December 30, 2009; Proponent's Rule 26(b)(4) Expert Statement on January 18, 2010; and Opponents' Rule 26(b)(4) Expert Statement on March 18, 2010. Id. Per the Scheduling Order, Discovery would close on May 31, 2010, and Dispositive Motions would be due July 15, 2010. Id.

         To say the least, Discovery was slow-going. Neither plaintiff nor the District filed a Rule 26(a)(1) Statement. Only Dimensions Health Corporation, d/b/a Prince George's Hospital Center ("PGHC"), no longer a party to this case, filed a Rule 26(a)(1) Statement.[2][Dkt. # 36]. On January 7, 2010, Defendants District of Columbia and PGHC jointly filed a Motion for Entry of Protective Order. [Dkt. # 37]. Then, on January 15, 2010, more than two months after the Rule 26(a) Initial Disclosures deadline, and not having received Initial Disclosures from plaintiff, PGHC filed a Motion to Compel and for Sanctions. [Dkt. #38], PGHC sought an order to compel plaintiffs Rule 26(a) Statement, noting that Defendant PGHC had been prejudiced by plaintiffs failure to observe the Court's timeline, since Initial Disclosures "serve[] as a building block for the remainder of discovery." Id. ¶ 6. "Without this information, Defendant [PGHC] is severely limited in its ability to pursue discovery and prepare its defense." Id. Indeed, PGHC noted, in light of the discovery deadline of May 31, 2010, "there is a very limited period of time remaining for [PGHC] to pursue discovery in this matter." Id. ¶ 7.[3]

         PGHC's Motion to Compel and for Sanctions spurred plaintiff to action. Little more than one week later, plaintiff filed a Motion for Extension of Time to Complete Discovery. [Dkt. # 40]. The Motion contained no explanation, however, as to why plaintiff had failed to file the Rule 26(a)(1) Initial Disclosures, as required by the Scheduling Order. Id. Instead, plaintiff represented to the Court that due to the lack of protective order, neither defendant had responded to discovery. Id.[4] Plaintiff advised that, without defendants' responses, she could not file the expert report due on March 18, 2010. Id. For this reason, plaintiff asked that the deadlines specified in the Scheduling Order each be moved back 60 days. Id. In plaintiffs view, 60 days "would provide ample time to complete discovery in this rather complex case." Id. ¶ 4. The District of Columbia consented to the Motion, but PGHC opposed. Id.

         Shortly thereafter, on January 27, 2010, the District of Columbia moved for an extension of time to complete discovery, requesting 30 days from the issuance of the Protective Order to respond to the interrogatories and requests for production of documents served by plaintiff. [Dkt. #41]. On February 4, 2010, the Court issued the Protective Order. [Dkt. # 43]. This set out procedures for the use of "juvenile social service records, medical records, investigative reports, [Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services] records, psychiatric and/or psychological records, educational records, financial records, or other personal and private information, documents and things" over the course of the litigation.[5] Id. ¶ 1.

         Other than PGHC's Rule 26(b)(4) expert designations [Dkt. # 48], the docket-reflects no discovery activity over the next two months.[6] On March 30, 2010, PGHC filed a Motion to Dismiss. [Dkt. # 49]. PGHC's motion relied on both plaintiffs and the District's failure to identify and proffer experts under the timeline set out in the Scheduling Order. This is because "[i]n order to prove a prima facie case of medical malpractice, a plaintiff must produce expert testimony." Mem. in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss at 3 (citing Nichols v. Greater Se. Cmty. Hosp., 382 F.Supp.2d 109 (D.D.C. 2005)) [Dkt. # 49-1].

         The Court ruled on these four sets of motions-PGHC's Motion to Compel and for Sanctions; Plaintiffs Motion for Extension of Time to Complete Discovery; the District's Motion for Additional Time to Respond to Discovery and to Serve Written Discovery; and PGHC's Motion to Dismiss-on June 21, 2010. PGHC's Motion to Dismiss and Motion to Compel and for Sanctions were denied; and Plaintiffs and the District's respective motions were granted nunc pro tunc.

         II. Proceedings Following Amended Scheduling Order

         Pursuant to this round of orders, the deadlines in the Scheduling Order were, nunc pro tunc, each moved back 60 days. Under the amended Scheduling Order, the Initial 26(a)(1) Disclosures deadline was January 30, 2010; Written Discovery Requests were due on March 1, 2010; Proponent's Rule 26(b)(4) Expert Statement was due March 20, 2010; Opponents Rule 26(b)(4) Expert Statement was due May 20, 2010; Discovery would close on July 29, 2010; and Dispositive Motions were due on September 12, 2010. In addition, the District received, nunc pro tunc, 30 days from the entry of the Protective Order (February 4, 2010) to "respond to the interrogatories and requests for production of documents served by plaintiff and co-defendant [PGHC]." See Def.'s Mot. for Add'l Time to Respond to Disc, and to Serve Written Disc. (Jan. 27, 2010) [Dkt. #41].

