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Johnson v. Metropolitan Direct Property & Casualty Insurance Co.

United States District Court, District of Columbia

October 15, 2018

JOE JOHNSON, Plaintiff,



         If truth is in the eye of the beholder, this case appears to feature very different beholders. Plaintiff Joe Johnson alleges that a car driven by Defendant Mark Johnson (no apparent relation) struck his vehicle on a District freeway and that Defendant Johnson then assaulted him and fled with another passenger, Defendant Nneka Grimes. To add insult to injury, he alleges that these two then provided an entirely different account to their insurance company, Defendant Metropolitan Direct Property & Casualty Insurance Company (MetLife). In Defendants' version, Plaintiff was the transgressor who twice struck their vehicle and himself fled the scene.

         Plaintiff thus brought this pro se action against those three Defendants, the owner of the car, and a MetLife claims adjuster, Christian Hayman, alleging myriad causes of action, some conceivable and others less so. MetLife and Hayman now move to dismiss four counts against them for failing to state a claim and separately seek a more definite statement on two others. As Plaintiff's counts against these two Defendants are either facially deficient or in need of further clarification, the Court will grant both Motions.

         I. Background

         Considering the facts alleged in the First Amended Complaint as true, as is required at this stage, the Court observes that the dispute here centers around an automobile accident on the Southeast Freeway here in Washington on November 20, 2017. Plaintiff alleges that he was rear-ended by Defendant Johnson, who then approached Plaintiff's vehicle on foot, threatened to kill him, grabbed Plaintiff's cell phone, punched him in the face, and then fled the scene. See Am. Compl. at 3. An arrest warrant, he believes, was subsequently issued for Defendant Johnson. Id. Defendants Nneka Grimes (a passenger in the car) and Patricia Grimes (the owner of the car who was not present at the accident), meanwhile, had a fundamentally contradictory story to recount. Plaintiff alleges that they falsely told MetLife that he was the one at fault, that his car had struck theirs on two occasions, and that he had tried unsuccessfully to flee. Id. at 4. MetLife and its employee, Christian Hayman, then “relied upon [these false reports] and republished them to third parties without conducting any investigation to determine [their] truth and accuracy.” Id.

         Plaintiff never provides the upshot of these conflicting narratives, who was forced to pay whom for the incident, or if anyone ended up being criminally charged. He nonetheless asserts ten causes of action against myriad Defendants: Negligence against Johnson (Count I), Assault/Battery and Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress against Johnson (II), Defamation against Patricia and Nneka Grimes (III), Libel against the Grimeses (IV), Republication of Defamation against MetLife and Hayman (V), Republication of Libel against MetLife and Hayman (VI), Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress against MetLife, Hayman, and the Grimeses (VII), Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress against MetLife and Hayman (VIII), Negligent Hiring, Training & Supervision against MetLife (IX), and Civil Conspiracy against all Defendants (X). Id. at 5-13. He asserts that he has “suffered severe bodily injuries, loss of sleep, headaches, severe mental pain, humiliation, embarrassment, [and] depression” as a result. Id., ¶ 21.

         Although Plaintiff is proceeding pro se, he is either an attorney himself or has likely received substantial assistance from an attorney, as his pleadings are professionally presented, even if a number of claims are evanescent. The Court thus affords him some leeway as a pro se party but need not bend over backwards to indulge his pleadings.

         MetLife and Hayman have now filed a Motion to Dismiss as to Counts VII-X and a separate Motion for More Definite Statement as to Counts V-VI.

         II. Legal Standard

         In evaluating Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, the Court “must treat the complaint's factual allegations as true . . . and must grant plaintiff ‘the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged.'” Sparrow v. United Air Lines, Inc., 216 F.3d 1111, 1113 (D.C. Cir. 2000) (quoting Schuler v. United States, 617 F.2d 605, 608 (D.C. Cir. 1979)); see also Jerome Stevens Pharms., Inc. v. FDA, 402 F.3d 1249, 1253-54 (D.C. Cir. 2005). The Court need not accept as true, however, “a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation, ” nor an inference unsupported by the facts set forth in the Complaint. See Trudeau v. FTC, 456 F.3d 178, 193 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (quoting Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)).

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of an action where a complaint fails “to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Although “detailed factual allegations” are not necessary to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). For a plaintiff to survive a 12(b)(6) motion, the facts alleged in the complaint “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007).

         Rule 12(e) permits a defendant to move for a more definite statement if “a pleading . . . is so vague or ambiguous that the party cannot reasonably prepare a response.” “[W]hen a defendant is unclear about the meaning of a particular allegation in the complaint, the proper course of action is not to move to dismiss but to move for a more definite statement.” Hilska v. Jones, 217 F.R.D. 16, 21 (D.D.C. 2003) (quoting Am. Nurses' Ass'n v. Illinois, 783 F.2d 716, 725 (7th Cir. 1986)). “Normally, of course, the basis for requiring a more definite statement under Rule 12(e) is unintelligibility, not mere lack of detail.” Burnett v. Al Baraka Inv. and Dev. Corp., 274 F.Supp.2d 86, 110 (D.D.C. 2003) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Indeed, “a plaintiff need not allege all the facts necessary to prove its claim so long as [he] provides enough factual information to make clear the substance of that claim.” Wilson v. Gov't of D.C., 269 F.R.D. 8, 12 (D.D.C. 2010) (quoting Caribbean Broad. Sys., Ltd. v. Cable & Wireless PLC, 148 F.3d 1080, 1086 (D.C. Cir. 1998)).

         III. Analysis

         The Court begins with Defendants' Motion for More Definite Statement as to Counts V-VI and then addresses their ...

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