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STITH v. CHADBOURNE & PARKE
June 19, 2001
MICHAEL STITH, PLAINTIFF,
CHADBOURNE & PARKE, LLP, DEFENDANT.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Paul L. Friedman, District Judge.
This matter is before the Court on plaintiffs motion to amend
his complaint and defendant's motion for judgment on the
pleadings. In his motion to amend, plaintiff seeks to add five
counts to the complaint and to add an additional defendant.
Defendant opposes plaintiffs motion to amend and has moved for
judgment on the pleadings with respect to both counts of the
original complaint. Upon consideration of the arguments
presented by the parties, the Court grants plaintiffs motion to
amend in part and denies it in part and denies defendant's
motion for judgment on the pleadings.
On December 17, 1998, plaintiff Michael Stith, an
African-American male, was fired by defendant, Chadbourne &
Parke, after a fellow employee, Wendy Norwood,
complained that plaintiff was harassing and stalking her. On
December 9, 1999, plaintiff filed a pro se complaint alleging
racial discrimination under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and the District of
Columbia Human Rights Act, D.C.Code § 1-2501, et seq. (Counts
I and II respectively). In his original complaint, plaintiff
alleged that defendant terminated him and failed to follow
certain internal procedures outlined in its discrimination and
harassment policy because he is African-American.
On April 14, 2000, plaintiff moved to amend his complaint
seeking to add several additional counts and an additional
defendant, Ms. Norwood. To support this motion, Mr. Stith
alleges that the statements Ms. Norwood made to Chadbourne &
Parke about Mr. Stith were false and defamatory, as were similar
statements she made to the Prince George's County Police
Before coming to this Court, Mr. Stith had filed an EEOC
complaint on January 6, 1999, alleging that he was fired based
on his gender. He amended his EEOC complaint on April 21, 1999,
to add a claim of race discrimination. On May 7, 1999,
Chadbourne & Parke filed a response with the EEOC, which
repeated in substantial part the statements made by Ms. Norwood
to the defendant and to the Prince George's County police —
statements in which Ms. Norwood claimed that plaintiff had been
stalking her with a firearm and harassing her at the office.
See Plaintiffs Motion to Amend His Complaint, Exhibit 6,
Chadbourne & Parke's May 7, 1999 Response. Mr. Stith reviewed
the response and two memoranda appended to the response that
were written by Susan Sheehan, the office manager at Chadbourne
& Parke's Washington, D.C office, around the time of Mr. Stith's
termination. See id., Exhibits 9 & 10, Memoranda by Susan
Sheehan. The Sheehan memoranda included Ms. Norwood's statements
about Mr. Stith as well as statements by other Chadbourne &
Parke employees who either corroborated Ms. Norwood's
allegations or, in the case of two other female employees,
claimed that Mr. Stith had also harassed them in the past. See
id. Ms. Sheehan's memoranda also stated that defendant
contacted the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police
Department ("MPD") the day prior to Mr. Stith's termination to
report its concerns about plaintiff and to arrange for the
police to be present when Mr. Stith was terminated. See id.
Plaintiff alleges that all of these statements are untrue and
thus are actionable as defamation.
Based on these facts, plaintiff now seeks to amend his
complaint to add a gender discrimination claim under the D.C.
Human Rights Act (Count III) and various defamation claims
(Counts IV through VII). In Count IV, he seeks relief against
Ms. Norwood for her own allegedly defamatory statements made to
Chadbourne & Parke and to the Prince George's County police.
Count V asserts a claim against Chadbourne & Parke for
defamation based on a theory of vicarious liability for Ms.
Norwood's statements. Count VI seeks recovery against Chadbourne
& Parke for their own publications and republications of Ms.
Norwood's statements when it responded to Mr. Stith's EEOC
complaint and when it contacted the MPD to insure that Mr. Stith
would leave the premises without incident after his termination.
Count VII seeks recovery against Ms. Norwood for defamation
based on the publications and republications by Chadbourne &
Parke to the EEOC and to the MPD of statements made to the firm
by Ms. Norwood.
A. Plaintiff's Motion to Amend
Under Rule 15(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a
party may amend its complaint once as a matter of right and
otherwise may amend only with leave of court or with the written
consent of the adverse party. Leave should "be freely given when
justice so requires." Rule 15(a), Fed.R.Civ.P.; 6 CHARLES ALAN
WRIGHT, ARTHUR R. MILLER & MARY KAY KANE, FEDERAL PRACTICE AND
PROCEDURE § 1473 (2d ed. 1990). The Court may deny leave if the
party opposing the motion can provide a good reason why the
amendment should not be allowed, including the clear futility of
permitting the amendment. See Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178,
182, 83 S.Ct. 227, 9 L.Ed.2d 222 (1962); Willoughby v. Potomac
Electric Power Co., 100 F.3d 999, 1003 (D.C.Cir. 1996). An
amendment is futile if it would not survive a motion to dismiss
or for judgment on the pleadings. See Willoughby v. Potomac
Electric Power Co., 100 F.3d at 1003; Black v. National
Football League Players Ass'n, 87 F. Supp.2d 1, 6 (D.C. 2000).
1. Plaintiffs Defamation Claims
Three of plaintiffs four defamation claims asserted in the
motion to amend concern Ms. Norwood's allegedly defamatory
statements. Counts IV and VII seek recovery against Ms. Norwood
directly (1) for statements she made to the Prince George's
County police and to defendant, or (2) for statements made by
defendant to the EEOC or to the District of Columbia police that
essentially repeat what Ms. Norwood told the defendant. Although
plaintiff seeks recovery against Chadbourne & Parke in Count V,
he does so on the theory of the firm's vicarious liability for
Ms. Norwood's statements.
Defendant argues that Counts IV, V and VII are all barred by
the statute of limitations and cannot be added to the complaint.
Statements made by Ms. Norwood were made prior to or at least no
later than December 17, 1998, the date of plaintiffs
termination, while plaintiffs motion to amend was not filed
until April 14, 2000, more than one year later. Because the
limitations period for bringing a defamation claim in the
District of Columbia is one year, the Court concludes that the
statute of limitations has run with respect to Counts IV, V and
VII, all relating to statements made by Ms. Norwood. See
D.C.Code § 12-301(4) (1995); Willoughby v. Potomac Electric and
Power Co., 100 F.3d at 1003; Wallace v. Skadden, Arps, Slate,
Meagher & Flom, 715 A.2d 873, 882-83 (D.C. 1998).
Plaintiff argues that he nevertheless should be allowed to add
Ms. Norwood and the claims against her under Rule 15(c) of the
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. A plaintiff is permitted to