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Ira Harris v. Corrections Corporation of America

July 11, 2011

IRA HARRIS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CORRECTIONS CORPORATION OF AMERICA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Ira Harris ("plaintiff") brings this suit against CCA of Tennessee LLC, d/b/a Corrections Corporation of America ("CCA"), CCA employees Tia Prince, Margaret Duvall, and Dwayne Shoemaker ("defendant-employees"), and the District of Columbia challenging the termination of his employment with CCA. Plaintiff essentially asserts that CCA, a District of Columbia government contractor, wrongfully terminated him in retaliation for his statements that it was illegal for him, a corrections officer, to carry a firearm without a license. Plaintiff also alleges that defendant-employees conspired to falsely accuse him of sexual harassment. CCA, the defendant-employees, and the District of Columbia have each moved to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. For the reasons detailed below, the Court will grant defendants' motions to dismiss.

BACKGROUND

Before his termination, plaintiff worked for CCA as an Assistant Shift Supervisor at the District of Columbia's Correctional Treatment Facility. Compl. [Docket Entry 1] ¶ 6. The District of Columbia contracts with CCA to manage and operate that facility. Id. ¶ 5. Plaintiff contends that while working for CCA, "he was not an at will employee." Id. ¶ 8. Approximately four months prior to his termination, plaintiff was suspended "due to an allegation made by a female inmate." Id. ¶ 10. Although plaintiff was eventually "exonerated of any wrongdoing," he was reassigned to "conduct security watch" during his suspension, and he alleges that he was "ordered to carry a loaded firearm." Id. According to plaintiff, he objected to carrying the firearm and "informed his supervisor[s] that he was not licensed to carry a firearm and further informed them that if he was required to carry the firearm it would be in violation of the hand gun laws of the District of Columbia." Id. Sometime following that objection, "[p]laintiff was alleged to have sexually harassed two employees of CCA." Id. ¶ 13. Shortly thereafter, CCA terminated his employment. Id. ¶ 14.

Based on these events, plaintiff alleges that (1) the District of Columbia and CCA violated his First Amendment rights by terminating him in retaliation for his statements that it was illegal for him, a corrections officer, to carry a firearm without a license; (2) CCA wrongfully terminated him for his refusal to violate a law; (3) CCA breached its employment contract with him; (4) the defendant-employees tortiously interfered with his employment contract; and (5) CCA violated the D.C. Whistleblower Protection Act, D.C. Code § 1-615.51 et seq., by terminating him for his statements regarding carrying a firearm. Plaintiff originally filed his complaint in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. CCA, with the consent of the other defendants, removed the case to this Court based on the federal First Amendment question. CCA, the defendant-employees, and the District of Columbia have now each moved to dismiss the claims against them for failure to state a claim.*fn1

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; 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 Cnty. 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. Nov. 2001 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").

DISCUSSION

Plaintiff fails to state a claim under each of his five counts. Even where plaintiff alleges more than "legal conclusion[s] couched as . . . factual allegation[s]," Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1950 (internal quotation marks omitted), his allegations, if true, would not entitle him to relief. The Court will discuss each of plaintiff's counts in turn.

I. Count I: Violation of the First Amendment

Plaintiff claims "that CCA and [the] District of Columbia violated [his] First Amendment right" because he "was retaliated against and was terminated within four months after reporting that it was a violation of D.C. law for an unlicensed person to carry a firearm." Compl. ¶ 19. Plaintiff fails to state a claim because he fails to allege that the District of Columbia took any action with respect to his termination and fails to allege that he spoke in a capacity that entitled him to First Amendment protection.

With respect to the District of Columbia, plaintiff merely alleges that "CCA is a contractor of the District of Columbia." Id. ¶ 5. Plaintiff acknowledges that he was employed by CCA, not by the District of Columbia. Id. ¶¶ 8, 9, 14. Moreover, he does not allege that the District of Columbia took any action with respect to his termination. Thus, plaintiff fails to allege that the District of Columbia took any action that violated his First Amendment rights.

Regarding plaintiff's First Amendment claims, CCA argues both that "no state action was involved in the termination of [plaintiff's] employment" and that plaintiff's speech was not protected because he was "speaking not as a citizen but in his capacity as an employee and in furtherance of his duties as an employee." CCA's Mot. to Dismiss [Docket Entry 1] at 3-4. CCA is incorrect in its claim that "no state action was involved," id. at 3, inasmuch as this Court has previously concluded that CCA's operation of the ...


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