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Horton v. Espindola

United States District Court, District of Columbia

August 8, 2018

FABIAN ESPINDOLA, et al., Defendants.


          Amit P. Mehta United States District Judge


         Plaintiff Charles Horton is a former goalkeeper for Defendant D.C. United, Washington, D.C.'s Major League Soccer (“MLS”) team. Plaintiff alleges that his career came to an untimely end after a teammate, Fabian Espindola, assaulted him during a dispute that left him with a concussion and persistent, debilitating injuries. In this action, Plaintiff seeks to hold responsible D.C. United and his former head coach, Defendant Benjamin Olsen, for their negligence in supervising Espindola and for Espindola's tortious conduct under the theory of respondeat superior liability.

         Now before the court is Defendants D.C. United and Olsen's Motion to Dismiss. Defendants advance two arguments. First, they assert that Plaintiff's claims are preempted by federal labor law because resolving Plaintiff's tort claims would require interpreting and applying the terms of a collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) between MLS and the players' union. Second, Defendants contend that Plaintiff's claims must be dismissed because the sole remedy available to him arises under the District of Columbia Workers' Compensation Act.

         Because Defendants attach the CBA and other evidence to their Motion to Dismiss, the court converts their Motion into one for summary judgment and, for the reasons that follow, denies summary judgment at this early stage without prejudice.


         A. Factual Background

         After a three-year stint with English soccer teams, Plaintiff Charles Horton, a goalkeeper, began his professional soccer career in the United States when he signed a contract with MLS in February 2016. First Am. Compl., ECF No. 14 [hereinafter Am. Compl.], ¶¶ 8-12. The District of Columbia's MLS team, Defendant D.C. United, acquired his rights. Id. ¶ 12. Defendant Benjamin Olsen is the head coach of D.C. United. Id. ¶¶ 3, 13.

         Six weeks after signing the contract, tragedy struck Plaintiff. On March 29, 2016, Plaintiff's teammate, Fabian Espindola, attacked Plaintiff in the team's training room. Id. ¶¶ 13, 15-17. According to Plaintiff, following a video review session, Espindola began arguing with him about an “on-field issue” that had occurred two weeks earlier. Id. ¶ 16. Plaintiff told Espindola that he did not want to continue arguing and turned away, at which point Espindola “viciously struck” Plaintiff with his elbow, landing a blow on Plaintiff's left temple. Id. ¶ 17. Teammates and staff saw the incident and pulled Espindola away from Plaintiff. Id. Although Plaintiff immediately began experiencing symptoms associated with a concussion-including nausea, dizziness, shakiness, and sensitivity to light and sound-the team did not place him into MLS's concussion protocol, but instead allowed him to practice with the team that day. Id. ¶ 18.

         Later that same day, Plaintiff met with his coach, Defendant Benjamin Olsen, to talk about the incident. Id. ¶ 19. At that meeting, Olsen “expressed to Mr. Horton” that he knew “Espindola had a history of violent conduct on and off the field.” Id. ¶ 20. Olsen added that he had thought “it was only a matter of time” before Espindola acted violently toward a D.C. United teammate. Id. Before attacking Plaintiff, Espindola had been repeatedly disciplined for violent acts, including a six-game suspension in 2014 for “physically attacking a referee” during a match, a two-game suspension in 2014 for “violent conduct” toward another player, and an ejection from a game in July 2015 for attempting to elbow an opposing player in the head. Id. ¶ 21. Plaintiff, however, knew nothing of Espindola's track record. See id.

         In the hours that followed the attack, Plaintiff's symptoms became more severe. Id. ¶ 22. He reported to practice the next day, on March 30, 2016, but he could not take the field. Id. D.C. United's athletic trainer ordered Plaintiff not to train, and a team physician diagnosed Horton with a concussion, after which Horton entered the concussion protocol. Id. The concussion sidelined Plaintiff for weeks. See id. ¶ 24. During that time, he continued to grapple with symptoms ranging from memory loss to chronic headaches and lack of concentration, and he underwent a variety of neurological, neurophysiological, and ophthalmological exams and treatments. Id.

         In May 2016, even though his concussion symptoms remained, Plaintiff was medically cleared to play. Id. ¶ 26. He was “relegated temporarily to a lower-league team” as he tried to recover, but, while training there, Plaintiff broke a finger-an injury that prevented him from continuing with D.C. United that season. Id. Plaintiff never rejoined the team. He tried to reclaim his position in the 2017 season, but he “was unable to regain” the same level of play as before the attack by Espindola and the resulting concussion. Id. ¶ 27. At some point, Olsen and the D.C. United coaching staff told Plaintiff he “would no longer be a member of the D.C. United club.” Id. Plaintiff then retired from professional soccer. Id. ¶ 28.

         B. Procedural Background

         Plaintiff filed suit against Espindola, Olsen, D.C. United, and MLS on March 27, 2017, in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. See Receipt of Original File, ECF No. 10, at 2-6.[1]Defendants D.C. United, MLS, and Olsen filed a Notice of Removal on June 22, 2017, asserting that this court has federal-question jurisdiction over the case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, because Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act (“LMRA”), 28 U.S.C § 185, preempts ...

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