United States District Court for the District of Columbia
February 18, 2004.
ROGER ELLIOTT, Plaintiff
FEDERAL DEPOSIT INSURANCE CORPORATION, et al., Defendants
The opinion of the court was delivered by: ELLEN S. HUVELLE, District Judge
Plaintiff has filed a complaint pro se under
5 U.S.C. § 706, 28 U.S.C. § 1361, and 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming
impoverishment and stigmatism due to his allegedly wrongful termination
from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation ("FDIC") in 1999.
Defendants have now moved to dismiss the complaint under the doctrine of
res judicata on the grounds that the subject matter of this
complaint was previously litigated in a prior case Elliott v.
FDIC, No. CA-00-1553-A (E.D. Va. May 11, 2001), aff'd, No.
01-1771, slip op. (4th Cir. Oct. 17, 2001), and thus cannot be litigated
again. Moreover, defendants urge that plaintiffs § 1983 claim fails
because plaintiff has not shown that any person acting under color of
state law deprived him of any right and that plaintiff's claim for
mandamus has no merit. The Court agrees and will therefore grant
defendants' motion to dismiss.
Defendants fired plaintiff in June 1999 for falsification of official
documents, failure to follow supervisory instructions, inappropriate or
disrespectful conduct, and absence without
leave on two occasions. (Tr. at 8-9.)*fn1 Plaintiff appealed to the
Merit Systems Protection Board ("MSPB") challenging the four stated
grounds of his dismissal and alleging that removal was too harsh a
penalty for his alleged conduct. (Id. at 9.) In his appeal to
the MSPB, plaintiff also claimed age discrimination and reprisal for
having engaged in whistle-bio wing activities. (Id.) The MSPB
administrative law judge heard witnesses, took evidence, and issued a
decision sustaining plaintiff's removal on two of the four original
grounds, i.e., falsification of official documents and
inappropriate or disrespectful conduct. (Id.) The administrative
law judge also found that the penalty of removal was reasonable and
appropriate, and that plaintiff had failed to meet his burden on the age
discrimination claim and the reprisal claim. (Id. at 9-10.) The
MSPB issued a final order, and plaintiff appealed pro se to the
United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.
(Id. at 10.)
The district court reviewed the administrative record and found that
substantial evidence supported the MSPB's findings that plaintiff had
falsified official documents and engaged in inappropriate or
disrespectful conduct. (Tr. at 13.) The court also determined that the
Board's decision was neither arbitrary and capricious, nor an abuse of
discretion. (Id.) In addition, the court rejected plaintiff's
challenge to the sanction and his claim of reprisal for whistle-blowing.
(Id.) Finally, the court reviewed plaintiffs discrimination
claim de novo, holding that plaintiff could not establish a
prima facie case and that he could not show that defendants' proffered
reasons for the termination were pretextual. (Id. at 15.) The
court found no basis in the record to support plaintiff's claim that he
was performing adequately at the time of his dismissal or that he
was the victim of unlawful discrimination. (Id.)
Thus, the court granted the motions to dismiss and for summary judgment.
(Id.) Plaintiff appealed to the United States Court of Appeals
for the Fourth Circuit, which affirmed the district court's decision in
an unpublished opinion. Elliot v. FDIC, No. 01-1771, slip op.
(4th Cir. Oct. 17, 2001) (per curiam).
Again proceeding pro se, plaintiff has now filed in this Court
a complaint against the FDIC seeking relief from defendants' destruction
of "his ability to obtain employment,"and the injustice resulting from
defendants' "stigmatizing him with misrepresentations, to potential
employers. . . ." (Pl's Opp. at 2-3.) Essentially, plaintiff argues
that the terms of his dismissal "Inappropriate or Disrespectful
Conduct" and "Falsification of Official Federal Government Documents"
were not proper grounds for his termination, and that his
subsequent inability to obtain employment is an unjust result of these
improper dismissal terms that must be remedied. (See Pl's Opp.
at 2-4.) Given the fact that final judgment was entered in the earlier
case validating the grounds for plaintiffs dismissal, plaintiff is
precluded by the doctrines of res judicata and collateral
estoppel from relitigating this matter. Further, plaintiff's § 1983
claim lacks merit, and mandamus is not an available remedy.
