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Saiyed v. Council on American-Islamic Relations Action Network

September 30, 2010

IFTIKHAR SAIYED, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COUNCIL ON AMERICAN-ISLAMIC RELATIONS ACTION NETWORK, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Paul L. Friedman United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter is before the Court on motions by the defendant to dismiss the plaintiff's complaint or, in the alternative, to consolidate this case with a related civil action. After careful consideration of the parties' arguments, the relevant legal authorities, and the entire record in this case and in related cases, the Court will grant the defendant's motion to dismiss with regard to the plaintiff's claim alleging violations of the District of Columbia Consumer Protection Act, but will deny the defendant's motion to dismiss the remainder of the plaintiff's claims. The Court will grant the defendant's motion to consolidate this case with a related matter.*fn1

I. BACKGROUND

A. Plaintiff's Claims

According to the plaintiff's first amended complaint, defendant Council on American-Islamic Relations Action Network, Inc. ("CAIR") operates as a public interest law firm formed to protect the civil liberties of Muslims in the United States. Compl. ¶ 15. CAIR has a main office in the District of Columbia and a variety of branch offices located throughout the country. Id. Until recently, one of those branch offices ("CAIR-VA") was located in Herndon, Virginia. Id. ¶ 3.

Beginning in 2006, CAIR-VA employed as a staff attorney an individual named Morris J. Days III. Compl. ¶ 4. Mr. Days was tasked with "provid[ing] legal representation to Muslims complaining of various civil rights abuses," id., and CAIR-VA referred to him as its "resident attorney" in promotional materials. Id. ¶ 17. Mr. Days, however, was not a licensed attorney, and the plaintiffs contend that CAIR-VA "knew or should have known" that he was not. Id. ¶ 5. In February of 2008, after receiving complaints about Mr. Days from his clients, CAIRVA terminated his employment. Id. ¶¶ 33-35.

Plaintiff Iftikhar Saiyed visited the offices of CAIR-VA on January 8, 2007, and met with Mr. Days. Compl. ¶ 54-55. Mr. Saiyed told Mr. Days that he believed his employer, Enterprise Rent-A-Car ("Enterprise") was discriminating against him on the basis of race. Id. ¶ 54. Claiming that Mr. Saiyed had a strong case, Mr. Days stated that he would file complaints against Enterprise with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Virginia Human Rights Council and in federal court. Id. ¶ 55.

In February of 2007, Enterprise terminated Mr. Saiyed's employment, allegedly because he had filed discrimination complaints against Enterprise in 2005. Compl. ¶ 56. Mr. Days claimed that he would pursue a retaliation claim against Enterprise on Mr. Saiyed's behalf. Id. In May of 2008, Mr. Saiyed, with Mr. Days' assistance, filed complaints against Enterprise with the EEOC and the Human Rights Council. Id. ¶ 61. Mr. Days claimed that these complaints were duplicates of original complaints that he himself had already filed on Mr. Saiyed's behalf a year before. Mr. Days also arranged for Mr. Saiyed to mail a complaint to a federal court in Virginia. Id. Mr. Saiyed paid Mr. Days approximately $300 in legal fees at or around that time. Id. ¶ 62.

In July of 2008, Mr. Saiyed learned from a CAIR employee that Mr. Days was not a licensed attorney and that he had never filed any complaints on Mr. Saiyed's behalf. Id. ¶ 67. On August 5, 2008, Mr. Saiyed received a letter from the EEOC which informed him that "his file setting forth a complaint against Enterprise was being closed because [his] complaint was not timely filed." Id. ¶ 73. Mr. Saiyed then filed a related complaint in federal court. Id. ¶ 74. That complaint was dismissed as time-barred. Id. ¶ 75.

