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Chambers v. U.S. Dep't of the Interior

March 17, 2008

TERESA C. CHAMBERS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: James Robertson United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM

Teresa Chambers, the former Chief of the U.S. Park Police, brings this action under the Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552a(g), seeking injunctive and declaratory relief, damages, and attorneys' fees and costs. Count I of her two-count complaint is for wrongful refusal to provide access to records, in violation of 5 U.S.C. § 552a(d). Count II is for failure to establish appropriate rules and safeguards, in violation of 5 U.S.C. §§ 552a(e)(9) and (10). Chambers moves for summary judgment, while the defendant, the Department of Interior ("DOI"), moves to dismiss, or alternatively, for summary judgment. For the reasons discussed below, defendant's motion for summary judgment as to Count I will be granted. Count II will be dismissed for failure to state a claim.

Background

A. Factual Overview

From February 10, 2002, to July 9, 2004, Teresa Chambers served as Chief of the U.S. Park Police, a sub-division of the National Park Service ("NPS") in the Department of the Interior. During Chambers' tenure as Chief, her day-to-day supervisor was NPS Deputy Director Donald Murphy.

On September 22, 2003, Murphy sent an email to Chambers stating, "I have completed your performance appraisal. [My secretary] will contact you to set up a time for us to go over the appraisal." [Dkt. 29, Ex. A]. In an affidavit, Chambers states that, on or about the same day, Murphy told her in person that he had completed her performance appraisal, adding, "Don't worry. It's a good one." Chambers Aff't at ¶ 7 [Dkt. 29]. This was the only performance appraisal ever mentioned to Chambers during her tenure as Chief. The meeting between Murphy and Chambers that was to address her performance evaluation never occurred.

During an interview with the Washington Post on November 20, 2003, Chambers voiced concerns about budgetary constraints facing the Park Service. Portions of this interview were quoted in a story published on December 2, 2003. On that same day, Chambers sent an email to "a high-ranking staff member of the Congressional Subcommittee that oversees the DOI and its budget," repeating her concerns about the ability of the Park Police to carry out its mission given current appropriations. Compl. at ¶ 9. The contents of that email were shared with Chambers' supervisors, including Murphy.

Three days later, on December 5, 2003, the Department of Interior placed Chambers on administrative leave while her conduct was investigated. On December 12, 2003, Chambers was told that she could return to work and continue on as Chief if she agreed to certain stipulations regarding contacts with the media and Congress. Chambers refused this offer and, on December 17, 2003, Murphy proposed her removal from federal employment. In response, Chambers filed a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel ("OSC"), alleging reprisal in response to protected whistleblowing. When OSC took no action on her complaint, Chambers appealed to the Merit Systems Protection Board ("MSPB") on June 28, 2004. During the pendency of her MSPB appeal, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Interior for Fish, Wildlife and Parks issued a decision terminating Chambers' federal service.

During the internal investigation at the DOI and again in proceedings before the MSPB, Murphy stated under oath that a performance appraisal had been completed for Chambers. As part of the internal DOI investigation, Murphy was interviewed on February 6, 2004, by Deputy Assistant Secretary Paul Hoffman.

Murphy was asked if Chambers had been given a performance evaluation. Murphy responded that "one was prepared and was being scheduled for her just as these incidents happened. So there is one that's actually prepared and it was -- the only reason it hadn't been done was because of scheduling conflicts." [Dkt. 29, Ex. E at 105]. On August 11, 2004, in preparation for an MSPB hearing, Murphy gave the following sworn deposition testimony:

Q: Have you prepared a written performance appraisal for Ms. Chambers in her position as the chief since she took that job?

A: Yes.

Q: And that was a written ...


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