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1989 Shamloo v Lifespring, Inc 713 F Supp 14

1989 Shamloo v Lifespring, Inc 713 F Supp 14

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Published by Frederick Bismark
1989 Shamloo v Lifespring, Inc 713 F Supp 14
1989 Shamloo v Lifespring, Inc 713 F Supp 14

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Published by: Frederick Bismark on Sep 25, 2007
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Shamloo v. Lifespring, Inc. 713 F.Supp. 14 (1989)
United States District Court, District of Columbia.
 713 F.Supp. 14. United States District Court, District of Columbia. FriedaSHAMLOO, Plaintiff, v. LIFESPRING, INC., et al., Defendants. Civ. A. No. 88-2932. April 11, 1989. 713 F.Supp. 14United States District Court,District of Columbia.Frieda SHAMLOO, Plaintiff,v.LIFESPRING, INC., et al., Defendants.Civ. A. No. 88-2932.April 11, 1989.Gerald F. Ragland, Alexandria, Va., for plaintiff.Dan Mayers, David Donovan, and Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering, Washington, D.C.,for defendant.MEMORANDUM AND ORDERREVERCOMB, District Judge.The plaintiff filed her complaint in this action on October 11, 1988, seekingcompensation for injuries allegedly received as a result of her participation in threeLifespring training programs in December 1979 and January, 1980. The complaintalleged that the plaintiff's participation in the programs "occurred as a result of therecruitment, marketing, and/or high pressure selling tactics originated by thedefendants and not because she independently decided to participate in the aforesaidtrainings." Complaint ¶ 11. As alleged by the plaintiff, defendants, acting throughtheir agents, "acted in a coercive manner" and represented that the program wouldbe safe and helpful to her, upon which representations she relied. Complaint ¶ 14.As described in the complaint, the "trainings" offered by Lifespring included (¶ 16)... psychological techniques; group pressures which resulted from manipulation of other participants by defendants' personnel in charge of the training sessions; mindcontrol techniques which caused plaintiff to lose her ordinary psychologicaldefenses; emotional confrontations which caused plaintiff to become emotionallydistraught and disoriented and unable to cope with reality; physical deprivationthrough exhausting marathon sessions, limitation of food, sleep and access tobathroom facilities; the intentional infliction of emotional distress; and abandonmentonce her psychological balance had been disturbed. The plaintiff alleges (¶ 18) thatshe exhibited "unusual and/or atypical emotional and psychological behavior" as a
 
result of the methods listed above, and that the defendant failed to respondadequately "in part because of the large number of persons in the program andbecause the program followed a set and established pattern not tailored to theindividual needs of each participant." Complaint ¶ 19.The plaintiff alleges that her participation caused "a psychological decompensation,acute and permanent psychological injuries and severe and continuing depression,mood swings and other mental pain and suffering," requiring extensive mentalhealth care including seven weeks of psychiatric hospitalization. Complaint ¶ 20.Paragraphs 21 and 22 of the complaint allegedly explain why this lawsuit was filedin October, 1988, although the plaintiff's experiences with Lifespring date from late1979 and early 1980. The plaintiff explains that "plaintiff was unable to comprehendthe cause of her injuries and to comprehend and assert her legal rights" "because of the injuries" she suffered (¶ 21), and that she first discovered the causal linkbetween Lifespring and her problems "upon reading an October 1987 WashingtonPost article about Lifespring." Complaint ¶ 22. On December 23, 1988, and January6, 1989, the defendants moved for judgment on the pleadings, or, in the alternative,for summary judgment. Aside from the additional personal defense of defendantHanley, (lack of personal jurisdiction), which is preserved for later consideration,the grounds of the motions are the same. The defendants' motion argues that all of the plaintiff's claims are barred by the statute of limitations, and that various countsof the complaint are invalid as a matter of law.Pursuant to D.C.Code Ann. § 12-301 (1981), the statute of limitations on theplaintiff's claims is three years, and the defendants point out accurately that since therelevant Lifespring courses took place nine years ago, the claims are time-barredabsent an exception tolling the running of the limitation period. The plaintiff'sopposition to this motion argues that she is entitled to the "discovery rule" exceptionto the statute of limitations, based on a claim that she was legally non composmentis for a significant portion of the statutory period.I. Plaintiff's Motion to Amend the Complaint.[1] Following the filing of defendants' motion, plaintiff moved (January 31, 1989)*16 to amend the complaint to include (as ¶ 21-A) the allegation that "plaintiff wasand is non compos mentis within the meaning of D.C.Code section 12-302 so as tohave tolled the running of the statute of limitations" from the time of herparticipation to the present day. In so moving, the plaintiff explained that thedefendants have filed a motion that is focused on the statute of limitations, and that,while the plaintiff believes that her pleadings fairly raise the issues of tolling thestatute based on the discovery rule and incompetency, the plaintiff wishes to amendthe complaint to make her legal position "crystal clear," so that the disposition of the case will not turn on "ambiguity in the pleadings."The decision whether to grant leave to amend is within this Court's discretionpursuant to Rule 15(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Althoughamendment is generally granted with liberality, the District Court may denyamendments if they appear to be in bad faith, or would be dilatory or futile. Thedefendants opposed the motion for leave to file an amended complaint, arguing that
 
