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York v. McHugh

March 22, 2010

LAWANDA YORK, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JOHN MCHUGH, SECRETARY OF THE ARMY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION*fn1

Plaintiff Lawanda York brings this action for an alleged violation of the Privacy Act (the "Act"), 5 U.S.C. § 552a, by Defendant U.S. Army Reserve ("USAR" or "Defendant").*fn2

Specifically, York alleges that records containing personal medical information were improperly disclosed through a shared network drive accessible to all employees in violation of the Act's consent requirements, see 5 U.S.C. § 552a(b). Defendant moves to dismiss the Complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, arguing that the records were not within a "system of records" protected by the Act, that York has failed to allege an actual disclosure, and that her alleged injuries were not caused by any such disclosure. Alternatively, Defendant moves for summary judgment. However, the parties have not yet engaged in discovery, and York has filed a motion to obtain discovery in support of her claim pursuant to Rule 56(f). Because the Court finds that York has stated a claim for relief in her Complaint and that discovery will assist York with her claim, the Court shall DENY Defendant's [6] Motion to Dismiss, DENY WITHOUT PREJUDICE Defendant's [6] Alternative Motion for Summary Judgment, and GRANT Plaintiff's [11] Motion for Discovery Pursuant to Rule 56(f).

I. BACKGROUND

The following facts are drawn from the allegations in the Complaint and any exhibits attached thereto.*fn3 At all times relevant to the Complaint, Plaintiff Lawanda York worked as a Public Affairs Specialist in the Office of the Chief, Army Reserve. See Compl., Ex. 4 (3/15/2007 email from York to LTC Gerard Healy et al.). On August 31, 2006, York had a meeting with the Director of Army Reserve Communications, Colonel Dorothy Perkins, and a personnel manager named Sheila Bailey. See Compl., Ex. 1 (9/1/2006 Memorandum for Record). The meeting was held in response to York's indication to her supervisor that she was having suicidal thoughts as a result of the pressure being put on her in the workplace. Id. The details of this meeting were memorialized by Col. Perkins in a "Memorandum for Record" dated September 1, 2006. See id. The Memorandum for Record contained statements made by York about her medical treatment, and Col. Perkins wrote that "[t]his is viewed as a very serious - and potentially life-threatening -situation and will be dealt with as such." Id.

On March 14, 2007, York discovered that the Memorandum for Record created by Col. Perkins, as well as other records pertaining to York's medical condition, had been placed on a shared network drive at her workplace that was accessible to all employees at the agency. Compl. ¶¶ 7-11. York alleges that "[e]very employee with access to a computer can access the files placed on the shared drive. Thousands of employees are employed by the Army and thus could have seen Mrs. York's confidential information and information concerning her medical condition." Id. ¶ 11. York had one of her colleagues confirm that she could access the records pertaining to York. Id. ¶ 12 & Ex. 3 (3/14/2007 Memorandum for Record) ¶ 6. Immediately after York discovered that her medical condition had been disclosed, she left work and became physically ill, even vomiting. Id. ¶¶ 13-14. York called her therapist, who was concerned that the improper disclosure would bring about suicidal thoughts. Id. ¶ 16. York missed time from work and was given medication. Id. On March 15, 2007, York sent an email to LTC Gerard Healy and LTC Rudolph Burwell asking that the files be removed from the shared drive immediately. Id. ¶ 17 & Ex. 4 (3/15/2007 email from York to LTC Gerard Healy et al.).

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Defendant has moved for dismissal of Schmidt's Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) and has also moved in the alternative for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56.

A. Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)

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. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)); accord Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (per curiam). Although "detailed factual allegations" are not necessary to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, to provide the "grounds" of "entitle[ment] to relief," a plaintiff must furnish "more than labels and conclusions" or "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Id. at 1964-65; see also Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986). Instead, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, __ U.S. __, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

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); see also Schuler v. United States, 617 F.2d 605, 608 (D.C. Cir. 1979) ("The complaint must be 'liberally construed in favor of the plaintiff,' who must be granted the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged."). However, as the Supreme Court recently made clear, a plaintiff must provide more than just "a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1950. Where the well-pleaded facts set forth in the complaint do not permit a court, drawing on its judicial experience and common sense, to infer more than the "mere possibility of misconduct," the complaint has not shown that the pleader is entitled to relief. Id. at 1950.

In evaluating a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court is limited to considering the 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. See EEOC v. St. Francis Xavier Parochial Sch., 117 F.3d 621, 624 (D.C. Cir. 1997); see also Vanover v. Hantman, 77 F. Supp. 2d 91, 98 (D.D.C. 1999), aff'd, 38 F. App'x 4 (D.C. Cir. 2002) ("[W]here a document is referred to in the complaint and is central to plaintiff's claim, such a document attached to the motion papers may be considered without converting the motion to one for summary judgment.") (citing Greenberg v. The Life Ins. Co. of Va., 177 F.3d 507, 514 (6th Cir. 1999)).

B. Motion for Summary Judgment Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56

Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, a party is entitled to summary judgment "if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); see also Tao v. Freeh, 27 F.3d 635, 638 (D.C. Cir. 1994). Under the summary judgment standard, the moving party bears the "initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for [its] motion, and identifying those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits which [it] believe[s] demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). In response, the non-moving party must "go beyond the ...


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