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Saunders v. District of Columbia

May 13, 2010

THERESA WESTON SAUNDERS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff Theresa Weston Saunders brings this action against Defendants District of Columbia (the "District" or "D.C."), Natwar M. Gandhi, individually and in his official capacity as Chief Financial Officer of the District of Columbia, and Earl C. Cabbell, individually and in his official capacity as Plaintiff's Supervisor (collectively "Defendants"). Plaintiff, a former employee of the District, alleges that Defendants unlawfully discriminated against her on the basis of her gender and age in violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and on the basis of her race in violation of 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1982, 1983, and 1985. She further alleges that Defendants impermissibly retaliated against her in violation of the Federal False Claims Act ("FCA"), 31 U.S.C. § 3729 et seq., and that she was terminated from her employment with the District in violation of her Fifth Amendment due process rights.

The District previously filed a [31] Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's claims, which Motion the Court granted-in-part, denied-in-part and held in abeyance-in-part pending further briefing. In particular, as is relevant to the instant Memorandum Opinion, the Court held the District's Motion in abeyance insofar as it sought dismissal of Plaintiff's FCA retaliation claim and directed the parties to submit further briefing on that issue. In addition, the Court denied the District's Motion without prejudice as to Plaintiff's claim that her property interest in her job with the District was unlawfully terminated without due process in violation of the Fifth Amendment and ordered the parties to provide supplemental briefing as to the viability of Plaintiff's section 1983 claim as well.

This matter now comes before the Court upon the filing of the parties' supplemental briefing. Accordingly, the only two claims presently at issue are Plaintiff's FCA retaliation claim and her section 1983 claim insofar as it is based on allegations that Defendants terminated her in violation of her Fifth Amendment due process rights. Upon consideration of the parties' filings, the relevant case law and statutory provisions as well as the record of this case as a whole, the Court rules as follows. First, with respect to the District's [31] Motion to Dismiss, which was previously held in abeyance with respect to Plaintiff's FCA retaliation claim, the Court shall DENY the Motion for the reasons below. Specifically, the Motion is DENIED WITH PREJUDICE insofar as the District argues that Plaintiff has failed to sufficiently allege that she was retaliated against in violation of the FCA, but is DENIED WITHOUT PREJUDICE insofar as the District argues that Plaintiff's FCA claim is time-barred. The parties shall submit supplemental briefing on the question of the appropriate statute of limitations for Plaintiff's FCA retaliation claim consistent with this Memorandum Opinion and as provided for in the accompanying Order. Second, the Court shall GRANT the District's [38] Supplemental Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's due process claim and shall therefore dismiss Plaintiff's claim that she was termination in violation of her Fifth Amendment property interests for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).

I. BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background

As set forth in the Amended Complaint, Plaintiff, an African-American female, was previously employed by the District from August 1982 through her termination in 2000. Amended Complaint ("Am. Compl.") ¶¶ 5, 10, 33.*fn1 During that time period, Plaintiff "held increasingly responsible positions in [the] financial management of the D.C. Government." Id. ¶ 5. In 1999, she became Acting Chief Financial Officer ("CFO") at the Office of the Chief Technology Officer. Id. ¶12. Plaintiff alleges that at the time of her appointment to the Acting CFO position, the District was "under pressure from the U.S. Department of Treasure and the U.S. Government Accounting Office because financial statements could not be produced for more than $70 million [in federal funding] given to the [Office of the Chief Technology Officer]." Id. ¶ 13. According to Plaintiff, the then-City Administrator and Chief Financial Officer turned to Plaintiff for assistance, "insist[ing] that [Plaintiff] take the [Office of Chief Technology Officer] assignment to save the District from reprisals by" the Federal government. Id. ¶ 14.

