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Debra G. Rowe v. District of Columbia

September 24, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rosemary M. Collyer United States District Judge


This matter is before the Court on Defendant District of Columbia's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint [Dkt. #15] and Plaintiff's Motion for Ammendment [sic] to Complaint [Dkt. #21]. For the reasons discussed below, the former will be granted, and the latter will be denied as futile. *fn1


Plaintiff "is a former employee of the District of Columbia Department of Health[,] HIV/AIDS Administration (DOH/HAA)." Compl. ¶ 4. In November 2004 she accepted the position of Acting Chief of Housing, id. ¶ 13, and undertook management of a program, Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS ("HOPWA"), id. ¶¶ 4, 13, which received grant funding from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development ("HUD"), see id. ¶¶ 4, 9-11. HOPWA "encompassed the District of Columbia, Southern Maryland (Prince George[']s, Howard and Charles Counties), Northern Virginia and West Virginia." Id. ¶ 4. Since April 2003, HUD representatives had expressed concerns about the District's "slow expenditure of HOPWA formula awards," which could have resulted in the de-obligation of funds if the District did not commit and expend funds within a set time period. Id. ¶ 9. It appears that the selection of plaintiff to serve as Acting Chief of Housing occurred after "the previous director had jumped the ship," id. ¶ 12, leaving HOPWA without a manager. In this capacity, plaintiff also served "as the Department of Corrections Liaison," id. ¶ 4, and "she chaired the DOC Comprehensive Continuity of Care Committee comprised of Government, Federal and non-profit organizations," id. ¶ 42.

Defendant David Catania ("Catania"), an At-Large member of the Council of the District of Columbia, was the Chair of the Council's Committee on Health. Id. ¶ 5. At a hearing in November 2003, Catania notified plaintiff of his intention to spend "4 million dollars in the HAA Housing coffers." Id. ¶ 14. Upon plaintiff's review of relevant "expenditure records, [she] informed [Catania] and his Policy Director Tori Fernandez Whitney that the funds could not be spent by the District [because they] belonged to two jurisdictions that were 'intra-district subgrantees' of DOH/HAA (Prince George[']s County and Northern Virginia)." Id. Apparently these jurisdictions had not spent their allotted amounts, but the period within which they were required to obligate and spend the funds had not expired. See id. The District had spent its funds, "but had grossly not reconciled [its] funding for Fiscal Years (FY) 2001 thru [sic] the first quarter of FY 2005." Id. "Plaintiff followed HUD's advice, hired [a] contractor and reconciled (expenditures, beneficiary data and community[-]based providers['] budgets) for each of those program years." Id.

According to plaintiff, Catania "was enraged by [her] explanation and consistently insisted that 'the funds be spent the way that he wanted,'" notwithstanding plaintiff's repeated assertions that spending the funds as Catania proposed would not comply with HUD regulations. Id. ¶ 15. By March 2006, Catania allegedly both "wanted the money and wanted [plaintiff] fired." Id. ¶ 16. Catania took action by way of budget legislation to effect the allocation of "$2 million of [HOPWA] resources . . . to expand the housing stock available to eligible persons living with HIV/AIDS in the District of Columbia," and an additional "$2 million . . . for the establishment of a long-term mortgage assistance program for eligible persons living with HIV/AIDS in the District of Columbia." Id. ¶ 18. The Director of DOH received a letter from HUD's Director of Community Planning and Development expressing concerns arising from the Council action, with a reminder to DOH/HAA "that . . . any substantial changes to the design of the city's HOPWA program would require an amendment to the city's Consolidated Plan and must be consistent with HOPWA program regulations." Id. ¶ 19.

Plaintiff received a telephone call from Whitney at Catania's behest and was asked "to come down to [C]ouncil chambers," at which time she was "questioned for nearly three . . . hours about the HOPWA program." Id. ¶ 20. Plaintiff characterized the meeting as an "inquisition." Id. By February 2007, "[t]he harassment became more consistent and unbearable," prompting her to seek the assistance of Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton to whom she sent a letter expressing her concerns and requesting an investigation of "what [she] deemed . . . unethical practices" of Catania and Whitney. Id. ¶ 21.