         The parties made no entries on the docket until September 9, 2010, when PGHC filed a Motion to Dismiss and/or in the Alternative Motion for Summary Judgment. [Dkt. # 53]. In the interim, neither plaintiff nor the District filed Rule 26(a) Initial Disclosures. Nor did they file Rule 26(b)(4) Statements. Nor did they notice the deposition of PGHC's fact or expert witnesses.

         Given this lack of discovery, PGHC essentially recited the arguments made in its earlier Motion to Dismiss. PGHC argued that, because plaintiff had failed to designate any experts, she could not establish (i) the appropriate standard of care and (ii) whether a breach occurred. The lack of expert testimony would defeat both plaintiffs claims and the District's cross-claims. Moreover, the brief went on to say, PGHC had proffered experts in its own properly-submitted Rule 26(b)(4) Statement that (i) established the correct standard of care and (ii) demonstrated that PGHC had complied with that standard. PGHC further argued that plaintiff and the District "must be precluded from designating experts at this late stage of the litigation." Mem. in Supp. at 7 [Dkt. # 53-1]. In PGHC's telling, the failure to designate experts "represents a general pattern of failure to prosecute their claims." Id. at 9. Days later, the District filed its own Motion for Summary Judgment, which rested primarily on the argument that plaintiff, despite having the burden of proof had failed to prosecute her claim. [Dkt. # 55].

         Plaintiff did not oppose either motions on the merits. Instead, she filed a Motion to Strike the District's Motion for Summary Judgment on December 1, 2010. [Dkt. # 57].[7]The Motion to Strike focused on an alleged ethical conflict, namely the prior involvement of Peter J. Nickles, Attorney General for the District of Columbia, in a pending class action suit against the District, Jerry M. v. District of Columbia, C.A. No. 1519-85. That suit had alleged that the Oak Hill facility "had deplorable conditions, was understaffed, inadequately supervised, overcrowded, and inherently dangerous." Mot. to Strike ¶ 3 [Dkt. # 57]. Nickles had served as lead counsel in the Jerry M. suit, of which K.G. was a class member. The fact that Nickles' name appeared on the briefs on behalf of the District in the present case, plaintiff contended, meant that Nickles "[c]learly . . . [had] a conflict of interest." Id. ¶5. The District opposed the motion to strike. [Dkt. # 63].

         On December 10, 2010, the District filed a Motion for Order granting the District's Motion for Summary Judgment as conceded, due to plaintiffs failure to respond on the merits. [Dkt. #58]. For its part, PGHC filed two motions: one seeking an order granting its dispositive motion as to plaintiffs claims [Dkt. # 61], and a second seeking an order granting its dispositive motion as to the District's cross-claim [Dkt. # 60]. Both of PGHC s motions asked the Court to deem its earlier motions as conceded, due to the failure of plaintiff and the District to file briefs in opposition. Shortly thereafter, plaintiff filed a Motion for Extension of Time to File an Opposition to the District's Motion to Treat Motion for Summary Judgment as Conceded. [Dkt. #64]. Plaintiff did not oppose PGHC's motion.

         On January 10, 2011, this Court issued a Memorandum Order. [Dkt. # 65]. The order granted as conceded (i) the District's Motion for Summary Judgment [Diets. ## 55, 58], (ii) PGHC's Motion to Dismiss and/or in the Alternative Motion for Summary Judgment against the District of Columbia [Dkts. ## 53, 60], and (iii) PGHC's Motion to Dismiss and/or in the Alternative Motion for Summary Judgment against plaintiff [Dkts. ## 53, 61]. The order denied as moot plaintiffs Motion to Strike [Dkt. # 57].

         Plaintiff then filed a Motion to Alter and/or Amend the Court's Judgment with regard to Defendant District of Columbia. [Dkt. # 66].[8] Although plaintiff acknowledged that she had failed to designate an expert, she attributed this to "not [having] been provided the opportunity to gather necessary facts." Id. at 4 (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(d)). In particular, plaintiff complained that the Court granted her motion to amend the initial Scheduling Order nunc pro tunc. Id. For this reason, plaintiff asserted that she "was deprived of the opportunity to take depositions and follow-up on the discovery that was provided by the District." Id. Plaintiff "[did] not explain, however, what she was doing during the discovery time she had." Grimes v. Dist. of Columbia, 794 F.3d 83, 92 (D.C. Cir. 2015). Plaintiff also disputed the District's characterization of its Motion for Summary Judgment as conceded, because the Motion to Strike was filed prior to the deadline for the opposition brief. [Dkt. # 66]. The matter was fully briefed, and on May 3, 2011, this Court denied plaintiffs Motion, concluding that plaintiff had failed to meet her burden under Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e). See 5/3/2011 Min. Order.