Plaintiff alleges that during her tenure as Acting CFO at the Office of Chief Technology Officer, she "discovered and reported numerous deficiencies in contract procurement, violations in the approval and payment of contractors, and an overall lack of... internal control in management of [its federal funding]." Id. She also "forwarded a memorandum to [the Chief Technology Officer] recommending a disallowance of $13,812,518 against a claim submitted by IBM which was made without appropriate budget authority." Id. ¶ 47. While the Chief Technology Officer acknowledged receipt of the memorandum, no action was taken on the recommendation. Id. In addition, Plaintiff asserts that she "directed letters to [the Office of the Chief Financial Officer's] General Counsel requesting clarification of authority of consultants and contractor employees of the District of Columbia to obligate the city to pay for work contracted in violation of established contractual procedures." Id. ¶ 32.

According to Plaintiff, as a result of these "initiatives," she "became the target of reprisals by [the Chief Technology Officer]." Id. ¶¶ 14, 32. Specifically, Plaintiff asserts that she "was not permitted... to report to the Chief Financial Officer of the District of Columbia," despite the requirement in force at that time that all agency Chief Financial Officers were to report directly to the Chief Financial Officer. Id. ¶¶ 29-30. In addition, she alleges that the Chief Technology Officer attempted to remove Plaintiff from her position as Acting CFO and to bar her from working in any other position within the Office of the Chief Financial Officer. Id. ¶ 14. Plaintiff asserts, however, that the Chief Technology Officer's efforts were thwarted by the then-City Administrator and Chief Financial Officer, who intervened on Plaintiff's behalf and "insisted that she not be excluded from her career" with the Office of the Chief Financial Officer. Id. Ultimately, in October 1999, Plaintiff was reassigned away from the Office of the Chief Technology Officer to the position of CFO for the District of Columbia Lottery and Charitable Games Control Board. Id. ¶¶ 10, 14.

At some unspecified date thereafter, the City Administrator and the Chief Financial Officer left their positions with the D.C. Government. Id. ¶ 15. Plaintiff alleges that their departure left her vulnerable to further retaliation and that she was subsequently "targeted, reassigned and demoted as reprisal for upholding the District's financial accountability law." Id.Specifically, Plaintiff asserts that, beginning in late May of 2000, the Chief of Staff for the new Chief Financial Officer approached her about a transfer to the Special Projects Team, which was headed by Defendant Cabbell. Id. ¶¶ 20-21. According to Plaintiff, the Special Projects Team "was responsible for developing and implementing strategies to resolve outstanding audit findings and internal control weaknesses stated in the management letter of the audit report." Id. ¶ 20. Plaintiff indicated to the Chief of Staff that "she would have to think about serving on the [Special Projects Team]." Id. ¶ 21. On June 19, 2000, the Chief of Staff again contacted Plaintiff and this time advised her that she would in fact be transferred to the Special Projects Team. Id. Plaintiff responded "that she had decided to turn down the staff position offer because it was not a good career move to change from a management position to a staff/line position."

Id. Plaintiff was told, however, that she "had no choice - it was either take the transfer or have no job;" as a result, she "unwillingly agreed to the transfer." Id.

Plaintiff alleges that her salary was reduced as a result of the transfer to the Special Projects Team. Id. She further alleges that, upon reporting for work at the Special Projects Team, her office door was locked, her computer was not connected, and she had no printer; Plaintiff therefore asserts that "[s]he could not get her work done." Id. ¶ 24. In addition, Plaintiff alleges that "she was increasingly alienated by the Defendants" during her time with the Special Projects Team. Id. ¶ 25. For example, "she was not invited to meetings, she was subjected to hostile remarks, and she was harassed by [Defendant] Cabbell." Id.

Ultimately, on July 25, 2000, Plaintiff was presented with a separation letter, informing her "[t]hat it is necessary to discontinue your employment with the Office of the Chief Financial Officer for the District of Columbia." Id. ¶ 26. The separation letter was dated July 21, 2000, and indicated that it was effective 30 days after receipt (i.e., August 24, 2010). Id. Plaintiff was immediately placed on 30-days paid administrative leave, at the end of which she would be paid a lump sum separation payment equivalent to eight weeks salary. Id. Plaintiff was not given a reason for her termination. Id. The separation letter advised Plaintiff that she could appeal the termination within ten days of receipt of the letter, which she did. Id. ¶ 27. Plaintiff asserts, however, that "Defendants [] totally ignored her appeal," and she subsequently initiated a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in January 2001. Id. ¶¶ 3, 27.

