Sai v. Dep't of Homeland Sec.

Decision Date15 December 2015
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 14-1876 (RDM)
Citation149 F.Supp.3d 99
Parties SAI, Plaintiff, v. Department of Homeland Security, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Columbia

SAI, Sanford, NC, pro se.

Jeremy S. Simon, U.S. Attorney's Office for The District of Columbia, Washington, DC, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

RANDOLPH D. MOSS, United States District Judge

Plaintiff, who suffers from a neurological disorder that causes intermittent muteness and muscle spasms, alleges that he was harassed and mistreated on the basis of his disability during two incidents at airport security checkpoints in early 2013—one at Boston Logan International Airport (“BOS”) and the other at San Francisco International Airport (“SFO”). He filed administrative complaints with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) under procedures promulgated pursuant to the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794 et seq . When DHS failed to respond to his complaints, he brought this suit, alleging causes of action under the Rehabilitation Act and the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”), 5 U.S.C. § 701 et seq. Notably, the present suit does not directly seek redress for Plaintiff's alleged mistreatment at the security checkpoints. Rather, Plaintiff alleges that DHS, the Transportation Security Administration (“TSA”), and the individuals who were responsible for processing his administrative complaints violated his rights by failing to respond to his those complaints within the time period prescribed by the governing regulation. To the extent the Rehabilitation Act provides a remedy relating to any discrimination that Plaintiff may have suffered at the two checkpoints, he has elected to pursue those claims in other litigation. See, e.g. , Sai v. TSA , No. 15-cv-13308 (D.Mass. Sept. 4, 2015).

The case is before the Court on three dispositive motions: (1) a motion to dismiss filed by DHS, the TSA and several individual defendants sued in their official capacities, Dkt. 23; (2) a separate motion to dismiss filed by the individual defendants, who were also sued in their personal capacities, Dkt. 63; and (3) Plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment, Dkt. 7. Plaintiff has also filed three non-dispositive motions: (4) a motion for leave to take discovery, Dkt. 72 at 38; (5) a motion for leave to amend his complaint, Dkt. 73; and (6) a renewed motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis , Dkts. 65, 66. This Memorandum Opinion and the Order that accompanies it resolve these six motions before the Court.

With respect to Plaintiff's claims against DHS, the TSA, and the individual defendants sued in their official capacities (“Agency Defendants), the Court will grant in part and deny in part the Agency Defendants' motion to dismiss, and will grant in part and deny in part Plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment. First, to the extent Plaintiff seeks to compel the Agency Defendants to respond to his BOS complaint, his claim is moot, because DHS responded to the BOS complaint after he filed this action. Second, to the extent Plaintiff seeks damages as a result of the Agency Defendants' failure to process his complaints, neither the Rehabilitation Act nor the APA affords him such a remedy. Finally, to the extent that Plaintiff seeks to compel the Agency Defendants to respond to his SFO complaint on the theory that they have unlawfully delayed such a response, the Court agrees that such relief is available. Because the Court concludes that Plaintiff's underlying cause of action against these defendants arises under the APA, not the Rehabilitation Act, there is no evidence that Congress intended to preclude relief under Section 706(1) of the APA, which instructs courts to “compel agency action unlawfully withheld or unreasonably delayed.” 5 U.S.C. § 706(1). Further, because it is uncontroverted that the Agency Defendants have failed to respond to Plaintiff's SFO complaint for almost three years, and because Defendants have failed to justify the delay, the Court agrees with Plaintiff that relief under Section 706(1) is not only available but appropriate. Accordingly, the Agency Defendants' motion to dismiss is GRANTED with respect to Plaintiff's claims for monetary and nonmonetary relief arising out of the BOS complaint and for monetary relief arising out of the SFO complaint and DENIED with respect to Plaintiff's claim for nonmonetary relief arising out of his SFO complaint. Correspondingly, Plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment is GRANTED with respect to his claim for nonmonetary relief arising out of his SFO complaint and DENIED with respect to his BOS complaint.

With respect to Plaintiff's claims against the individual defendants sued in their personal capacities (“Individual Defendants), the Court concludes that the Westfall Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2679, requires the substitution of the United States for Individual Defendants for every claim except the claim asserted under Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents , 403 U.S. 388, 91 S.Ct. 1999, 29 L.Ed.2d 619 (1971), and that, because Plaintiff concededly failed to exhaust his administrative remedies before filing suit, these claims must then be dismissed. The Court also concludes that Plaintiff has failed to state a claim under Bivens or any similar cause of action against the individual-capacity defendants. Accordingly, Individual Defendants' motion to dismiss is GRANTED , and Plaintiff's claims against them are dismissed.

