Williams v. Savage

Decision Date05 August 2008
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 07-0583 (RMU).
Citation569 F.Supp.2d 99
PartiesDon E. WILLIAMS et al., Plaintiffs, v. Pernell L. SAVAGE et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Columbia

Steven M. Spiegel, Alexandria, VA, for Plaintiffs.

Darragh L. Inman, Kahn, Smith & Collins, P.A., Baltimore, MD, Carl James Schifferle, Office of the Corporation Counsel, Steven J. Anderson, Office of Attorney General for DC, Washington, DC, Michael A. Desantis, Hartel, Kane, Desantis, MacDonald & Howie, LLP, Beltsville, MD, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

DENYING THE PLAINTIFFS' MOTION TO AMEND THE COMPLAINT; DENYING THE PLAINTIFFS' MOTION TO ALTER OR AMEND THE

JUDGMENT1; GRANTING THE INSURANCE DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS; DENYING THE INSURANCE DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR MORE DEFINITE STATEMENT; GRANTING THE INSURANCE DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS; SUA SPONTE DISMISSING THE CLAIMS AGAINST KINGSBERRY

RICARDO M. URBINA, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Before the court are the plaintiffs' motions to amend their complaint and to alter or amend the judgment along with the insurance defendants' motions to dismiss, for more definite statement and for judgment on the pleadings. The case centers on an ordinary car accident. The plaintiffs are the driver of the struck vehicle and his two friends who witnessed the accident. The defendants are the District of Columbia and three police officers involved in reporting the accident (collectively "the D.C. defendants"), the other driver, his insurance company and one of its employees (collectively "the insurance defendants") and a witness of the accident. The plaintiffs sued, alleging discrimination under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983 and 1985, the First Amendment and the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12131 et seq., on the basis of race and disability in the preparation of the police report along with negligence and fraud on the part of the defendant driver and the insurance company.

Because the plaintiffs' proposed amendments are futile and untimely, the court denies the motion to amend the complaint. Similarly, the court denies the motion to alter or amend the judgment because there was no clear error or misapprehension in its opinion dismissing claims against the D.C. defendants. Furthermore, because the insurance defendants are not state actors, the court dismisses the civil rights claims against them, and because an insurance policy is not a public accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the court dismisses claims arising under that statute. Likewise, the court dismisses sua sponte the claims against defendant Kingsberry because it is patently obvious that the plaintiffs failed to state a claim against her. Having disposed of the federal claims, the court declines supplemental jurisdiction over the pendant state law claims for negligence and fraud and dismisses them.

II. BACKGROUND
A. Factual Background

The following facts are as alleged in the complaint: This case arises from a car accident that occurred March 24, 2004, on H and 11th Streets in Southeast D.C. Compl. ¶ 15. Plaintiff Williams was traveling southbound on 11th Street and crossed into the intersection on a green light. Id. At the same time, defendant Savage drove his car westbound on H Street, through the red light, and collided with Williams. Id. ¶ 22. When the accident occurred, Williams, along with plaintiffs McQueen and Allen, had just left a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous ("AA") at a nearby church. Id. ¶¶ 16, 20. All three plaintiffs were, at all relevant times, recovered2 alcoholics. Id. ¶¶ 17, 19.

In the aftermath of the accident, plaintiff Williams went to the hospital, and defendant Freeman, an officer with the Metropolitan Police Department, arrived at the scene to fill out a traffic accident report form. Id. ¶ 27. Defendant Freeman took statements from at least four people, including defendants Kingsberry and Savage, but refused to take statements from plaintiffs McQueen and Allen, because they were members of AA or because they were black. Id. ¶¶ 28-38, 67. On the basis of these statements, defendant Freeman concluded that plaintiff Williams was at fault in the accident and issued him a citation. Id. ¶ 40. When the plaintiff appeared at the Traffic Adjudication Bureau to contest the citation, he was told that there had been a mistake, and the citation was apparently dropped. Id. ¶ 41.

The plaintiff sought to correct the traffic report by contacting the General Counsel for defendant District of Columbia who told him that there was no formal procedure for making corrections but that plaintiff Williams should write him a letter explaining the inaccuracies and he would "see that it was corrected." Id. ¶ 42. Plaintiff Williams did write such a letter and it was referred to defendant Sgt. Bernard under the supervision of defendant Commander Green. Id. ¶ 44. Defendant Bernard investigated the matter by interviewing additional witnesses but did not change the report. Id. ¶ 45. None of the police officers ever interviewed plaintiffs McQueen and Allen. Id. ¶ 50.