Plaintiff alleges that the decision to transfer her to the Special Projects Team and the decision to terminate her employment with the Office of the Chief Financial Officer were both made by Defendant Ghandi. Id. ¶¶ 16, 17, 27. According to Plaintiff, Ghandi was hired as the Chief Financial Officer shortly before Plaintiff was transferred to the Special Projects Team. Id. ¶ 16. She asserts that "[w]ithin the first three months as [Chief Financial Officer], Ghandi terminated all female agency CFO's," with the exception of two who worked directly for former-Mayor Williams. Id. ¶ 17. In addition, Plaintiff states that "[a]lmost all of the management meetings held by Ghandi consisted of only males" and that "99% of Ghandi's management appointments for the first year were males." Id. Plaintiff further alleges that "Ghandi intentionally re-assigned [Plaintiff] to [co-Defendant] Cabbell, who like Ghandi did not believe in the appointment of females to CFO psotions." Id. According to Plaintiff, "[a]t the time of [her] demotion/termination, there were other reassignments of male CFOs, but those did not result in adverse actions, i.e., demotions or terminations," even though "[s]ome of these male individuals had not performed equally as well in their positions as [Plaintiff] had." Id. ¶ 28.

B. Procedural History

Plaintiff filed her initial Complaint on September 11, 2002. See Compl., Docket No. [1]. As indicated previously, Plaintiff has named as Defendants the District of Columbia, Natwar M. Gandhi, individually and in his official capacity as Chief Financial Officer of the District of Columbia, and Earl C. Cabbell, individually and in his official capacity as Plaintiff's Supervisor.

The District initially moved for dismissal of Plaintiff's Complaint. See District's Mot. to Dismiss, Docket No. [9]. Plaintiff opposed the District's motion and simultaneously moved for leave to amend her complaint in an effort to resolve certain issues raised in the District's motion. See Pl.'s Mot. for Leave, Docket No. [18]. The District did not file an opposition to Plaintiff's motion for leave, instead choosing to substantively respond to the new allegations in Plaintiff's proposed Amended Complaint. See District's Reply, Docket No. [24]. Rather than rule on Plaintiff's claims in a piecemeal fashion, the Court granted Plaintiff's request for leave to file an Amended Complaint, and denied the District's motion to dismiss without prejudice, allowing the District to re-file a dispositive motion directed towards Plaintiff's Amended Complaint, as it deemed appropriate. See Mar. 23, 2004 Order, Docket No. [30].

Accordingly, Plaintiff's Amended Complaint is the operative complaint in this matter.*fn2

Although the Amended Complaint is by no means a model of clarity, the Court understands Plaintiff to assert seven claims, which fall into four principal categories. First, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants discriminated against her on the basis of her gender and age in violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. Second, Plaintiff asserts that Defendants discriminated against her on the basis of her race in violation of 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1982, 1983, and 1985. Third, Plaintiff contends that Defendants unlawfully retaliated against her in violation of the Federal False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. § 3729 et seq. Fourth, Plaintiff contends that Defendants deprived her of her property and liberty interests without due process in violation of the Fifth Amendment; although not stated in the Amended Complaint itself, Plaintiff appears to assert this latter claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 as well. See Am. Compl. ¶¶ 42-43, 48.*fn3

