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Hollingsworth v. Duff

August 2, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rosemary M. Collyer United States District Judge


Plaintiff Sharon Hollingsworth developed sick-building syndrome while working as a computer programmer in the Thurgood Marshall Federal Judiciary Building. During a period of declining health surrounding this diagnosis, her employer, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts ("AOUSC"), permitted her to work from home, but ultimately eliminated her position and terminated her, claiming that any alternative positions would require her presence in the Marshall Building, which her health precluded. Ms. Hollingsworth filed an administrative complaint with the AOUSC, claiming that she was discriminated against on the basis of her disability. That complaint was resolved against her in a Final Agency Decision issued on December 21, 2004.

Ms. Hollingsworth does not appeal the adverse decision. Instead, she sues James C. Duff, Director of the AOUSC, under the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 791 et seq. The AOUSC now moves to dismiss, asserting that the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction because the AOUSC, as a judicial branch agency, is not within the purview of the Rehabilitation Act. The Court agrees and will grant the AOUSC's motion to dismiss.


Ms. Hollingsworth began working at the AOUSC as a Computer Programmer Analyst in January 1990. Compl. ¶ 7. In November 1992, shortly after the AOUSC moved to the Marshall Building, she began suffering from headaches and other environmental allergies, and was ultimately diagnosed with sick-building syndrome. Id. at ¶¶ 8-14, 17, 22. In mid-1994, after a period of deteriorating health, Ms. Hollingsworth stopped working in the Marshall Building, but continued to work from home under a Flexible Workplace Agreement. Id. at ¶¶ 18, 21. In early 1996, after the AOUSC claimed that it could not reassign her due to her health limitations, Ms. Hollingsworth filed her first administrative complaint; that charge was settled with an agreement that permitted Ms. Hollingsworth to work from home on a long-term basis. Id. at ¶¶ 25-26. In early 2000, in response to AOUSC management's repeated requests for further medical documentation, Ms. Hollingsworth filed a second administrative complaint, which was also settled. Id. at ¶ 34.

In November 2002, the AOUSC notified Ms. Hollingsworth that her position would be abolished. Id. at ¶ 35. Despite attempts to reassign Ms. Hollingsworth to another position in the AOUSC - efforts that Ms. Hollingsworth describes as inadequate - she was not accepted for employment in any other section, id. at ¶ 36-42, and, on April 10, 2003, she was terminated, Answer at ¶ 45. Ms. Hollingsworth then filed a third administrative complaint alleging disability discrimination. Def.'s Mot. Ex. A. In a Final Agency Decision issued on December 21, 2004, the AOUSC Director adopted the Administrative Judge's oral ruling that the AOUSC did not discriminate against Ms. Hollingsworth. Id.

That same day, Ms. Hollingsworth filed this action, which alleges a single count of discrimination and failure to accommodate under the Rehabilitation Act. The AOUSC's motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, filed November 2, 2005, has been fully briefed and is now ripe for decision.


The AOUSC moves to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), which governs motions to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Generally, under Rule 12(b)(1), the Plaintiff bears the burden of establishing by a preponderance of the evidence that the Court possesses jurisdiction. See Shekoyan v. Sibley Int'l Corp., 217 F. Supp. 2d 59, 63 (D.D.C. 2002); Pitney Bowes, Inc. v. U.S. Postal Serv., 27 F. Supp. 2d 15, 19 (D.D.C. 1998). It is well established that, in deciding a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, a court is not limited to the allegations set forth in the complaint, "but may also consider material outside of the pleadings in its effort to determine whether the court has jurisdiction in the case." Alliance for Democracy v. Fed. Election Comm'n, 362 F. Supp. 2d 138, 142 (D.D.C. 2005); see Lockamy v. Truesdale, 182 F. Supp. 2d 26, 30-31 (D.D.C. 2001).


Ms. Hollingsworth's claim stands or falls on the assertion that AOUSC employees, like herself, fall within the scope of the Rehabilitation Act. The parties agree, as does the Court, that the Rehabilitation Act does not, on its face, extend to judicial branch employees. Pl.'s Opp'n at 6-7; Def.'s Reply at 2. Ms. Hollingsworth instead argues that the Administrative Office of the United States Courts Personnel Act of 1990, Pub. L. 101-474, 104 Stat. 1097 (1990) ("AOUSC Personnel Act"), impliedly repealed and modified the Rehabilitation Act, extending its coverage to AOUSC employees. Pl.'s Opp'n at 6-7. She contends that because the AOUSC Personnel Act was intended to provide disability discrimination protections to AOUSC employees, and the Rehabilitation Act is the sole mechanism by which federal employees can pursue such claims in federal court, the AOUSC Personnel Act must have extended the protections of the Rehabilitation Act to AOUSC employees, else the statutes would irreconcilably conflict.

The Court finds, however, that the AOUSC Personnel Act did not amend the Rehabilitation Act to cover AOUSC employees, but created a separate - and complementary - administrative scheme with remedies similar to those available under the Rehabilitation Act. This administrative scheme, which Ms. Hollingsworth put to use, was her sole remedy, and this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over her independent Rehabilitation Act claim.

A. Statutory Background

The Rehabilitation Act provides that "[n]o otherwise qualified individual with a disability" may be discriminated against by certain federal agencies "solely by reason of his or her disability." 29 U.S.C. § 794(a); see Davis v. Ashcroft, 355 F. Supp. 2d 330, 353 (D.D.C. 2005). By its terms, the Rehabilitation Act applies only to "[e]ach department, agency, and instrumentality . . . in the executive branch and the Smithsonian Institution." 29 U.S.C. § 791(b). While Congress has extended rights under the Rehabilitation Act to certain "covered employees" in the legislative branch, see Congressional Accountability Act, 2 U.S.C. §§ 1301-1348; cf. Collins v. James, No. 04-5428, 2005 U.S. App. LEXIS 26083, at *2-3 (D.C. Cir. ...

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