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Lena T. Konah v. District of Columbia et al

September 14, 2011

LENA T. KONAH, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ricardo M. Urbina United States District Judge

Re Document No.: 27

MEMORANDUM OPINION

GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART THE DEFENDANTS'MOTION TO DISMISS

I. INTRODUCTION

The plaintiff in this matter brought suit against Unity Health Care, Inc., the District of Columbia and Robert Jefferson, an employee of the District of Columbia Department of Corrections. The plaintiff claims that the defendants violated the Fourth and Fifth Amendment, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and a number of state laws. Defendants Jefferson and the District of Columbia ("the defendants") now move to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Because the plaintiff has adequately pleaded some, but not all, of her claims, the court grants in part and denies in part the defendants' motion.

II. BACKGROUND

A. Factual History

The plaintiff, Lena T. Konah, is a citizen of the United States who was born in Liberia.*fn1

Second Am. Compl. ¶ 4. From November 2006 to September 2009, the plaintiff was employed by a private company, Unity Health Care, Inc. ("Unity Health Care"). Id. ¶ 5. During this period, defendant Unity Health Care contracted with defendant District of Columbia ("the District") to provide medical treatment to inmates located in a penitentiary known as the Central Detention Facility. Id.

As a part of her employment, the plaintiff was regularly tasked with providing medical services and medication to inmates at the Central Detention Facility. Id. ¶ 12. On or about August 5, 2009, the plaintiff was assigned to distribute medications to a group of inmates at the facility. Id. The inmates were located inside a secure area of the prison that is controlled by a "sally port," a point of entry or egress which can only be unlocked by a correctional officer. See id. ¶¶ 13-21. The sally port was operated by defendant Robert Jefferson, a correctional officer employed by the District's Department of Corrections. Id. ¶ 8, 14.

Once the plaintiff entered the secured area, she noticed a group of inmates, dressed only in their undergarments, approaching her. Id. ¶ 13. Because the sally port was locked, the plaintiff could not leave. Id. The plaintiff alleges that she asked Officer Jefferson to open the sally port so that she could exit. Id. ¶ 14. Jefferson apparently refused. Id. The plaintiff alleges that the inmates surrounded her, jeering at her and using sexually explicit language. Id. ¶ 17.

The plaintiff further claims that one of the inmates grabbed her on the buttocks. Id. The plaintiff alleges that she continued to call for help and pleaded with Officer Jefferson to open the door.

Id. ¶¶ 18-19. Eventually, an unnamed employee interceded on her behalf and convinced Officer Jefferson to open the sally port. Id. ¶¶ 20-21.

The plaintiff filed an incident report with Unity Health Care and informed her supervisor that she could not return to the same job site because of the incident. Id. ¶ 22. After the plaintiff filed her incident report, Unity Health Care terminated her employment. Id. ¶ 23.

B. Procedural History

In June 2010, the plaintiff brought suit against Unity Health Care, the District of Columbia, and Robert Jefferson. See generally Compl. The plaintiff filed an amended complaint in July 2010 and defendants District of Columbia and Jefferson moved to dismiss the complaint soon thereafter. See generally Am. Compl.; Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss.

In March 2011, the plaintiff amended her complaint a second time. See generally 2d Am. Compl. The plaintiff alleges that the defendants violated her Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizure, her Fifth Amendment right to due process and her Fifth Amendment right to be free from discrimination on the basis of gender and national origin. 2d Am. Compl. ¶¶ 40-45. The plaintiff also alleges that the defendants' discriminatory acts violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq., and the District of Columbia Human Rights Act ("DCHRA"), D.C. CODE §§ 2-2501 et seq. 2d Am Compl. ¶¶ 27-38. In addition, the plaintiff alleges that the defendants' acts constituted assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, reprisal and constructive discharge. 2d Am. Compl. ¶¶ 39, 46-51. Whereas defendant Unity Health Care filed an Answer, defendants District of Columbia and Jefferson instead moved to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). See generally Def. Unity Health Care's Answer; Defs. District of Columbia & Jefferson's 2d Mot. to Dismiss ("Defs.' Mot."). With the defendants' motion now ripe for adjudication, the court turns to the parties' arguments and the relevant legal standards.*fn2

