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Chisholm v. District of Columbia

February 12, 2008

RITA CHISHOLM, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION

On December 12, 2006, the plaintiff filed this lawsuit alleging violations of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 621-634 (2000) (Count I), the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 701-718 (2000), and the Americans With Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101-12117 (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. On February 1, 2007, defendant Ann Wicks requested that this Court 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. Subsequently, on June 4, 2007, this Court granted in part and denied in part Ms. Wick's motion to dismiss. Chisholm v. Superior Court of the District of Columbia, Civil Action No. 06-2174, 2007 WL 1601718, at *3 n.1 (D.D.C. June 4, 2007). The Court concluded that "the District of Columbia and not the Superior Court is the proper party for suit in this action and, therefore, should be the named defendant. Since the plaintiff ha[d] not filed a motion to amend her complaint, the Court . . . allow[ed] the plaintiff time to file a motion for leave to do so and properly name the District of Columbia as the defendant." Id. at 1. The Court further noted that because "the proper defendant is the District of Columbia . . . [,it] [would] declin[e] to dismiss Ms. Wicks until the plaintiff [wa]s afforded a reasonable opportunity to [substitute the District of Columbia for Ms. Wicks]." Id. at *2 n.5. On July 13, 2007, the plaintiff filed her amended complaint naming the District of Columbia as the only defendant. Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint. Currently before the Court is the plaintiff's motion for leave to amend her complaint seeking to add the common law tort of wrongful termination as a claim. Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to File An Amended Complaint ("Pl's Mot. To Amend.").*fn1

I. Background

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, Cyril Erugo. Id. ¶ 18. The plaintiff asserted that the denial of her annual leave request and her acrimonious 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 memorandum, 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. 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 October 31, 2007, the plaintiff filed her motion to amend her complaint a second time after discovering upon further research into the facts of this case that "she was [allegedly] wrongfully terminated in violation of the District of Columbia's common law tort action prohibiting . . . wrongful termination in violation of public policy." Pl's Mot. To Amend. at 2.

II. Standard of Review

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a) states that once a responsive pleading has been filed, "a party may amend its pleading only with the opposing party's written consent or the court's leave. The court should freely give leave when justice so requires." As the Supreme Court has stated, "[i]n the absence of any apparent or declared reason-such as undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive on the part of the movant, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, undue prejudice to the opposing party by virtue of allowance of the amendment, futility of amendment, etc.-the leave sought should, as the rules require, be 'freely given.'" Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962). A District Court has broad discretion to allow or disallow an amendment, as the Court "possesses sufficient familiarity with the circumstances of a case to exercise its discretion wisely and determine whether any of the five enumerated Foman factors, or others implied by the Court's 'etc.,' apply in any given case." Harris v. Sec'y, U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs, 126 F.3d 339, 344 (D.C. Cir. 1997). Refusal to grant leave to amend a pleading "without any justifying reason appearing for the denial . . . is . . . [an] abuse of . . . discretion and inconsistent with the spirit of the Federal Rules." Foman, 371 U.S. at 182.

III. Legal Analysis

In this case, the plaintiff's motion to amend her complaint is challenged on the grounds of undue prejudice to the defendant resulting from allowance of the amendment and futility of the amendment. The defendant contends that the "[p]laintiff's [m]otion to amend would be futile" because the plaintiff "failed to provide notice of her claims pursuant to D.C. Code ยง12-309." Def's Opp'n at 2. Further, the defendant asserts that the plaintiff's motion to amend her complaint is futile "[b]ecause the plaintiff has not alleged [the] elements essential to sustain a wrongful discharge claim . . . . " Id. at 6. In contrast, the plaintiff contends that her motion to amend her complaint to include a claim for wrongful termination should be granted and is not futile because "[she] is not seeking unliquidated damages with her wrongful termination claim." Pl's Reply at 5. The plaintiff asserts that since "the harm alleged involves the loss of employment, [she] seeks back pay, benefits and attorneys fees, which are all easily ...


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