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Lucas v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

September 30, 2015

ALLAN EARL LUCAS, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

THOMAS F. HOGAN, Senior District Judge.

Allan Earl Lucas, Jr. (the "plaintiff") commenced this federal lawsuit against the District of Columbia (the "defendant") to recover money damages for lost earnings and retirement benefits stemming from the Metropolitan Police Department's alleged failure - nearly 43 years ago - to treat his induction into the United States Marine Corps as a military furlough and to reemploy him upon his discharge from military service. After careful consideration, and for the reasons that follow, the Court concludes that the plaintiff's lawsuit must be dismissed without prejudice because all claims asserted in the First Amended Complaint are preempted by the Comprehensive Merit Personnel Act ("CMPA") and the plaintiff has not exhausted his administrative remedies pursuant to that Act.

BACKGROUND

The plaintiff alleges that he was employed by the Metropolitan Police Department for about seven months from 1972 to 1973 before resigning to serve in the United States Marine Corps during the Vietnam Conflict. First Am. Compl. ¶¶ 4-6 [ECF No. 34]. According to the plaintiff, when he resigned from the Metropolitan Police Department, he received no separation counseling or other information about his employment rights, and he was never advised about his eligibility for a military furlough or the effect his resignation might have on future reemployment rights or benefits. First Am. Compl. ¶¶ 6, 7, 32. The plaintiff served in the Marine Corps until he was honorably discharged with a disability in 1978. First Am. Compl. ¶ 9.

After being discharged, the plaintiff immediately wrote to the Metropolitan Police Department to request reinstatement to his prior position but his request was denied after he was advised that the Department had no record of his employment. First Am. Compl. ¶¶ 10, 11. In 1982, however, the plaintiff was again employed by the Metropolitan Police Department, albeit the plaintiff contends that he was hired on a probationary status at a lower salary than he would have qualified for if his prior Department and military service had been properly credited. First Am. Compl. ¶ 13. In addition, the plaintiff claims that his retirement benefits were improperly administered under the District retirement plan rather than the federal retirement plan he was entitled to if (1) he had been granted a military furlough when he first left the Metropolitan Police Department and (2) he had been reinstated to a position within the Department when his military service concluded. First Am. Compl. ¶ 13, 21.

The plaintiff remained employed by the Metropolitan Police Department until 1993, when he began working as a Corrections Officer at the District of Columbia Department of Corrections. First Am. Compl. ¶¶ 14, 16. For reasons that are not explained in the plaintiff's First Amended Complaint, the plaintiff was reinstated to the Federal Civil Service Law Enforcement retirement system in 1994. First Am. Compl. ¶ 15. The plaintiff ultimately retired from the Department of Corrections in 2005 and he claims that was when he discovered that his prior employment with the Metropolitan Police Department had been "recorded" by the Department of Human Resources and Office of Personnel Management, contrary to what the Metropolitan Police Department told him in 1978. First Am. Compl. ¶ 16. "As a result, his OPM total service computation sheet appeared to have been corrected' to reflect his initial employment with [the Metropolitan Police Department]...." First Am. Compl. ¶ 16.

The Department of Human Resources approved the plaintiff's retirement benefits in 2005 and the plaintiff asserts that "[i]t was at this time that his total service computation sheet was changed to reflect the action of a military furlough...." First Am. Compl. ¶ 17. Consequently, by May of 2005, it appeared to the plaintiff that the errors in the computation of his retirement benefits had been corrected. First Am. Compl. ¶ 18. The plaintiff claims, however, that his retirement benefits were calculated using his "accrued federal service of 29 years, 8 months, 2 days and a monthly annuity of $2, 281.46, " which "did not reflect the higher salary and title he was entitled to had the original mistake not been made in 1978[.]" First Am. Compl. ¶ 19. The plaintiff further complains that "interim years of employment that should have been included under the federal system had he been properly restored in 1978" were not accounted for in the calculation of his retirement benefits, id., so he did not receive credit for "his actual 33 years of service, " First Am. Compl. ¶ 20. The plaintiff also was subjected to four probationary periods of employment that he asserts "unnecessarily decreased the salary [he] was earning at the time of his retirement in 2005." First Am. Compl. ¶ 20; see also id. ¶ 21.

On February 3, 2007, the plaintiff was notified by an official at the Office of Personnel Management[1] that 22 years of his "previously credited" federal service would not be eligible for annuity payments unless the plaintiff paid $55, 419 into the federal Civil Service Retirement System. First Am. Compl. ¶ 22. According to the plaintiff, "[h]e was also told that his military service time should have been re-deposited and paid for before retiring, and that at 65-years of age, it would be deducted." First Am. Compl. ¶ 22. The plaintiff asserts that "[t]his was [his] first indication that an error had possibly occurred when calculating his federal benefits." First Am. Compl. ¶ 22. Nearly a week after receiving the letter from the Office of Personnel Management, the plaintiff received another letter stating that he owed $5, 955.87 as a result of overpayments that were made to him after his retirement in 2005. First Am. Compl. ¶ 23. The Office of Personnel Management informed the plaintiff that $165.00 would be withheld from his monthly annuity until the overpayment was recouped. First Am. Compl. ¶ 24. In response to the letters, the plaintiff requested that an investigation be conducted. First Am. Compl. ¶ 24. The plaintiff claims, however, that "[h]e received no further contact from OPM, except to state that his retirement was under law enforcement from the DC government." First Am. Compl. ¶ 24.

