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Simms v. District of Columbia

March 30, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Royce C. Lamberth Chief Judge


Laverna Simms, the plaintiff in this civil lawsuit, brings this action against the Center for Correctional Health and Policy Studies, asserting various constitutional, statutory and common law violations in connection with the defendant's alleged failure to prevent and remedy sexual discrimination, sexual abuse and sexual harassment while Simms was an employee. Currently before the Court are defendant's motion [Dkt. 73] to dismiss, or in the alternative, motion [Dkt. 74] for summary judgment. Upon consideration of the motions, plaintiff's opposition, defendant's reply, plaintiff's surreply, the entire record herein, and the applicable law, the Court will GRANT defendant's motion to dismiss without prejudice with respect to the Fifth and Eighth Amendment claims, the § 1983 claim, and the common law claims. The Court will DENY defendant's motion to dismiss with respect to the Title VII claim.


On December 21, 2006, plaintiff Laverna Simms filed suit in this Court alleging that she and other female employees were routinely subject to a pattern of sexual harassment at the District of Columbia Department of Corrections ("DOC"). (Third Am. Compl. ¶ 11.) Simms began working for the District of Columbia Department of Corrections (DOC) in 1997 as a professional counselor. (Id. at ¶ 19.) Soon after starting work at the DOC, Simms met Correctional Officer Harcourt Masi, whom she claims sexually propositioned and harassed her throughout her employment at DOC. (Id. at ¶ 20-21.) Specifically, Simms alleges that Masi would ask Simms out on dates, make comments about her physical appearance, stand and stare at Simms while she was working with clients and fondled her and other female employees. (Id. at ¶ 32-33)

In 2001, Simms became one of the incorporators and an employee of the Center for Correctional Health and Policy Studies (CCHPS), the named defendant in the current suit, which provides mental health services for the DOC on a contract basis. (Id. at ¶ 26.) Simms claims that from 2001 until her departure in 2006, she repeatedly reported the sexual harassment to authorities at CCHPS.

In January 2004, Simms filed a sexual discrimination and harassment complaint with the Office of the Special Inspector ("OSI"). (Id. at ¶ 6.) OSI conducted an investigation and found probable cause that Masi sexually harassed Simms. Id. The investigation concluded in 2005 and found DOC negligent in its failure to provide a non-hostile work environment for Ms. Simms and approximately 15 other women. (Id. at ¶41.) Also as a result of the investigation, Masi was suspended from approximately February 2005 -- August 2005. In August 2005, Simms filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") alleging employment discrimination, sexual harassment, a hostile work environment and retaliation against CCHPS. (Id. at ¶ 7.) While more than 180 days past from the filing of the charge, the EEOC failed to provide plaintiff with authorization to pursue her action in District Court as required by law. Id. The instant suit was filed in December 2006, alleging various claims against CCHPS, the District of Columbia, and the District of Columbia Department of Corrections. All claims against the District of Columbia and the District of Columbia Department of Corrections were dismissed in 2008.


Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), a plaintiff need only provide a short and plain statement of the claim that will give the defendant fair notice of that the plaintiff's claim and the grounds upon which it rests. In resolving a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the Court must ascertain whether the challenged complaint adequately states a claim on which relief may be granted. "The issue is not whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims. Indeed it may appear on the face of the pleadings that a recovery is very remote and unlikely but that is not the test." Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974), overruled on other grounds by Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800 (1982).

While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss "does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of a cause of action's elements will not do. Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level on the assumption that all of the complaint's allegations are true." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 545 (2007). In evaluating the motion, the court must treat the complaint's factual allegations as true and must grant plaintiff "the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged." See Sparrow v. United Air Lines, Inc., 216 F.3d 1111, 1113 (D.C. Cir. 2000).

However, Rule 12(b) states that, if, on a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, "matters outside the pleading are presented to and not excluded by the court, the motion shall be treated as one for summary judgment and disposed of as provided in Rule 56, and all parties shall be given reasonable opportunity to present all material made pertinent to such a motion by Rule 56." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b). Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c), a court must grant summary judgment when the evidence in the record demonstrates that there are no disputed issues of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment on the undisputed facts as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). A genuine issue of material fact exists if the evidence, when viewed in a light most favorable to the non-moving party, "is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The burden is on the movant to make the initial showing of the absence of a genuine issue of material fact in dispute. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. The moving party is then entitled to summary judgment if the non-moving party fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's claim, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. Id. at 322. At the summary judgment stage, the court may not make credibility determinations, as that is the function of a jury. George v. Leavitt, 407 F.3d 405, 413 (D.C. Cir. 2005).

a. Eighth Amendment Claim

Plaintiff asserts that the actions of CCHPS violated her right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. Specifically, plaintiff asserts that CCHPS' "failure to prevent and remedy the sexual discrimination, sexual abuse and sexual harassment that Plaintiff was subjected to constituted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution . . . ." (Third Am. Compl. ¶ 64.) Even when viewing the facts in a light most favorable to the plaintiff, the Court concludes that this claim must fail.

The Eighth Amendment prohibits "excessive sanctions." It provides: "Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishment inflicted." The prohibition of cruel and unusual punishments circumscribes the criminal process in three ways. Ingraham v. Wright, 430 U.S. 651, 667 (1977). First, it limits the kinds of punishment that can be imposed on those convicted of crimes. Second, it proscribes punishment grossly disproportionate to the severity of the crime. And third, it imposes substantive limits on what can be made criminal and punished as such. Id.

Plaintiff's claim that CCHPS' failure to remedy the sexual discrimination at her workplace amounted to cruel and unusual punishment cannot succeed. The Eighth Amendment was "designed to protect those convicted of crimes," Ingraham, 430 U.S. at 663, not to extend to workplace sexual discrimination claims. The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly explained that the Eighth Amendment's protection against excessive or cruel and unusual punishments flows from the basic "precept of justice that punishment for [a] crime should be graduated and proportioned to [the] offense." Weems v. United States, 217 U.S. 349, 367 (1910); see also Kennedy v. Louisiana, 128 S.Ct. 2641, 2649 (2008); Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551, 560 (2005); Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304, 311 (2002). Plaintiff has alleged in the Third ...

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