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Bello v. Howard University

United States District Court, District of Columbia

October 16, 2012

Rukayatu E. BELLO, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
HOWARD UNIVERSITY, et al., Defendants.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Christal E. Edwards, Edwards Legal Group, LLC, Largo, MD, Jennifer M. Blunt, Kutak Rock, Steven Edward Bullock, Law Office of Steven E. Bullock, PC, Washington, DC, for Plaintiffs.

Daniel I. Prywes, Ian L. Barlow, Washington, DC, Marnitta L. King, King Law, PA, Largo, MD, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

COLLEEN KOLLAR-KOTELLY, District Judge.

Plaintiffs, Rukayatu E. Bello, Mercedes A. Woodson, Olayinka Oni-Orisan, Fatima Rashid, and Kera Singleton (" Plaintiffs" ), have filed the above-captioned case against Defendant Howard University (" Defendant" ) and Defendant's former employee, George Bright-Abu (" Bright-Abu" ), asserting claims arising from Bright-Abu's alleged sexual " physical and verbal assaults" of Plaintiffs. See generally Compl., ECF No. [1]. Plaintiffs, who, during all times relevant to the instant Complaint, were work-study students enrolled at Howard University and assigned to work in the University's Founders Library (the " Founders Library" ) under the supervision of Bright-Abu, assert the following seven counts against Defendant: (I) Declaratory Judgment establishing that Bright-Abu was an employee of the Defendant who was acting in the scope of his employment during the incidents alleged in the complaint, see Compl. ¶¶ 35-43; (II) Negligence, see id. ¶¶ 44-61; (III) Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress, see id. ¶¶ 62-74; (IV) Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress, see id. ¶¶ 75-83; (V) Sexual Harassment/Hostile Work Environment pursuant to the District of Columbia Human Rights Act, D.C.Code § 2-1401.01 et seq. (" DCHRA" ), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (" Title VII" ), 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and Title IX, Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq. (" Title IX" ), see id. ¶¶ 84-98; (VI) Civil Assault, see id. ¶¶ 99-104; and (VII) Civil Battery, see id. ¶¶ 105-110.

Presently before the Court is Defendant's [9] Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) and 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c). Defendant moves to dismiss the Complaint on several grounds, arguing primarily that all federal causes of action pled in the Complaint fail to state claims upon which relief can be granted and should be dismissed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), and that, once the federal claims are dismissed, there exists no reason for the Court to exercise its supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiffs' remaining claims. See Def.'s Mem. in Supp. of its Mot. to Dismiss (" Def's Mem." ), ECF [10], at 1. Defendant further argues that, even if the Court were to rule on Plaintiffs' nonfederal claims, all such claims must fail due to Plaintiffs' failure to plead necessary elements and, for certain claims, expiration of the applicable statutes of limitations. See id. at 2. Because the Court agrees, for the reasons set forth below, that Plaintiffs assert no viable federal claims and that the

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balance of factors under the pendent jurisdiction doctrine favor declining to exercise jurisdiction over Defendant's request for declaratory judgment and all remaining state law [1] claims, it need not address Defendant's arguments as to Plaintiffs' non-federal claims— namely, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, DCHRA sexual harassment, assault, and battery.

Accordingly, Count V, Plaintiffs' Sexual Harrassment/Hostile Work Environment Claim, insofar as it is premised upon federal statutes, is dismissed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Specifically, and for the reasons set forth below, Count V is dismissed with prejudice insofar as it relies on 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and dismissed without prejudice insofar as it relies on Title VII and/or Title IX. Because Count V is the only count over which this Court had original, federal question jurisdiction, the Court declines, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(3) and 28 U.S.C. § 2201(a), to exercise jurisdiction over the remaining claims in this action, which concern issues of District of Columbia statutory and common law. Accordingly, Defendant's motion to dismiss is hereby GRANTED, and this federal action is DISMISSED against both Defendant Howard University and Bright-Abu.[2]

I. BACKGROUND

The following facts are taken from the Complaint and must be accepted as true for purposes of a motion to dismiss. See Atherton v. D.C. Office of the Mayor, 567 F.3d 672, 681 (D.C.Cir.2009), cert. denied, 559 U.S. 1039, 130 S.Ct. 2064, 176 L.Ed.2d 418 (2010). Each of the five Plaintiffs was a full time work-study undergraduate student at Howard University, assigned to work in the Founder's Library during the 2010-2011 academic year. Compl. ¶¶ 1-2. Plaintiffs' claims are all founded on allegations that Bright-Abu, who was employed by Defendant to supervise work-study students in the Founders Library during the 2010-2011 academic year, id. ¶ 14, committed physical and/or verbal assaults and sexually harassed them. See id. ¶ 15-34. The Complaint alleges that, on April 21, 2011, two of the Plaintiffs— Ms. Woodson and Ms. Bello—

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together called and filed a police report against Bright-Abu with the District of Columbia Police Department. Id. ¶¶ 19, 24. All Plaintiffs allege that, on or about April 26, 2011, they collectively met with Dr. Arthuree Wright, Director of the Founders Library, " to discuss and confirm" Bright-Abu's various alleged sexual assaults against them. Id. ¶¶ 20, 25, 27, 29, 31. Further, the Complaint alleges that on July 22, 2011, after a criminal trial in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, Bright-Abu was convicted on two counts of misdemeanor sexual abuse and one count of simple assault against Plaintiffs Bello and Woodson. Id. ¶ 32. On January 28, 2008, Plaintiffs filed the instant complaint against Defendant and Bright-Abu. Now before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss.

While all of Plaintiffs' claims arise from Bright-Abu's alleged misconduct towards them during the 2010-2011 academic year, the individual factual allegations on which they rest differ in important ways. Accordingly, additional allegations specific to each individual Plaintiff are set forth below.

A. Plaintiff Woodson

Plaintiff Mercedes Woodson alleges that, on or about September 1, 2012, Bright-Abu " on numerous occasions engaged in unwanted touching of Ms. Woodson's back and breast, flirted with Ms. Woodson while at work, and made several degrading propositions of a sexual nature[.]" Id. ¶ 16. Woodson alleges that she reported Bright-Abu's conduct toward her to the following individuals: (1) on September 1, 2010, to Mr. Thomas, a " supervisor in the Founders Library" ; (2) on September 1, 2012, to a Security Guard in the Founders Library [3]; (3) on September 2, 2010, to Bright-Abu's secretary, Vaness Oyugi; (4) on September 2, 2010, to two other employees of the Founders Library, Ian Robinson and Aaron Robinson. Id. ¶ 17-18.

B. Plaintiff Bello

Plaintiff Rukayatu E. Bello alleges that on or about April 20, 2011 and several other occasions, the dates of which are not specified, Bright-Abu " engaged in unwanted touching of [her] hair and back," " tried to kiss [her] and hugged her while he was sexually aroused," flirted with Bello while at work, and made several " degrading propositions of a sexual nature." Id. ¶ 21. Bello alleges that she reported Bright-Abu's conduct to the following individuals: (1) on or about April 21, 2011, to a Founders ...


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