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Barryman-Turner v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

July 24, 2015

KAREN BARRYMAN-TURNER, Plaintiff,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, ET AL., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

RANDOLPH D. MOSS, District Judge.

Plaintiff Karen Barryman-Turner, a former employee of the District of Columbia ("the District" or "D.C.") Department of Corrections, alleges that the D.C. Department of Employee Services (the "Agency") terminated her disability compensation benefits without adhering to the requirements of the Due Process clause of the Fifth Amendment and District of Columbia law. The first five counts of the complaint assert constitutional claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The sixth count alleges that Defendants violated Subsections 1-624.24(b) and (d) of the D.C. Code by requiring Plaintiff to seek reconsideration of the order terminating her benefits before allowing her to request a hearing before a hearing officer. Dkt. 1 ¶ 47.

The matter is now before the Court on the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Dkt. 4). That motion (1) raises a statute of limitations defense; (2) challenges Plaintiff's standing to seeking injunctive or declaratory relief; (3) argues that Plaintiff is barred from seeking damages for the alleged violation of D.C. law for failure to comply with the District's six-month notice requirement; and (4) maintains that the official capacity claims brought against the named officials should be dismissed as duplicative of the claims against the District. For the reasons set forth below, the Court rejects Defendants' statute of limitations defense, agrees that Plaintiff has not established standing to obtain prospective relief, agrees that Plaintiff is not entitled to seek damages for the alleged violation of D.C. law, and agrees that the claims against the named officials should be dismissed as duplicative. Defendants' Motion to Dismiss is, accordingly, GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

I. BACKGROUND

The complaint, the factual allegations of which are taken as true for purposes of this motion, see Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007), alleges that Plaintiff was injured on March 3, 1996, when she was struck on the head in the course of her employment with the D.C. Department of Corrections. Dkt. 1 ¶ 26. As a result of that injury, Plaintiff was ultimately awarded benefits under the District's Comprehensive Merit Personnel Act ("CMPA"), D.C. Code §§ 1-601.01, et seq., and received those benefits from March 3, 1996 until May 16, 1998. Dkt. 1 ¶ 26-27. On May 31, 1998, Plaintiff was re-injured. She was subsequently awarded benefits beginning on the date of the re-injury. Id. ¶ 28. Her benefits were terminated, however, effective May 17, 2003. Id. ¶ 29.

Even before Plaintiff's benefits were terminated, a class-action suit was brought against the District challenging "the policies and procedures applied to terminate, suspend, and modify [the] disability compensation benefits" of a class of former D.C. employees. See Elizabeth Lightfoot v. District of Columbia, Civ. No. 01-1484 (D.D.C. January 16, 2007). Like the present action, that case alleged that these procedures violated the Due Process clause of the Fifth Amendment and (albeit for reasons different from those alleged here) D.C. law, and it sought declaratory and injunctive relief.[1] See Complaint, Lightfoot, Civ. No. 01-1484, Dkt. 152 at 3 (D.D.C. January 16, 2007). The constitutional claims asserted in Lightfoot, like those asserted here, included both facial and as-applied challenges to D.C. Code § 1-623.24(d) and alleged that beneficiaries were not provided an adequate opportunity to demonstrate their continuing entitlement to benefits. Id. at 28. Other claims challenged a number of the Agency's alleged practices, including, among other things, its failure to provide adequate notice of a beneficiary's right to appeal an adverse decision and to retain counsel, its failure to provide adequate rationales for its decisions, and its failure to engage in reasoned decision-making when terminating, suspending or modifying benefits. Id. at 29-30. Finally, in the only claim based on D.C. law, the Lightfoot complaint alleged that the defendants violated D.C. Code § 2-505 by adopting policies governing changes to benefits without publishing the required notice in the District of Columbia Register. Id. at 30.

On January 14, 2004, the Lightfoot court certified the following class:

All persons who received disability compensation benefits pursuant to D.C. Code § 1-623.1, et seq. and whose benefits were terminated, suspended or reduced between June 27, 1998 and April 5, 2005, the date on which the Disability Compensation Effective Administration Amendment Act of 2004, D.C. Act 15-685, 52 D.C. Reg. 1449 (Jan. 4, 2005), took effect. "Disability compensation benefits" is defined to exclude a scheduled award provided in D.C. Code § 1-623.7 expiring at the end of the statutory term, continuation of pay provided in D.C. Code § 1-623.18(a) expiring at the end of the statutory term, funeral expenses provided in D.C. Code § 1-623.34, a fully paid lump sum settlement provided in D.C. Code § 1-623.35, and credited compensation leave provided in D.C. Code § 1-623.43.

Lightfoot, Civ. No. 01-1484, Dkt. 541 at 5.

After substantial motions practice in the district court and a related appeal, the Lightfoot court ultimately dismissed all of the class-wide claims, except for the as-applied due process challenge to D.C.'s alleged failure to provide beneficiaries an adequate opportunity to show that they were entitled to continue to receive benefits. The facial challenge to D.C. Code § 1-623.24(d) was dismissed because Plaintiffs had failed to establish "that no set of circumstances exist under which the [law] would be valid." Lightfoot, Civ. No. 01-1484, Dkt. 330 at 11 (internal quotations omitted). The remaining constitutional claims were dismissed on the merits for failure to state a claim.[2] The Lightfoot court then declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the sole D.C. law claim, and dismissed it without prejudice. Lightfoot, Civ. No. 01-1484, Dkt. 316 at 23. Thus, after the Lightfoot court's order of April 10, 2007, the only surviving claim against the District was the as-applied challenge to D.C. Code § 1-623.24(d). Lightfoot, Civ. No. 01-1484, Dkt. 330.

Then, after the parties completed further discovery on the sole remaining claim, the Lightfoot court decided to "revisit the certification question" in light of the "markedly different" procedural posture and the "significantly more developed" evidentiary record. Lightfoot, Civ. No. 01-1484, Dkt. 541 at 5 (Jan. 10, 2011). The court concluded that plaintiffs could "satisfy neither the commonality requirement of Rule 23(a)(2) nor the cohesiveness requirement of Rule 23(b)(2)." Id. at 18. The court emphasized that the plaintiffs failed to identify a policy or custom that was common to the class and noted that there were significant, potentially dispositive variations of fact between different plaintiffs. Id. at 19-20, 28. As a result, the Lightfoot court decertified the class on January 10, 2011. Lightfoot, Civ. No. 01-1484, Dkt. 541.

Plaintiff commenced this lawsuit on January 9, 2014, just one day short of three years from the day the Lightfoot class was decertified. On March 18, 2014, Defendants filed the pending motion to dismiss. Dkt. 4.

II. DISCUSSION

Defendants move to dismiss on a variety of grounds. The Court will address ...


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