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ALEXIS v. DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
March 30, 1999
ALICE F.W. ALEXIS, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Urbina, District Judge.
Granting in Part and Denying in Part the Defendants' Motion to
and Motion for Summary Judgment;
Denying the Plaintiffs' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment.
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.*fn1 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.
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).*fn2 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.*fn3 The plaintiffs seek compensatory and
punitive damages, payment of discontinued pension contributions
retroactive to the date of termination, costs and attorneys'
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).
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, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). Of course, the
party moving for summary judgment shoulders the ultimate burden
of demonstrating the absence of any genuine issue as to all
material facts before a grant of summary judgment can be
considered appropriate. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256, 106
S.Ct. 2505. Credibility determinations and the weighing of
evidence are functions for the jury, and not for the court ruling
on a summary judgment motion. See id. at 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505.
Rather, the court must accept the evidence of the nonmovants as
true and draw all justifiable inferences in their favor. See
A. Claims of Plaintiff Thomas Barred by Res Judicata
Plaintiff Thomas brought suit, as a named plaintiff, in a prior
action addressing the lawfulness of the defendants' conduct in
terminating her and other similarly-situated District government
employees. See District Council 20 v. District of Columbia,
Civ. No. 97-0185, 1997 WL 446254 (D.D.C. July 29, 1997),
remanded on other grounds, No. 97-7146, 159 F.3d 636 (D.C.Cir.
May 14, 1998). The defendants assert that the doctrine of res
judicata should bar Plaintiff Thomas from relitigating her
claims in this action. The court agrees.
A final judgment on the merits of an action precludes the
parties or their privies from relitigating issues that were or
could have been raised in that action. See, e.g., Federated
Dep't Stores, Inc. v. Moitie, 452 U.S. 394, 398, 101 S.Ct. 2424,
69 L.Ed.2d 103 (1981). A party may not litigate any further
claims based on the same nucleus of facts that gave rise to the
prior litigation because it is that nucleus of facts that
comprises the cause of action. See Page v. United States,
729 F.2d 818, 820 (D.C.Cir. 1984). "[I]t is the facts surrounding the
transaction or occurrence which operate to constitute the cause
of action, not the legal theory upon which a litigant relies."
Plaintiff Thomas concedes that the doctrine of res judicata
"technically" precludes her from relitigating her claims in this
action. (Pls.' Opp'n to Mot. to Dismiss at 3.) The plaintiff
asserts, however, that the doctrine should not be applied here
because she did not allow herself sufficient time to evaluate her
case before joining the other plaintiffs in the District Council
20 action. (Id. at 4.) According to the plaintiff, to bar her
from pursuing her
claims in this court is to deny her justice and hamper public
According to the Supreme Court, however,
[s]imple justice is achieved when a complex body of
law developed over a period of years is evenhandedly
applied. The doctrine of res judicata serves vital
public interests beyond any individual judge's ad hoc
determination of the equities in a particular case.
There is simply no principle of law or equity which
sanctions the rejection by a federal court of the
salutary principle of res judicata.
Federated Dept. Stores, 452 U.S. at 401, 101 S.Ct. 2424
(internal quotations omitted).
Several of the legal claims made by Plaintiff Thomas are
identical to those considered in District Council 20, and those
which differ nevertheless arise from her January 1997
termination. Thus, the legal claims Plaintiff Thomas asserts in
the instant case arose from the same nucleus of facts that
prompted her prior litigation. Therefore, the court concludes
that the doctrine of res judicata bars the plaintiff from
pursuing her claims in this action and accordingly grants the
defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiff Thomas's claims in their
B. Due Process — Liberty Interest
The plaintiffs allege that the defendants violated their Fifth
Amendment liberty interests when they terminated and allegedly
defamed the plaintiffs in January 1997. According to the
plaintiffs, on January 24 Defendant Williams told the press that
a number of District employees were losing their jobs because of
their laziness, incompetence, bad attitudes, lack of commitment
and lack of skills. (Pls.' Am. Compl. ¶ 65.) The plaintiffs
assert that these alleged statements were false and imposed a
highly injurious "stigma" upon their personal and professional
reputations. (Pls.' Am. Compl. ¶ 70.) The plaintiffs contend that
the Due Process Clause obligated the defendants to provide the
plaintiffs with an appropriate forum in which to challenge the
accuracy of the comments. (Pls.' Am. Compl. ¶¶ 65, 70.) Because
the court has looked beyond the pleadings in deciding this issue,
the defendants' motion will be treated as one for summary
judgment. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c).
The Supreme Court has determined that the government's behavior
in severing the employer-employee relationship might
impermissibly infringe upon an individual's
Constitutionally-grounded liberty interest in two distinct ways:
either by substantially harming the individual's reputation or
essentially foreclosing his career prospects. See Board of
Regents v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 572-576, 92 S.Ct. 2701, 33
L.Ed.2d 548 (1972). Thus, if the government employer makes a
charge against the employee that might seriously damage his
standing and associations in the community by asserting, for
example, "that he had been guilty of dishonesty, or immorality,"
an actionable claim might arise. Id. at 573, 92 S.Ct. 2701.
Similarly, the government would also violate an ...