Alexis v. District of Columbia, Civil Action No. 98-151(RMU).

Decision Date30 March 1999
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 98-151(RMU).
Citation44 F.Supp.2d 331
PartiesAlice F.W. ALEXIS, et al., Plaintiffs, v. The DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Columbia

Marion E. Baurley, Marion E. Baurley, P.C., Washington,DC, for plaintiffs Alice Alexis, Anna-Marie Brannic, Constance Graham, Mohammed Hmaey, Deloras James, Hermena Kinard, Negussie Timikate and Sandra Thomas.

Catherine Thomas-Pinkney, Law Offices of Catherine Thomas-Pinkney, Washington, DC, for Plaintiff Jasper Mills.

John M. Ferren, Corporation Counsel, D.C., George C. Valentine, Deputy Corporation Counsel, D.C., Jack M. Simmons III, Assistant Corporation Counsel, D.C., Washington, DC, for Defendant District of Columbia.

Mary E. Pivec, Proskauer Rose LLP, Washington, DC, for Defendants Anthony A. Williams and Deloras Shepherd.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

URBINA, District Judge.

Granting in Part and Denying in Part the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss

and Motion for Summary Judgment;

Denying the Plaintiffs' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment.

I. INTRODUCTION

The plaintiffs, nine former District of Columbia government employees, bring this consolidated action under the First and Fifth Amendments of the United States Constitution, 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and (with respect to their pendent and supplemental claims) the common law of the District of Columbia. The plaintiffs claim that the defendants, Anthony Williams, Delores Shepherd and the District of Columbia ("District"), acted unlawfully when they summarily terminated the plaintiffs in January 1997 without prior notice and an opportunity to challenge the dismissals.

This case comes before the court on the defendants' motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. The plaintiffs move for partial summary judgment. For the reasons stated herein, the court grants in part and denies in part the defendants' motion, and denies the plaintiffs' motion. Specifically, the court grants the defendants' motion to dismiss the plaintiffs' claims of a violation of their Fifth Amendment property interests, the unconstitutionality of section 152 of the Omnibus Consolidated Recissions and Appropriations Act of 1996 ("1996 Appropriations Act"), Pub.L. 104-134, § 152, 110 Stat. 1321, 1321-102 (1996), a violation of Plaintiff Kinard's First Amendment rights, and the wrongful termination of the plaintiffs because the plaintiffs have failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.1 Additionally, the court grants the defendants' motion to dismiss the plaintiffs' claims of defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress because the plaintiffs have failed to exhaust their administrative remedies. The court denies the defendants' motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment as to the plaintiffs' claim of a violation of their Fifth Amendment liberty interest. With respect to Plaintiff Sandra Thomas, the court grants the defendants' motion to dismiss her entire action on the basis of res judicata.

II. BACKGROUND

All of the plaintiffs in this case held Career Service positions within the government of the District. The plaintiffs all worked for the District's Department of Human Services in the Office of the Controller ("Controller's Office"), except for Plaintiff Mills, who worked for the University of the District of Columbia. At the time of their termination, the plaintiffs held the following positions: Plaintiff Alice Alexis was employed as a Payroll Supervisor, (Pls.' Am. Compl. ¶¶ 4, 6); Plaintiff Anna-Marie Brannic as a Payroll Technician, (Pls.' Am. Compl. ¶ 14); Plaintiff Constance Graham as a Collection Agent, (Pls.' Am. Compl. ¶ 21); Plaintiff Mohammed Hmaey as an Accountant, (Pls.' Am. Compl. ¶ 26); Plaintiff Delores James as a Secretary, (Pls.' Am. Compl. ¶ 31); Plaintiff Hermena Kinard as an Acting Chief, (Pls.' Am. Compl. ¶ 36); Plaintiff Sandra Thomas as an Acting Collection Agent and as an Assistant Supervisor, (Pls.' Am. Comp. ¶ 49); Plaintiff Negussie Timikate as an Accountant, (Pls.' Am. Compl. ¶ 58); and Plaintiff Jasper Mills as a Manager of Treasury Operations (Mills Opp'n to Mot. to Dismiss at 5).2 The total time spent in government service, in one capacity or another, varied from plaintiff to plaintiff, ranging from a low of six years to a high of 24 years of service.

