Saiyed v. Council on Am.-Islamic Relations Action Network, Inc., Civil Action No. 10-0022 (PLF)

CourtU.S. District Court — District of Columbia
Writing for the CourtPAUL L. FRIEDMAN, United States District Judge
Citation346 F.Supp.3d 88
Parties Iftikhar SAIYED, Plaintiff, v. COUNCIL ON AMERICAN-ISLAMIC RELATIONS ACTION NETWORK, INC., Defendant. Rene Arturo Lopez, et al., Plaintiffs, v. Council on American-Islamic Relations Action Network, Inc., Defendant.
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 10-0022 (PLF)
Decision Date28 September 2018

346 F.Supp.3d 88

Iftikhar SAIYED, Plaintiff,
v.
COUNCIL ON AMERICAN-ISLAMIC RELATIONS ACTION NETWORK, INC., Defendant.


Rene Arturo Lopez, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
Council on American-Islamic Relations Action Network, Inc., Defendant.

Civil Action No. 10-0022 (PLF)

United States District Court, District of Columbia.

Signed September 28, 2018


346 F.Supp.3d 91

David Eliezer Yerushalmi, Law Offices of David Yerushalmi, P.C., Washington, DC, Robert Joseph Muise, American Freedom Law Center, Ann Arbor, MI, for Plaintiff.

Faisal Mahmood Gill, Gill Law Firm, Washington, DC, for Defendant.

OPINION

PAUL L. FRIEDMAN, United States District Judge

Pending before the Court in these consolidated actions is the motion [Dkt. No. 135 in Civil Action No. 10-0022 and Dkt. No. 136 in Civil Action No. 10-0023] of defendant Council on American-Islamic Relations Action Network, Inc. ("CAIR") for partial summary judgment on plaintiffs' claim under the Virginia Consumer Protection Act ("VCPA"), VA. CODE ANN. § 59.1-196 etseq. Upon careful consideration of the parties' papers, the relevant legal authorities, and the entire record in this case, the Court will deny the motion.1

I. BACKGROUND

The Court's prior Opinions summarize the factual and procedural history of this case. See Lopez v. CAIR, 741 F.Supp.2d 222 (D.D.C. 2010) ; Saiyed v. CAIR, 742 F.Supp.2d 84 (D.D.C. 2010) ; Saiyed v. CAIR, 78 F.Supp.3d 465 (D.D.C. 2015), rev. and remanded by Lopez v. CAIR, 826 F.3d 492 (D.C. Cir. 2016). Briefly, CAIR is a national "Muslim advocacy group." See Statement of Facts at 4. Between 2007 and 2008, plaintiffs sought legal assistance

346 F.Supp.3d 92

from Morris Days, an individual who was hired to "act as resident attorney" of CAIR's Virginia chapter, CAIR-VA. See id. at 4-5. In particular, Mr. Days allegedly promised to assist plaintiffs with claims relating to "immigration status, divorce proceedings, hostile work environment, and employment discrimination." See Lopez Am. Compl. ¶ 14; Saiyed Am. Compl. ¶¶ 54-55. Mr. Days purportedly took money and other forms of payment from at least some of the plaintiffs in exchange for these promises of representation, despite CAIR's policy to provide legal services pro bono. See Statement of Facts at 5; Saiyed Am. Compl. ¶ 6. Mr. Days, however, was not a licensed attorney and "did not provide the services he represented he would provide Plaintiffs." Statement of Facts at 5. CAIR-VA was dissolved in 2008. See Statement of Facts at 4; Def. MSJ at 12.

In 2010, plaintiffs filed two separate lawsuits against CAIR based on Mr. Days' misrepresentations. The Court subsequently granted CAIR's motion to consolidate the cases. See Saiyed v. CAIR, 742 F.Supp.2d at 89 ; Lopez v. CAIR, 741 F.Supp.2d at 239. Plaintiffs filed their first amended complaints in 2010 asserting five causes of action: (1) violations of the District of Columbia Consumer Protection Procedures Act (Count One); (2) violations of the VCPA (Count Two); (3) common law fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud (Count Three); (4) breach of fiduciary duties (Count Four); and (5) infliction of emotional distress (Count Five). See Saiyed Am. Compl. ¶¶ 84-129; Lopez Am. Compl. ¶¶ 127-172.

In 2010, the Court granted CAIR's motion to dismiss plaintiffs' claim brought under the District of Columbia Consumer Protection Act (Count One), holding that "Virginia's consumer protection law, not the District of Columbia's ... controls the plaintiffs' claims." See Lopez v. CAIR, 741 F.Supp.2d at 235 ; Saiyed v. CAIR, 742 F.Supp.2d at 88. In 2015, the Court granted summary judgment in favor of CAIR and dismissed the remaining claims. See Saiyed v. CAIR, 78 F.Supp.3d 465. In 2016, the D.C. Circuit reversed this Court's grant of summary judgment on the ground that plaintiffs had "presented sufficient evidence in this case to raise a genuine issue of material fact" as to whether an "actual agency relationship existed between Days and CAIR National." See Lopez v. CAIR, 826 F.3d at 497.

