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Ekwem v. Fenty

October 29, 2009

AUGUSTINE EKWEM, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ADRIAN FENTY, ET. AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ellen Segal Huvelle United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff Augustine Ekwem, an employee of the District of Columbia Child and Family Services Agency (the "Agency"), has sued Mayor Adrian Fenty (the "Mayor") in his individual capacity and the District of Columbia (the "District"), alleging violations of his constitutional and federal statutory rights, and his rights under a consent decree governing the Agency. Plaintiff also sues for negligence and defamation, and for violations of the D.C. Whistleblower Act, D.C. Code §§ 1-615.51 to -615.58, and the D.C. Comprehensive Merit Personnel Act ("CMPA"), D.C. Code §§ 1-616.51 to -616.54. Defendants have moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will dismiss plaintiff's federal claims and will decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over his state law claims.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff has worked for the Child Protective Services division of the Agency for fifteen years. (Second Am. Compl. ["Am. Compl."] ¶ 18.) He has supervised caseworkers responsible for investigating reports of child abuse and neglect for the past five years. (Id.)

In January 2008, U.S. Marshals carrying out an eviction found the bodies of four young girls. (Am. Compl. ¶ 23.) The girls were alleged to have been murdered by their mother, Banita Jacks. (Id.) The Agency had received reports of child abuse and neglect involving the Jacks family, but no caseworker had ever met the family or made further contact. (Id. ¶ 24.) In reaction to public outcry and "intense scrutiny" stemming from the murders, the Mayor terminated six Agency employees, including a supervisor, who had been involved with the Jacks case. (Id. ¶¶ 25-27.) Management assigned the caseworkers who had reported to the terminated supervisor, but were unconnected to the Jacks case, to new supervisors. (See id. ¶¶ 29-30.) Plaintiff was assigned two new caseworkers as part of the re-organization. (Id. ¶¶ 29-30, 42.)

Pursuant to a consent decree filed in LaShawn v. Fenty, No. 89-1754 (D.D.C. Feb. 27, 2007), the District manages the Agency under an implementation plan that must be filed in federal district court. (Id. ¶¶ 19-20.) Although the plan limits caseworkers to twelve concurrent cases (id. ¶ 35), those under plaintiff's supervision were assigned far more. (See id. ¶¶ 34, 38, 41.) Plaintiff complained to management about the excessive workloads, but nothing was done. (Id. ¶¶ 51, 54, 56-60.) By June 2008, plaintiff's eight caseworkers had been assigned a total of 261 cases. (Id. ¶ 65.) No other supervisor managed as many caseworkers.*fn1 (Id. ¶ 67.)

On June 25, 2008, a six-month old boy whose case had been assigned to one of plaintiff's caseworkers was found dead. (Id. ¶ 68.) The caseworker, who was managing fifty-seven investigations at the time of the boy's death, had never made contact with the boy's family even though she had been assigned the case nearly three months earlier. (Id. ¶¶ 70-71.) On July 8, the caseworker was terminated, and plaintiff was placed on paid administrative leave. (Id. ¶¶ 75, 77.) On the same day, the Washington Post reported on both the firing and the paid leave, although it did not mention plaintiff by name. (Id. ¶ 76.) In August 2008, another child whose case had been assigned to one of plaintiff's caseworkers was found dead; the caseworker subsequently resigned. (Id. ¶ 78.)

On September 9, 2008, plaintiff was suspended from his position without pay for ten days. Plaintiff was not given a hearing either before or after he was suspended. (Id. ¶ 87.) He could not appeal the decision because he is a member of the Management Supervisory Service. (Id. ¶ 88.) On July 13, 2009, plaintiff filed this action, naming Adrian Fenty and the Agency. (Compl. at 1 & ¶¶ 84-85.) He alleges that defendants' "acts, polic[i]es, practices and procedures" violated his rights under the Freedom of Speech Clause of the First Amendment, the Fifth Amendment, the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985(3), the LaShawn implementation plan, the common law and the D.C. Code. Plaintiff asks the Court to expunge his suspension and other disciplinary action from his record, to compensate him for lost pay and benefits from his ten-day suspension, to award him one million dollars in compensatory and punitive damages stemming from his ten-day suspension, damage to his reputation and employment prospects, emotional pain and suffering, inconvenience, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life, and "other non-pecuniary losses" from "being [publicly] blamed for the death of a child," and to award him attorney's fees and costs. (Id. at 12-13 (prayer for relief).) Defendant now moves under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) for dismissal for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

ANALYSIS

I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

A. Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss

"In determining whether a complaint fails to state a claim, [courts] may consider only the facts alleged in the complaint, any documents either attached to or incorporated in the complaint[,] . . . matters of which [courts] may take judicial notice," E.E.O.C. v. St. Francis Xavier Parochial Sch., 117 F.3d 621, 624 (D.C. Cir. 1997), and documents "appended to [a motion to dismiss] and whose authenticity is not disputed" if they are "referred to in the complaint and . . . integral" to a plaintiff's claim. Kaempe v. Myers, 367 F.3d 958, 965 (D.C. Cir. 2004).

When ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, courts may employ a "two-pronged approach." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1950 (2009). Courts must first assume the veracity of all "well-pleaded factual allegations" in the complaint. Id. Courts need not accept as true "'naked assertion[s]' devoid of 'further factual enhancement,'" id. at 1949 (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 557 (2007)), or "legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations." Kowal v. MCI Commc'ns Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1994). A pleading must offer more than "'labels and conclusions' or 'a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action' . . . ." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

Once the court has determined that there are well-pleaded factual allegations, it must determine whether the allegations "plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief" by presenting "sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face,'" in that "the court [can] draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. at 1949-50 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). Merely pleading facts "consistent with a ...


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