Workagegnehu v. Wash. Metro. Area Transit Auth.

Decision Date11 March 2019
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 18-0526 (ABJ)
Citation373 F.Supp.3d 110
Parties Teshome WORKAGEGNEHU, Plaintiff, v. WASHINGTON METROPOLITAN AREA TRANSIT AUTHORITY, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Columbia

Larry G. Ward, Law Office of Larry Ward, Washington, DC, for Plaintiff.

M. Richard Coel, Office of General Counsel, Washington, DC, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

AMY BERMAN JACKSON, United States District JudgePlaintiff Teshome Workagagnehu brought this action against defendants Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority ("WMATA"), Paul J. Wiedefeld in his official capacity as General Manager of WMATA, and Martin Van Buren, a former employee of WMATA, under D.C. Code Ann. § 9-1107.01 et seq. (the "WMATA Compact") asserting claims of assault and battery (Count I) and intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count II). Am. Compl. [Dkt. # 6] ("Am. Compl.") ¶¶ 1–14, 74–99. Plaintiff seeks "damages in an amount equal to all of his accumulated lost wages and benefits, including back pay, front pay and benefits; and compensatory damages for the physical injury and emotional harm caused by [d]efendants ... in an amount not less than $ 500,000," as well as attorneys' fees and costs. Id. , "Prayer for Relief" at 18.

Defendants Wiedefeld and WMATA have moved to dismiss the suit pursuant Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). WMATA Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss Pl.'s Am. Compl. with Prejudice [Dkt. # 8] ("Defs.' Mot.") at 1. Defendants argue that the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction because "[p]laintiff and WMATA agreed to a Stipulated Order entered by the Commonwealth of Virginia Workers' Compensation Commission on May 4, 2018, whereby WMATA agreed to compensate [p]laintiff for the same injuries alleged in the Amended Complaint," and as such the Virginia Workers' Compensation Act ("VWCA") provides the exclusive remedy for plaintiff's injuries. Id. The Court finds that it has jurisdiction over plaintiff's claims under the WMATA Compact, but plaintiff's injuries are barred from further relief by the VWCA. Accordingly, defendants' motion to dismiss will be granted.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff began working for WMATA as a mechanic in June 2012. Am. Compl. ¶ 10. On March 8, 2017, he went to the Pentagon train station in Virginia to repair SmartTrip card machines. Id. ¶ 15. While he was there, he got into an argument with Martin Van Buren, the on-duty train station manager. Id. ¶¶ 14, 36–37. According to plaintiff, Van Buren became upset after plaintiff assisted a customer purchase a SmartTrip card. Id. ¶¶ 26–28, 36. Van Buren told plaintiff that helping customers was outside of plaintiff's "responsibility," and plaintiff disagreed. Id. ¶¶ 36–38. Then Van Buren allegedly punched plaintiff in the face, pinned him to the ground, and continued punching him. Id. ¶ 39. Plaintiff was taken to a hospital where he stayed overnight. Id. ¶ 48. Police arrived at the scene and defendant Van Buren was arrested. Id. ¶¶ 44–46. On May 5, 2017, Van Buren was convicted of simple assault under Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-57(A). Id. ¶ 53. Plaintiff alleges that he continues to suffer physical and emotional harm from the attack, and that his pain prevents him from working at full capacity, which also hurts him financially. Id. ¶ 2; see also Decl. of Teshome Workagegnehu [Dkt. # 13-1] ("Pl.'s Decl.") ¶¶ 1–53.

In a declaration attached to his amended opposition to the motion to dismiss, plaintiff also avers that after the attack he "was placed on Workers' Compensation ... from March 9, 2017 to November 5, 2017." Pl.'s Decl. ¶ 3. Plaintiff resumed work in November 2017, but by February 2018, he was in so much pain that he had to undergo surgery on his right knee and was unable to work. Id. ¶¶ 4–7.

On March 7, 2018, plaintiff filed this suit seeking damages for the workplace assault. Compl. [Dkt. # 1], and six days later, on March 13, 2018, he filed his second workers' compensation claim in Virginia, "seeking wage loss benefits from February 6, 2018 to March 13, 2018 and life time medical benefits." Pl.'s Decl. ¶ 8. Plaintiff filed an amended complaint with this Court approximately a month later, on April 26, 2018, but the amended complaint did not mention plaintiff's workers' compensation claims based on the same assault. See generally Am. Compl.