III. ANALYSIS

A. Legal Standard for a Motion to Dismiss Under Rule 12(b)(6)

A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint. Browning v. Clinton, 292 F.3d 235, 242 (D.C. Cir. 2002). The complaint need only set forth a short and plain statement of the claim, giving the defendant fair notice of the claim and the grounds upon which it rests. Kingman Park Civic Ass'n v. Williams, 348 F.3d 1033, 1040(D.C. Cir. 2003) (citing FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a)(2) and Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). "Such simplified notice pleading is made possible by the liberal opportunity for discovery and the other pretrial procedures established by the Rules to disclose more precisely the basis of both claim and defense to define more narrowly the disputed facts and issues." Conley, 355 U.S. at 47-48 (internal quotation marks omitted). It is not necessary for the plaintiff to plead all elements of his prima facie case in the complaint, Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 511-14 (2002), or "plead law or match facts to every element of a legal theory," Krieger v. Fadely, 211 F.3d 134, 136 (D.C. Cir. 2000) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

Yet, "[t]o 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) (internal quotation marks omitted); Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 562 (2007) (abrogating the oft-quoted language from Conley, 355 U.S. at 45-46, instructing courts not to dismiss for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond doubt that "no set of facts in support of his claim [] would entitle him to relief"). A claim is facially plausible when the pleaded factual content "allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). "The plausibility standard is not akin to a 'probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

In resolving a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court must treat the complaint's factual allegations -- including mixed questions of law and fact -- as true and draw all reasonable inferences therefrom in the plaintiff's favor. Holy Land Found. for Relief & Dev. v. Ashcroft, 333 F.3d 156, 165 (D.C. Cir. 2003); Browning, 292 F.3d at 242. While many well-pleaded complaints are conclusory, the court need not accept as true inferences unsupported by facts set out in the complaint or legal conclusions cast as factual allegations. Warren v. District of Columbia, 353 F.3d 36, 39 (D.C. Cir. 2004); Browning, 292 F.3d at 242. "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

B. The Court Grants the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss the Plaintiff's Title VII and DCHRA Claims

1. The Plaintiff Does Has Not Adequately Pleaded that She Was Employed by the District of Columbia

The plaintiff claims that the District of Columbia violated Title VII and the DCHRA. 2d Am. Compl. ¶¶ 1, 3. The defendants argue that these claims must be dismissed because the District of Columbia was never the plaintiff's employer. Defs.' Mot. at 7-8. The plaintiff counters that the District of Columbia may be considered a joint employer under the law of this Circuit. Pl.'s Opp'n at 5-6.

Title VII prohibits an employer from discriminating against its employees on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2. Under Title VII, an individual may be employed by several joint employers. See, e.g., Redd v. Summers, 232 F.3d 933 (D.C. Cir. 2000); Simms v. District of Columbia, 587 F. Supp. 2d 269 (D.D.C. 2008). Courts in this jurisdiction have used one of two legal tests to determine whether a plaintiff worked for joint employers. See Simms, 587 F. Supp. at 273 (recognizing that it is currently unclear as to which of these two tests is controlling in this jurisdiction). Under either of these two tests, the court is faced with a relatively open-ended, fact-intensive inquiry. Compare Redd,232 F.3d at 937-38 (applying a test put forth in NLRB v. Browning-Ferris Indus. of Pa., Inc., 691 F.2d 1117, 1123 (3d Cir. 1982)), with Spirides v. Reinhardt, 613 F.2d 826, 831 (D.C. Cir. 1979) (applying a 12-part test).

In Redd, the Circuit indicated one test for joint employment: "whether one employer, while contracting in good faith with an otherwise independent company, has retained for itself sufficient control of the terms and conditions of employment of the employees who are employed by the other employer." 232 F.3d at 938 (citing Browning-Ferris, 691 F.2d at 1123). In ...


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