I. Res Judicata
The doctrine of res judicata acts to "conserve judicial
resources, avoid inconsistent results, engender respect for judgments of
predictable and certain effect, and to prevent serial forum-shopping and
piecemeal litigation." Hardison v. Alexander, 655 F.2d 1281,
1288 (D.C. Cir. 1981). As explained by the Supreme Court:
[T]he doctrine of res judicata provides
that when a final judgment has been entered on
the merits of a case, "[i]t is a finality as to
the claim or demand in controversy, concluding
parties and those in privity with them, not only
as to every matter which was offered and
received to sustain or defeat the claim or
demand, but as to any other admissible matter
which might have been offered for that purpose."
Nevada v. United States, 463 U.S. 110
, 129-30 (1983) (quoting
Cromwell v. Sac County, 94 U.S. 351, 352 (1876)). "The final
`judgment puts an end to the cause of action, which cannot again be
brought into litigation between the parties upon any ground whatever.'"
Id. at 130 (quoting Comm'r v. Sunnen, 333 U.S. 591
(1948)). To determine whether the doctrine of res judicata
applies, the Court must decide (1) whether the parties are identical or
in privity with each other in both suits; (2) whether the present claim
is the same as a claim that was raised or might have been raised in the
first proceeding; (3) whether a judgment was issued in the first action
by a court of competent jurisdiction; and (4) whether the earlier
decision was a final judgment on the merits. See Paley v. Estate of
Ogus, 20 F. Supp.2d 83, 87 (D.D.C. 1998) (citing U.S. Indus.,
Inc. v. Blake Constr. Co., 765 F.2d 195, 205 n.21 (D.C. Cir. 1985)).
There can be no dispute here that the parties to the present suit are
identical or in privity with the parties in the prior action. See
LoBue v. Christopher, 82 F.3d 1081, 1084-85 (D.C. Cir. 1996) ("There
is privity between officers of the same government so that a judgment in
a suit between a party and a representative of the United States is
res judicata in relitigation of the same issue between that
party and another officer of the government.") The present claim is the
same as the claim raised in the Eastern District of Virginia. There,
plaintiff argued that his termination was based on "a threat charge,
cloaked as inappropriate or disrespectful conduct, without any proof of a
threat, and also by upholding a repeated falsification charge, without
proof of even one instance of falsification." (Tr. at 4-5.) Here,
plaintiff again argues that his
termination was invalid and seeks relief for the "impoverishing
stigmatization" it has caused. (Pl.'s Opp. at 4.) Even though plaintiff
asserts that he has a different claim for relief, there remains only one
cause of action for purposes of applying the res judicata
doctrine. See Polsby v. Thompson, 201 F. Supp.2d 45, 50-51
("[I]t is an established principle of res judicata that `even
though one group of facts give rise to different claims for relief, upon
different theories of recovery, there remains a single cause of
action.'") (internal citation omitted). Finally, the United States Court
of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit issued a final decision on the merits
when it affirmed the district court's decision in favor of defendants.
Because the requirements of res judicata have been met,
plaintiff's latest complaint must be dismissed with prejudice.
II. Collateral Estoppel
Not only does plaintiff's complaint fail under res judicata,
it similarly fails under the doctrine of collateral estoppel. Under
collateral estoppel, or issue preclusion, once a court has decided an
issue of fact or law necessary to its judgment, that decision may
preclude relitigation of the issue in a suit on a different cause of
action involving a party to the first case. Alien v. McCurry,
449 U.S. 90, 94 (1980); Novak v. World Bank, 703 F.2d 1305, 1309
(D.C. Cir. 1983).
The complaint is not entirely clear as to exactly what cause of action
plaintiff advances. Plaintiff argues that defendant "impoverished" him
and destroyed his "ability to obtain employment, by disseminating those
labels [Inappropriate or Disrespectful Conduct and Falsification of
Official Federal Documents] and stigmatizing him." (Pl.'s 2d Am. Compl.
