United States District Court, District of Columbia
CHARLES A. HORTON, Plaintiff,
FABIAN ESPINDOLA, et al., Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
P. Mehta United States District Judge
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.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 ...