As permitted, the District*fn4 filed a renewed [31] Motion to Dismiss (hereinafter, "Motion to Dismiss") directed at Plaintiff's Amended Complaint. See Def.'s MTD, Docket No. [31]. After full briefing by the parties, see Pl.'s Opp'n to Def.'s MTD, Docket No. [34]; Def.'s Reply in support of Def.'s MTD, Docket No. [35], the Court issued an Order and Memorandum Opinion granting-in-part, denying-in-part, and holding in abeyance-in-part the Motion to Dismiss. Saunders v. D.C., Civ. Act. No. 02-1803, 2005 WL 3213984 (D.D.C. Oct. 25, 2005). Specifically, the Court granted the District's motion with respect to Plaintiff's claims brought under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1982 and 1985 as well as her claim of discrimination in violation of Title VII, but denied the motion with respect to Plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. § 1981 claim. See id. at * 3-4, 6-7. The Court also denied the District's motion as to Plaintiff's claim that her property interest in her job with the District was unlawfully terminated without due process in violation of the Fifth Amendment, but did so without prejudice and ordered the parties to provide supplemental briefing addressing the viability of Plaintiff's section 1983 claim.*fn5 Id. at * 5. Finally, the Court held the District's motion in abeyance insofar as it sought dismissal of Plaintiff's FCA retaliation claim, directing the parties to submit further briefing on that issue as well. Id. at * 7-8. Plaintiff therefore has four claims remaining - namely, her claims of (1) racial discrimination in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981; (2) racial discrimination in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (3) retaliation in violation of the FCA; and (4) violation of her Fifth Amendment right to due process.

This matter now comes before the Court upon the filing of the parties' supplemental briefs as required by the Court's order on the District's Motion to Dismiss. The only two claims that are presently at issue are Plaintiff's FCA retaliation claim and her section 1983 claim insofar as it is based upon allegations that Defendants terminated her in violation of her Fifth Amendment due process rights. First, with respect to Plaintiff's claim of retaliation in violation of the FCA, the parties have submitted the following supplemental materials: (1) Plaintiff's Supplemental Memorandum of Law on the False Claims Act Retaliation Claim (hereinafter, "Pl.'s FCA Supp. Mem."), Docket No. [41]; and (2) Defendant's Supplemental Brief in Reply to Plaintiff's Supplemental Memorandum of Law on the False Claims Act Retaliation Claim (hereinafter, "Def.'s FCA Supp. Reply Mem."), Docket No. [42].

Second, with respect to Plaintiff's due process claim, the parties have submitted the following supplemental materials: (1) the District's Supplemental Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's due process claim (hereinafter, "Def.'s DP Supp. MTD."), Docket No. [38]; (2) the District's Amended Supplemental Memorandum on Plaintiff's due process claim (hereinafter, "Def.'s Am. DP Supp. Mem."), Docket No. [39]; (3) Plaintiff's Response to the District's Supplemental Memorandum (hereinafter, "Pl.'s DP Supp. Opp'n"), Docket No. [43]; and (4) the District's Reply (hereinafter, "Def.'s DP Supp. Reply"), Docket No. [47]. In addition, after principal briefing had been completed, Plaintiff filed a motion for leave to file a surreply, see Pl.'s Mot. for Leave to File Surreply, Docket No. [48], to which Plaintiff attached the proposed surreply, see id., Ex. A ("Pl.'s DP Supp. Surreply"). The District in turn filed what it nominally entitled an opposition to Plaintiff's motion for leave; however, while purporting to oppose Plaintiff's request for leave, the District's opposition consisted largely of a substantive response to the arguments advanced in Plaintiff's proposed surreply. See Def.'s Opp'n to Pl.'s Mot. for Leave to File Surreply, Docket No. [49]. The Court therefore granted Plaintiff's motion for leave, indicating that it would "consider the Surreply filed by Plaintiff and the arguments raised in Defendant's Opposition thereto as it deems appropriate." Sept. 22, 2006 Min. Order. Accordingly, the Court shall also consider these materials to the extent appropriate.

Finally, along with Plaintiff's supplemental briefing on her FCA claim, Plaintiff submitted a [40] Second Amended Complaint. Plaintiff asserted that she was doing so in order to "set[] forth in greater detail the FCA retaliation claim." Pl's FCA Supp. Mem. at 2. Significantly, Plaintiff did not obtain either the Defendants' written consent or the Court's leave prior to submitting the Second Amended Complaint nor did she file an appropriate motion for leave to amend. Rather, Plaintiff simply submitted the amendment along with her Court-ordered supplemental briefing. Although the Clerk's Office appears to have automatically lodged the Second Amended Complaint on the docket in this case, it did so in error, as is discussed in greater detail below. See infra at pp. 14-15. The operative complaint in this case therefore remains Plaintiff's Amended Complaint.

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. 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 ...


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