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Coleman-Adebayo v. Leavitt

November 29, 2005

MARSHA LYNNE COLEMAN-ADEBAYO, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL O. LEAVITT, ADMINISTRATOR UNITED STATES ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Paul L. Friedman United States District Judge

OPINION

This matter is before the Court on the plaintiff's motion under Rule 59(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to alter or amend judgment. The plaintiff is an employee of the Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA") and brought suit against the agency alleging discrimination on the basis of disability as well as retaliation for pursuing past claims of discrimination in violation of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 791 et seq., and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq. On February 20, 2004, the plaintiff filed a motion for a preliminary injunction to enjoin the defendant from requiring her to work in an EPA office and reassigning her to a new position. In order to determine whether to grant the preliminary injunction, the Court was required to assess the merits of the plaintiff's case and the EPA's defenses. See Coleman-Adebayo v. Leavitt, 326 F. Supp.2d 132, 135-36 (D.D.C. 2004). On July 26, 2004, the Court dismissed the plaintiff's retaliation claims for failure to exhaust administrative remedies, granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant on the plaintiff's disability claim and denied the plaintiff's motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction as moot. See id. at 138-39, 144-45.

On August 6, 2004, the plaintiff filed a motion to alter or amend judgment contending that the Court erred by dismissing her retaliation claim in its entirety because she had in fact exhausted administrative remedies for the portion of her claim that dates back to the years 1999 through 2001. The plaintiff also contends that the Court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of the defendant on her disability claim. For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants the plaintiff's motion to alter or amend judgment on her retaliation claim but denies the plaintiff's motion on her disability claim.

I. BACKGROUND

The plaintiff, Marsha Coleman-Adebayo, Ph.D., has been employed at the EPA since August of 1990. She suffers from a variety of ailments, including multiple sclerosis, hypertension, glaucoma and optic neuritis. The plaintiff has argued that these conditions constitute a disability, that the stress of working in an EPA office exacerbates these conditions and creates a significant risk to her health, and that she should be allowed to work from home as a reasonable accommodation of her disability.

On December 21, 2000, the plaintiff filed a motion for a temporary restraining order to require the EPA to allow her to work from home under the agency's Medical Flexiplace program. The EPA acceded to the plaintiff's request without acknowledging the validity of her claims and the parties attempted to negotiate a resolution of the matter. The parties engaged in mediation until November 4, 2003 without a settlement of the plaintiff's complaint. Two days later, the EPA informed the plaintiff that she would be required to return to work in an EPA office. On November 18, 2003, the plaintiff's attorney informed the EPA that the plaintiff intended to bring suit to prevent the EPA from ordering her back to work in an EPA office. Three days later, the plaintiff's direct supervisor reassigned her to the Office of Cooperative Management to a position eventually titled Program Analyst.

The plaintiff filed the current suit against the EPA on November 24, 2003. She alleged that the EPA discriminated against her on the basis of her disability by failing to provide her with reasonable accommodations in violation of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 791. Her suit also contains what can best be categorized as two sets of claims of retaliatory acts taken by the EPA in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e. The first set of claims relates to retaliatory acts taken by the EPA from 1999 to 2001 for which the plaintiff filed five administrative complaints between 2000 and 2001 with the Office of Civil Rights of the EPA. See Complaint and Demand for Jury Trial ("Compl.") ¶¶ 1-2.*fn1 The plaintiff's complaint also alleged that the EPA retaliated against her in November and December of 2003 by ordering her to return to work in an EPA office and reassigning her to a new position. See Compl. ¶¶ 24-29, 33-34. She did not file administrative complaints regarding these actions until February 13, 2004. See Coleman-Adebayo, 326 F. Supp.2d at 138-39.

