Zagami v. HP Enter. Servs., LLC

Decision Date15 September 2016
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 15-1638 (RMC)
Citation212 F.Supp.3d 185
Parties Erin ZAGAMI, Plaintiff, v. HP ENTERPRISE SERVICES, LLC et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Columbia

David Matthew Schloss, Koonz, McKenney, Johnson, Depaolis & Lightfoot, LLP, Washington, DC, for Plaintiff.

Jason C. Raofield, John Edward Hall, Covington & Burling LLP, Mark Edward Chopko, Jeffrey Edward McFadden, Stradley, Ronon, Stevens, & Young, LLP, Washington, DC, Brian P. Seaman, Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young, LLP, Philadelphia, PA, for Defendants.


ROSEMARY M. COLLYER, United States District Judge

The morning of September 16, 2013 started as a typical Monday in the District of Columbia. So it was at the Washington Navy Yard. While some headed to their offices or meetings, others drank their morning coffee at their desks and chatted about their respective weekends. This was the case for Frank Kohler, John Johnson, Mary Delorenzo Knight, Sylvia Frasier, Jennifer Jacobs, Jane McCullough, and Arthur Daniels, who reported early to their respective workstations on the third and fourth floors of Navy Yard's Building 197. It was also the case for Richard Michael Ridgell, who welcomed employees and visitors from his guard station on the first floor, and for Kenneth Bernard Proctor, who entered Building 197 to get his breakfast as he regularly did during his 22-year-career at the Navy Yard. Then, what seemed to be a typical Monday morning at the Navy Yard quickly became a dark and tragic moment in our Nation's capital and the lives of many families.

At approximately 8:00 a.m., Aaron Alexis, a civilian contractor working as a computer technician at the Navy Yard, entered Building 197 using a valid temporary access card and headed to his workstation in the fourth floor. Unknown to anyone, Mr. Alexis had a concealed sawed-off shotgun and ammunition in his backpack. He entered a restroom on the fourth floor, pulled out the gun, and assembled it. As he came out, he opened fire indiscriminately. Mr. Alexis continued his carnage through various floors of the building until law enforcement officers fatally shot him on the first floor at 9:25 a.m. The shooting resulted in twelve deaths and four non-fatal injuries.

Before the Court are nine related lawsuits arising out of the Navy Yard shooting. Plaintiffs are the personal representatives of the estates (or surviving family members or heirs) of seven decedents, a survivor seriously injured by Mr. Alexis, and a survivor who was a witness to the shooting. Plaintiffs assert a combination of negligence and intentional tort claims against HP Enterprise Services, LLC (HPES), which provided information technology services to the U.S. Navy as a government contractor, and The Experts, Inc. (The Experts), which was an HPES subcontractor and Mr. Alexis's employer. In addition, three of the nine cases also include claims against HBC Management Services, Inc. and The Hana Group, Inc. (collectively HBC), which provided security services at Building 197 of the Navy Yard.

The question raised by these related lawsuits is whether these companies can be held liable for money damages to the families of the decedents and to the two survivors for the criminal acts of Aaron Alexis. For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant in part and deny in part the motions to dismiss filed by HPES and The Experts. The Court will grant HBC's motion to dismiss. Only Plaintiffs' claims of negligent retention and supervision against HPES and The Experts will remain and proceed to discovery.


In seven of the nine cases, the complaints seek damages for the deaths of those murdered by Mr. Alexis:

The remaining two complaints seek damages for injuries (mental, emotional, and physical) suffered during the shooting:

Plaintiffs assert common law negligence claims against both HPES and The Experts for failing to anticipate and prevent the mass shooting by Mr. Alexis, as well as claims of negligent hiring, retention, supervision, undertaking, and credentialing. Plaintiffs also rely on various statutes, regulations, and policy manuals to assert negligence per se and statutory duty claims against HPES and The Experts. In addition, Mr. Proctor and Ms. McCullough allege that HPES and The Experts are vicariously liable for Mr. Alexis's intentional torts of assault and battery. Finally, Ms. Kohler, Ms. Zagami, and Ms. Jacobs also aver negligence claims against the security company, HBC. Richard Ridgell worked for HBC and his estate does not sue his former employer. None of the other Plaintiffs worked for any of the Defendants.

