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BAKER v. HENDERSON

March 30, 2001

ESSIE J. BAKER, PLAINTIFF,
V.
WILLIAM J. HENDERSON, POSTMASTER GENERAL, UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Urbina, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

DENYING WITH PREJUDICE THE DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS; DENYING WITHOUT PREJUDICE THE DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter comes before the court on the defendant's motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. On September 15, 1999, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") issued its final decision dismissing the plaintiffs claims of discrimination and retaliation. The plaintiff, Essie J. Baker, now brings this action pursuant to the Americans With Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12181 et seq. The defendant, William J. Henderson, named in his official capacity as Postmaster General of the United States Postal Service ("the defendant" or "Postal Service") moves to dismiss the case on the ground that the plaintiff did not timely file her complaint. In the alternative, the defendant moves for summary judgment.

After careful consideration of the complaint and the parties' submissions, the court finds that, despite the plaintiffs diligence, she was unable to meet the statutory deadline imposed by 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-16(c) because of a mix-up by the court clerk's office. Therefore, the court determines that equitable tolling is appropriate, and the court will exercise its equitable powers to toll the 90-day filing period so this action may proceed. Accordingly, the court will deny with prejudice the defendant's 12(b)(6) motion. In addition, the court will deny without prejudice the defendant's motion for summary judgment. The defendant may renew its summary-judgment motion at a later date.

II. BACKGROUND

A. Procedural History

On September 20, 1996, the plaintiff signed a contract with her employer, the United States Postal Service, entitled "Rehabilitation Job Offer." See Compl. at 1. That document reflected the position of "Modified Carrier" at the time the plaintiff signed it. See id. Thereafter, while the plaintiff was recuperating from an on-the-job injury, she requested a copy of the document from her employer. See id. At that time, the plaintiff became aware that the contract had been tampered with, and her job title had been "white-ed out." See id. The contract, as modified, reflected a new job title, "Part Time Flexible Employee" ("PTF"). See id. According to the plaintiff, the change from "modified carrier" to "PTF" amounted to a demotion that negatively affected her career status, leave benefits, holidays, bid assignment and bidding rights. See id.

The defendant moves to dismiss under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and (6) on the ground that the plaintiff failed to timely file her complaint in the United States District Court. See Mot. to Dis. at 1. The plaintiff counters that she lodged her request to proceed in forma pauperis ("IFP") within the filing deadline, but that various mishaps in the clerk's office prevented a timely filing. See Pl.'s Opp'n at 1-2. The defendant concedes that the lodging of a request to proceed IFP tolls the limitations period until the court rules on the plaintiffs request. See Reply at 3; see also Mondy v. Secretary of the Army, 845 F.2d 1051, 1057 (D.C.Cir. 1988). According to the defendant's calculations, however, the plaintiff either officially lodged her request for IFP too late (i.e., on January 4, 2000) or neglected to file the complaint within the time remaining after her request for IFP was denied. See id. The plaintiff maintains that she lodged her request for IFP within the limitations period but that the clerk lost her file twice and neglected to notify her when the court denied leave to proceed IFP. She claims that the clerk's mistakes led to the late filing of the complaint. See Pl.'s Opp'n at 1.

Since the plaintiff and defendant do not agree about the date on which the plaintiff lodged her IFP request, the court will take judicial notice of the clerk's "Pro Se Log Report" to help determine the key date.*fn1

B. Timeline of Relevant Events

On September 15, 1999, the EEOC issued its final agency decision in this case and mailed a notice to the plaintiff. See Compl. at 3. On December 10, 1999, the plaintiff lodged her IFP request with the clerk of this court. See Pro Se Log Report. On January 4, 2000, the plaintiff went to the clerk's office to ask about her IFP application and discovered that the clerk had misplaced the file. See Pl.'s Opp'n at 1.*fn2 On March 7, 2000, the court denied the plaintiffs request to proceed IFP. For some reason, however, the court clerk's office did not send notice of the denial to the plaintiff. See id. at 2. On April 4, 2000, the plaintiff again went to the United States Courthouse and asked about the status of her IFP request. See Pl.'s Opp'n at 2. At that time, the clerk's office found the file, which reflected that the court had denied her IFP request on March 7, 2000. See id. On April 11, 2000, the plaintiff paid the filing fee and initiated this action.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Legal Standard for 12(b)(6) Motion ...


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