         III. The Court of Appeals' 2012 Decision

         Plaintiff appealed. [Dkt. # 73]. On March 2, 2012, the Court of Appeals remanded for the Court to "consider the effect of the 2010 amendments to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 and 'state on the record the reasons for granting or denying [the summary judgment] motion."' Grimes v. Dist. of Columbia, No. 11-7053 (D.C. Cir. Mar. 2, 2012) (per curiam) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a)). Consistent with this instruction, on April 19, 2012, this Court directed the parties to submit briefs addressing "the effect [on this case, if any] of the 2010 amendments to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, " as well as, "the interaction of amended Federal Rule of Procedure 56(e) and the accompanying 2010 Advisory Committee Note, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55, and Local Rule 7(b)." [Dkt. #81].

         The parties briefed the issue, and I entered my ruling on February 12, 2013. [Dkt. # 88]. I explained in that opinion that the District was entitled to summary judgment based on the "uncontroverted assertions in defendant's September 13, 2010 motion." Id. at 5. For plaintiffs Eighth Amendment claim, for instance, I noted that:

[P]laintiff does not counter defendant's assertions that there is no record evidence: (1) 'that any employee at Oak Hill acted with deliberate indifference to a known safety risk;' (2) 'of a history of assaults on youth at Oak Hill;' (3) 'that any Oak Hill employee knew or should have known that a fight between [K.G.] and another youth was going to take place;' or (4) 'that the youth that fought with [K.G.] had a history of assaultive behavior while at Oak Hill.'

Id. (quoting Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. at 7). "Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(e)(2), the Court considers defendant's assertions to be undisputed for purposes of the motion." Id. at 5-6. This Court also determined that plaintiffs failure to designate an expert on the applicable standard of care foreclosed her claim of negligent hiring, training, and supervision. See Id. at 6. This is because "the average layperson does not possess the technical knowledge needed to judge staffing and security needs at a juvenile detention facility." Id.; see also Farooq v. MDRB Corp., 275 Fed.Appx. 11, 12 (D.C. Cir. Apr. 9, 2008) (affirming grant of summary judgment when plaintiff had failed to designate an expert on the standard of care governing supervision of security personnel). Plaintiff appealed. [Dkt. # 90].

         IV. The Court of Appeals' 2015 Decision

         On July 21, 2015, our Circuit Court vacated my grant of summary judgment in favor of the District, and remanded the case. [Dkt. # 92]. The Court of Appeals concluded that this Court had "erred in the sequence in which it rendered its decisions." Grimes, 794 F.3d at 86. This is because "a claim of counsel's conflict of interest calls into question the integrity of the process in which the allegedly conflicted counsel participates, " requiring the Court to "resolve a motion to disqualify counsel before it turns to the merits of any dispositive motion." Id. Relying on a recent Sixth Circuit case, Bowers v. Ophthalmology Grp., 733 F.3d 647, 654 (6th Cir. 2013), and despite the "broad discretion in managing its docket" that the district court typically enjoys, Grimes, 794 F.3d at 90 (citing Jackson v. Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, 101 F.3d 145, 151-52 (D.C. Cir, 1996)), the Court of Appeals held that "[o]nce a party moves to disqualify an adverse party's counsel, the district court may not entertain a dispositive motion filed by the very counsel alleged to be conflicted until the court has first determined whether that counsel is disqualified, " id.

         After this holding, the Court of Appeals went on to offer "limited guidance on the remaining issues the parties briefed." Id. at 86; see also Id. at 91 ("We limit ourselves to some considerations that may inform the proceedings on remand."). Those "remaining issues" likely to arise before the district court were (i) whether to grant Grimes additional time to complete discovery, see Id. at 92-93, and (ii) whether to grant summary judgment. see Id. at 93-95. The Court of Appeals noted that plaintiff "does not explain . . . what she was doing during the discovery time she had, " but hinted that, nonetheless, this Court should provide an opportunity for additional discovery on remand. See Id. at 92 ('"[A]ffording an opportunity to properly support or address [a] fact' is 'in many circumstances . . . the court's preferred first step.'" (quoting Advisory Comm. Note, Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)(1))). Indeed, the panel noted, "Rule 56(d) establishes a mechanism for nonmovants who lack the facts they need to seek an opportunity to gather more ...


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