eNotes: Liability – March 2022 – Washington, D.C.
March 01, 2022
WASHINGTON, DC CASE SUMMARY
Hines v. Wash. Metro. Transit Auth.
United States District Court for the District of Columbia
2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 23402
Decided: February 9, 2022
The Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority’s sovereign immunity is limited to actions properly in accordance with a statute or rule.
An elderly woman diagnosed with brain atrophy was struck and killed by a metro train owned by the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority (WMATA) in the Fort Totten metro station. The woman wandered the station for over two and a half hours, and was observed by WMATA’s employees via security cameras, before she passed through an unmarked gate and walked onto the train tracks, resulting in the collision. The woman’s children filed a wrongful death suit in D.C. Superior Court, alleging that WMATA failed to place warning signs on the gate, failed to take other safety measures such as locking the gate, failed to properly monitor the station, and failed to properly comply with applicable WMATA safety rules and regulations. WMATA removed the action to Federal Court and filed a Motion to dismiss on sovereign immunity grounds under the interstate Compact.
WMATA argued that the Compact holds that WMATA is not be liable for any torts occurring in the performance of a governmental function. Plaintiffs opposed the Motion, arguing that the Compact allows WMATA to be liable for torts committed in the conduct of any proprietary function. Plaintiff’s further argued that under the discretionary function test, Courts evaluate whether an activity is mandatory or ministerial; if the activity is discretionary, WMATA enjoys immunity, and if it is ministerial, WMATA does not. In order to determine whether an activity was discretionary or ministerial, it needed to determine whether any federal statute, regulation, or policy specifically prescribes a course of action for an employee to follow. If so, the only issue is whether the employee followed the directive, and, if not, sovereign immunity does not attach.
The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia denied WMATA’s Motion to dismiss. The Court found that, in applying the discretionary function test, the Court needed to determine whether a mandatory policy required WMATA to place warning signs near the tracks and whether to monitor the station. The Court reasoned that a plaintiff must have ample opportunity to secure and present evidence relevant to the existence of jurisdiction and be given an opportunity for discovery of facts necessary to establish jurisdiction.
Questions about this case can be directed to Nicholas Schaufelberger at (202) 945-9502 or firstname.lastname@example.org.