B. Prior Lawsuit

Mr. Saiyed's complaint bears a close resemblance to a complaint filed in this Court on November 18, 2008, by a group of plaintiffs who claimed to have been defrauded by Mr. Days. See Lopez v. Council on American-Islamic Relations Action Network, Inc., Civil Action No. 08-1989, Complaint at 1 (D.D.C. Nov. 18, 2009). The complaint in that prior case, which the Court will call Lopez I, alleged that Mr. Days and CAIR had conspired to hold Mr. Days out to the public as a licensed attorney and then conceal from his "clients" the fact that he was not actually qualified to represent them. The complaint, which was filed by the same counsel who represents Mr. Saiyed, named as defendants CAIR, Morris Days, numerous CAIR/CAIR-VA employees, and an assortment of individuals and companies alleged to be connected to CAIR in some capacity. Many of the same facts alleged in Mr. Saiyed's complaint were also set forth in the Lopez I complaint, often in exactly the same language. Compare, e.g., Compl. ¶¶ 2-8, with Lopez I, Civil Action No. 08-1989, Complaint ¶¶ 2-6 (D.D.C. Nov. 18, 2009).

Unlike Mr. Saiyed's complaint, the Lopez I complaint framed the facts it alleged as the basis for a claim under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act ("RICO"), 18 U.S.C. § 1962(d), which deems unlawful, among other things, the formation of a conspiracy "to participate . . . in the conduct of [an] enterprise's affairs through a pattern of racketeering activity." 18 U.S.C. § 1962(c)-(d). According to the Lopez I plaintiffs, Morris Days and CAIR violated RICO by conspiring to defraud Mr. Days' clients and then to conceal that fraud. See Lopez I, 657 F. Supp. 2d 104, 111 (D.D.C. 2009). The plaintiffs also alleged that the defendants were liable for violations of the consumer protection statutes of Virginia and the District of Columbia and for common law fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, infliction of emotional distress, conversion, and unjust enrichment. See id. at 108.

The Lopez I plaintiffs claimed that a federal court could exercise subject matter jurisdiction over their complaint because it alleged a RICO violation and thus presented a question of federal law. See Lopez I, Civil Action No. 08-1989, Complaint ¶ 9 (D.D.C. Nov. 18, 2008). Judge Urbina, however, determined that the complaint failed to state a viable claim under RICO. See Lopez I, 657 F. Supp. 2d at 114-15. He ruled that the plaintiffs' allegations did not "indicate that the RICO Defendants had engaged in a 'pattern of racketeering activity'" or formed a conspiracy, id., and that the plaintiffs lacked standing to bring a RICO claim because, while they alleged that they had been injured by Days, they had failed to adduce facts from which it could be inferred that they had been injured by any joint action of Days and CAIR. Id. at 111-12. Plaintiffs' RICO claim therefore was dismissed. See id. at 116. In the absence of the RICO claim, the asserted basis for federal question jurisdiction no longer existed. Id. at 115-16. Lacking jurisdiction over the plaintiffs' case, Judge Urbina also dismissed the plaintiffs' state law claims. Id. That ruling was affirmed on appeal. See Lopez I, No. 09-7129, 2010 WL 2689367 (D.C. Cir. June 8, 2010).

On January 6, 2010, the Lopez I plaintiffs initiated a new round of litigation by filing an amended version of their previously dismissed complaint. See Lopez v. Council on American-Islamic Relations Action Network, Inc., Civil Action No. 10-0023, Complaint (D.D.C. Jan. 6, 2010) ("Lopez II"). On the same day, Mr. Saiyed filed his own complaint, which was closely related to that of the Lopez II plaintiffs. On January 13, 2010, Mr. Saiyed filed an amended complaint. The first fifty-three paragraphs of that complaint are largely identical to those of the Lopez II complaint. Both complaints allege many of the same facts that were presented in Lopez I. Unlike the complaint in Lopez I, however, they name a single defendant, CAIR, and invoke the Court's jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332, alleging that the parties are diverse and that the amount in controversy is greater than $75,000. See Compl. ¶ 10. No references to RICO appear in either the Lopez ...


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