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Mpoy v. Fenty

United States District Court, District of Columbia

November 5, 2012

Bruno K. MPOY, Plaintiff,
Adrian FENTY, et al., Defendants.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Stewart S. Manela, Jason Moore, Rachel M. Witriol, Arent Fox LLP, Washington, DC, for Plaintiff.

David A. Jackson, District of Columbia Office of the Attorney General, William L. Drake, Steptoe & Johnson, LLP, James Anthony Towns, Sr., Office of the Attorney General for DC, Washington, DC, for Defendants.


JAMES E. BOASBERG, District Judge.

In 2007, Plaintiff Bruno Mpoy was hired by the District of Columbia to work as a special-education teacher at Ludlow Elementary School through the DC Teaching Fellows Program. At the end of his first year of teaching, his employment was terminated

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in what he claims was retaliation for complaints he had lodged with then-District of Columbia Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee. Mpoy's complaints to Rhee concerned challenges he had encountered as a teacher at Ludlow, as well as an allegation that the school's principal, Donald Presswood, had instructed him to falsify test results of his students.

Mpoy initially brought this suit against the District and Presswood (the " District Defendants" ), Rhee, and The New Teacher Project alleging a violation of his First Amendment rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and also asserting five non-federal causes of action. In an earlier decision, this Court dismissed the case against the New Teacher Project. See Mpoy v. Fenty, 870 F.Supp.2d 173 (D.D.C.2012)( Mpoy I ). The remaining Defendants now separately move for judgment on the pleadings, arguing that Mpoy's First Amendment claim fails as a matter of law because his statements were made pursuant to his official duties as a public employee and thus does not constitute protected speech. They also contend that even if Mpoy's speech were protected, Presswood and Rhee are entitled to qualified immunity. The Court agrees with both arguments and thus will grant Defendants' Motions as to Count I. Having done so, the Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's remaining state-law claims, which he may refile in the appropriate local court.

I. Background

According to Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint, which must be presumed true for purposes of these Motions, Mpoy was recruited in 2007 to serve as a special-education teacher in the D.C. Public Schools through the DC Teaching Fellows (DCTF) program. See Second Amended Complaint, ¶¶ 28-29. By joining the DCTF program, Mpoy committed to teach in DCPS for a minimum of four years in exchange for receiving tuition support for working towards and receiving his teaching certification at George Washington University. See id., ¶¶ 31-32. Accordingly, he began attending classes at GWU's Graduate School of Education and Human Development in the summer of 2007. See id., ¶ 37.

Mpoy started teaching special-education students at Ludlow Elementary School at the beginning of the 2007 school year. See id., ¶ 34. He faced a number of challenges at Ludlow, including:

• a dirty classroom, see id., ¶ 39;
• insufficient teaching materials (including books), see id., ¶ 40;
• a lack of feedback from Presswood following his formal classroom observation, see id., ¶¶ 42-45;
• " hostile, unprofessional, and unwilling," and " disruptive" teaching assistants, id., ¶¶ 46-50; and
• a failure by the administration to respond to Mpoy's concerns about classroom facilities, supplies, and the teaching assistants.

See id., ¶¶ 40, 51-62, 76-78. Additionally, Mpoy claims that Presswood ordered him to falsify student scores and records. See id., ¶¶ 63-75. " Presswood instructed Plaintiff to falsify the [assessments of his special-education students] and other records of his special-education students to make it seem that his students had demonstrated acceptable progress in accordance with [D.C. and national requirements]." Id., ¶ 70. When Mpoy would not follow Presswood's instructions, the principal enlisted other teachers to falsify the records of Mpoy's students. See id., ¶¶ 72-74.

Rather than working to resolve Mpoy's concerns, Presswood " harass[ed] and threaten[ed] Plaintiff and hindered his

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ability to teach." Id., ¶ 79. In January and February 2008, Mpoy received unwarranted warnings from Presswood accusing him of " excessive tardiness and failure to follow lesson plans" and " accusing him of not monitoring students, failure to escort students and failure to follow fire drill procedures." See id., ¶¶ 80-81. Additionally, on May 7, 2008, Mpoy was issued a five-day suspension, at Presswood's recommendation, for " insubordination" and failure " to follow instructions issued by your supervisor to conduct a classroom observation." Id., ¶¶ 82-83. Presswood also made allegations of corporal punishment against Mpoy. See id., ¶ 85.