Sometime after reporting to work on January 24, 1997, the plaintiffs were individually notified, for the first time, that they were being separated from employment as of that date. (Pls.' Am. Compl. ¶ 63.) The plaintiffs all report that they were given 15 minutes to gather their personal belongings and vacate the premises; most report that they were supervised as they collected their belongings and that they were escorted from their work sites. (Pls.' Opp'n to Mot. to Dismiss, Ex. 2-8.) On their way out of the building, at least two of the plaintiffs observed a memorandum, prominently affixed to the inside of the door, listing their names and informing security officers that those listed were prohibited from future entry into the building. (Id. at Ex. 3, 6.) Each of the plaintiffs was also given a termination letter signed by Anthony Williams, the then-Chief Financial Officer ("CFO") of the District. (Pls.' Opp'n to Mot. to Dismiss, Ex. 2-8.) In the letter, Defendant Williams identified the primary source of his authority for taking the now-disputed personnel action, citing section 152 of the 1996 Appropriations Act. (Pls.' Opp'n to Mot. to Dismiss, Ex. 2.) At some point during that same day, Defendant Williams held a press conference to announce that he had fired 165 District employees for performance-related deficiencies. The parties disagree, however, as to the wording and effect of Defendant Williams's comments.

The plaintiffs brought this suit alleging the following seven causes of action: (1) Defendant Williams and the District denied the plaintiffs their Due Process rights and violated their liberty interests as secured by the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution by defaming the plaintiffs and terminating the plaintiffs without providing notice and an opportunity to be heard; (2) Defendant Williams and the District violated the plaintiffs' property interest in continued employment (created by the Comprehensive Merit Personnel Act ("CMPA"), D.C.Code Ann. §§ 1-601.1 through 1-637.2 (1992), and protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution) by terminating the plaintiffs without cause; additionally, the plaintiffs allege that section 152 of the 1996 Appropriations Act is unconstitutional facially, in its interpretation, and as applied; (3) Defendant Williams and the District violated Plaintiff Kinard's and Plaintiff Thomas's First Amendment right to free speech when they terminated Kinard and Thomas for speaking out on the District's financial position and its hiring practices; (4) the defendants unlawfully terminated Plaintiff Alexis in retaliation for personnel actions she took involving a subordinate employee, who is allegedly related to Defendant Shepherd; (5) Defendant Williams failed to act with requisite prudence, judgment, and discretion in terminating the plaintiffs; (6) in terminating the plaintiffs, Defendant Williams recklessly published false and defamatory statements that caused them emotional, reputational and financial harm; and (7) Defendant Williams's alleged reckless actions in terminating the plaintiffs were tantamount to an intentional infliction of emotional distress upon them.3 The plaintiffs seek compensatory and punitive damages, payment of discontinued pension contributions retroactive to the date of termination, costs and attorneys' fees.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW
A. Motion to Dismiss

A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) does not test whether the plaintiffs will prevail on the merits, but instead whether the claimants have properly stated a claim. See Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236, 94 S.Ct. 1683, 40 L.Ed.2d 90 (1974). The court may dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim only if "it is clear that no relief could be granted under any set of facts that could be proved consistent with the allegations." Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73, 104 S.Ct. 2229, 81 L.Ed.2d 59 (1984) (citing Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957)). In deciding on such a motion, the court must accept as true all well-pleaded factual allegations and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiffs. See Antonelli v. Sheahan, 81 F.3d 1422, 1427 (7th Cir.1996). However, the court need not accept as true the plaintiffs' legal conclusions. See Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286, 106 S.Ct. 2932, 92 L.Ed.2d 209 (1986). Finally, if the court considers matters outside of the pleadings in ruling upon a Rule 12 motion to dismiss, it must then treat the motion as one for summary judgment under Rule 56. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c).

B. Summary Judgment

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) provides that summary judgment sought "shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R.Civ.P. 56(c). Rule 56(c) mandates summary judgment if the nonmoving party fails to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). The party opposing a motion for summary judgment may not rely on mere allegations or denials to prevail, but instead must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248...

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