¶ 1.) In District Council 20 v. District of Columbia, the
court considered a case similar to plaintiff's claim. There, plaintiffs
argued that public statements made by their former employer, in which he
stated that the employees were terminated because of their lack of
commitment to their jobs
and incompetence, "stigmatized the discharged employees and impair[ed]
their ability to find further employment." District Counsel 20 v.
District of Columbia, No. Civ.A.97-0185, 1997 WL 446254, at *7
(D.D.C. Jul. 29, 1997), aff'd in relevant part and remanded in part
on other grounds, 159 F.3d 636 (D.C. Cir. 1998) (table decision).
The plaintiffs in District Council 20 alleged that the employer
violated their Fifth Amendment procedural due process rights by depriving
them of their protected liberty interests in their reputations without
affording them an opportunity to rebut the negative charges. Id.
It appears that plaintiff advances a similar liberty interest claim in
his complaint because he alleges that the labels of his termination
stigmatized him and destroyed his ability to obtain employment in
violation of his constitutional rights. (Pl's 2d Am. Compl. ¶ 1.) "To
maintain a liberty interest claim, the discharged employee must show that
a public employer published alleged untrue stigmatizing statements in
connection with the employee's termination, and that the statements made
about the employee have damaged his professional reputation in such a
manner as to hamper the employee's future employment prospects."
District Counsel 20, 1997 WL 446254, at *7. The purpose of a
liberty interest claim is to give the employee an opportunity to rebut
the allegedly untrue stigmatizing statements, but the record in the
instant case makes clear that plaintiff has already been afforded the
opportunity to challenge the bases for his termination, and a court,
after a full adjudication of the matter, rejected plaintiffs position.
Because the validity of plaintiff's termination has already been
litigated and decided, the doctrine of collateral estoppel precludes
plaintiff from raising this issue again, and therefore, plaintiff's
complaint must be dismissed with prejudice.*fn2
III. Plaintiff's § 1983 Claim
The basis for a suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 is plaintiffs assertion
that a person acting under color of state law has deprived him of a
constitutionally-protected right. Abramson v. Bennett,
707 F. Supp. 13, 16 (D.D.C.), aff'd, 889 F.2d 291 (D.C. Cir. 1989)
(§ 1983 applies only to state officials acting under color of state
law). The FDIC is a federal agency, not a person subject to liability
under § 1983. Hindes v. FDIC, 137 F.3d 148, 158-59 (3d Cir.
1998). Because plaintiff has not alleged that any person acting under
color of state law deprived him of a constitutional right, the Court will
dismiss this claim.
IV. Plaintiff's Federal Mandamus Claim
Mandamus is only available as a remedy where "(1) the plaintiff has a
clear right to relief; (2) the defendant has a clear duty to act; and (3)
there is no other adequate remedy available to the plaintiff."
Council of and for the Blind of Del. County Valley, Inc. v.
Regan, 709 F.2d 1521, 1533 (D.C. Cir. 1983) (en
banc). The decisions of the Eastern District of Virginia, and the
Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissing plaintiffs petitions for
review have made clear that plaintiff has no right to relief here. Nor
has plaintiff demonstrated that defendants have any duty to act.
Consequently, the extraordinary remedy of mandamus is not available to
plaintiff, and the Court will dismiss this claim.
For the reasons given above, the Court finds that plaintiff's claims
are barred by res judicata and collateral estoppel, plaintiff's
section 1983 claim lacks merit, and federal
mandamus is not available as a remedy. Therefore,
plaintiff's complaint must be dismissed with prejudice. A separate Order
accompanies this Memorandum Opinion.
Upon consideration of defendants' motion to dismiss, as well as
plaintiffs response thereto, and for the reasons stated in the
accompanying Memorandum Opinion, it is hereby
ORDERED that defendants' motion to dismiss is
GRANTED; it is
FURTHER ORDERED that plaintiff's complaint is DISMISSED
This is a final and appealable order. See