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Byrnes v. Merit Systems Protection Board

March 2, 2005

KEVIN E. BYRNES, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MERIT SYSTEMS PROTECTION BOARD, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Emmet G. Sullivan United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff, Kevin E. Byrnes, brings this civil action under the Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552a, to compel the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) to amend or rescind its 2002 decision sustaining his removal from the position of Assistant United States Attorney (AUSA). Because the Court finds that the MSPB decision accurately reflects the state of affairs it was meant to describe, the Privacy Act cannot be read to afford the relief plaintiff seeks. Therefore, Byrnes has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted and defendant's motion to dismiss will be GRANTED.

I. BACKGROUND

On September 15, 2000, plaintiff was removed from his position as an AUSA at the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of Illinois (USAO-CDIL). Byrnes appealed his termination to the MSPB, claiming that his removal was unreasonable and discriminatory. Following a hearing, an administrative judge upheld the agency's action. Byrnes petitioned for review of this initial decision and the MSPB sustained his removal via a written decision issued June 4, 2002.*fn1

Byrnes then filed suit in this Court against the MSPB and the Department of Justice asserting employment discrimination claims under Title VII and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. See Civ. Action Nos. 02-1393(RMC) and 02-1757(RJL). On May 29, 2003, the parties entered into a settlement agreement in return for dismissal of the actions. See Compl. Ex. A ("Settlement Agreement"). The government agreed to identify and remove several documents reflecting Mr. Byrnes' termination from plaintiff's Official Personnel Folder ("OPF") and instead issue replacement documents changing the terms of his departure to a "voluntary resignation." See Settlement Agreement ¶¶ 6-9. Further, the parties agreed that "the adverse action giving rise to [the June 2002 MSPB decision] has no force and effect."*fn2 See id. ¶ 10.

In September 2003, Byrnes filed a motion in Civ. No. 02- 1393(RMC) seeking to enforce the settlement agreement and require the MSPB to "depublish" the June 4, 2002 decision. The Court denied the motion, finding "no explicit requirement to remove or revise MSPB records" in the "literal terms" of the Settlement Agreement. See Byrnes v. MSPB, No. 02-1393, Mem. Op. at 3 (D.D.C. Oct. 22, 2003)(Collyer, J.). Instead, the Court found that "a reasonable person would understand the disputed terms to mean that the [MSPB decision] could not form the basis for any future personnel action, not that the MSPB was required to take some form of affirmative action." Id.

Plaintiff then initiated the present action, claiming that the MSPB's refusal to amend or withdraw the June 4, 2002 decision violated his rights under the Privacy Act. Essentially, plaintiff claims that the continued publication of a decision that indicates he was terminated by adverse action without, at the very minimum, the inclusion of the subsequent history of the case states "inaccurate and incomplete facts." See Compl. ¶ 41.

RESCISSION OF MSPB DECISION

Plaintiff seeks a court order requiring the MSPB to either vacate or amend its prior opinion to reflect "the true state of affairs," and seeks damages for the "reputational damage and professional disparagement" caused by the Board's failure to amend. See id. ¶¶ 45-46.

II. DISCUSSION

A. STANDARD OF REVIEW

This case is before the Court on defendant's motion to dismiss, or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. In appraising the sufficiency of a complaint, a court must follow "the accepted rule that a complaint should not be dismissed unless 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 (1957); s ee also Swierkiewicz v. Sorema, 534 U.S. 506, 514 (2002) (stating that a court may dismiss a complaint "only if it is clear that no relief could be granted under any set of facts that could be proved consistent with the allegations")(quoting Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984)). For purposes of a motion to dismiss, a court must treat the plaintiff's factual allegations as true, see, e.g., Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 501 (1975), and must liberally construe the complaint in favor of the plaintiff, Jenkins v. McKeithen, 395 U.S. 411, 421-422 (1969).

B. THE PRIVACY ACT

The Privacy Act of 1974, 5 U.S.C. § 552a, governs the government's collection and dissemination of information and maintenance of its records. The Act generally allows individuals to gain access to government records pertaining to them and to request correction of records they believe are not "accurate, relevant, timely or complete." See 5 U.S.C. § 552a(d)(2). Following such a request, the agency must either promptly correct the disputed record or inform the individual of the basis for its ...


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