Atkinson v. Dist. of Columbia, 21-CV-415

Citation21-CV-415
Case DateSeptember 01, 2022
CourtCourt of Appeals of Columbia District

Marjorie Atkinson, Appellant,
v.

District of Columbia, Appellee.

No. 21-CV-415

Court of Appeals of The District of Columbia

September 1, 2022


Submitted April 7, 2022

Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CAV-503-21) (Hon. Heidi M. Pasichow, Trial Judge)

Geoffrey A. Allen for appellant.

Karl A. Racine, Attorney General for the District of Columbia, Loren L. AliKhan, Solicitor General at the time the brief was submitted, Caroline S. Van Zile, Principal Deputy Solicitor General, and Carl J. Schifferle, Deputy Solicitor General, for appellee.

Before Glickman, Beckwith, and McLeese, Associate Judges.

McLeese, Associate Judge.

Appellant Marjorie Atkinson appeals from an order dismissing her complaint for failure to state a claim. We vacate and remand.

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I.

Ms. Atkinson's amended complaint alleges a claim of negligence and a claim of gross negligence. In support of those claims, the complaint alleges the following. A vehicle driven by a Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) officer hit Ms. Atkinson's car while Ms. Atkinson was parking the car in a parking lane. The MPD vehicle was unmarked and was occupied by police officers and a robbery victim. The officers were canvassing the area looking for the robber. The MPD vehicle was travelling between ten and fifteen miles per hour and did not have its lights or sirens on. The driver of the MPD vehicle completely failed to look where he was going, failed to correct his course after Ms. Atkinson honked her horn, and veered into Ms. Atkinson's lane. The collision seriously injured Ms. Atkinson and damaged her car.

The trial court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim. With respect to the negligence claim, the trial court relied on D.C. Code § 2-412, which provides that "in the case of a claim arising out of the operation of an emergency vehicle on an emergency run[,] the District shall be liable only for gross negligence." The trial court concluded that the allegations in the complaint established that the MPD vehicle was on an emergency run. With respect to gross negligence, the trial court concluded that "fail[ing] to control [a] vehicle while going [ten to fifteen] miles

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per hour in pursuit of an active robbery simply does not rise to the level of gross negligence."

II.

We review de novo the dismissal of a complaint for failure to state a claim. Grayson v. AT & T Corp., 15 A.3d 219, 228 (D.C. 2011) (en banc). "We accept the allegations of the complaint as true, and construe all facts and inferences in favor of the plaintiff." Id. (brackets and internal quotation marks omitted). To survive a motion to dismiss, "[t]he complaint need only contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Scott v. FedChoice Fed. Credit Union, 274 A.3d 318, 322 (D.C. 2022) (internal quotation marks omitted).

A. Emergency Run

We agree with Ms. Atkinson that the trial court erred in dismissing the negligence count on the ground that the allegations in the complaint establish as a matter of law that the MPD vehicle was on an emergency run.

For current purposes, "emergency run" has an explicit definition:

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"Emergency run" means the movement of a District-owned vehicle, by direction of the operator . . ., under circumstances which lead the operator . . . to believe that such vehicle should proceed expeditiously upon a particular mission or to a designated location for the purpose of dealing with a supposed . . . emergency, an alleged violation of a statute or regulation, or other incident requiring emergency action . . . .

D.C. Code § 2-411(4).

"[T]he legislature . . . meant the concept of an emergency run . . . to be understood broadly." Duggan v. District of Columbia, 884 A.2d 661, 663 (D.C. 2005) (en banc per curiam) (internal quotation marks omitted). The concept requires "a genuine-an honestly held-belief by the operator that [the operator] should proceed expeditiously on a mission or to a location in response to a supposed emergency." Id....

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