The nine Complaints include lengthy factual allegations regarding Mr. Alexis's history and the sequence of events prior to the mass shooting of September 16, 2013. Plaintiffs rely extensively on government investigations, particularly by the Navy, and adopt government determinations, in many instances verbatim , as part of their own allegations.

A. History of Mr. Alexis Prior to his Employment with The Experts2

Plaintiffs allege that Mr. Alexis had an arrest record long before he was hired by The Experts and assigned to work at the Washington Navy Yard. On June 3, 2004, the Seattle Police Department arrested Mr. Alexis for allegedly shooting out the rear tires of a construction worker's vehicle. Mr. Alexis told the police that the construction worker had disrespected him and that he had a blackout fueled by anger. Mr. Alexis was charged, but never prosecuted or convicted, with malicious mischief. Plaintiffs also allege that, in 2006, Mr. Alexis was investigated because the tires of five vehicles in Mr. Alexis's apartment complex were slashed. Mr. Alexis was not arrested or charged on this occasion. In 2007, the Office of Personnel Management ran a records check on Mr. Alexis, who was serving in the Navy. The records check revealed the 2004 arrest in Seattle. Mr. Alexis provided a written account of the 2004 incident to the Naval Recruiting District, which also conducted an inquiry into relevant court documents.

On August 10, 2008, Mr. Alexis was removed from a nightclub in DeKalb County, Georgia. Mr. Alexis was screaming profanities and acting in a hostile manner. He was arrested for disorderly conduct, but never prosecuted or convicted. On July 12, 2009, in Fort Worth, Texas, Mr. Alexis received a non-judicial punishment by the Navy and was reduced one pay grade after he jumped from a staircase while reportedly intoxicated and fractured his right ankle. "There was no police involvement in this incident." Frasier Compl., Case No. 15–1492 [Dkt. 1] ¶ 21. On September 5, 2010, he was again arrested in Fort Worth for discharging a firearm in his residence. The bullet went through the ceiling of Mr. Alexis's apartment into a neighbor's apartment. Mr. Alexis told the police that it was an accident and that he was cleaning his firearm. Mr. Alexis was never charged or convicted for discharging the firearm. His Navy Commanding Officer initiated administrative proceedings against Mr. Alexis to separate him from the Navy, but the proceedings did not continue once it became clear that Mr. Alexis was not going to be charged with a crime.

On December 2, 2010, Mr. Alexis requested separation from the Navy under the Enlisted Early Transition Program. On December 9, 2010, the Bureau of Naval Personnel approved Mr. Alexis's request. Mr. Alexis was honorably discharged from the Navy and received a re-entry code of RE-1, which made Mr. Alexis eligible to reenlist in the Navy or another armed service. In addition, Mr. Alexis received a Navy Reserve Identification and Privilege Card.

B. Employment History of Mr. Alexis with The Experts

In September 2012, Mr. Alexis applied for employment as a computer technician with The Experts, a subcontractor of HPES, which performed work for the Navy under the Navy-Marine Corps Intranet Continuity of Service Contract (Contract).3 The Contract invoked the National Industrial Security Program Operating Manual (NISPOM), which defined the security requirements for cleared defense contractors, and required HPES and The Experts "to develop and maintain a program that ensures all pertinent derogatory information regarding cleared personnel is forwarded for consideration in the personnel security clearance determination process." Proctor Compl., Case No. 15–1494 [Dkt. 1] ¶ 18. Specifically, NISPOM required cleared contractors to convey any derogatory information about Contract personnel to the Department of Defense's (DoD) Central Adjudication Facility via "incident reports" through the Joint Personnel Adjudication System, "which is the DoD system of record for personnel security clearance adjudication and management." Id. ¶ 19.

Under NISPOM's terms, Mr. Alexis already had a valid security clearance when he was hired because he had not been separated from the Navy for more than 24 months. In addition to NISPOM's security requirements, HPES required The Experts to conduct a pre-employment eligibility background check, "which involved a drug test, a motor vehicle driving record check, and criminal convictions checks." Id. ¶ 24. Mr. Alexis was found to be suitable and given his honorable discharge, re-entry code of RE-1, and security clearance, The Experts hired Mr. Alexis as a computer technician assigned to work on the Contract. Plaintiffs allege that Mr. Alexis should not have been found eligible for the position...

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