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Coppet v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

December 2, 2014

SHERRY COPPET, Plaintiff,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant

For SHERRY COPPET, Plaintiff: Constance Travanty, LEAD ATTORNEY, ALAN LESCHT & ASSOCIATES, Washington, DC.

For DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, A Municipal Corporation, Defendant: Shana Lyn Frost, LEAD ATTORNEY, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Public Interest Division, Washington, DC.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

AMY BERMAN JACKSON, United States District Judge.

Plaintiff Sherry Coppet brings this action against defendant the District of Columbia (" the District" ), alleging that it violated 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and plaintiff's Fifth Amendment right to procedural due process when it demoted her. Compl. [Dkt. # 1] ¶ ¶ 28-30. Defendant moved to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), contending that plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss [Dkt. # 4] at 1 (" Def.'s Mot." ). Applying Monell v. Department of Social Services of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978), the Court finds that plaintiff has failed to plead sufficient facts to establish that the District can be held liable for the injury she alleges, and so the Court will grant defendant's motion to dismiss.

BACKGROUND

The following facts are taken from plaintiff's complaint and are assumed to be true for the purposes of this motion. Plaintiff was employed as Branch Chief of the District of Columbia Superior Court, Family Court Operations Division, Paternity and Child Support Branch, from December 1990 until she was terminated on October 25, 2012. Compl. ¶ ¶ 6-7. In April 2011, an employee under plaintiff's supervision filed a " false complaint," claiming that

Page 145

plaintiff had discriminated against her based on her disability, and had harassed and bullied her. Id. ¶ 8. As a result of the employee's complaint, in September 2011, plaintiff was reassigned to the position of Fathering Court Coordinator within the same division. Id. ¶ 9.

On August 27, 2012, the Director of Family Court Operations, Dianne King, issued plaintiff a Notice of Intent to Recommend Suspension and Relief of Management Responsibilities (" Notice of Intent" ) based on the investigation of the employee's discrimination complaint. Id. ¶ 10. Plaintiff alleges " [u]pon information and belief" that " Ms. King consulted with and was instructed to take disciplinary action against Plaintiff by Duane Delaney, Clerk of the Court[,] and Anne Wicks, Executive Officer." Id. ¶ 11.

Plaintiff responded in writing to the Notice of Intent on September 18, 2012. Id. ¶ 12. On October 4, 2012, Clerk of the Court Delaney issued plaintiff a notice of proposed termination pursuant to Personnel Policy 1005. Id. ¶ 13. Plaintiff responded in writing to that notice on October 19, 2012, and received Delaney's final decision terminating her employment on October 24, 2012. Id. ¶ ¶ 14-15. The termination was effective as of the close of business the next day. Id. ¶ 15.

Plaintiff appealed the termination decision to Executive Officer Wicks and requested a hearing. Id. ¶ 16. Hearing officer Lois Hochhauser presided over the hearing, which took place on January 23 and 24, 2013, and at which plaintiff was able to present " documentary and testimonial evidence." Id. ¶ 17. On June 24, 2013, Hochhauser issued a Report and Recommendation, finding that plaintiff's employer had not met its burden of proof to demonstrate that plaintiff had engaged in misconduct, and recommending that plaintiff be reinstated to her position as Branch Chief. Id. ¶ 19. Pursuant to Personnel Policy 1007, hearing officer Hochhauser's opinion constituted a nonbinding recommendation to the final decision-maker, Executive Officer Wicks. Id. ¶ 18.

On July 16, 2013, Wicks issued her final decision. Id. ¶ 20. Wicks determined that plaintiff should be reinstated, but to a non-supervisory position. Id. On September 9, 2013, plaintiff returned to work as a Quality Review Specialist in the Civil Division, a demotion of two pay grades from the Branch Chief position that decreased plaintiff's salary by $19,000. Id. ¶ 22.

Plaintiff contends that she was a career service employee with a property interest in her job who could only be terminated for cause after notice and an opportunity to respond. Id. ¶ ¶ 24-25. She further claims that the " post-termination procedures violated [her] due process right to an impartial and unbiased hearing before a neutral decision maker," id. ΒΆ 26, because Executive Officer Wicks was both ...


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