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Theresa Weston Saunders v. District of Columbia

June 6, 2011

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

June 6, 2011

Plaintiff Theresa Weston Saunders ("Saunders") commenced this action against the District of Columbia (the "District"), and two District officials, alleging among other things that she was retaliated against in violation of the Federal False Claims Act (the "F-FCA"), 31 U.S.C. §§ 3729 et seq., for disclosures she purportedly made concerning the use and management of federal funding by the District's Office of Chief Technology Officer.*fn1 Presently before the Court is the District's [77] Renewed Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Federal False Claims Act Retaliation Claim as Time-Barred ("Motion to Dismiss"). The focus of the District's motion is narrow-the District argues only that Saunders failed to bring suit within the limitations period governing FFCA retaliation claims. The extent of the parties' dispute is similarly narrow and presents a pure question of law: the District argues that a one-year limitations period applies, while Saunders maintains that a three-year limitations period applies. The parties are in agreement that Saunders' claim is untimely if the District is correct and timely if Saunders is correct.

Accordingly, the sole issue before the Court is the appropriate limitations period. Upon a searching review of the parties' submissions, the relevant authorities, and the record as a whole, the Court agrees with Saunders that her F-FCA retaliation claim is subject to a three-year limitations period. Based on that conclusion, the Court will deny the District's motion.

I. BACKGROUND

Because this motion turns on a pure question of law, the Court will limit itself to providing some context for its decision. The Court assumes familiarity with its prior opinions in this action, which set forth in detail the background of this case.

A. Factual Background

Saunders was employed by the District in various capacities from 1982 through 2000. See Am. Compl., ECF No. [18], ¶¶ 5, 10, 33. During her tenure in the Office of Chief Technology Officer, which occurred at the tail-end of her employment, Saunders allegedly discovered and reported numerous deficiencies in the District's use and management of federal funding. Id. ¶¶ 14, 32, 47. Her actions allegedly led to a series of reprisals, culminating in her termination in the summer of 2000. Id. ¶¶ 14-32.

B. Procedural Background

Saunders commenced this action on September 11, 2002. See Compl., ECF No. [1]. The District moved for dismissal early on. See Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. [9]. When Saunders in turn moved to amend her Complaint, the Court granted Saunders leave to file an amended complaint and denied the District's motion to dismiss without prejudice. See Order (Mar. 23, 2004), ECF No. [30]. The District later filed a renewed motion to dismiss. See Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. [31]. The Court resolved the majority of the District's motion, but held the motion in abeyance insofar as it sought dismissal of Saunders' F-FCA retaliation claim, directing the parties to submit further briefing on the sufficiency of Saunders' factual allegations and the applicable statute of limitations. See Saunders v. District of Columbia, 2005 WL 3213984, at *7-8 (D.D.C. Oct. 25, 2005). Upon consideration of the parties' supplemental briefing, the Court concluded that Saunders' factual allegations were sufficient to state a claim for retaliation under the F-FCA. See Saunders v. District of Columbia, 711 F. Supp. 2d 42, 56-57 (D.D.C. 2010). At the same time, the Court again found that the parties' briefing on the statute of limitations question was "woefully inadequate," preventing the Court from resolving the question on the record created by the parties. Id. at 53. The Court proceeded to outline the key questions that needed to be addressed, and again directed the parties to submit further briefing. See id. at 53-56.

The matter now comes before the Court upon the filing of the parties' second round of supplemental briefing on the statute of limitations question. See Def.'s Mem. of P. & A. in Supp. of Renewed Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. [77-1]; Pl.'s Opp'n to Def. District of Columbia's Renewed Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. [79]; Def.'s Reply to Pl.'s Opp'n to Def.'s Renewed Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. [83]. The matter is fully briefed and ripe for a decision.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a complaint must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief," Fed. R. Civ. P. (8)(a), "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)). Rule 12(b)(6) provides a vehicle for parties to challenge the sufficiency of a complaint on the ground that it "fail[s] to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed.R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). "If the allegations . . . show that relief ...


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