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WMATA immunity does not extend to failure to adhere to its own policies.
Verdiner v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority
On July 3, 2012, Plaintiff, Latasha Verdiner was a passenger on a Green Line metro train, near College Park. The train lost power and came to a sudden stop. After a period of time waiting for guidance or assistance from the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (“WMATA”) employees, Plaintiff and the other passengers began to disembark the train. The train did not have ladders or other egress equipment. As Plaintiff was disembarking, she wrenched her knee and fell into the adjacent concrete wall.
Verdiner then brought a three count complaint against WMATA in the Circuit Court for Prince George’s County, alleged Defendant failed to comply with industry standards by failing to have, implement, follow, and oversee policies and procedures for evacuating passengers trapped on the rail system; that WMATA was vicariously liable for its employees violations of federal, state, local, and industry standards; and WMATA was negligent in hiring, training, and supervising its employees. WMATA removed the case to the United States District Court for the District of Maryland. WMATA also filed a preliminary motion to dismiss the Complaint under Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 12(b)(1) and (6), arguing that it was immune from suit and therefore, the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction. In opposition, Plaintiff attached documents and argued, inter alia, that WMATA had a policy in place for evacuations, but that policy was not followed.
Judge Chasanow first noted WMATA was granted immunity for certain claims as a result of its formation under the interstate Compact. Specifically, WMATA was protected from claims that arose from the governmental function of the organization or was a discretionary decision. Plaintiff conceded that the hiring and supervisory aspects of her claims against WMATA were precluded as discretionary actions and withdrew Count III of her complaint.
The Court noted that providing transportation was not an essential governmental function, but also held that “Defendant cannot be sued for failure to have a policy or procedure because such a decision is discretionary, but it can be sued if there was a mandatory evacuation policy or procedure in place that was not followed.” Id. at 4. The Court stated, while it could rely upon outside facts in finding a dispute as to the jurisdictional issued under Fed. R. Civ. Proc., 12(b)(1), it was limited to the pleadings in determining the adequacy of the allegations in the complaint pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 12(b)(6). The Court held that the Complaint was too conclusory and failed to allege sufficient facts to determine what specific duty was owed to Plaintiff. Thus, the Court granted the motion to dismiss, but permitted the Plaintiff leave to file an amended complaint within 21 days.
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