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Chisholm v. Superior Court of the District of Columbia


June 4, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reggie B. Walton United States District Court Judge


The plaintiff brings this suit for, inter alia, monetary damages based on alleged violations of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. (2000) (Count I), and the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C.A. § 701 et seq. (2000) and the Americans With Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. (2000) (Count II) against the Superior Court of the District of Columbia ("Superior Court") and Ann B. Wicks in her official capacity as the Executive Officer of the District of Columbia Courts.*fn1 Plaintiff's Complaint ("Compl.") ¶¶ 21, 44-48. Currently before the Court is defendant Ann Wicks' Motion to Dismiss the plaintiff's claims against her on the grounds that "(1) [she] is not a proper party to this action; and (2) [she] is entitled to qualified immunity in a suit against her in her official capacity." Defendant's Motion to Dismiss ("Mot. to Dismiss") at 1. The plaintiff has not filed an opposition to defendant Wicks' motion to dismiss*fn2 and for the reasons set forth below her motion to dismiss is granted.


The plaintiff, Rita Chisholm, age 59, was an employee of the District of Columbia Courts for 19 years. Compl. ¶¶ 1-2. In May 2004, the plaintiff allegedly experienced "severe pain" in her right wrist . Id. ¶ at 7. The injury was purportedly determined to be caused by repetitious physical activity in performing her activities as a court clerk. Id. On November 9, 2004, the plaintiff contends that she fell and injured her ankle. Id. ¶¶ 8-9. Subsequently, Ms. Chisholm applied for and was denied advance annual leave to have surgery to address these injuries. Id. ¶¶ 10-11. Therefore, in January 2005, the plaintiff applied for workers' compensation, which was granted by the United States Department of Labor. Id. ¶¶ 9, 13.

In response to the denial of her request for annual leave, the plaintiff filed a grievance memorandum with her supervisor, Mr. Cyril Erugo. Id. ¶ 18. The plaintiff asserted that the denial of her annual leave request and her relationship with her colleague and former friend, Jennifer Galloway, had created a "hostile" work environment. Id. ¶¶2-3, 18. According to the plaintiff, after befriending the plaintiff's daughter, Ms. Galloway allegedly "overstepped all professional and personal boundaries" by falsely telling their co-workers that the plaintiff "was not a good parent." Id. ¶¶ 15-18, 30-31. In the grievance memo, the plaintiff alleged that in reporting information about the plaintiff's personal life, Ms. Galloway influenced the supervisors' decision to deny the plaintiff's request for annual leave. Id. ¶ 18. Thus, the plaintiff contends that she requested, to no avail, that Mr. Erugo investigate this decision. Id.

On February 21, 2005, the plaintiff met with an Employee Assistance Counselor to discuss the alleged hostile work environment and her concern that due to her absence from work while on workers' compensation, her supervisors were unsympathetic to her complaints. Id. ¶ 22. Then, on March 11, 2005, the plaintiff filed a second complaint with Mr. Erugo's supervisor, Dana Friend, reasserting the same concerns expressed earlier and asking that she be transferred to another division in the District of Columbia Courts. Id. ¶¶ 24-25. Mr. Friend purportedly assured the plaintiff he would follow-up on her request, but allegedly failed to do so. Id. ¶ 26.

Sometime shortly after April 7, 2005, the plaintiff learned that Ms. Galloway had filed a police report against the plaintiff after an alleged incident involving Ms. Galloway, the plaintiff, and the plaintiff's daughter, which resulted in a warrant being issued for the plaintiff's arrest. Id. ¶¶ 30- 36. The plaintiff voluntarily surrendered to the police and as a condition of her release the plaintiff was ordered to stay away from Ms. Galloway. Id. ¶ 36. Anthony Rainey, the Chief Financial Officer for the District of Columbia Courts, allegedly authored a memorandum that confirms that the decision to terminate the plaintiff's employment with the court system on August 5, 2005, was based, in part, on the stay away order and the allegations made by Ms. Galloway against the plaintiff, despite the fact that no one contacted the plaintiff directly about the allegations or otherwise investigated the validity of them. Id. ¶¶ 37-41. The plaintiff contends that other employees who had also been arrested did not have their employment terminated, but rather were transferred, reassigned, or received less severe sanctions. Id. ¶ 42. The plaintiff claims that her disparate treatment was the product of discrimination based on her age (Count I) and her absence from work due to her disabling injuries (Count II). Id. ¶¶ 42, 45, 47-48. The plaintiff requests monetary damages as well as non-monetary relief, including reinstatement. Id. at 11.