On remand, this Court ruled that three causes of action would proceed to trial: (1) common law fraud under Virginia law (Count Three); (2) common law breach of fiduciary duty under Virginia law (Count Four); and (3) violation of the VCPA (Count Two). See Oct. 7, 2016 Mem. Op. & Order at 2. CAIR moved for partial summary judgment on the VCPA claim (Count Two) in January 2018. See Mot. at 1.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate only if "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986) ; see Baumann v. District of Columbia, 795 F.3d 209, 215 (D.C. Cir. 2015) ; FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a), (c). In making that determination, the Court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in its favor. Baumann v. District of Columbia, 795 F.3d at 215 ; see Tolan v. Cotton, 572 U.S. 650, 134 S.Ct. 1861, 1866, 188 L.Ed.2d 895 (2014) (per curiam);

346 F.Supp.3d 93

Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505 ; Talavera v. Shah, 638 F.3d 303, 308 (D.C. Cir. 2011).

A disputed fact is "material" if it "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Talavera v. Shah, 638 F.3d at 308 (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505 ). A dispute over a material fact is "genuine" if it could lead a reasonable jury to return a verdict in favor of the nonmoving party. See Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380, 127 S.Ct. 1769, 167 L.Ed.2d 686 (2007) ; Grimes v. District of Columbia, 794 F.3d 83, 94-95 (D.C. Cir. 2015) ; Paige v. DEA, 665 F.3d 1355, 1358 (D.C. Cir. 2012). "Credibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge at summary judgment. Thus, [the Court] do[es] not determine the truth of the matter, but instead decide[s] only whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Barnett v. PA Consulting Grp., Inc., 715 F.3d 354, 358 (D.C. Cir. 2013) (quoting Pardo-Kronemann v. Donovan, 601 F.3d 599, 604 (D.C. Cir. 2010) ). See also Tolan v. Cotton, 134 S.Ct. at 1866 ; Baumann v. District of Columbia, 795 F.3d at 215 ; Allen v. Johnson, 795 F.3d 34, 38 (D.C. Cir. 2015).

III. DISCUSSION

In its motion, CAIR contends that the legal services at issue do not qualify as "consumer transactions" under the VCPA. See Mot. at 7. CAIR further argues that even if the legal services at issue qualify as "consumer transactions," they are excluded under the terms of the statute. See id. at 10. For the reasons that follow, the Court disagrees. Concluding that CAIR is not entitled to judgment as a matter of law, it therefore will deny the motion for summary judgment.

A. Preliminary Matters

As a preliminary matter, plaintiffs argue that the motion is untimely under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Opp'n at 11. The Court disagrees. Rule 56 provides that "[u]nless a different time is set by local rule or the court orders otherwise, a party may file a motion for summary judgment at any time until 30 days after the close of all discovery." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(b). In December 2017, Magistrate Judge Deborah A. Robinson – to whom this case was referred for the management of discovery – issued an order permitting plaintiffs to take a "follow-on deposition" of CAIR's legal expert on February 12, 2018. See Dec. 14, 2017 Minute Order. It thus appears that discovery remained open until at least February 12, 2018. Given that CAIR filed its motion on January 24, 2018, the motion is timely.

Plaintiffs next argue that the Court already decided this issue when it determined there to be a "cause of action ... stated under the VCPA." See Opp'n at 12. Plaintiffs are incorrect. In its motion to dismiss filed in 2010, CAIR argued that attorneys are not covered by the VCPA as "suppliers" because "the majority of jurisdictions that have addressed this issue have held that the regulation of attorneys does not fall within the ambit of consumer protection laws." See Lopez v. CAIR, 741 F.Supp.2d at 236 (citations omitted). See also Def. MTD at 41. In rejecting this argument, the Court reasoned that plaintiffs "do not challenge the conduct of attorneys; they complain that CAIR knowingly employed and held out a non-attorney as a provider of legal services." See Lopez v. CAIR, 741 F.Supp.2d at 236. In contrast, the question now pending before the Court is whether the legal services at issue qualify as a "consumer transaction" for purposes of the VCPA, irrespective of Mr. Days' and CAIR's status as non-lawyers.

346 F.Supp.3d 94

This is a separate issue which the Court has not previously addressed. Accordingly, the Court declines plaintiffs' invitation to construe this motion as a motion for reconsideration of the Court's Order denying CAIR's motion to dismiss the VCPA claim. See Opp'n at 12.

B. "Consumer Transaction" Under the VCPA

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1 practice notes
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    ...Metz v. BAE Sys. Tech. Sol. & Serv. Inc., 774 F.3d 18, 21-22 (D.C. Cir. 2014); Saiyed v. Council on Am.-Islamic Rels. Action Network, 346 F.Supp.3d 88, 94 (D.D.C. 2018). It may well be that, were the D.C. Court of Appeals to confront this issue directly, it would hold that the public duty d......
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    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • March 3, 2022
    ...Metz v. BAE Sys. Tech. Sol. & Serv. Inc., 774 F.3d 18, 21-22 (D.C. Cir. 2014); Saiyed v. Council on Am.-Islamic Rels. Action Network, 346 F.Supp.3d 88, 94 (D.D.C. 2018). It may well be that, were the D.C. Court of Appeals to confront this issue directly, it would hold that the public duty d......

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