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Williams v. Johnson

February 18, 2009

CHRISTINA CONYERS WILLIAMS PLAINTIFF,
v.
ROBERT JOHNSON, ET AL. DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Colleen Kollar-kotelly United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff, Christina Conyers Williams, filed the instant lawsuit against the District of Columbia (the "District"), and her supervisors Robert Johnson, individually and as Senior Deputy Director of the Addiction Prevention and Recovery Administration ("APRA") of the District of Columbia Department of Health ("DOH"), and David Anthony, individually and as Chief of Staff to the Senior Deputy Director of APRA (collectively "Defendants"). Plaintiff alleges that Defendants violated her rights under the First Amendment and the District of Columbia Whistleblower Protection Act ("WPA"), 1-615.01 et seq., by retaliating against her for her remarks made during testimony before the District of Columbia Council's ("D.C. Council") Committee on Health, which is chaired by D.C. Councilmember David A Catania, and during a separate meeting with Councilmember Catania and two of his aides, including Tori F. Whitney.

In the course of discovery in this matter, Plaintiff served both Councilmember Catania and Whitney with a subpoena to compel testimony and the production of documents. Councilmember Catania and Whitney subsequently moved to quash Plaintiff's subpoenas. Upon a searching review of Councilmember Catania's and Whitney's motion to quash, Plaintiff's Oppositions, and Councilmember Catania's and Whitney's replies, as well as the relevant statutes and case law, the Court orally GRANTED Councilmember Catania's and Whitney's [45] motion to quash at the February 13, 2009 status hearing in this matter. In addition, Plaintiff's [58] Cross-Motion to Compel Whitney's Deposition*fn1 was DENIED WITH PREJUDICE to the extent it seeks to compel testimony and/or the production of documents as concerns Whitney in her official capacity as Councilmember Catania's former legislative aide, but DENIED WITHOUT PREJUDICE to the extent it seeks to compel testimony and/or the production of documents as concerns Whitney in her individual capacity. Specifically, the Court concluded that, to the extent Plaintiff seeks to depose either Councilmember Catania or Whitney and/or to compel the production of documents relating to the D.C. Council's alleged investigation of APRA, the District's Speech or Debate statute affords both Councilmember Catania and Whitney absolute legislative immunity.

I. BACKGROUND

The Court shall assume familiarity with its March 14, 2008 Memorandum Opinion, which set forth in detail the factual background of this case, and shall therefore only briefly address such facts as are necessary for resolution of the motions currently before the Court. See Williams v. Johnson, 537 F. Supp. 2d 141 (D.D.C. 2008) (CKK).

A. Plaintiff's Employment and the ACIS Contract

Plaintiff, Christina Conyers Williams, was hired by the APRA in June 2004, and in February 2006 held the position of Chief of the Center of Research Evaluation and Grants ("CREG"). Am. Compl. ¶ 5.*fn2 Defendant Robert Johnson served as Plaintiff's immediate supervisor, and Defendant David Anthony was Mr. Johnson's assistant and Chief of Staff. Id. ¶¶ 7-8.

In April 2005, Plaintiff was assigned the task of implementing APRA's Client Information System ("ACIS") software, which was purchased from Softscape, Inc. ("Softscape"), and designed to capture statistical data regarding APRA's clients, providers, and local contractors. Id. ¶ 18. Although the software had been scheduled to go on line in February or March 2005, little work had been done to that end when Plaintiff was assigned to implement the software. Id. ¶ 20. Getting ACIS on line became Plaintiff's primary job responsibility. Id. ¶ 17. Plaintiff alleges that upon assuming responsibility for the ACIS project and throughout 2006, she repeatedly requested a copy of the Softscape contract from Pamela Shaw, the employee previously responsible for it, as well as from Mr. Johnson. Id. ¶¶ 19, 22-24. According to Plaintiff, her requests were denied, and as a result she "has not received a precise explanation of what tasks Softscape is required to perform under the terms of the contract and how much Softscape is entitled to be paid for services it performs." Id. ¶¶ 23-24.

Phase 1.0 of ACIS was intended to provide information about the experiences of clients at the detoxification unit at D.C. General Hospital. Id. ¶ 25. According to Plaintiff, Phase 1.0 went on line in June 2005, but did not work very well. Id. ¶ 26. Plaintiff therefore sought technical help from Softscape, which delayed responding, and then refused to do any work on ACIS until it was paid $175,000 cash in hand. Id. ¶¶ 26-27. Phase 2.0 of ACIS was scheduled to begin in November 2005, and provide information about six APRA programs not included in Phase 1.0, while Phase 3.0 was scheduled to begin in February 2006 and provide information about outside service contractors. Id. ¶ 29. According to Plaintiff, by the middle of September 2005, it was obvious that Phase 2.0 of ACIS would not be on line by November 2005, and in fact, Phase 2.0 had not even begun by February 2006. Id. ¶ 30.

B. February 14, 2006 D.C. Council Meeting

On February 14, 2006, the D.C. Council Committee on Health, headed by Councilmember Catania, held a routine oversight hearing. Id. ¶ 33. In the course of the hearing, Councilmember Catania directed several questions about ACIS to Plaintiff. Id. ¶¶ 37-38. According to Plaintiff, her testimony at the hearing lasted 10 minutes, during which time she testified that: (1) she was responsible for the implementation of ACIS; (2) as of the hearing, ACIS could only provide demographic information; and (3) ACIS would be up and running by November 2006. Id. ¶¶ 39, 40-42. Plaintiff alleges that her brief testimony was significant because her "disclosure that ACIS could provide only demographic data was a statement that ACIS was a major failure," because "notwithstanding all of the money spent by [the] District on ACIS, the software could not track such crucial information such as education or continuing use of drugs, which was one of the primary goals of the contract." Id. ¶ 41. Plaintiff further alleges that her testimony that ACIS would be operative by November 2006 "was another statement of major failure by the contractor that contradicted [a] written statement [previously] submitted to the Council by Mr. Johnson." Id. ¶ 42. Indeed, according to Plaintiff, following her testimony,

Mr. Catania "sua sponte . . . raised the issue whether some kind of fraud had taken place within APRA because of the large amount of money involved." Id. ¶ 43.

C. Plaintiff's Private Meeting With Councilmember Catania

On March 8, 2006, Plaintiff and her husband met "privately" for an hour with Councilmember Catania and two of his aides*fn3 "to discuss the Softscape contract and Mr. Johnson's harassment of [Plaintiff] following her testimony before the Council." Id. ¶ 54. According to Plaintiff, Councilmember Catania told Plaintiff and her husband that he had tried to get a copy of the ACIS contract and had not been provided with one. Id. ¶ 55. Plaintiff responded that she did not have a copy of the contract either and had doubts whether the contract actually existed. Id. Plaintiff asserts that, as a result of the information she provided, "[Councilmember] Catania instructed his staff to launch an investigation into the Softscape contract." Id. ¶ 56. That investigation began in the middle of March 2006 and Plaintiff alleges, on information and belief, that at that time "Mr. Johnson became aware that [Plaintiff] met with Councilmember Catania and he concluded that Councilmember Catania started the investigation because of [Plaintiff's] testimony before the Council and her statements to him during their private meeting in mid-March, 2006." Id. ¶ 57.

D. Procedural History

Plaintiff subsequently filed the above-captioned lawsuit on December 4, 2006, alleging that Defendants violated her rights under the First Amendment and the District of Columbia Whistleblower Protection Act ("WPA"), 1-615.01 et seq., by retaliating against her for her remarks during the February 14, 2006 Council hearing ...


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