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Christina Conyers Williams v. Robert Johnson

November 22, 2011

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 AND ORDER

In this action, Plaintiff Christina Conyers Williams ("Williams") claims that Defendant, the District of Columbia (the "District"), retaliated against her in violation of the District of Columbia Whistleblower Protection Act. More specifically, she alleges that Robert Johnson, the Senior Deputy Director of the Addiction Prevention and Recovery Administration, and David Anthony, the Chief of Staff to Mr. Johnson, retaliated against her in a variety of ways for testimony that she gave before the District of Columbia Council in February 2006. A jury trial began on November 16, 2011 and concluded on November 21, 2011, with the jury returning a verdict in Williams' favor on all counts and awarding her compensatory damages in the amount of $300,000.

During its deliberations, the jury sent a note to the Court asking, "[C]an legal fees be awarded in addition to other damages we decide?" The Court summoned the parties to discuss the appropriate response to the jury's question. The parties adopted conflicting positions. On the one hand, the District took the position that no legal fees of any kind should be a part of the jury's deliberations. On the other hand, Williams took the position that a small component of her legal fees-namely, approximately $6,500 in pre-litigation fees that she allegedly incurred while defending herself against formal proceedings to terminate her employment-should be submitted to the jury for its consideration. Williams otherwise agreed that the vast majority of her attorneys' fees and costs were a question for the Court and not the jury. Upon hearing from the parties, the Court concluded that the District had the better of the argument. The Court instructed the jury, over Williams' objection, "You are not to consider legal fees as part of the damages, if any, you may award." This Memorandum Opinion and Order memorializes the reasons for the Court's decision, which were stated in summary form on the record on November 21, 2011.

I. BACKGROUND

On May 6, 2010, in order to administer this civil action in a manner fair to the litigants, to ensure the expeditious and efficient resolution of this action, to discourage wasteful pretrial activities, and to improve the quality of trial through thorough advance preparation by the parties, the Court directed the parties to prepare a Joint Pretrial Statement. See Pretrial Scheduling and Procedures Order (May 6, 2010), ECF No. [87], at 2-4. Among other things, the parties were instructed that their Joint Pretrial Statement must include "[a]ll information required by Local [Civil] Rule 16.5." Id. at 3. Part of Local Civil Rule 16.5 requires any party seeking damages to provide an "itemization of damages the party seeks to recover." LCvR 16.5(b)(1)(vii). "The itemization of damages shall set forth separately each element of damages, and the monetary amount thereof, the party claims to be entitled to recover [from] any other party, including prejudgment interest, punitive damages and attorneys' fees." LCvR 16.5(b)(8). However "[n]o monetary amount need be set forth for elements of intangible damages (e.g., pain and suffering, mental anguish, or loss of consortium)." Id.

On August 16, 2010, the parties filed their first Joint Pretrial Statement. See Joint Pretrial Stmt., ECF No. [101]. Williams identified her requested relief in the following manner:

Compensatory damages for emotional distress, embarrassment, humiliation, anxiety, mental anguish, and loss of reputation within her work community, and violation of the D.C. Whistleblower Act. Back pay representing the difference between Ms. Williams [sic] lower salary at the U.S. Public Health Service and her earnings had she remained at APRA.

Costs, expenses, and reasonable attorney's fees incurred in defending herself against defendants' unlawful actions in trying to terminate her and in this litigation.

Id. at 4-5. Williams made no attempt to itemize and provide a specific monetary amount for any of her claimed damages.

Following the Court's resolution of the parties' dispositive motions and motions in limine, the Court ordered the parties to file "an updated and revised Joint Pretrial Statement in conformity with the directives of Local Civil Rule 16.5 and the Court's [87] Pretrial Scheduling and Procedures Order dated May 6, 2010." Order (May 31, 2011), ECF No. [127], at 1-2. On July 15, 2011, the parties filed their Revised Joint Pretrial Statement. See Revised Joint Pretrial Stmt., ECF No. [130]. Despite being provided a second opportunity to do so, Williams again failed to itemize any of her claimed damages and instead repeated the generic description above.

On July 25, 2011, the Court held a Status Hearing in order to discuss and schedule pretrial proceedings, during which the Court addressed a number of issues concerning the parties' Revised Joint Pretrial Statement. See Order (July 25, 2011), ECF No. [134], at 1. The Court expressly reminded Williams that "[t]he plaintiff must provide 'an itemization of damages [she] seeks to recover,' which must 'set forth separately each element of damages, and the monetary amount thereof . . . including prejudgment interest, punitive damages, and attorneys' fees,' though '[n]o monetary amount need be set forth for elements of intangible damage.'" Id. at 5 (quoting LCvR 16.5(b)(1)(vii), (b)(8)) (emphasis added). Consistent with Local Civil Rule 16.5, the Court informed Williams that "[t]o the extent" her compensatory damages "are intangible damages, no specific monetary amount need be stated." Id. The Court otherwise faulted Williams for failing to "specifically itemize[]" her damages with supporting calculations. Id. Given these failings, the Court "require[d] [Williams] to serve and file a revised itemization of damages." Id.*fn1

On August 22, 2011, Williams filed, for the first time, an Itemization of Damages. See Pl.'s Itemization of Damages, ECF No. [148]. On the one hand, Williams provided numerical figures for her claimed back pay, front pay, and litigation-related attorneys' fees and costs. On the other hand, despite being provided a third opportunity to do so, Williams again did not itemize and provide a monetary amount for any of her compensatory damages. Id. at 1-2. Accordingly, during a Pretrial Conference held on September 1, 2011, the Court concluded:

Previously, the Court directed Plaintiff to provide a revised itemization of damages in accordance with Local Civil Rule 16.5(b)(1)(vii) and (b)(8). In accordance with that Rule, Plaintiff was advised that she need not identify a specific monetary amount for "intangible" compensatory damages. In itemizing her damages, Plaintiff does not state a specific monetary amount for compensatory damages. As noted during the Pretrial Conference, the Court will therefore presume that Plaintiff's compensatory damages are limited to "intangible damages (e.g., pain and suffering, mental anguish . . .)." LCvR 16.5(b)(8). In any event, to the extent Plaintiff intended to seek other compensatory damages, she has failed to specifically itemize them in accordance with the Court's directives and the Local Rules and she shall therefore be precluded from seeking such damages at trial.

Order (Sept. 1, 2011), ECF No. [152], at 5 (some internal citations omitted). In the months leading up to trial, Williams never sought ...


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