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DISTRICT COUNCIL 20 v. DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
July 10, 2001
DISTRICT COUNCIL 20, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF STATE, COUNTY AND MUNICIPAL EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Emmet G. Sullivan, United States District Judge.
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER
Former financial management employees and their unions challenge the
summary dismissals of these employees by the District of Columbia's Chief
Financial Officer as violations of the First Amendment of the United
States Constitution. Pending before this Court is defendants' motion to
dismiss the Third Amended Complaint. Upon careful consideration of the
pleadings, relevant statutes, case law, and the record herein, defendants'
motion to dismiss is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.
On January 24, 1997, the District of Columbia's Chief Financial Officer
("CFO"), Anthony Williams, summarily dismissed approximately 168 District
accounting, budget, and financial management employees.*fn1 The CFO gave
no notice to the discharged employees, who were each given identical
letters from the CFO informing them of their immediate discharge from
District service. The letters did not state the reason for the
discharge. During a press conference held the day of the terminations,
the CFO stated that he discharged the financial office employees because
they lacked commitment to their jobs and performed their work poorly.
On January 31, 1997, District Council 20 of the American Federation of
State, County, and Municipal Employees ("AFSCME"), AFL-CIO, AFSCME Locals
2276, 2087, 1200, and 2401, the National Association of Government
Employees, Local R-3-05/Service Employees International Union, the
American Federation of Government Employees ("AFGE"), and AFGE Local 383
(collectively referred to as "the union plaintiffs"), as well as eight
terminated employees filed this lawsuit. The suit was brought against
the District of Columbia, the Mayor, and the CFO. Plaintiffs challenged
the terminations as violations of their constitutional and statutory
This Court granted summary judgment for defendants on all the original
claims. See District Council 20 v. District of Columbia, 1997 WL 446254
(D.D.C. July 29, 1997). The Court dismissed the due process claims on
the grounds that the federal legislation that bestowed personnel
authority on the CFO converted the Office of the CFO employees into "at
will" employees and implicitly repealed the D.C. law that required
terminations for cause. The Court also rejected the liberty interest
claims, concluding that the CFO's public statements about the terminated
employees were not sufficiently stigmatizing to inflict a constitutional
injury. This Court had denied the First Amendment claims against Williams
in his individual capacity because plaintiffs had not met the D.C.
Circuit's heightened pleading standard requiring
"clear and convincing
evidence" of an unconstitutional motive to overcome Williams' entitlement
to qualified immunity. See District Council 20, 1997 WL 446254 at *12
(relying on Crawford-El v. Britton, 93 F.3d 813 (D.C. Cir. 1996)
overruled by 523 U.S. 574, 118 S.Ct. 1584, L.Ed.2d (1998)). The Court
had also denied the First Amendment claims against the CFO in his
official capacity holding that plaintiffs failed to prove, as required by
42 U.S.C. § 1983, that the CFO was acting as a "Final Policymaker"
when he allegedly violated their First Amendment rights. See District
Council 20 v. District of Columbia, No. 97-0185, Oct. 8, 1997 Order
The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia
affirmed this Court's summary judgment decision, except for the First
Amendment claims. See District Council 20 v. District of Columbia,
159 F.3d 636 (D.C. Cir. 1998). It remanded the First Amendment claims
against Williams in his individual capacity to this Court for
consideration in light of the Supreme Court's decision in Crawford-El,
which rejected the D.C. Circuit's "clear and convincing evidence"
pleading standard for claims against public officials in their individual
capacities. It also reversed this Court's ruling that the CFO was not
acting as a "Final Policymaker" when he terminated the individual
plaintiffs. The Court of Appeals then directed this Court to "decide in
the first instance which of the plaintiffs have spoken on matters of
public concern or participated in associational activity implicating
matters of public concern so as to have live First Amendment claims for
which discovery was appropriate." District Council 20, 159 F.3d at 636.
Subsequent to the D.C. Circuit's ruling, the remaining plaintiffs filed
a Third Amended Complaint. The Third Amended Complaint added more
terminated employees as individual plaintiffs. Plaintiffs assert that
defendants retaliated against them for exercising their rights to freedom
of speech and association in violation of the First Amendment of the
United States Constitution and 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
This opinion addresses both the motion to dismiss, and the D.C.
Circuit's remand. Defendants' motion to dismiss argues that the union
plaintiffs lack standing and that plaintiffs fail to state a claim. The
Court finds that the union plaintiffs do have standing to assert the
claims here, but are limited to declaratory and injunctive relief.
Further, the Court finds that all plaintiffs state a claim against the
CFO in his official capacity, but only one plaintiff states a claim
against Williams in his individual capacity.
Defendants contend that the union plaintiffs cannot assert First
Amendment claims against defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 because
such individual claims for damages are only cognizable when brought by
the citizens those laws were enacted to protect. See Hague v. Committee
of Indust. Org., 307 U.S. 496, 514, 59 S.Ct. 954, 83 L.Ed. 1423 (1939);
Air Transportation Association of America v. Reno, 80 F.3d 477, 483
(D.C. Cir. 1996); Telecommunications Research and Action Center,
806 F.2d 1093, 1094-94 (D.C. Cir. 1986); L.S.T. v. Crow., 49 F.3d 769,
682 n. 6 (11th Cir. 1995). The union plaintiffs rely on Allee v.
Medrano, 416 U.S. 802, 819 n. 13, 94 S.Ct. 2191, 40 L.Ed.2d 566 (1974), a
First Amendment case involving declaratory and injunctive relief to
assert standing. Plaintiffs focus on the type of claim asserted, while
defendants focus on the type of relief requested.
The union plaintiffs have standing to assert First Amendment claims;
however, they cannot seek monetary damages in this case. Here, any
monetary damages are predicated on proving the claims of the individual
members of the union, who are present and litigating on their own
behalf. If the union plaintiffs were seeking only monetary damages, they
would be dismissed for lack of standing. However, the union plaintiffs
also seek declaratory and injunctive relief. Accordingly, the union
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