The inaccuracies in the police report prevented plaintiff Williams from recovering a settlement from defendant Progressive, defendant Savage's insurer. Id. ¶ 52. When the plaintiffs' lawyer contacted defendant Dykes, an insurance adjuster at Progressive, to inform him about the inaccuracies, Dykes responded that "he really didn't care if his insured had lied." Id. ¶ 58. As a result of the accident and the fraud, plaintiff Williams suffered physical injuries as well as emotional distress, delay in recovery and litigation expenses. Id. ¶ 74.

B. Procedural History

The plaintiffs filed their complaint on March 26, 2007, alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12131 et seq., civil rights statutes 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983 and 1985, their rights of access to the courts, religious liberties and petition rights as protected by the First Amendment as well as negligence on the part of defendant Savage and fraud on the part of all the insurance defendants. See generally Compl. In August 2007, the D.C. defendants moved to dismiss the case. On March 10, 2008, 538 F.Supp.2d 34, the court granted that motion because the plaintiffs are not disabled under the ADA, because they conceded their failure to state a claim under § 1981, because they have not been denied access to the courts and because they failed to state an underlying violation to sustain claims under §§ 1983 and 1985. In late March, the plaintiffs filed motions to reconsider the dismissal and to amend the complaint and a supplemental motion containing additional argument. The D.C. defendants timely filed an opposition and the plaintiffs filed a reply.

As for the insurance defendants, defendant Progressive filed its first motion to dismiss on September 13, 2007.3 On January 15, 2008, defendants Savage and Dykes filed a motion to dismiss ("Defs.' Mot. Dismiss") or in the alternative, a motion for more definite statement. On January 29, the plaintiffs filed an opposition ("Pls.' Opp'n"). On that same day, defendant Progressive filed a second motion to dismiss. On May 22, this court accepted that motion as a motion for judgment on the pleadings ("Defs.' Mot. J. Plead."). The plaintiffs have failed to respond to this motion.

The court now turns to the plaintiffs' motions to amend the complaint and to alter or amend the court's earlier decision as well as the insurance defendants' motions to dismiss and for judgment on the pleadings. To resolve the status of the case, the court also addresses, sua sponte, the claims against defendant Kingsberry.

III. ANALYSIS
A. The Court Denies the Plaintiffs' Motion to Amend the Complaint
1. Legal Standard for a Motion for Leave to Amend the Complaint

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a), a party may amend its pleading once as a matter of course at any time before a responsive pleading is served. FED.R.CIV.P. 15(a). Additionally, Rule 15(a) allows a party to amend its pleading to add a new party. Id.; Wiggins v. Dist. Cablevision, Inc., 853 F.Supp. 484, 499 (D.D.C.1994); 6 Charles Alan Wright, Arthur R. Miller & Mary Kay Kane, FED. PRAC. & PROC. 2d § 1474. According to decisions of this circuit, Rule 15(a) "guarantee[s] a plaintiff an absolute right" to amend the complaint once at any time so long as the defendant has not served a responsive pleading and the court has not decided a motion to dismiss. James v. Hurson Assocs., Inc. v. Glickman, 229 F.3d 277, 282-83 (D.C.Cir.2000) (citing FED.R.CIV.P. 15(a)). If there is more than one defendant, and not all have served responsive pleadings, the plaintiff may amend the complaint as a matter of course with regard to those defendants that have yet to answer. 6 Charles Alan Wright, Arthur R. Miller & Mary Kay Kane, FED. PRAC. & PROC. 2d § 1481. Motions to dismiss and for summary judgment do not qualify as responsive pleadings for the purposes of Rule 15. James, 229 F.3d at 283; Bowden v. United States, 176 F.3d 552, 555 (D.C.Cir.1999); U.S. Info. Agency v. Krc, 905 F.2d 389, 399 (D.C.Cir.1990).

Once a responsive pleading is served, however, a plaintiff may amend the complaint only by leave of the court or by written consent of the adverse party. FED. R.CIV.P. 15(a); Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182, 83 S.Ct. 227, 9 L.Ed.2d 222 (1962). The grant or denial of leave lies in the sound discretion of the district court. Firestone v. Firestone, 76 F.3d 1205, 1208 (D.C.Cir.1996) (per curiam). The court must, however, heed Rule 15's mandate that leave is to be "freely given when justice so requires." Id.; Caribbean Broad. Sys., Ltd. v. Cable & Wireless P.L.C., 148 F.3d 1080, 1083 (D.C.Cir.1998). Indeed, "[i]f the underlying facts or circumstances relied upon by a plaintiff may be a proper subject of relief, he ought to be afforded an opportunity to test his claim on the merits." Foman, 371 U.S. at...

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