While this suit was pending, plaintiff retained an attorney "who specializes in Virginia Workers' Compensation law," who "settled" his second workers' compensation claim on May 4, 2018. Pl.'s Decl. ¶ 14. Plaintiff and WMATA agreed to a Stipulated Order entered by the Virginia Workers' Compensation Commission awarding plaintiff compensation for a period of temporary disability from February 6, 2018 to April 8, 2018 and committing WMATA to pay for reasonable, necessary, and causally related medical benefits pursuant to Va. Code Ann. § 65.2-603. Ex. 1 to Defs.' Mot. [Dkt. # 8-2] ("Stipulated Order"). The Stipulated Order states that "[t]he claimant sustained injuries to his head

, neck, low back, right leg, and right thumb arising out of his March 8, 2017 work-related accident," id. at 1, and it provides the following relief:

ORDERED that the claimant's Award for temporary total disability dated May 26, 2017 is terminated effective November 5, 2017; it is further
ORDERED that the claimant is awarded temporary total disability from February 6, 2018 through April 8, 2018 at the rate of $ 976.84 per week; it is further
ORDERED that reasonable, necessary, and causally related medical benefits for the claimant's head, neck, low back, right leg, and right thumb shall continue as long as necessary pursuant to Va. Code § 65.2-603 ; it is further ...
ORDERED that any remaining claims contained in the Employer's Application for Hearing filed January 18, 2018 and Claimant's claim filed March 13, 2018 are dismissed with prejudice.

Id. at 2–3.

On May 10, 2018, six days after the Stipulated Order was entered, defendants WMATA and Wiedefeld filed a motion to dismiss this suit due to lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6).1 Defs.' Mot.; Mem. of Law in Supp. of Defs.' Mot. [Dkt. # 8-1] ("Defs.' Mem.") at 1. Plaintiff filed an opposition to the motion, Pl.'s Mem. of P. & A. in Opp. to Defs.' Mot. [Dkt. # 9], and he was subsequently granted leave by the Court to file an amended opposition. Min Order (Oct. 29, 2018); Pl.'s Am. Mem. of P. & A. in Opp. to Defs.' Mot. [Dkt. # 13] ("Pl.'s Opp.").2 The motion is fully briefed and ripe for decision.3

STANDARD OF REVIEW

In evaluating a motion to dismiss under either Rule 12(b)(1) or 12(b)(6), the Court must "treat the complaint's factual allegations as true and must grant plaintiff ‘the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged.’ " Sparrow v. United Air Lines, Inc. , 216 F.3d 1111, 1113 (D.C. Cir. 2000) (internal citation omitted), quoting Schuler v. United States , 617 F.2d 605, 608 (D.C. Cir. 1979) ; see also Am. Nat'l Ins. Co. v. FDIC , 642 F.3d 1137, 1139 (D.C. Cir. 2011), quoting Thomas v. Principi , 394 F.3d 970, 972 (D.C. Cir. 2005). Nevertheless, the Court need not accept inferences drawn by the plaintiff if those inferences are unsupported by facts alleged in the complaint, nor must the Court accept plaintiff's legal conclusions. Browning v. Clinton , 292 F.3d 235, 242 (D.C. Cir. 2002).

I. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

Under Rule 12(b)(1), the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence. See Lujan v. Defs. of Wildlife , 504 U.S. 555, 561, 112 S.Ct. 2130, 119 L.Ed.2d 351 (1992). Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction and the law presumes that "a cause lies outside this limited jurisdiction." Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am. , 511 U.S. 375, 377, 114 S.Ct. 1673, 128 L.Ed.2d 391 (1994) ; see also Gen. Motors Corp. v. EPA , 363 F.3d 442, 448 (D.C. Cir. 2004) ("As a court of limited jurisdiction, we begin, and end, with an examination of our jurisdiction."). "[B]ecause subject-matter jurisdiction is ‘an Art[icle] III as well as a statutory requirement ... no action of the parties can confer subject-matter jurisdiction upon a federal court.’ " Akinseye v. District of Columbia , 339 F.3d 970, 971 (D.C. Cir. 2003), quoting Ins. Corp. of Ir., Ltd. v. Compagnie des Bauxites de Guinee , 456 U.S. 694, 702, 102 S.Ct. 2099, 72 L.Ed.2d 492 (1982).

When considering a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction, unlike when deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court "is not limited to the allegations of the complaint." Hohri v. United States , 782 F.2d 227, 241 (D.C. Cir. 1986), vacated on other grounds , 482 U.S. 64, 107 S.Ct. 2246, 96 L.Ed.2d 51 (1987). Rather, "a court may consider such materials outside the pleadings as it deems appropriate to resolve the question [of] whether it has jurisdiction to hear the case." Scolaro v. D.C. Bd. of Elections & Ethics , 104 F.Supp.2d 18, 22 (D.D.C. 2000), citing Herbert v. Nat'l Acad. of Scis. , 974 F.2d 192, 197 (D.C. Cir. 1992) ; see also Jerome Stevens Pharm., Inc. v. FDA , 402 F.3d 1249, 1253 (D.C. Cir. 2005).

II. Failure to State a Claim

"To survive a [ Rule 12(b)(6) ] motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’ " Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009), quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). In Iqbal , the Supreme Court reiterated the two principles underlying its decision in Twombly : "First, the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions," and "[s]econd, only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss." Id. at 678–79, 129 S.Ct. 1937, citing Twombly , 550 U.S. at 555–56, 127 S.Ct. 1955.

A claim is facially...

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