On February 1, 2007, defendant Wicks filed the motion to dismiss which is the subject of this opinion. As indicated, the motion is based, in part, on Ms. Wicks' position that she has been improperly named as a party in this case, having been sued solely in her official capacity as the Executive Officer of the District of Columbia Courts.*fn3 Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss at 1.


A. Motions to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim Under Rule 12(b)(6)

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides that a motion to dismiss may be granted when the plaintiff fails in her complaint to "state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). When ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the "complaint is construed liberally in the plaintiffs' favor, and [the court must] grant plaintiffs the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged." Kowal v. MCI Commc'n Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.D.C. 1994). The Court need not, however, "accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986).


A. The Case Against Ms. Wicks Is Equivalent to a Suit Against the District of Columbia Courts

"A suit[ brought] against an individual in her official capacity is one method of bringing suit against the employer and is distinct from an individual capacity suit." Cooke-Seals v. District of Columbia, 973 F. Supp. 184, 187 (D.D.C. 1997) (citations omitted). If a suit is filed against both the employer (here the District of Columbia Superior Court), and an employee in her official capacity (Ms. Wicks as the Executive Officer of the District of Columbia Courts), "the claims against the employee merges with the claims against the employer." Id. (citing Gary v. Long, 59 F.3d 1391, 1399 (D.C. Cir.), cert. denied, 516 U.S. 1011 (1995); see also Carter v. Marshall, 457 F. Supp. 38, 41 (D.D.C. 1978) (since the proper defendant in an action brought under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act is not specified in the statute as to government employees, the proper defendant would be the plaintiff's employer). Here, the plaintiff has filed suit against the Superior Court, and the defendants filed an Answer to the Complaint and a Motion to Dismiss defendant Wicks as a party on February 1, 2007. In addition, the plaintiff names Ms. Wicks as a defendant solely in her official capacity, having asserted no facts demonstrating that Ms. Wicks personally engaged in any wrongdoing related to the plaintiff or her claims. Compl. ¶ 2. Instead, the plaintiff's claims are directed against the Superior Court, the entity Ms. Wicks represents as a government official and employee. Id.; See Graham, 473 U.S. at 165 (holding that an official capacity suit is "another way of pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is an agent") (citation omitted). Because "an official capacity suit against an individual is the functional equivalent of a suit against the employer," claims against an individual in her official capacity have been routinely dismissed as "redundant and an inefficient use of judicial resources." Murphy v. PriceWaterhouseCoopers, LLP, 357 F. Supp. 2d 230, 244 (D.D.C. 2004) (quoting Cooke-Seals, 973 F. Supp. at 187) ; see also Robinson v. District of Columbia , 403 F. Supp. 2d 39, 49 (D.D.C. 2005); Barnes v. District of Columbia, No. Civ.A. 03-2547, 2005 WL 1241132, at *3 (D.D.C. May 24, 2005). Consistent with what these courts have concluded, this Court finds that by asserting claims against both Ms. Wicks in her official capacity and the Superior Court, the plaintiff's claims against Ms. Wicks are duplicative of the claims against the Superior Court. Cooke-Seals, 973 F. Supp. at 187. Therefore, the plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted because she is suing an individual from whom she cannot recover monetary damages.*fn4

Graham, 473 U.S. at 166, 169 (stating that a plaintiff suing an individual in her official capacity for monetary damages must look to the government entity for recovery). Accordingly, the Court must grant defendant Wicks's uncontested Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss as to the plaintiff's demand for monetary damages, and, at least for now, deny her motion as to the plaintiff's demand for equitable relief.*fn5


For the aforementioned reasons, defendant Wicks's motion to dismiss the plaintiff's claims for monetary damages and equitable relief against her pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) is granted, in part, and denied, in part.*fn6

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