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Dist. of Columbia v. Pizzulli

February 8, 2007


Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CA-4331-02) (Hon. Mary A. Terrell, Trial Judge).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Terry, Senior Judge

Argued November 18, 2004

Before REID, Associate Judge, and TERRY and SCHWELB, Senior Judges.*fn1

This is an interlocutory appeal from an order of the Superior Court denying the pre-trial motion of the District of Columbia (and others) to dismiss this case under Super. Ct. Civ. R. 12 (b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. We affirm the denial of the motion to dismiss.


A. The Receivership

This appeal arises from a lawsuit that challenged the decision of a judicially appointed receiver to terminate an employee of the District of Columbia's Child and Family Services Agency ("CFSA") while the CFSA was in receivership pursuant to what was commonly known as the LaShawn order.*fn2

In its order establishing the receivership, issued on August 24, 1995, the United States District Court granted the receiver "all necessary authority to carry out its responsibilities, including but not limited to any and all authority previously vested in the Office of the Mayor or any other executive branch of the government of the District of Columbia." The appointed receiver was vested with "direct control and line supervisory authority over all activities and tasks relating to members of the LaShawn class," including "full authority to . . . designate and assign all necessary administrative, direct service, and support staff, including hiring personnel directly and all other personnel actions deemed necessary by the Receiver to carry out the Court's [remedial and implementation] orders." The CFSA remained in receivership for six years, until 2001.

B. Proceedings in the Superior Court

Pablo Ruiz-Salomon was a social worker employed at the CFSA from 1992 to 2001.*fn3 From approximately 1995 to 2000, he was an outspoken critic of the CFSA and its ongoing failure to comply with the LaShawn remedial order. During this period, he also repeatedly complained to the CFSA management about workplace hostility toward his sexual orientation. The record does not indicate that the CFSA took any constructive action in response to his complaints. In April and May 2000, Mr. Ruiz-Salomon sought psychiatric treatment in a sexual addiction recovery program at Del Amo Hospital, a medical facility in California. Sometime around June 2000, without Mr. Ruiz-Salomon's authorization or knowledge, the hospital released all of his confidential medical records to the CFSA's human resources department. These records contained a note stating that the "patient . . . is here due to his sexual offense two years ago by molesting a 14-year old autistic girl." It is undisputed that this statement actually pertained to another hospital patient and was mistakenly included in Mr. Ruiz-Salomon's file.

In May 2002, Mr. Ruiz-Salomon filed a complaint in the Superior Court against several named parties, including former judicial receivers appointed by the federal court in the LaShawn case. He alleged in his complaint that the false statement in his medical file was improperly circulated throughout the CFSA and eventually triggered the termination of his employment with the agency on June 1, 2001. He asserted that he had been wrongfully discharged because of anti-homosexual bias in the workplace and political retaliation for his vocal criticism of the receivers' efforts to comply with the LaShawn order.*fn4 Over the next year, the complaint was twice amended to delete certain individuals as named defendants and to add Del Amo Hospital as a defendant. In its final form, the complaint named as defendants the District of Columbia; the CFSA; Olivia Golden, the director of the CFSA; four CFSA managerial employees; and Del Amo Hospital.

The District of Columbia and its individual employees, along with the CFSA (collectively "the District"), moved to dismiss the complaint under Rule 12 (b)(6), contending inter alia that the CFSA and its former managerial employees were protected by the same absolute judicial immunity that shields receivers from liability for acts done within the scope of their official duties. The motion also argued that the District did not have supervisory control over the receivership and that the complaint did not specifically allege Ms. Golden's involvement in the events underlying this suit. The trial court denied the motion in a brief order, without stating its reasons, and the District noted this appeal.*fn5


The parties agree that the fundamental issue on appeal is whether the individual defendants are entitled to judicial immunity as former managerial employees of the receiver. Beyond this, the District also contends that this court has jurisdiction to review its substantive claim that the District and the former CFSA director are not liable ...

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