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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,
v.
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.

I. BACKGROUND

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 rights.
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 (D.D.C.)
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.
II. JURISDICTION
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 plaintiffs ...

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