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Edwards v. Safeway, Inc.

Court of Appeals of The District of Columbia

September 19, 2019

Fiona EDWARDS, Appellant,
v.
SAFEWAY, INC., et al., Appellees.

         Argued May 15, 2018

Page 18

          Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CAB-5957-15), (Hon. William M. Jackson, Trial Judge)

         Moses V. Brown, Washington, for appellant.

         Abby U. Van Grinsven, Washington, with whom Keith M. Bonner, Washington, and Justin M. Cuniff, Annapolis, were on the brief, for appellee.

         Before Blackburne-Rigsby, Chief Judge, Easterly, Associate Judge, and Washington, Senior Judge.

         OPINION

         Easterly, Associate Judge:

          A jury awarded Fiona Edwards compensatory damages in her claim for conversion. She challenges the trial court’s rulings precluding her from amending her complaint to include a negligence claim and rejecting her requests to present evidence in support of her claim for punitive damages and to instruct the jury about that claim. We affirm in part and reverse in part.

          I. Facts & Procedural History

         Ms. Edwards sued Safeway after allegedly being "confronted," "detained," physically assaulted, and falsely accused of shoplifting at the Hechinger Mall Safeway store on March 9, 2014.[1] Following Safeway’s partly successful motion for summary judgment on statute of limitations grounds, her multiple intentional tort claims were winnowed down to a single claim for conversion for the loss of various goods she had brought to the store or purchased while there and subsequently lost in the confrontation. Before trial, Safeway filed both (1) what it called a "[Proposed] Stipulation" (brackets in original) accepting liability for Ms. Edwards’s conversion claim[2] and (2) a related motion in limine to exclude a surveillance videotape showing the incident because, the company argued, such evidence was "irrelevant as well as unfairly prejudicial and cumulative

Page 19

in light of [Safeway’s] stipulation to liability." Ms. Edwards opposed this motion. Ms. Edwards also requested punitive damages, which Safeway opposed, as documented in the parties’ joint pretrial statement.[3]

          At a pretrial hearing, the trial court indicated it was accepting Safeway’s admission, and it expressly granted the company’s motion in limine to exclude the videotape and any evidence of liability. The court further concluded that "the conduct here ... makes no sense in terms of punitives" and "how [Safeway] converted these items[ ] doesn’t matter," and thus denied Ms. Edwards’s request to present evidence of punitive damages or to consider giving a punitive damages instruction. Although Ms. Edwards renewed this request on the day of trial, the trial court again denied Ms. Edwards’s request to present evidence of punitive damages. Both before and at trial, the trial court repeatedly denied Ms. Edwards’s attempts to even discuss evidence tending to show she was entitled to such damages. At trial, Ms. Edwards was only permitted to present evidence of compensatory damages. The jury awarded her everything she asked for.

          II. ...


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