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Windstead v. District of Columbia

January 26, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: John M. Facciola United States Magistrate Judge


This case is before me for all purposes including trial. Currently pending before me and ready for resolution is Plaintiffs' (George Morgan, Juanita Irving, James Windstead, Louis Beale, Patricia Newby, Shelia Owens and Mary Waley) Motion for Motion for [sic] Reconsideration of the March 12, 2008, Order [#66] ("Plains. Mot. for Recon."). For the reasons stated below, as to those plaintiffs who moved for reconsideration, their motion will be denied. As to the remaining plaintiffs, they will be ordered to show cause why their cases should not be similarly dismissed.

Plaintiffs are eleven current or former District of Columbia employees and the estates of two former District of Columbia employees who have made claims for disability compensation pursuant to the District of Columbia Comprehensive Merit Personnel System Act ("CMPA").*fn1

Windstead v. District of Columbia, 538 F. Supp. 2d 104, 107 (D.D.C. 2008). Defendants are 1) the District of Columbia, 2) Mayor Anthony Williams,*fn2 3) James Jacobs, Director of the Office of Risk Management.*fn3 Id. Both Williams and Jacobs are sued in their official capacities. Id.

On March 12, 2008, the District Court granted in part and denied in part the District of Columbia Defendants' Renewed Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment [#48]. Specifically, the Court 1) granted defendants' motion to dismiss as to plaintiffs' § 1983 claim that the CMPA was facially unconstitutional, 2) granted defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiffs' § 1985 claim that defendants conspired to deprive plaintiffs of due process, 3) granted defendants' motion for summary judgment as to Morgan, Irving, Windstead, Beale, Newby, Owens and Waley, and 4) denied defendants' motion for summary judgment as to Tara Rogers, Patricia Hayden, and Denise Downing. Windstead, 538 F. Supp. 2d at 107-09, 129-30. On March 13, 2008, the seven plaintiffs against whom summary judgment had been granted moved the Court for reconsideration. On July 21, 2008, the District Court ordered plaintiffs to show cause why their entire case should not now be dismissed as moot as a result of the May 23, 2006 decision by the Court of Appeals in Lightfoot v. District of Columbia, 448 F.3d 392 (D.C. Cir. 2006). The Court also directed plaintiffs to address the issue of whether the Court of Appeals' decision in Lightfoot also now barred an action for deprivation damages.


I. The Protections of the 14th Amendment

The Fourteenth Amendment provides that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law. Most fundamentally, the amendment must be read to protect a person from being deprived of her property without being afforded the requisite modicum of procedures that a court finds are required. As interpreted by the Supreme Court in the seminal case of Matthews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319 (1976), determining whether due process has been met requires consideration of the following three factors:

First, the private interest that will be affected by the official action; second, the risk of an erroneous deprivation of such interest through the procedures used, and the probable value, if any, of additional or substitute procedural safeguards; and finally, the Government's interest, including the function involved and the fiscal and administrative burdens that the additional or substitute procedural requirement would entail.

Id. at 335.

In the context of the delegation to an administrative agency of the power to grant or withhold benefits, any deprivation of those benefits usually constitutes the deprivation of a protected property interest. See Goldberg v. Kelly, 397 U.S. 254 (1970) (protected property interest in the continued receipt of welfare benefits). Thus, at a minimum, the deprivation itself requires prior notice and the opportunity to be heard. See Matthews, 424 U.S. at 249 ("The essence of due process is the requirement that 'a person in jeopardy of serious loss (be given) notice of the case against him and opportunity to meet it.'") (internal quotations omitted).

In the case at bar, there is no dispute that the continuation of the benefits plaintiffs seek is a property interest protected from deprivation by due process of law. Nor is there any challenge by plaintiffs to the sufficiency of the procedures provided for by the District of Columbia statute prior to the deprivation of the benefits at issue. The sole question therefore is whether the delay plaintiffs encountered while attempting to avail themselves of those procedures is in itself a violation of due process.*fn4 In light of the alternative state remedies that were available to plaintiffs, however, that question need not be answered.

II. Alternative State Remedies

Prior to filing suit in this Court, plaintiffs could have availed themselves of two alternative remedies in the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. First, plaintiffs could have sought review of the agency's actions under the District of Columbia Administrative Procedure Act ("DCAPA"). Under the DCAPA, "[a]ny person suffering a legal wrong, or adversely affected or aggrieved, by an order or decision of the Mayor or an agency in a contested case, is entitled to a judicial review thereof in accordance with this subchapter upon filing in the District of Columbia Court of Appeals a written petition for review." D.C. Code § 2-510(a). The DCAPA specifically provides that the Court of Appeals may "compel agency action unlawfully withheld or unreasonably delayed." D.C. Code § 2-510(a)(2). As interpreted by the District Court for the District of Columbia, "[t]he Administrative Procedure Act was an effort not only to expand rights of review of administrative ...

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