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Law School Case Brief

Clement v. Peoples Drug Store - 634 A.2d 425 (D.C. 1993)

Rule:

If a party has been fully heard with respect to an issue and there is no legally sufficient evidentiary basis for a reasonable jury to have found for that party with respect to that issue, the trial court may grant a motion for judgment as a matter of law. D.C. Super. Ct. Civ. R. 50(a)(1). When a party moves for a directed verdict, the evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the party against whom the verdict is sought. A verdict may be directed only if it is clear that the plaintiff has not established a prima facie case.

Facts:

The employee was the manager of the employer's store. After the employee locked the store and was walking to his car, he was murdered by an unknown assailant. The employee's widow (appellant) alleged that the employer knew or should have known of the inherent danger due to the store's location in a high crime area and that the employer failed to provide adequate security. At trial, the widow's expert testified that the opening and closing of the store created increased danger and crime statistics from the area were introduced. The trial court granted the employer's motion for a directed verdict at the close of the widow's case, found that the widow failed to establish a prima facie case of negligence, and entered judgment against the widow. 

Issue:

Did appellant fail to establish evidence of negligence as to merit the grant of the appellee’s motion for a directed verdict?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The attack on Clement was not foreseeable and there is no feasible way appellee could have prevented the murder. In sum, there is ample support for the trial court's ruling that there were no facts or circumstances from which a jury could find that "Peoples had or should have had a heightened or increased awareness of the danger of this particular criminal act." Accordingly, the trial court did not err in ruling that the evidence was insufficient as a matter of law and that a directed verdict was required. The court held that: (1) the extraordinary nature of the criminal conduct required the foreseeability of the of the risk to be more precisely shown, and (2) the murder of the employee by an unknown assailant was not reasonably foreseeable.

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