Plaintiff obtained a copy of an email message dated February 5, 2007, from Bobbi Smith to Catania and Whitney with notice that "Plaintiff was about to blow the whistle on him."

Id. ¶ 22. The email also "contained an allegation regarding Plaintiff and the program Miracle Hands and others that were not mentioned by name and other allegations."*fn2 Id. This email apparently had been printed, copied, and distributed to plaintiff's colleagues in order "to defame her character," id. ¶ 23, and "was used as the basis for Miracle Hands to be raided." Id. ¶ 43.

Plaintiff believed that Catania "had intentions for . . . Whitney to become the Senior Deputy Director of DOH/HAA," and the arrangement only awaited confirmation by the Mayor. Id. ¶ 26. Plaintiff's letter to Congresswoman Norton, however, "put a cloud over that appointment," and, instead, "Whitney was appointed Senior Deputy Director of [the] Addiction[] Prevention and Recovery Administration." Id. Congresswoman Norton apparently referred plaintiff's letter to the Office of the Inspector General, id. ¶ 27, a representative of which interviewed plaintiff by telephone in May 2007, id. ¶ 28.

On September 19, 2007, about six months after plaintiff's letter to Congresswoman Norton, agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI") raided plaintiff's home. Id. ¶¶ 30-32. The agents arrived in "six . . . cars and four . . . SUVs which gave the appearance of a 'drug raid' to [plaintiff's] neighbors." Id. ¶ 43. Days later, she became aware of a rumor circulating that she had been arrested, that "the FBI raided her 'mansion on her ranch and her spanking brand new Mercedes was in the driveway' (none of which was true)." Id. ¶ 32. Bloggers and newspaper reporters contacted the Director of DOH for comment, id., and a representative from the Office of the Mayor asked plaintiff "to 'explain her side of the story to him and to send him any relevant support[ing] documents that she had.'" Id. Plaintiff complied. Id.

On October 22, 2007, Shannon Hader, the new Senior Deputy Director, id.¶ 33, "reassigned [plaintiff] from her duties and basically 'stripped' her . . . of all of her responsibilities." Id. ¶ 34. By December 2007, plaintiff "began to have frequent chest pain as she continued to work hard, try to maintain her faith in the system and to do the best that she could at her job, but the strain was too much." Id. ¶ 38. She suffered a heart attack on January 6, 2008, underwent surgery, and was instructed "to be off from work for approximately nine . . . weeks." Id. ¶ 39. Her requests for medical leave were denied. Id. ¶ 40.

By early 2008, Gunther Freehill ("Freehill"), plaintiff's supervisor (mentioned by plaintiff in her letter to Congresswoman Norton) "became very hostile and began micro managing Plaintiff's work" and "undermining her professional relationships" with colleagues and community-based service providers. Id. ¶ 29. Plaintiff was terminated on April 8, 2008. Id. ¶ 41. Hader cited plaintiff's lack of "vision to move the program in [Hader's] direction," as well as "HUD audit findings" for fiscal years 2001 through the first quarter of 2005, "even though Plaintiff saved the program from being de-obligated of 27 million dollars by HUD." Id. According to plaintiff, she lost her job "for refusing [Catania's] requests and speaking up about the wrongdoing." Id. ¶ 58.

Plaintiff claimed to have been '"blackballed' throughout D.C. Government and the community-based programs," and was unable to secure employment, notwithstanding "her longstanding professional relationships with them" through her chairmanship of the Department of Corrections' Comprehensive Continuity of Care Committee. Id. ΒΆ 42. For example, she was a candidate for a position with the Department of Corrections, yet did not get the job after "DOC received an email from Shannon Hader" containing "a veiled threat" that hiring plaintiff would mean that DOH "would not do business" with ...

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