the plaintiff claimed mental incapacity for the first time in response to the pendingmotion to dismiss, and also that an attempt to amend the complaint is an inadequateresponse to the motion for summary judgment defendants have sought in thealternative, since pleadings alone are not sufficient to rebut a motion for summary judgment. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d265 (1986). Since that time, however, the plaintiff has submitted affidavits of theplaintiff, her sister, and Dr. Gary Glass. Defendants argue that the plaintiff'saffidavits are irrelevant, since they do not answer their arguments that plaintiff understood that the Lifespring personnel were not licensed professionals, (makingthe discovery rule inapplicable), and that even were the Court to apply the discoveryrule, the affidavits establish that plaintiff knew of her injury more than three yearsbefore filing the complaint, had reason to know of the causal connection betweenher injury and Lifespring, and knew or should have known of some evidence of wrongful conduct by defendants in 1979 and 1980. See Bussineau v. President andDirectors of Georgetown College, 518 A.2d 423 (D.C.1986). [FN1]
FN1. These arguments are addressed below.
In the context of a motion for judgment on the pleadings, the Court notes that theFederal Rules provide that "knowledge, and other condition of mind of a personmay be averred generally." Fed.R.Civ.P. 9(b). The Court finds that it was clear evenfrom the original complaint that the plaintiff was alleging lack of "knowledge"during the limitation period due to long-term mental and emotional impairment.Although the plaintiff did not allege non compos mentis status in those words priorto the proposed amendments, the unamended complaint made it clear to the Courtthat her argument was that the psychological effects of the training prevented herfrom realizing the nature and source of her problems during the years following herparticipation in Lifespring training. As an answer to defendants' argument that theclaims are time-barred, the plaintiff has sought to amend the complaint to clarifythis point. The Court finds that the proposed amendment regarding mental capacityserves the purpose plaintiff states, that of clarifying allegations already present inthe pleadings. Therefore, leave to amend will be granted.II. Defendants' Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings.[2] Defendants argue that the discovery rule is not available to plaintiff because it islimited to claims for professional negligence or malpractice. Although the D.C.Court of Appeals has held that the discovery rule has been applied only in cases of professional negligence or malpractice, Woodruff v. McConkey, 524 A.2d 722, 727(D.C.1987), licensure is not the dispositive question in deciding whether defendantsmay be held to a "professional" standard of care. See, e.g., Ehrenhaft v. MalcolmPrice, Inc., 483 A.2d 1192 (D.C.1984). Plaintiff has admitted to knowing beforetaking Lifespring "courses" that the *17 staff "are not licensed psychiatrists orpsychologists," but the Court finds that D.C. case law does not hold that anunlicensed purveyor of "professional" psychological services should be affordedgreater protection from claims of negligence or malpractice than a licensed one.

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