On June 2, 2008, Mpoy sent an email to Chancellor Rhee describing his concerns about classroom facilities, supplies, and the teaching assistants, as well as his distress that Presswood had ordered him to falsify student records. See id., ¶ 86. In the email to Rhee, Mpoy requested an investigation into these problems. See id., ¶ 93. Two days later, Mpoy was summoned to a meeting in Presswood's office, along with the director for DCTF and the DCPS Assistant Director for Special Education. See id., ¶ 87. Presswood threatened to recommend that Mpoy not be reappointed to his teaching position for the following year. See id., ¶ 88. Shortly thereafter, Presswood issued Mpoy's evaluation, indicating that Mpoy was either ineffective or needed improvement in every area of evaluation. See id., ¶ 90. Plaintiff believed that this evaluation " was baseless, as it is contradicted by the numerous statements of Plaintiff's colleagues and parents of his students that demonstrate Plaintiff was a hardworking teacher who was effective in improving his students' abilities and was consistently trying to improve his teaching skills." Id., ¶ 91.

On July 9, 2008, Mpoy met with a representative from the Chancellor's office and the director for DCTF. See id., ¶¶ 94-95. During the meeting, Mpoy was informed that Presswood had in fact recommended nonrenewal of his teaching position at Ludlow. See id., ¶ 95. Mpoy returned to Ludlow for the first day of school on August 19, 2008, and was informed by the school's new principal that he had been terminated. See id., ¶¶ 98-99. That day he received a copy of his termination letter (dated July 15, 2008), stating that " based on input from your principal and your status as a probationary employee, your position as teacher with District of Columbia Schools is terminated effective August 1, 2008." See id., ¶¶ 100-103. Because he was not continuing in his teaching role, Mpoy was no longer able to take courses at GWU. See id., ¶¶ 105-06.

Mpoy filed this suit on June 22, 2009. See ECF No. 1. He later filed a Second Amended Complaint on June 15, 2011, setting forth six counts: deprivation of his rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, retaliation in violation of the D.C. Whistleblower Act, retaliation in violation of the D.C. Human Rights Act, breach of contract for wrongful termination, breach of contract for failure to pay tuition as promised, and civil conspiracy to wrongfully terminate Plaintiff. All counts were asserted against the District Defendants and Rhee, and the last two also name The New Teacher Project (TNTP). See ECF No. 77.

On July 2, 2012, this Court issued a Memorandum Opinion granting TNTP's Motion to Dismiss and granting in part and denying in part the District Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. See Mpoy I, 870 F.Supp.2d 173. The Court dismissed Count I (§ 1983) as to the District, but allowed it to proceed against Defendants Rhee and Presswood in their individual capacities. The Court also struck Plaintiff's claim for punitive damages against the District, but allowed all other claims

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against the District Defendants and Rhee to proceed. See id. Defendant Rhee and the District Defendants have now separately filed the instant Motions for Judgment on the Pleadings under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c).

II. Legal Standard

This Court evaluates a Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings under the same standard as a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. See Robinson-Reeder v. Am. Council on Educ., 532 F.Supp.2d 6, 12 (D.D.C.2008). The factual allegations presented in the Complaint must thus be presumed true and should be liberally construed in Plaintiff's favor. See Leatherman v. Tarrant Cnty. Narcotics Intelligence & Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 164-68, 113 S.Ct. 1160, 122 L.Ed.2d 517 (1993). The notice-pleading rules are " not meant to impose a great burden upon a plaintiff." Dura Pharm., Inc. v. Broudo, 544 U.S. 336, 347, 125 S.Ct. 1627, 161 L.Ed.2d 577 (2005). Although " detailed factual allegations" are not necessary to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007), " a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, [if] accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (internal quotation omitted). Plaintiff must put forth " factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. Though a plaintiff may survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion even if " recovery is very remote and unlikely," Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556, 127 S.Ct. 1955 (quoting Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236, 94 S.Ct. 1683, 40 L.Ed.2d 90 (1974)), the facts alleged in the complaint " must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id. at 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955.

A motion for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c) must rely solely on matters within the pleadings, see Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d), which include statements adopted by reference as well as copies of written instruments joined as exhibits. Fed.R.Civ.P. 10(c). Where the Court must consider " matters outside the pleadings" to reach its conclusion, a motion for judgment on the pleadings " must be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d); see also Yates v. District of Columbia, 324 F.3d 724, 725 (D.C.Cir.2003).

III. Analysis

Among the myriad challenges they raise to the causes of action in Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint, Defendants principally argue that Plaintiff receives no First Amendment protection for his email to Rhee because his statements therein were made pursuant to his official duties as a public employee and thus do not constitute protected speech. Alternatively, they argue that even if the speech were protected, Plaintiff's claim would nonetheless be barred by qualified immunity because his constitutional right to such speech was not clearly established at the time of his email. Without this federal hook, Defendants urge the Court to decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining common-law and statutory claims.

Plaintiff initially responds that the Court has already rejected the First Amendment arguments Defendants now advance, thus barring their reassertion under the law-of-the-case doctrine. Even if the Court were to entertain Defendants' arguments, Plaintiff maintains that his speech was protected as he was speaking on a matter of public concern, and no qualified ...

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