United States District Court, District of Columbia
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
N. McFADDEN, U.S.D.J.
tourist suffered every commuter's nightmare when his foot
and then hand were mangled in an escalator at the Smithsonian
Metrorail Station in Washington, D.C. Teman Chow and his
parents sued the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit
Authority (“WMATA”), which owns and operates the
station, alleging various negligence claims. WMATA has moved
to dismiss the Chows' Complaint in part, arguing that
several of their claims are time barred or barred by
sovereign immunity. For the reasons below, the Court will
grant in part and deny in part WMATA's motion.
to the Complaint, in the summer of 2012, then-14-year-old
Teman Chow and his family traveled from their home in Canada
to vacation in Washington, D.C. Compl. ¶ 12, ECF No. 1.
After touring the National Mall one evening, the Chows
boarded an escalator at the Smithsonian Metrorail Station.
Id. ¶ 13. At the bottom of the escalator,
Teman's sandal and foot got caught between the escalator
stair and the bottom comb plate. Id. ¶ 14. The
escalator continued to run even though his foot was stuck,
causing him severe pain. Id. ¶ 16.
instinctively reached down to try to free his foot.
Id. ¶ 17. But things only got worse. As Teman
tried to rescue his foot, the teeth of the comb plate impaled
his hand, which also became trapped between the
escalator's still-rotating stairs and the comb plate.
Id. ¶ 18. Even with his foot and hand lodged
between the escalator stairs and the comb plate, the
escalator continued to function at full power, grinding away
at Teman's foot and hand. Id. ¶ 19. No.
automatic safety shutoff mechanism ever engaged. Id.
¶¶ 16, 19.
Teman's parents watched in horror. Id. ¶
20. His father tried to activate the emergency stop button,
but the escalator did not stop. Id. Eventually,
another WMATA customer alerted the station manager who
stopped the escalator, while other customers called 9-1-1.
Id. ¶¶ 21-22.
medical technicians arrived, but they were unable to remove
Teman's hand from the comb plate. Id. ¶ 23.
They ultimately removed the entire comb plate, still clenched
to Teman's hand. Id. ¶¶ 23-24. They
rushed Teman to National Children's Hospital, and doctors
treated him for a severe foot injury and multiple severe
injuries to his hand, which the doctors termed a
“de-gloving.” Id. ¶¶ 25-26.
Chows allege that Teman's injuries stem from WMATA's
negligence in its operation and maintenance of the escalator.
Id. ¶ 27. First, they assert that the escalator
was in disrepair. Id. ¶ 15. The bottom comb
plate, they claim, was missing at least three teeth, and
those missing teeth allowed his sandal and foot to become
trapped. See Id. ¶¶ 61-67. And, according
to them, the escalator's safety systems were not
functioning properly. See Id. ¶ 47b. A
comb-step impact device should cut power to the escalator if
an object becomes trapped between the comb plate and the
rotating steps, and an emergency stop button should stop the
escalator when pushed. See id. ¶ 35.
But the Chows allege that neither of these systems activated
properly during the incident. Id. ¶¶ 20,
to them, WMATA knew that the escalator's safety systems
were malfunctioning. See Id. ¶ 39. Indeed, they
claim that just a day before the incident, WMATA inspected
the escalator and determined that the “comb plate,
steps, and up-thrust safety devices” were not in good
condition. Id. ¶ 38. And an inspector
recommended that WMATA replace the broken comb plate.
Id. Even so, WMATA allowed customers to ride the
escalator, unwarned of the danger lurking beneath their
feet. The Chows allege negligence claims, including
negligent maintenance, failure to warn, and negligent
infliction of emotional distress. Id. ¶¶
43-89. They also seek punitive damages. Id.
has moved to dismiss three of the Chows' claims under
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6).
Def.'s Mot to Dismiss, ECF No. 13. First, it argues that
Teman's parents' claim for negligent infliction of
emotional distress is time barred. Def.'s Mem. in Supp.
of Mot to Dismiss (“Def.'s Mem.”) at 4-5, ECF
No. 13-1. The Chows now concede as much. Pls.'
Mem. in Opp'n to Mot. to Dismiss (“Pls.'
Opp'n”) at 3, ECF No. 14-1. Next, WMATA argues that
sovereign immunity bars the claims for negligent training and
punitive damages. See Def.'s Mem. at 7-11,
16-18. Teman agrees that his punitive damages claim cannot
proceed and affirmatively states that he has not brought a
claim for negligent training. Pls.' Opp'n at 3, 13.
The Court will therefore grant WMATA's motion as to these
according to WMATA, sovereign immunity bars Teman's claim
for failure to warn. Def.'s Mem. at 11-16. But for the
reasons below, the Court will deny WMATA's Motion to
Dismiss that claim and grant Teman jurisdictional discovery.
immunity claims are jurisdictional.” Burkhart v.
WMATA, 112 F.3d 1207, 1216 (D.C. Cir. 1997). Thus, they
are properly evaluated under Rule 12(b)(1). See Loughlin
v. United States, 393 F.3d 155, 162-63 (D.C. Cir. 2004);
see also Whiteru v. WMATA, 258 F.Supp.3d 175, 181-82
federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, they
“presume that a cause lies outside this limited
jurisdiction.” Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins.
Co., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). To survive a Rule
12(b)(1) motion, a plaintiff must establish that the Court
has jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence. See
Lujan v. Defs. of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992).
“When ruling on a Rule 12(b)(1) motion, the court must
treat the complaint's factual allegations as true and
afford the plaintiff the benefit of all inferences that can
be derived from the facts alleged.” Jeong Seon Han
v. Lynch, 223 F.Supp.3d 95, 103 (D.D.C. 2016) (cleaned
up). In this context, courts may also “consider the
complaint supplemented by undisputed facts evidenced in the
record, or the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts
plus the court's ...