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Samuels v. Safeway, Inc.

United States District Court, District of Columbia

June 5, 2019

VYANNE SAMUELS, Plaintiff,
v.
SAFEWAY, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          CHRISTOPHER R. COOPER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Vyanne Samuels claims she was injured after she tripped over a concrete “wheel stop” in a Safeway parking lot. According to Samuels, who suffers from an unspecified disability, the placement of the wheel stop violated specifications established pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). Samuels sued Safeway under a theory of both negligence and negligence per se. Safeway has filed a partial motion for judgment on the pleadings, attacking only Samuels's negligence per se claim. For the following reasons, the Court will grant the motion.

         I. Background

         Defendant Safeway owns and maintains a parking garage attached to its store at 1855 Wisconsin Avenue Northwest in Washington, D.C. Compl. ¶ 6. Inside the garage, there are several long rectangular concrete slabs, colloquially referred to as “wheel stops, ” placed at the front of each parking space. Id. ¶ 7. On or about June 14, 2018, Samuels parked in the Safeway garage, bought groceries, and returned to her car. Id. ¶ 16. While returning to her car, Samuels alleges that she tripped on one of the wheel stops and fell. Id. ¶ 19. Samuels sustained a fractured wrist, severe injuries to her lumbar spine, and various other injuries. Id. ¶ 20.

         Samuels filed suit in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. She identified as an individual with an unspecified disability under the ADA and alleged that the placement of the wheel stop violated the ADA Accessibility Guidelines, namely Advisory 502.4, which regulates elevation changes in access aisles. Id. ¶¶ 28-29. Safeway responded by removing the suit to this Court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. Safeway has now moved for a partial judgment on the pleadings requesting the dismissal of Count II of Samuels's complaint for failure to state a claim. Safeway contends that the ADA may not be used as the basis of a negligence per se claim for personal injury and that Samuels includes no other statutory basis for the per se action. Samuels opposed, Safeway replied, and the motion is now ripe for the Court's resolution.

         II. Legal Standard

         In order to grant judgment on the pleadings under Federal of Civil Procedure 12(c), there must be no material fact in dispute, and the moving party must be entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Schuler v. PricewaterhouseCoopers, LLP, 514 F.3d 1365, 1370 (D.C. Cir. 2008). The standard courts apply to resolving a motion for judgment on the pleadings is often confused with the standard applied to a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b), especially for failure to state a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). See Maniaci v. Georgetown Univ., 510 F.Supp.2d 50, 58 (D.D.C. 2007) (“The appropriate standard for reviewing a motion for judgment on the pleadings is virtually identical to that applied to a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6).”) There are important differences, however. While a Rule 12(b) motion may be based on procedural failures, including “lack of subject-matter jurisdiction[ ] or . . . a lack of factual allegations to support a claim, ” a Rule 12(c) motion “centers upon the substantive merits of the parties' dispute.” Tapp v. Washington Metro. Area Transit Auth., 306 F.Supp.3d 383, 391-92 (D.D.C. 2016) (emphasis added). When evaluating a motion for judgment on the pleadings, inferences should be drawn and facts should be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Peters v. Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp., 966 F.2d 1483, 1485 (D.C. Cir. 1992).

         III. Analysis

         When sitting in diversity, this Court must apply the District of Columbia's substantive law. Metz v. BAE Sys. Tech. Sol. & Servs. Inc., 774 F.3d 18, 21-22 (D.C. Cir. 2014); see also Erie Co v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64 (1983). Under D.C. law, a negligence per se plaintiff must “(1) identify a particular law or regulation designed to promote safety, (2) show that the plaintiff is a member of the class to be protected by the statute, and (3) show that the statute imposes specific duties of care and protection on the defendant.” Blake v. Securitas Sec. Servs., Inc., 962 F.Supp.2d 141, 150 (D.D.C. 2013). The question in this case turns on the second element, namely whether Congress enacted the ADA to protect people in Ms. Samuels's position. The Court finds that because the ADA has neither a primary nor partial purpose of protecting people with disabilities from physical injury, it did not. Therefore, it will grant Safeway's motion for judgment on the pleadings with respect to Samuels's negligence per se claim.

         A. Congress enacted the ADA to combat disability discrimination

         A brief examination of the ADA and case law interpreting it reveals that the ADA does not have a public-safety purpose that can provide the statutory linchpin for a negligence per se claim. The Court begins with the statute itself. Title III of the ADA expressly identifies its various purposes:

(b) Purpose. It is the purpose of this chapter-
(1) to provide a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities;
(2) to provide clear, strong, consistent, enforceable standards addressing discrimination against individuals ...

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