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Logan v. Dep't of Veterans Affairs

July 28, 2004

SANDRA D'ALLI LOGAN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS, DEFENDANT



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Before the Court is the defendant's Motion to Dismiss or for Summary Judgment. The plaintiff, who is proceeding pro se, alleges improper dissemination of the plaintiff's medical history in violation of the Privacy Act, violation of the Health Insurance and Portability Accountability Act of 1996 ("HIPAA") rules on disclosure of individualized identifiable medical information, and violation of the plaintiff's Fifth Amendment due process rights.*fn1 Upon consideration of the defendant's motion to dismiss, the plaintiff's opposition, and the entire record herein, the Court dismisses the plaintiff's two statutory claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and the plaintiff's Fifth Amendment claim for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Accordingly, the Court GRANTS the defendant's Motion to Dismiss or for Summary Judgment and enters judgment for the defendant.

BACKGROUND

This case arises out of an internal Department of Veterans Affairs ("VA") investigation into alleged violations of VA policy by plaintiff Sandra D'Alli Logan's ("Logan") internship supervisor, Robert Tecklenburg ("Tecklenburg").*fn2 On April 4, 2000, Tecklenburg's supervisor, Philip Hamme ("Hamme"), appointed an Administrative Board of Investigation ("ABI") to investigate several allegations of violations of VA policy by Tecklenburg.*fn3 *fn4 Compl. pp 20, 37; Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss, Ex. 5. During the investigation, interviews were conducted with Tecklenburg, two of his subordinates (i.e., Alice Ford and Renaee Allen), and Sara Most, a CBOC nurse and Logan's "nurse case manager."*fn5 Compl. pp 20-31. Logan was not interviewed during this investigation. Id. p 20. Several of those interviewed alleged that Logan had a "crush" on Tecklenburg (Compl.pp 21-23, 25-26, 29, 31) and also offered comments specifically on Logan's mental health (Compl.pp 24, 27, 28). The ABI's final report ("Report") was completed on June 7, 2000, and led to Tecklenburg's demotion, which was later reversed.*fn6 Pl.'s Opp., Exs. 2-4; Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss, Ex. 1 p 9.

Logan brought this action in 2002 against the VA alleging that the incorporation into the Report of other employees' speculation about her feelings towards Tecklenburg and their non-expert speculation about her mental health has prevented her from gaining employment as a government psychotherapist. Logan also alleges other improper disclosures of her medical history.*fn7 Essentially, Logan's complaint consists of three claims: (1) a violation of the Privacy Act's disclosure protocols by including interview statements regarding Logan's mental health in the Report (Count I) (Compl.pp 36-38); (2) a violation of the HIPAA provisions governing disclosure of individually identifiable health information stemming from the disclosure of Logan's mental health status by VA employees during the Tecklenburg investigation (Count IV) (Compl.p 56-61); and (3) a violation of Logan's due process rights in obtaining employment as a government psychotherapist by including remarks about her mental health status in the Report on Tecklenburg (Counts II and III) (Compl.pp 42, 49, 51).*fn8

Logan seeks various remedies, including monetary damages, and injunctive and declaratory relief. See Compl. Prayer for Relief. The VA moves to dismiss the Privacy Act and HIPAA claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and to dismiss the Fifth Amendment due process claim for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), 12(b)(6).

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Federal district courts are courts of limited jurisdiction and "possess only that power conferred by [the] Constitution and [by] statute." Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377, 114 S.Ct. 1673, 128 L.Ed.2d 391 (1994). Furthermore, the United States and its agencies are immune from suit unless Congress has expressly provided consent to be sued. United States v. Mitchell, 445 U.S. 535, 538, 100 S.Ct. 1349, 63 L.Ed.2d 607 (1980). There is a presumption against federal court jurisdiction and the burden is on the party asserting the jurisdiction, the plaintiff in this case, to establish that the Court has subject matter jurisdiction over the action. McNutt v. Gen. Motors Acceptance Corp. of Ind., 298 U.S. 178, 182-83, 56 S.Ct. 780, 80 L.Ed. 1135 (1936). In deciding a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), the Court "must accept as true all well-pleaded factual allegations and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiffs." Fitts v. Federal Nat'l Mortgage Ass'n, 44 F.Supp.2d 317, 321 (D.D.C.1999). However, when the inquiry focuses on the Court's power to hear the claim, the Court may give the plaintiff's factual allegations closer scrutiny and may consider materials outside the pleadings. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1); Herbert v. Nat'l Acad. of Scis., 974 F.2d 192, 197 (D.C.Cir.1992); Grand Lodge of Fraternal Order of Police v. Ashcroft, 185 F.Supp.2d 9, 13 (D.D.C.2001).

The court will only dismiss a complaint under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim if "it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957); Kowal v. MCI Communications Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C.Cir.1994). However, while the Court accepts as true all of the factual allegations set forth in the complaint, Doe v. United States Dept. of Justice, 753 F.2d 1092, 1102 (D.C.Cir.1985), and construes the complaint liberally in favor of the plaintiff, Schuler v. United States, 617 F.2d 605, 608 (D.C.Cir.1979), it "need not accept inferences drawn by [the] plaintiffs if such inferences are unsupported by the facts set out in the complaint." Kowal, 16 F.3d at 1276.

The Court is also mindful of its duty to read Logan's allegations liberally as Logan is a pro se litigant. It is well accepted in this Circuit that pleadings of pro se litigants are held to "less stringent standards" than those filed by litigants with counsel and must be construed liberally. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520, 92 S.Ct. 594, 30 L.Ed.2d 652 (1972); see also Richardson v. United States, 193 F.3d 545, 548 (D.C.Cir.1999). However, even pro se litigants must still allege a cause of action that falls within the subject matter jurisdiction of this Court.

ANALYSIS

I. Privacy Act Claims

The Privacy Act provides that district courts have subject matter jurisdiction over an individual's civil action against an agency whenever an agency

(A) makes a determination under [s 552a(d)(3) ] not to amend an individual's record in accordance with his request, or fails to make such review in conformity with that subsection; (B) refuses to comply with an individual request under [s 552a(d)(1) ]; (C) fails to maintain any record concerning any individual with such accuracy, relevance, timeliness, and completeness as is necessary to assure fairness in any determination relating to the qualifications, character, rights, or opportunities of, or benefits to the individual that may be made on the basis of such record, and consequently a determination is made which is adverse to the individual; or ...


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