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Alfred M. Winder v. Louis Erste

March 7, 2011

ALFRED M. WINDER PLAINTIFF,
v.
LOUIS ERSTE, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff Alfred M. Winder is a former employee of the District of Columbia in the Division of Transportation of the D.C. Public Schools ("DCPS"). He brings this action against defendants the District of Columbia and DCPS official Louis Erste. After over seven years of litigation, plaintiff has two remaining claims: breach of contract based on premature termination and deprivation of property without due process. Defendants have moved to dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, or in the alternative for summary judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. Plaintiff has moved for partial summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56. For the reasons discussed below, the Court will deny both motions.

BACKGROUND

This case has a long and complex history. In 1999, plaintiff was hired as General Manager of the DCPS Division of Transportation where he oversaw the operation of transportation services for special education students in the District. Pl's Mot. for Partial Summ. J. ("Pl's Mot.") at 3; Def's Mot. to Dismiss or in the Alt. for Summ. J. ("Def's Mot.") at 4. Plaintiff was brought into DCPS in order to assist the District in complying with the various orders issued in Petties v. Dist. of Columbia, Civil Action No. 95-0148-PLF (D.D.C). He worked for the DCPS under a series of one-year employment contracts between 1999 and 2003. Beginning in May of 2002, both plaintiff and defendants acknowledge that discussions concerning Mr. Winder's title and position at DCPS occurred. See Def's Mot. at 11; Pl's Opp'n at 2. Plaintiff was informed that his position would be abolished, although there is a dispute regarding the timing and rationale. Defendants argue that plaintiff's position was lost due to a reduction in force on May 3, 2002 and that he was not rehired until he entered into the contract at issue on July 22, 2002. Def's Mot. at 11. In contrast, plaintiff asserts that he continued working and that the reduction in force did not affect him because he had already signed his new employment contract. See Pl's Opp'n at 2.

In July of 2002, plaintiff entered into a one-year contract with DCPS for employment as General Manager of Transportation. Pl's Mot. at 3-4; Def's Mot. at 5. During this time, plaintiff's relationship with DCPS intensified over disagreements regarding compliance with the Petties orders, the details of which are discussed at length in this Court's March 2005 opinion. See Winder v. Erste, 2005 WL 736639 (D.D.C. 2005). Ultimately, on April 3, 2003 plaintiff was terminated while on medical leave.

Initially, plaintiff asserted a myriad of claims including violation of his First Amendment rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; a claim under the D.C. Comprehensive Merit Personnel Act of 1978, as amended by the Whistleblower Reinforcement Act of 1998; defamation; tortious interference with contract and prospective economic advantage; and claims under the D.C. and federal Family and Medical Leave Acts. In its 2005 decision, this Court granted defendants' motion to dismiss on several claims, leaving only the First Amendment claims under § 1983 and the D.C. and federal FMLA claims. See id. 2005 WL at *15. In September 2007, this Court granted defendants' motion for summary judgment in its entirety on the remaining claims, with the exception of plaintiff's contract claim for benefits allegedly owed. See Winder v. Erste, 511 F. Supp. 2d 160, 187 (D.D.C. 2007). Finally, in May 2008, this Court awarded plaintiff $8,958.60 plus prejudgment interest accruing from April 3, 2003 for plaintiff's unpaid salary and annual leave. See Winder v. Erste, 555 F. Supp. 2d 103,112 (D.D.C. 2008).

In May 2009, the D.C. Circuit affirmed this Court on all matters, with the exception of plaintiff's premature termination and procedural due process claims. Winder v. Erste, 566 F.3d 209, 219 (D.C.Cir. 2009). Finding that plaintiff was improperly classified as a member of the Executive Service, a position that serves at the pleasure of the Mayor and is considered at-will employment, the court remanded the contract-based claims "because [plaintiff's] employment classification is muddled at best . . . [and] . . . there is a genuine question whether DCPS could terminate him when it did." Id. at 217.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

I. Motion to Dismiss

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, 1949 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570); accord Atherton v. District 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 Pharm., 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 Cty. Narcotics & Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 164 (1993); Phillips v. Bureau 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 21 v. Fame Jeans Inc., 525 F.3d 8, 17 n.4 (D.C. Cir. 2008) (explaining that the court has "never accepted legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations").

II. Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate when the pleadings and the evidence demonstrate that "there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial responsibility of demonstrating the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The moving party may successfully support its motion by identifying those portions of "the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials," which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1); see Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323.

In determining whether there exists a genuine dispute of material fact sufficient to preclude summary judgment, the court must regard the non-movant's statements as true and accept all evidence and make all inferences in the non-movant's favor. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). A non-moving party, however, must establish more than the "mere existence of a scintilla of evidence" in support of its position. Id. at 252. By pointing to the absence of evidence proffered by the non-moving party, a moving party may succeed on summary judgment. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. "If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted." Anderson, 477 ...


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