II. ANALYSIS

The plaintiff requests that the Court "alter or amend" its judgment pursuant to Rule 59(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. "'A Rule 59(e) motion is discretionary and need not be granted unless the district court finds that there is an intervening change of controlling law, the availability of new evidence, or the need to correct a clear error or prevent manifest injustice.'" Ciralski v. Central Intelligence Agency, 355 F.3d 661, 671 (D.C. Cir. 2004) (quoting Firestone v. Firestone, 76 F.3d 1205, 1208 (D.C. Cir. 1996)). Rule 59(e) motions "may not be used to relitigate old matters, or to raise arguments or present evidence that could have been raised prior to the entry of judgment." Niedermeier v. Office of Max S. Baucus, 153 F. Supp.2d 23, 28 (D.D.C. 2001). In her Rule 59(e) motion, the plaintiff contends that the Court's judgment was clear error and therefore requests that the Court reconsider its Opinion and Order on the matter.

A. Plaintiff's Motion to Alter or Amend the Court's Dismissal of Her Retaliation Claim

The Court dismissed the plaintiff's retaliation claim against the EPA for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. See Coleman-Adebayo, 326 F.Supp.2d at 137-39. The plaintiff contends that the Court erred because she had in fact exhausted administrative remedies by filing five administrative complaints in 2000 and 2001 regarding the allegedly retaliatory acts by the EPA occurring between 1999 and 2001. See Plaintiff's Memorandum in Support of Her Motion Under Rule 59(e) to Alter or Amend Judgment ("Pl.'s Mem.") at 2-5. These claims, the plaintiff argues, were exhausted 180 days after they were filed. See id. at 5; see also 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-16(c). She concedes, however, that she had not exhausted her administrative remedies for EPA acts occurring in November and December of 2003. See Pl.'s Mem. at 6-7.

Because the acts of the EPA occurring in 2003 formed the basis for the plaintiff's request for injunctive relief and were the focus of her legal arguments on the motion to dismiss and for summary judgment, the Court focused exclusively on this set of retaliation allegations in its analysis of the matter. The Court's only discussion of the 1999 through 2001 retaliation allegations was as a part of its examination into whether the 2003 retaliation allegations were discrete acts requiring exhaustion of administrative remedies or whether the 2003 allegations could "piggy-back" on the exhausted 1999 through 2001 claims. Coleman-Adebayo, 326 F.Supp.2d at 137-38. After concluding that the 2003 allegations were discrete acts that had not been exhausted, the Court granted the defendant's motion to dismiss the plaintiff's retaliation claim. See id. at 139. The plaintiff argues that the Court erred by dismissing her retaliation claim in its entiretyfor failing to exhaust administrative remedies because she had in fact exhausted administrative remedies with respect to the retaliatory acts taking place from 1999 to 2001 and set forth in the five administrative complaints she filed in 2000 and 2001. See Pl.'s Mem. at 7.

The defendant does not dispute that the plaintiff exhausted her administrative remedies for her 1999 through 2001 retaliation claims. Rather, the defendant argues that the doctrines of collateral estoppel and the law-of-the-case bar plaintiff from attempting to relitigate her disability claim. See Defendant's Opposition to Plaintiff's Motion Under Rule 59(e) to Alter or Amend Judgment ("Def.'s Opp.") at 14. The Court need not address this argument, however, as it has no bearing on the plaintiff's retaliation claim. The defendant's only response with respect to the retaliation claim is to assert that each allegation of retaliation in the five administrative complaints the plaintiff filed in 2000 and 2001 should be dismissed for failure to state a claim. See id. at 15. The defendant provides scant support for this argument, however, devoting a brief sentence in response to each of the plaintiff's retaliation claims that simply states that the plaintiff has failed to state a claim along with a citation to case law. The defendant neglects to provide any context or comparison of the facts here to those in the cited cases.*fn2 Given the cursory treatment the defendant has devoted to these legal arguments, the Court is in no position to decide whether the plaintiff has failed to state a claim. See Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless v. Barry, 107 F.3d 32, 39 (D.C. Cir. 1997) (declining to resolve an issue supported only with "bare-bones" argument on a Rule 59(e) motion).

Upon reconsideration, the Court agrees with the plaintiff and acknowledges that it erred in dismissing her retaliation claim in its entirety because she had in fact exhausted administrative remedies for her 1999 through 2001 retaliation claim. Accordingly, the plaintiff's motion to alter or amend ...


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