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Hamilton v. District of Columbia

July 6, 2010

WESLEY HAMILTON, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John D. Bates United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiffs Wesley Hamilton and Joseph Mitchell bring this cause of action for employment discrimination under provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1871. They are members and officers of the District of Columbia Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department ("DCFEMS"), which is an agency of the District's municipal government. Plaintiffs, two African American men, bring this suit against both DCFEMS and the District of Columbia, alleging that the defendants "discriminated against Plaintiffs on the basis of their race . . . ." Compl. ¶ 26. They assert claims for the following: (1) violation of their constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (2) conspiracy to violate their constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3); (3) violation of their equal right to make and enforce contracts pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1981; and (4) intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Before the Court is the District of Columbia's motion to dismiss all claims against DCFEMS and the District for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Upon careful consideration of the parties' filings and the entire record herein, and for the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant in part and deny in part the motion to dismiss.

BACKGROUND

The factual allegations in support of the complaint, construed in the light most favorable to plaintiffs, are as follows. Sergeant Wesley Hamilton and Investigator Joseph Mitchell, both of whom are members of DCFEMS, were assigned to the Fire/Arson Investigation Unit, an elite unit comprised of specially trained and educated members. Compl. ¶¶ 8-10. On or about October 17, 2004, Hamilton and Mitchell were assigned to investigate a fire at 3318 Prospect Street, NW, in Georgetown, which had resulted in a fatality. Id. ¶ 12. Upon completion of their investigation, Hamilton and Mitchell drafted and submitted an initial report to their supervisor, Sergeant Phillip Proctor. Id. ¶ 13.

According to plaintiffs, DCFEMS management then took a series of unjustified adverse actions against them. Proctor informed the United States Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia, the agency responsible for prosecuting arson cases in the District, that Hamilton and Mitchell had failed properly to investigate the Prospect Street fire and had lied about the incident in the course of their investigation and subsequent report. Id. ¶ 14. Plaintiffs allege that Proctor provided this "false information" to the U.S. Attorney with the "malicious intent" to use the fire and their investigation as a pretext for removing them from the Fire/Arson Investigation Unit. Id. On November 10, 2004, the U.S. Attorney's Office informed then-Chief Adrian Thompson and then-Fire Marshall Kenneth Watts that plaintiffs could not testify in any arson cases unless and until the U.S. Attorney received confirmation that the information provided by Proctor was inaccurate. Id. ¶ 15.

Soon thereafter, in December 2004, DCFEMS filed charges against Hamilton and Mitchell, alleging they violated protocol in the course of the Prospect Street fire investigation and had lied to their superiors about the incident. Compl. ¶ 16. Plaintiffs were suspended from their positions in the Fire/Arson Investigation Unit pending the outcome of a trial board hearing. Plaintiffs were also notified that they had been placed on what is known as the "Lewis List" by the U.S. Attorney, officially preventing them from testifying in any arson cases. Id. ¶ 17.

Pursuant to DCFEMS policy, a trial board convened to consider the allegations against Hamilton and Mitchell. On an unspecified date, the trial board cleared both plaintiffs of all charges. Id. ¶ 18. Although the trial board determined that Hamilton and Mitchell had not lied or discharged their duties inappropriately, plaintiffs were not reinstated to their positions in the Fire/Arson Investigation Unit and have since been transferred to several other positions. Id. ¶¶ 19-21. Plaintiffs allege these "demeaning" transfers were meant "to punish them even though they had proved their innocence," and have caused them to suffer financial and professional losses. Id. ¶ 21. DCFEMS failed to notify the U.S. Attorney that the trial board had cleared Hamilton and Mitchell of the charges against them. As of May 2009, when plaintiffs filed their complaint, they remained on the Lewis List. Id. ¶ 22.

In May 2008, the plaintiffs allege that they discovered a list, compiled by DCFEMS management, of African American firefighters in the department whose employment was to be terminated. Proctor was allegedly responsible for overseeing these terminations. Id. ¶ 23. Plaintiffs believe they were included on this list in an effort "to damage their career [sic]," and have brought this action for employment discrimination against the fire department and the District of Columbia. Id. ¶ 24.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

All that the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require of a complaint is that it 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." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-56; see also Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986). "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570); accord Atherton v. Dist. of Columbia Office of the Mayor, 567 F.3d 672, 681 (D.C. Cir. 2009). A complaint is plausible on its face "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949. This amounts to a "two-pronged approach" under which a court first identifies the factual allegations entitled to an assumption of truth and then determines "whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Id. at 1950-51.

The notice pleading rules are not meant to impose a great burden on a plaintiff. Dura Pharms., Inc. v. Broudo, 544 U.S. 336, 347 (2005); see also Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 512-13 (2002). When the sufficiency of a complaint is challenged by a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the plaintiff's factual allegations must be presumed true and should be liberally construed in his or her favor. Leatherman v. Tarrant County Narcotics & Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 164 (1993); Phillips v. Bur. of Prisons, 591 F.2d 966, 968 (D.C. Cir. 1979); see also Erickson, 551 U.S. at 94 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-56). The plaintiff must be given every favorable inference that may be drawn from the allegations of fact. Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974); Sparrow v. United Air Lines, Inc., 216 F.3d 1111, 1113 (D.C. Cir. 2000). However, "the court need not accept inferences drawn by plaintiffs 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). Nor does the court accept "a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation," or "naked assertions [of unlawful misconduct] devoid of further factual enhancement." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949-50 (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Aktieselskabet AF 21 November 2001 v. Fame Jeans Inc., 525 F.3d 8, 17 n.4 (D.C. Cir. 2008) (the court has "never accepted legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations").

ANALYSIS

I. The Claims Against ...


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