The plaintiff subsequently contacted the Office of Personnel Management and the "D.C. Retirement Information Office"[2] about 52 times from 2007 to 2010 before finally receiving a "response"[3] from the District of Columbia Police and Firefighter Retirement Relief Board that acknowledged his "grievance." First Am. Compl. ¶ 27. On August 18, 2010, the plaintiff met with a Chief Personnel Specialist for the District's Office of Personnel, a Human Resource Specialist for the Metropolitan Police Department, and a District attorney who represented the Police and Firemen's Retirement Relief Board. First Am. Compl. ¶ 28. According to the plaintiff, during that meeting the officials "acknowledged" that the plaintiff had not received proper separation counseling from the Metropolitan Police Department, that he left the Department to serve in the military and was eligible for a military furlough, and that he should have been reemployed by the Department upon his discharge from the military.[4] First Am. Compl. ¶ 28. Despite these acknowledgments, the plaintiff alleges that, in October 2012, the "defendants... refused to give [the plaintiff] his proper benefits." First Am. Compl. ¶ 29.

PROCEDURAL POSTURE

The plaintiff originally filed a Complaint against the District of Columbia, the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department, the District of Columbia Police and Firefighter Retirement Relief Board, and the District of Columbia Department of Human Resources. Complaint 2 [ECF No. 1]. The Complaint set forth the following five causes of action: (1) breach of contract based on alleged violations of Chapter 8, Subparts 12.2 and 13.1, of a District Personnel Manual that the plaintiff asserts applied to him when he was employed by the MPD from 1972 to 1973, Complaint ¶¶ 33, 34, 35; (2) negligence for failure to maintain records of the plaintiff's employment, properly calculate the plaintiff's retirement benefits, and correct calculation errors, Complaint ¶¶ 40, 41, 42; (3) entitlement to back pay and attorney's fees pursuant to the Back Pay Act, 5 U.S.C. § 5596, based on the plaintiff's allegation that he "was the recipient of an unjustified and unwarranted personnel action [that] has resulted in the withdrawal and reduction of his pay, allowances, and benefits, " Complaint ¶¶ 45, 46; (4) entitlement to compensation for loss of wages and benefits pursuant to the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, 38 U.S.C. § 4301 et seq., for the District's failure to reemploy the plaintiff after he was honorably discharged from the military in 1978, Complaint ¶¶ 49, 50, 51, 52, 53; and (5) entitlement to liquidated damages pursuant to the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, 38 U.S.C. § 4323(d), on the ground that the District's alleged acts or omissions involved a willful deprivation of the plaintiff's "reemployment rights, " Complaint ¶¶ 55, 56, 57.

The District of Columbia, the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department, the District of Columbia Police and Firefighter Retirement Relief Board, and the District of Columbia Department of Human Resources moved to dismiss the Complaint, which the plaintiff opposed. The Court held a public hearing at which it entertained arguments, dismissed the Complaint against the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department, the District of Columbia Police and Firefighter Retirement Relief Board, and the District of Columbia Department of Human Resources, dismissed the causes of action invoking the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (i.e., Counts IV and V of the Complaint), granted the plaintiff leave to amend the complaint to assert a cause of action pursuant to the Vietnam Veterans Reemployment Rights Act, and ordered further briefing about whether the discovery rule applied to determine when the plaintiff's causes of action first accrued pursuant to the factors set forth in Woodruff v. McConkey, 524 A.2d 722, 727-28 (D.C. 1987), whether the Back Pay Act applied and provided an independent source of relief and, finally, whether the CMPA preempted the plaintiff's claims and required administrative exhaustion. The plaintiff subsequently filed the First Amended Complaint [ECF No. 34], which replaced the prior Counts IV and V with a new Count IV alleging entitlement to compensation for lost wages and benefits pursuant to the Veterans Reemployment Rights Act.

The First Amended Complaint is now the subject of the pending Defendant District of Columbia's Renewed Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 36], which argues that either dismissal or summary judgment is warranted with respect to all causes of action because the plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as required by the CMPA, all causes of action are barred by the applicable statutes of limitations, laches applies because the plaintiff knew or should have known that his claims accrued no later than 1994, the plaintiff had no employment reinstatement rights, the plaintiff failed to comply with D.C. Code § 12-309, and the plaintiff failed to join an indispensable party. Def. District of Columbia's Renewed Mot. to Dismiss or, In the Alternative, Mot. for Summ. J. 2-3 [ECF No. 36] (hereinafter cited as "Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss"). The defendant argues in the alternative that summary judgment should be granted in its favor with respect to each of the plaintiff's claims. Def. District of Columbia's Mem. of P. & A. In Support of Renewed Mot. to Dismiss or, in ...


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