Finally, for the reasons stated below, the Court DENIES Plaintiff's motion for additional discovery (Dkt. 72 at 38), DENIES Plaintiff's motion for leave to amend his complaint (Dkt. 73), and DENIES Plaintiff's renewed motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis or, in the alternative, to file an application ex parte and under seal (Dkt. 65).

I. BACKGROUND
A. Facts

Plaintiff, whose full legal name is Sai, has a “permanent, episodic motor disability” that can cause painful muscle spasms, speech impairment, and even paralysis. Dkt. 1 at 47. Episodes of high stress can trigger or exacerbate these symptoms. Id. As a result, Plaintiff has on multiple occasions experienced acute symptoms while going through airport security checkpoints. This action arises out of two such incidents: one at Boston Logan International Airport on January 21, 2013, and another at San Francisco International Airport on March 1, 2013. Id. at 37. During each incident, Plaintiff alleges that TSA agents failed to accommodate his disability by denying him access to medication and writing implements for use when he was unable to speak, among other things. See id. ; see also Dkt. 31-1 at 1–3.

In response to these incidents, Plaintiff filed two administrative complaints with DHS—the first on January 26, 2013, and the second on March 15, 2013. Dkt. 1 at 30–31. In the complaints, he alleged that the agency had violated the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794, by discriminating against him on the basis of his disability. Id. DHS acknowledged that it had received Plaintiff's complaints, id. , but did not respond to the substance of the complaints within the 180-day period specified in the DHS regulations. Plaintiff made repeated efforts to obtain a response to his complaints, see id. at 33–43, but to no avail. As of November 5, 2014, when he filed this lawsuit, Plaintiff had received no substantive response from DHS to either complaint. Id. at 1, 43. Although Plaintiff eventually received a response to his BOS complaint (on March 4, 2015, over two years after it was filed), see Dkt. 31 at 1, he has received no response to his SFO complaint.

Attempting to remedy what he views as unlawful delay, Plaintiff filed this suit against a variety of defendants—including DHS, the TSA, and ten named individual defendants ranging from the Administrator of the TSA to the individual DHS officers who handled his complaints, in both their official and their personal capacities. Dkt. 1 at 5–6. Construing the pro se complaint liberally, as the Court is required to do, Plaintiff alleged causes of action under the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794 ; the APA, 5 U.S.C. § 706 ; Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents , 403 U.S. 388, 91 S.Ct. 1999, 29 L.Ed.2d 619 ; the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”), 28 U.S.C. § 1346 ; and a number of common-law torts, including negligent infliction of emotional distress, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and conspiracy.1 Id. at 9–14. Plaintiff seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, including an order compelling DHS to produce responses to his administrative complaints, and money damages, as well as costs. Id. at 14–15.

The present action does not seek relief for the allegedly discriminatory acts at the security checkpoints. Instead, Plaintiff maintains that [t]his suit is brought strictly for matters relating to defendants' handling of [his] complaints.” Id. at 5. Plaintiff has brought another suit, in the District of Massachusetts, to challenge the TSA's actions at the BOS checkpoint. See Sai v. TSA , No. 15-cv-13308 (D. Mass. Sept. 4, 2015).2 The present action, in contrast, is premised on a regulation that requires DHS to respond to an administrative complaint brought under the Rehabilitation Act within 180 days. See 6 C.F.R. § 15.70(g)(1). Defendants do not dispute that DHS failed to act on Plaintiff's complaints within the 180-day period. They dispute only the legal consequences of their inaction.

B. Procedural History

The Court has previously outlined the extensive procedural history of this case and will only repeat the portions of that history relevant to the pending motions. See Sai v. DHS , 99 F.Supp.3d 50 (D.D.C.2015). In particular, Plaintiff moved for partial summary judgment almost immediately after filing the action. See Dkt. 7. Amid a flurry of more than a dozen procedural motions filed by Plaintiff, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss under Rule 12. See Dkt. 23. On April 16, 2015, the Court entered an order resolving the pending procedural motions, setting a...

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