May 15, 2018
from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia
(CAB-5957-15) (Hon. William M. Jackson, Trial Judge)
V. Brown for appellant.
U. Van Grinsven, with whom Keith M. Bonner and Justin M.
Cuniff were on the brief, for appellee.
Blackburne-Rigsby, Chief Judge, Easterly, Associate Judge,
and Washington, Senior Judge.
EASTERLY, ASSOCIATE JUDGE.
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.
Facts & Procedural History
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. 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 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 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
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.
Amending the Complaint
Edwards argues the trial court erred in denying her motion to
amend the complaint to include negligence claims. Her initial
complaint, filed on August 5, 2015, did not make such claims.
Though discovery in the case closed on August 18, 2016, Ms.
Edwards did not file the motion to amend until January 23,
2017, a few months before trial. The trial court denied it as
untimely. We affirm this ruling.
gives trial courts discretion to allow plaintiffs to amend
their complaints after the time to file an amendment as of
right has passed. Super. Ct. Civ. R. 15(a)(3); see also
Crowley v. N. Am. Telecomm. Ass'n, 691 A.2d 1169,
1174 (D.C. 1997). The rule states that permission to amend
should be granted "freely . . . when justice so
requires." Super. Ct. Civ. R. 15(a)(3). We review a
trial court's denial of a motion to amend for abuse of
discretion to determine whether the decision was
"predicated on some valid ground." Eagle Wine
& Liquor Co. v. Silverberg Elec. Co., 402
A.2d 31, 34 (D.C. 1979). "Factors affecting the
court's discretion include: (1) the number of requests to
amend; (2) the length of time that the case has been pending;
(3) the presence of bad faith . . . ; (4) the merit of the
proffered amended pleading; and (5) any prejudice to the
non-moving party." Pannell v. District of
Columbia, 829 A.2d 474, 477 (D.C. 2003) (internal
quotation marks omitted). Here, the length of the time the
case had been pending (eighteen months) weighed in favor of
denying the motion to amend, as did the lateness of Ms.
Edwards's motion, which on its own "may justify its
denial if the moving party fails to state satisfactory
reasons for the tardy filing and if the granting of the
motion would require new or additional discovery."
Id. Ms. Edwards did not provide an explanation for
the lateness of the request other than "the interest of
justice," and the addition of negligence claims to the
conversion claim would have required Safeway to provide
significant discovery on the supervision of their employees
and the supervision of the employees of their contractor. On
this record, we cannot say that the trial court abused its
discretion in denying Ms. Edwards's motion. See
id. at 480; Eagle Wine, 402 A.2d at