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Melson v. Salazar

February 23, 2009

DAVID MELSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
KEN SALAZAR, SECRETARY OF THE UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff David Melson brings this suit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq., against Defendant Ken Salazar, in his official capacity as Secretary of the United States Department of the Interior, based on allegations of retaliation and a hostile work environment during Plaintiff's employment with the National Park Service.*fn1 Currently pending before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint. After thoroughly reviewing the parties' submissions, applicable case law, and statutory authority, the Court agrees with Defendant that Plaintiff's claims are time-barred. Accordingly, the Court shall GRANT Defendant's [6] Motion to Dismiss in its entirety, for the reasons set forth below.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff began his employment with the National Park Service of the United States Department of the Interior in April 1995.*fn2 Compl. ¶ 8. Plaintiff was promoted to a supervisory position in late 2001 or early 2002. Id. ¶¶ 20, 53-54. He alleges that he was subject to numerous incidents of discrimination by his supervisors and several of his co-workers, and that his supervisors initially refused to promote him based on his race and retaliated against him once he ultimately received his promotion. Id. ¶¶ 55-103.

Plaintiff sought EEO counseling on June 29, 2005.*fn3 Id. ¶ 104. Plaintiff filed a formal complaint on October 18, 2005, which was assigned the identifier "FNP-2006-005." Id. ¶ 105. After more than 180 days had elapsed, in September 2006, Plaintiff exercised his right to request a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). Id. ¶ 106. Prior to participating in a hearing before the ALJ, and for reasons that are unexplained in Plaintiff's Complaint, on November 6, 2006, Plaintiff (operating through counsel) withdrew his complaint, apparently because he wanted to "return to the agency for its action." Id. ¶ 107. Pursuant to that request, the ALJ dismissed Plaintiff's Complaint with prejudice:

On November 28, 2006, I received a facsimile from Complainant's Representative, wherein he expressed Complainant's desireto withdraw his complaint from the administrative EEO process. Accordingly, I GRANT Complainant's request, and I DISMISS this complaint with prejudice.

Def.'s Mot., Ex. A at 1 (11/29/06 Notice of Withdrawal). The ALJ's Order specifically referenced the identifier that had been assigned to Plaintiff's formal complaint (FNP 2006-005).

Id.*fn4

Following the dismissal of Plaintiff's complaint with prejudice on November 29, 2006, Plaintiff apparently took no further action related to his complaint. Nevertheless, on February 20, 2008 (i.e., over one year later), Plaintiff filed a Complaint in this Court alleging that "he is entitled to pursue his claim" because "[i]t is more than 180 days since [he] filed his charge of discrimination." Compl. ¶ 108. Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint as time-barred, or alternatively, because Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies or because Plaintiff's claims are barred by the doctrine of laches. Plaintiff filed an Opposition to Defendant's Motion and Defendant filed a Reply. Because the Court finds that Plaintiff's Complaint is time-barred, the Court does not reach Defendant's alternative legal arguments.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require that a complaint contain "'a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,' in order to 'give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). In evaluating a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the court must construe the complaint in a light most favorable to the plaintiff and must accept as true all reasonable factual inferences drawn from well-pleaded factual allegations. In re United Mine Workers of Am. Employee Benefit Plans Litig., 854 F. Supp. 914, 915 (D.D.C. 1994). While the court must construe the Complaint in the plaintiff's favor, it "need not accept inferences drawn by the plaintiff[] if such inferences are unsupported by the facts set out in the complaint." Kowal v. MCI Commc'ns Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1994). Moreover, the court is not bound to accept the legal conclusions of the non-moving party. See Taylor v. FDIC, 132 F.3d 753, 762 (D.C. Cir. 1997). The court is limited to considering facts alleged in the complaint, any documents attached to or incorporated in the complaint, matters of which the court may take judicial notice, and matters of public record. E.E.O.C. v. St. Francis Xavier Parochial Sch., 117 F.3d 621, 624 (D.C. Cir. 1997). See also Marshall County Health Care Auth. v. Shalala, 988 F.2d 1221, 1226 (D.C. Cir. 1993) (affirming lower court's reliance on an administrative record when deciding a motion to dismiss, where the court used the record to resolve legal questions and not to test factual allegations in the complaint); Koutny v. Martin, 530 F. Supp. 2d 84, 89 (D.D.C. 2007) (explaining that a court may take notice of public documents, such as court records, when deciding a motion to dismiss).

III. DISCUSSION

Defendant's Motion to Dismiss implicates a well-established body of law. Prior to seeking relief in federal court under Title VII, a federal employee must exhaust his administrative remedies. See Bowden v. United States, 106 F.3d 433, 437 (D.C. Cir. 1997) ("[c]omplainants must timely exhaust these administrative remedies before bringing their claims to court") (citing Brown v. GSA, 425 U.S. 820, 832-33 (1976)). Pursuant to that requirement, an employee must first consult an EEOC counselor within forty-five days of an alleged discriminatory action to attempt an informal resolution of the matter. 29 C.F.R. § 1614.105(a)(1). If the matter is not resolved informally, the employee may file a formal complaint of discrimination against the agency. Id. § 1614.106. The agency is obligated to conduct "an impartial and appropriate investigation of the complaint within 180 days of the filing of the complaint unless the parties agree in writing to extend the time period." Id. § 1614.106(e)(2). If the investigation is not completed after 180 days, the employee may (but is not required to) request a hearing and decision from an ALJ.

If and when an ALJ is appointed, the ALJ "assume[s] full responsibility for the adjudication of the complaint, including overseeing the development of the record." Id. § 1614.108(a). Once the ALJ issues a decision, the agency must issue a final agency order within 40 days or the ALJ's decision itself becomes the final agency decision. Id. § 1614.110(i). The ALJ may also dismiss an employee's complaint for various reasons, including those specifically enumerated in Section 1614.107 (listing nine reasons for dismissal), or "on [his] own initiative, after notice to the parties, or upon an agency's motion to dismiss a complaint." Id. § 1614.109(b). An employee may appeal a "final action or dismissal of a complaint" within "30 days of receipt of the dismissal, final action or decision." Id. §§1614.401(a), 402(a). An employee may also ...


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