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Stephanie Richie v. Tom Vilsack

December 5, 2012

STEPHANIE RICHIE,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
TOM VILSACK, SECRETARY, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE,
DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John D. Bates United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

Plaintiff Stephanie Richie, an employee of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), has sued Tom Vilsack, Secretary of USDA, asserting claims for race discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In particular, Richie asserts that she was subject to discrimination and retaliation when she was reassigned from her position as the GS-14 Executive Conservation Correspondence Team Lead to a non-supervisory GS-14 Public Affairs Specialist position.

No discovery has yet taken place. Defendant has filed a motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment [Docket Entry 8]. Richie, in turn, has filed a Rule 56(d) motion for discovery before summary judgment [Docket Entry 10]. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(d). Defendant submitted several declarations, including from four management officials at USDA, which criticize Richie's work product, assert that Richie herself requested a new position, and indicate that several white employees were also reassigned from supervisory to non-supervisory positions at the same time as Richie. See Def.'s Statement of Material Facts [Docket Entry 8] ¶¶ 3-5, 10-11, 12 (Mar. 5, 2012). Richie submitted a declaration describing her positive performance ratings, stating that her performance was not criticized or cited as a reason for her reassignment, disputing that she requested a new position, and otherwise challenging defendant's evidence. Richie Decl. [Docket Entry 10-3] ¶¶ 1-5 (Apr. 2, 2012).

STANDARD OF REVIEW

To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain "'a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,' in order to 'give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)); accord Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (per curiam). Although "detailed factual allegations" are not necessary, to provide the "grounds" of "entitle[ment] to relief," plaintiffs must furnish "more than labels and conclusions" or "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-56 (internal quotation marks omitted). "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570); accord Atherton v. D.C. Office of the Mayor, 567 F.3d 672, 681 (D.C. Cir. 2009).

"[I]n passing on a motion to dismiss . . . the allegations of the complaint should be construed favorably to the pleader." Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974); see also Leatherman v. Tarrant Cnty. Narcotics Intelligence & Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 164 (1993). Therefore, the factual allegations must be presumed true, and plaintiffs must be given every favorable inference that may be drawn from the allegations of fact. See Scheuer, 416 U.S. at 236; Sparrow v. United Air Lines, Inc., 216 F.3d 1111, 1113 (D.C. Cir. 2000). However, the Court need not accept as true "a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation," nor inferences that are unsupported by the facts set out in the complaint. Trudeau v. FTC, 456 F.3d 178, 193 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (quoting Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)).

Summary judgment, in turn, is appropriate when the pleadings and the evidence demonstrate that "there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial responsibility of demonstrating the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The moving party may successfully support its motion by identifying those portions of "the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials," which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1); see also Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323.

In determining whether there exists a genuine dispute of material fact sufficient to preclude summary judgment, the Court must regard the non-movant's statements as true and accept all evidence and make all inferences in the non-movant's favor. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). A non-moving party, however, must establish more than the "mere existence of a scintilla of evidence" in support of its position. Id. at 252. Moreover, "[i]f the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted." Id. at 249-50 (citations omitted). Summary judgment, then, is appropriate if the non-movant fails to offer "evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [non-movant]." Id. at 252.

ANALYSIS

Turning first to defendant's motion to dismiss, the Court will deny the motion. Defendant argues that Richie fails to state a claim because she has not established a prima facie case of unlawful discrimination or retaliation. But "under a notice pleading system, it is not appropriate to require a plaintiff to plead facts establishing a prima facie case." Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.

A., 534 U.S. 506, 511 (2002); see also Twombly, 550 U.S. at 547 (rejecting the claim that the opinion's "analysis runs counter to Swierkiewicz . . . , which held that 'a complaint in an employment discrimination lawsuit [need] not contain specific facts establishing a prima facie case of discrimination'" (alteration omitted)). Defendant never challenges this principle. Indeed, while arguing that Richie failed to state a claim, defendant cites almost exclusively summary judgment-stage cases and concludes that plaintiff has "failed to put forward sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to find" for her, and that her claim accordingly fails "as a matter of law," Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss or for Summ. J. [Docket Entry 8] at 14 (Mar. 5, 2012) ("Def.'s Mot."). Accordingly, all that remains of defendant's argument is the motion for summary judgment.*fn1

Defendant's summary judgment argument, however, comes too early. "[S]ummary judgment is premature unless all parties have 'had a full opportunity to conduct discovery.'"

Convertino v. DOJ, 684 F.3d 93, 99 (D.C. Cir. 2012) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 257 (1986)); see also Americable Int'l, Inc. v. Dep't of Navy, 129 F.3d 1271, 1274 (D.C. Cir. 1997) ("[S]ummary judgment ordinarily is proper only after the plaintiff has been given adequate time for discovery." (internal quotation marks omitted)). Accordingly, "[a] Rule 56[(d)] motion requesting time for additional discovery should be granted almost as a matter of course unless the non-moving party has not diligently pursued discovery of the evidence." Convertino, 684 F.3d at 99 (internal quotation marks omitted). Here, the parties have had no opportunity, let alone a full opportunity, to conduct discovery.

To obtain time for discovery under Rule 56(d), a plaintiff must submit an "affidavit or declaration that, for specified reasons, [he] cannot present facts essential to justify [his] opposition." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(d). The declaration must "outline the particular facts he intends to discover and describe why those facts are necessary to the litigation," explain why he could not produce those facts, and "show the information is in fact discoverable." Convertino, 684 F.3d at 99-100. The declaration Richie's attorney submitted, see Renaud Decl. [Docket Entry 16] (Nov. 19, 2012),*fn2 ...


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