In Smith v. Hope Village, Inc., No. 05-633 (RBW)(D.D.C. Apr. 12, 2007), the district court denied the defendant's motion for summary judgment, in which the defendant had argued in part that, as a matter of law, a halfway house owes no duty to unknown parties with whom it has no relationship for harm caused by an offender previously housed at the halfway house approximately five months prior to the offender's harmful act.
An inmate named Kelly had been released from prison into the custody of the Hope Village halfway house in December, 2001. (Although the opinion doesn't say, the pleadings indicate that the date was Dec. 12, 2001). On March 7, 2002, less than three months later, Kelly was discharged from Hope Village and was placed under the supervision of the DC Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. About five months after that, on August 6, 2002, Kelly allegedly broke into a house in Silver Spring where he shot and killed two people -- one of whom was the plaintiff's nine year old daughter.
Kelly had a long rap sheet with numerous felonies, including one involving a loaded gun.
Plaintiff brought a wrongful death and survival action against Hope Village. The theory of liability was that Hope Village was negligent in its supervision of Kelly, and as a result, the halfway house was responsible for his improper and untimely release into the community. Plaintiff alleged that Hope Village knew, or should have known, of Kelly's violations of the terms of his conditional release while at Hope Village, yet it never disciplined him.
In its motion for summary judgment, Hope Village argued, among other things, that it does not owe any legally cognizable duty to the plaintiff, or to any parties with whom it has no pre-existing relationship, for injuries resulting from Kelly's criminal conduct five months after he was discharged from the halfway house program. It also argued that there was no proximate cause due to a lack of foreseeability, and due to remoteness and superseding and intervening negligence.
In a lengthy opinion, Judge Walton rejected all of Hope Village's arguments, finding that Hope Village did owe a duty to people in the local community such as the plaintiff and her daughter, and that the question of foreseeability was for the jury. Judge Walton also reinstated plaintiff's wrongful death claim, finding that the 3 year statute of limitations under the Maryland Wrongful Death Act applied, not the shorter period of limitations under the D.C. Act.