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Williams v. Johnson

October 31, 2010

CHRISTINA CONYERS WILLIAMS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ROBERT JOHNSON, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff Christina Conyers Williams ("Plaintiff"), brings this action against the District of Columbia (the "District"), and her former supervisors Robert Johnson, in his capacity as the Senior Deputy Director of the Addiction Prevention and Recovery Administration (the "APRA") of the District of Columbia Department of Health (the "DOH"), and David Anthony, in his capacity as Chief of Staff to the Senior Deputy Director (collectively, "Defendants"). Plaintiff contends that Defendants violated her rights under the District of Columbia Whistleblower Protection Act (the "DCWPA"), D.C. Code §§ 1-615.01 et seq., by retaliating against her for remarks she made during testimony before the District of Columbia Council (the "D.C. Council").*fn1 Presently before the Court are a number of ostensibly evidentiary-related and other pretrial motions that will, when resolved, hopefully narrow the parties' focus as they move closer to trial.The Court will address each motion in turn.

I. BACKGROUND*fn2

Plaintiff was employed as Chief of the Center of Research Evaluation and Grants for the APRA and, beginning in or about April 2005, was assigned responsibility for the implementation of the APRA's Client Information System ("ACIS") software, which was intended to allow staff members to go online to access information collected from the APRA's clients. See Williams v. Johnson, 701 F. Supp. 2d 1, 3 (D.D.C. 2010). Johnson, the Senior Deputy Director of the APRA, was Plaintiff's supervisor at the DOH, while Anthony was his Chief of Staff. Id.

On February 14, 2006, Plaintiff and Johnson attended a routine oversight hearing before the D.C. Council Committee on Health, headed by Councilmember David Catania. Id. at 4. During the course of the hearing, Councilmember David Catania asked several questions regarding the ACIS software. Id. Johnson beckoned Plaintiff to approach the witness table and respond to the Councilmember's questions on the APRA's behalf. Id. at 4-5.

Plaintiff did so, providing approximately ten minutes of testimony. Id. at 5. Plaintiff testified that, at that time, the ACIS software was capable of collecting only "demographic data" -- i.e., the gender and race of the APRA's clients and the type of drugs that the clients were using. Id. Plaintiff also expressed her opinion that the ACIS system would not be fully functional until November 2006. Id. According to Plaintiff, these statements revealed that the ACIS software was, despite significant monetary expenditures, a "major failure." Id. at 15.

By Plaintiff's account, Defendants' harassment began immediately following her testimony before the D.C. Council. Id. at 6. Among other things, Plaintiff alleges that Johnson held an unprecedented "debriefing" session the day after the hearing, during which he blamed Plaintiff for doing a "poor job of answering" Councilmember Catania's questions and for making the APRA look like "crooks," and threatened to hold Plaintiff liable for the failures of the ACIS system. Id. at 6-7. According to Plaintiff, from that point forward, her purportedly "good working relationship" with Johnson soured, and additional retaliatory and harassing conduct followed. Id.

Not long thereafter, Plaintiff's husband arranged for her to have a private meeting with Councilmember Catania, which took place on March 8, 2006. Id. at 7.Those in attendance discussed Defendants' alleged harassment of Plaintiff, as well as various problems regarding the ACIS software and the APRA's contractual relationship with its vendor, Softscape, Inc. ("Softscape"). Id.

Plaintiff alleges that Johnson, with assistance from Anthony, then attempted to terminate her for failure to comply with D.C. residency preference requirements -- namely, a statutory requirement that she remain a resident of the District of Columbia for a certain length of time. Id. at 11. In May 2006, the DOH issued a Notice to Show Cause why Plaintiff's employment should not be forfeited. Id. Pre-hearing conferences were held that same month, and an evidentiary hearing was held in June. Id.

The charges were ultimately dismissed, on the basis that (1) the "evidence fail[ed] to establish that [Plaintiff] was granted a residency requirement," and therefore the DOH "ha[d] not met its burden of proof to show that [Plaintiff] was required to live in the District for five years from the date of appointment," and (2) "[e]ven assuming arguendo that [Plaintiff] received a residency preference . . . [t]he failure of the [DOH] to follow its procedures in providing a written notice to the [Plaintiff] and obtaining a written certification that she received notification of the residency requirements deprived [Plaintiff] of adequate notice and does not comply with basic due process." Id.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Motions in limine are designed to narrow the evidentiary issues at trial. The Federal Rules of Evidence generally permit the admission of "relevant evidence" -- i.e., evidence having "any tendency" to make the existence of any fact of consequence more probable or less probable -- provided it is not otherwise excluded by the Rules, the Constitution, or an Act of Congress, and its probative value is not "substantially outweighed" by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury, or by considerations of undue delay, waste of time, or the needless presentation of cumulative evidence. Fed. R. Evid. 401-03. In deference to their familiarity with the details of the case and greater experience in evidentiary matters, district courts are afforded broad discretion in rendering evidentiary rulings, a discretion which extends to assessing the probative value of the proffered evidence and weighing any factors against admissibility. Sprint/United Mgmt. Co. v. Mendelsohn, 552 U.S. 379, 384 (2008).

In light of their limited purpose, motions in limine "should not be used to resolve factual disputes," which remains the "function of a motion for summary judgment, with its accompanying and crucial procedural safeguards." C & E Servs., Inc. v. Ashland Inc., 539 F. Supp. 2d 316, 323 (D.D.C. 2008). Rather, parties should target their arguments to demonstrating why certain categories of evidence should (or should not) be introduced at trial, and direct the district court to specific evidence in the record that would favor or disfavor the introduction of those particular categories of evidence. U.S. ex rel. El-Amin v. ...


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