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Lockhart v. Coastal International Security, Inc.

United States District Court, District of Columbia

November 21, 2012

Monique LOCKHART, and Monique Lockhart, next best friend of K.C., Plaintiffs,

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Joshua Graeme Whitaker, Griffin Whitaker, LLC, Greenbelt, MD, for Plaintiff.

John M. Remy, Alyson J. Guyan, Kara Marie Ariail, Jackson Lewis LLP, Reston, VA, for Defendant.


BERYL A. HOWELL, District Judge.

Pending before the Court is the motion filed by the defendant Coastal International Security, Inc. (" Coastal" ), to dismiss the Complaint of Plaintiffs Monique Lockhart and Monique Lockhart, as next best friend of K.C., pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(b), for " failure to prosecute and failure to follow the Court's order." Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss (" Def.'s Mot." ), ECF No. 14, at 2. The defendant also moves to dismiss due to the " Plaintiff's failure and/or refusal to take appropriate steps to resolve her claims through [the D.C. Department of Employment Services]," which " has primary jurisdiction over these claims." Id. For the reasons

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set forth below, this motion will be granted in part and denied in part.[1]


A. Factual Allegations

The defendant " performs security and related services under various contracts in the District of Columbia and nationwide." Complaint (" Compl." ), ECF No. 1-1, ¶ 3. The plaintiffs allege that Monique Lockhart was formerly employed, beginning in June, 2004,[2] by the defendant and had " problems with her supervisor, Lieutenant Minor ... and other Coastal employees." Id. ¶¶ 7, 9. These problems allegedly stemmed from Lockhart's refusal " to make a false statement in support of Mr. Minor," in connection with a sexual harassment case, which refusal prompted " Coastal officers," to make " repeated threats against the physical safety of Ms. Lockhart." Id. ¶¶ 9-11, 37.

Set against the backdrop of this " pattern of abuse and harassment," id. ¶ 13, the claims focus primarily on the events that allegedly occurred on September 9, 2008. On that day, Lockhart " was not feeling well due to her pregnancy." Id. ¶ 15. Her supervisor denied her " an extra break," but told Lockhart " to sit down while she was waiting for other Coastal employees." Id. ¶¶ 15-16. Lockhart " passed out while sitting." Id. ¶ 17. In an effort to bring her " back to consciousness, Mr. Minor shouted at Ms. Lockhart and repeatedly slapped Ms. Lockhart in the face." Id. When she regained consciousness, her supervisor made her " perform an exterior patrol of the premises and then return to the post," before granting her request to leave for the day. Id. ¶¶ 18, 19.

Lockhart was subsequently terminated for " ‘ neglect of duty including sleeping on duty,’ " a citation she disputes on grounds that she " was not neglecting her duty by falling asleep but rather fell unconscious after she was repeatedly denied a break." Id. ¶¶ 21-22.[3] The Complaint alleges that, " [s]ubsequent to [her] termination," as a result of the defendant's conduct, she " was plagued by various medical complications ... causing her child, [K.C.], to be born with physical abnormalities." Id. ¶¶ 24, 25.

B. Procedural Background

The plaintiffs filed their Complaint in Superior Court of the District of Columbia on September 8, 2011, alleging that the defendant breached a duty to " not expos[e] [employees] to dangerous work conditions, and to observe reasonable standards of care for employees under medical conditions." Id. ¶ 28. Plaintiffs allege that Coastal further breached that duty by " allowing other employees to slap [Lockhart] in the face repeatedly and force her to walk a patrol, and or to refuse reasonable request for leave," id. ¶ 52, as well as by " allowing the supervisor to assault and otherwise abuse Plaintiff Lockhart," id.

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¶ 60. Based upon their factual and legal allegations, the plaintiffs assert a total of five claims: three claims on behalf of both Lockhart and her child, K.C., namely, negligence (Count I), intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count III), and negligent supervision (Count V); and two claims on behalf of Lockhart alone, for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy because she was allegedly terminated due to her medical disability (pregnancy) and " for her refusal to cover up an investigation into allegations of violation of Title VII," id. ¶ 39 (Count II), and negligent infliction of emotional distress (Count IV). They seek relief for the " physical, emotional, and financial harm" caused to " both Ms. Lockhart as a former employee and Master [K.C.]," id. ¶ 31; see also ¶¶ 47-49, 55-57, 62, in the amount of no less than $5,000,000, id. at 12 (Request for Relief).

Following removal of the action to this Court, the defendant filed its Answer to the Complaint asserting, inter alia, the defenses that the Complaint, in whole or in part, fails to state a cause of action upon which relief may be granted (" First Defense" ) and that plaintiffs' claims are barred, in whole or in part, for failure to exhaust administrative remedies and/or jurisdictional prerequisites to suit (" Second Defense" ). Def.'s Answer and Defenses to Pls.' Compl., ECF No. 3, at 15.

The plaintiffs' representations in proceedings after the pleadings were closed are relevant to consideration of the defendant's motion to dismiss for failure to prosecute and/or comply with Court orders, and will therefore be reviewed in some detail. On the same day as filing its Answer, the defendant requested that the case be stayed " because all the torts alleged in Plaintiffs' Complaint, including Counts I, III, IV, and V, arose from a work-related incident in the workplace," and, under D.C. law, a " ‘ substantial question’ exists as to whether these counts are covered by the D.C. Worker's Compensation Act." Def.'s Mot. to Stay, ECF No. 4, at 1. The plaintiffs consented to a partial stay of the claims in Counts I, III, and IV, see id. at 2,[4] but filed no timely opposition to the part of the motion seeking to stay Counts II and V as well. The Court granted the defendant's motion, based on the plaintiffs' partial concession and partial consent, and stayed the case in its entirety pending the determination by the D.C. Department of Employment Services (" DOES" ) of the applicability of the D.C. Worker's Compensation Act (" WCA" ) to the plaintiffs' claims.[5] See Minute Order (Jan. 14, 2012). The Court instructed the parties to file a joint status report by March 14, 2012, indicating whether DOES had " made a determination regarding the claims in this action or whether the stay should be continued." Minute Order (Jan. 14, 2012).

The first status report, filed by the defendant alone, rather than jointly as required by the Court's January 14, 2012 Order, advised that the defendant had received no notice of submission of the plaintiffs' claims to DOES,[6] but that plaintiffs'

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counsel represented that " he believes he has submitted their claims to DOES and will supplement this Status Report with the date of the filing and the docket number." Status Report, ECF No. 7, dated March 14, 2012, at ¶ 1. The Court accordingly continued the stay, but also directed that the next joint status report be filed within one week and specifically provide " (1) the date of plaintiffs' filing, if any, of claims with DOES; (2) the status of those claims; (3) whether the filing, if any, with DOES was ...

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