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Fletcher v. U.S. Department of Justice

United States District Court, District of Columbia

February 21, 2014

PAUL JULIUS FLETCHER, Plaintiff,
v.
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

RUDOLPH CONTRERAS, District Judge.

Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, learned from a Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA") request in 2011 that records pertaining to his arrest and indictment in 1974 were destroyed in 1991. See Fletcher v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, 905 F.Supp.2d 263 (D.D.C. 2012) (" Fletcher I ") (dismissing FOIA/Privacy Act action). In what is captioned "Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief, " ECF No. 1, plaintiff now sues the Department of Justice ("DOJ") for $200 million in damages for injuries he allegedly suffered as a result of the destroyed records. Plaintiff brings his claims under the Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552a, the Administrative Procedure Act ("APA"), 5 U.S.C. §§ 701-06, the Federal Records Act ("FRA"), 44 U.S.C. §§ 2901-10, and the First and Fifth Amendments to the Constitution. Id. at 1.

Defendant moves to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss Pl.'s Compl., ECF No. 13. Plaintiff has opposed the motion, see Pl.'s Mot. to Respond to Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss Pl.'s Compl., ECF No. 15, and defendant has replied, Def.'s Reply to Pl.'s Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss Pl.'s Compl., ECF No. 16. Upon consideration of the parties' submissions, the Court will grant defendant's motion and dismiss the case.

I. BACKGROUND

This action stems from Fletcher I where defendant "conced[ed] the impropriety of its destruction of [p]laintiff's records...." Fletcher, 905 F.Supp.2d at 267. Because in that case brought under the FOIA and the Privacy Act, "it [was] undisputed that the requested documents do not exist, and none of [p]laintiff's other requested relief (perhaps excluding costs) [was] available, " the Court granted defendant's motion and dismissed the case without prejudice. Id. at 268-69. The Court found that "the Government's explanation, which attributes the destruction to inadvertence and negligent error, ... vitiates [p]laintiff's assertion of willfulness or deliberate destruction." Id. at 267-68. It noted that "[t]o the extent [p]laintiff believes himself entitled to some additional form of monetary relief for the improper destruction [of records], he may bring a separate action so requesting, " or "if he subsequently suffers an adverse decision as a result of the records destruction, " he could "revive" his Privacy Act claim. Id. at 268-69. The Court also noted that plaintiff could "seek documents from the Superior Court[, ] [but] offer[ed] no opinion as to [plaintiff's] likelihood of success in any of these ventures." Id. at 269.

Plaintiff commenced this action in April 2013, five months after Fletcher I. He describes his "injury as an inability to obtain through FOIA, information necessary to accomplish [p]laintiff[']s mission... to understand the charges, and convictions, which is traceable directly to the defendants' policy and practice of unlawfully [destroying his] records...." Compl. at 3-4. Plaintiff concludes that "DOJ negligently failed to maintain [his] case files by destroying them, " and, as a result, he "has suffered great mental anguish and anxiety, producing physical symptoms based on defendant's conduct." Id. at 11.

II. LEGAL STANDARDS

1. Rule 12(b)(1) Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction

Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, and the law presumes that "a cause lies outside this limited jurisdiction...." Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994); see also Gen. Motors Corp. v. EPA, 363 F.3d 442, 448 (D.C. Cir. 2004) ("As a court of limited jurisdiction, we begin, and end, with an examination of our jurisdiction."). It is the plaintiff's burden to establish that the court has subject matter jurisdiction. Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992).

Because subject matter jurisdiction focuses on the Court's power to hear a claim, the Court must give the plaintiff's factual allegations closer scrutiny than would be required in deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion for failure to state a claim. See Grand Lodge of Fraternal Order of Police v. Ashcroft, 185 F.Supp.2d 9, 13 (D.D.C. 2001). Thus, the court is not limited to the allegations contained in the complaint. See Wilderness Soc'y v. Griles, 824 F.2d 4, 16 n.10 (D.C. Cir. 1987).

2. Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require that a complaint contain "a short and plain statement of the claim" in order to give the defendant fair notice of the claim and the grounds upon which it rests. Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2); accord Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (per curiam). A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) does not test a plaintiff's ultimate likelihood of success on the merits; rather, it tests whether a plaintiff has properly stated a claim. See Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974), abrogated on other grounds by Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800 (1982). A court considering such a motion presumes that the complaint's factual allegations are true and construes them liberally in the plaintiff's favor. See, e.g., United States v. Philip Morris, Inc., 116 F.Supp.2d 131, 135 (D.D.C. 2000). It is not necessary for the plaintiff to plead all elements of a prima facie case in the complaint. See Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 511-14 (2002); Bryant v. Pepco, 730 F.Supp.2d 25, 28-29 (D.D.C. 2010).

Nevertheless, "[t]o 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, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). This means that a plaintiff's factual allegations "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact)." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-56 (citations omitted). "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, " are therefore insufficient to withstand a motion to dismiss. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. A court need not accept a plaintiff's legal conclusions as true, see id., nor must a court presume the veracity of the legal conclusions that are couched as factual allegations. See ...


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