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Robinson v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority

United States District Court, District of Columbia

March 8, 2016

ANTONIO ROBINSON, Plaintiff,
v.
WASHINGTON METROPOLITAN AREA TRANSIT AUTHORITY, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

BERYL A. HOWELL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

The plaintiff, Antonio Robinson, brings this suit against his former employer, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (“WMATA” or “the defendant”), alleging constitutional and contractual injuries arising from WMATA’s decision not to restore the plaintiff to his position as a Bus Operator following his termination in December 2011. Contending that the defendant wrongfully withdrew its conditional commitment to reinstate the plaintiff without adequate process, the plaintiff claims that WMATA violated both the collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) between WMATA and the plaintiff’s union and a separate settlement agreement between WMATA and the union arising under the CBA, as well as the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Compl., ECF No. 1. Pending before the Court is the defendant’s motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s complaint, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), for failure to state a claim for which relief can be granted. Def. WMATA’s Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) Mot. Dismiss (“Def.’s Mot.”), ECF No. 5. For the reasons explained below, the defendant’s motion is granted.

I. BACKGROUND

The plaintiff was hired by WMATA as a Bus Operator in May 2008, and served in that position until December 2011. Compl. ¶¶ 7-9, 17. On November 7, 2011, while returning from his lunch break, the plaintiff was stopped by police in Maryland and arrested for allegedly driving with a suspended, out-of-state license. Id. ¶ 9. After the plaintiff was taken into custody, he was served with an arrest warrant issued by the Commonwealth of Virginia. Id. ¶ 10. The Complaint does not indicate the charge or charges for which this warrant was issued, but the plaintiff ultimately remained in the custody of the Prince George’s County police for nearly two weeks before being extradited to Virginia, where he remained in custody for an additional two weeks. Id. ¶¶ 10, 12.

The plaintiff alleges that he contacted WMATA on an unspecified date while in custody and left a voicemail message with an office manager, informing her of his delayed return to duty as a result of his arrest. Id. ¶ 11. Subsequently, while the plaintiff remained in custody, his mother twice communicated by telephone with WMATA, first on November 16, 2011, and again on November 18, 2011. Id. ¶¶ 14-15. During these conversations, the plaintiff’s mother informed WMATA management of the plaintiff’s arrest and impending extradition, as well as the plaintiff’s confusion regarding the reason for his arrest and basis for his continued detention. Id. These communications notwithstanding, on December 1, 2011, WMATA terminated the plaintiff due to: (1) his failure to return to work on November 7, 2011; (2) his failure to notify WMATA of his incarceration until November 18, 2011; (3) the resulting period during which the plaintiff was Absent Without Official Leave; and (4) the plaintiff’s violation of unspecified WMATA rules and regulations. Id. ¶ 17.

After he was terminated, the plaintiff alleges that the source of his confusion regarding his arrest became clear. On January 11, 2012, and January 18, 2012, the District of Columbia Department of Motor Vehicles and Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration issued, respectively, a clearance letter and certified copy of driver eligibility demonstrating that the plaintiff had a valid license and that his driving record was clear of any revocations or suspensions. Id. ¶ 18. Likewise, on January 24, 2012, the Commonwealth of Virginia dismissed the pending charges against the plaintiff after concluding that he was arrested and held based on a mistaken identity. Id. ¶ 19.

Nearly a year later, on January 14, 2013, the plaintiff filed a grievance through Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 689 (“the Union”), contending that his arrest in November 2011 was due to his misidentification and requesting reinstatement to his prior position as a WMATA Bus Operator. Id. ¶ 21. After WMATA identified potential adverse information arising out of a background screening linked to the plaintiff’s requested reinstatement, which the plaintiff disputed, WMATA and the Union entered into a Settlement Agreement (“the Settlement Agreement”) under which the plaintiff would be reinstated upon meeting certain conditions. Id. ¶¶ 22-24. Under the terms of this agreement, any “future dispute arising from the interpretation or implementation of the [Settlement Agreement would be] outside of the initial grievance and must be grieved separately under the terms and conditions of Section 104 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.” Compl., Ex. 1 (“Settlement Agreement”) at 2, ECF No. 1-1.

Among the conditions imposed on his reinstatement, the plaintiff was required to complete a Return-to-Duty Physical. Compl. ¶ 24.a. Although not explicitly stated in the Settlement Agreement, as an element of this physical, the plaintiff was required to obtain reports from a device, called a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (“CPAP”) machine, the plaintiff used to treat his sleep apnea. Id. ¶¶ 25-26. Unfortunately, because the plaintiff lost his medical insurance coverage following his termination in late 2011, he was unable to obtain a sleep report from his own physician without paying out-of-pocket to generate the report. Id. ¶ 26. As a result, at some point in December 2013, unbeknownst to the plaintiff, his girlfriend obtained a report from the plaintiff’s CPAP machine through a separate provider. Id. ¶ 27. This report included the plaintiff’s girlfriend’s name and date of birth, which the plaintiff later blacked-out and replaced, by hand, with his own name, employee number, and date of birth. Id. ¶ 28. According to the plaintiff, concerned that the report may be confusing, he visited the provider that generated the report “to discuss his results and what happened with his treating physician.” Id. Unfortunately, the plaintiff’s physician was unavailable and, upon recognizing that the report had been altered, a staff member of the provider refused to return the report to the plaintiff and informed the plaintiff that she would be required to submit the report to WMATA. Id.

On December 23, 2013, after learning of the altered report, WMATA informed the Union that the plaintiff “presented fraudulent/falsified medical documentation relative to the required CPAP compliance report.” Id. ¶¶ 30-31. Consequently, WMATA concluded that the plaintiff failed to complete the required Return-to-Duty Physical required by the Settlement Agreement and separately violated WMATA policies by falsifying the CPAP report. Id. ¶ 31; Compl., Ex. 2 (“Dec. 23, 2013 Letter Re: Settlement Agreement”), ECF No. 1-1. Accordingly, WMATA informed the Union that “[a]ll efforts and processes started on behalf of [the plaintiff] to ensure his timely reinstatement” were ceased. Compl., Ex. 2. Thereafter, the plaintiff attempted to provide additional evidence demonstrating that the altered CPAP report was in fact a reflection of his own sleep pattern, Compl. ¶ 32, and spoke with Union representations regarding how best to proceed, id. Following these discussions, however, the plaintiff apparently did not pursue any formal grievance challenging WMATA’s decision to rescind his reinstatement.

Instead, nearly eighteen months later, the plaintiff filed the instant action on May 18, 2015. Alleging that WMATA rescinded his proposed reinstatement “without conducting an investigation or contacting [the plaintiff] to obtain an explanation about the sequence of events, ” the plaintiff asserts that this decision violated: (1) the plaintiff’s rights under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution (“Count I”), id. ¶¶ 34-47; (2) the plaintiff’s for-cause termination protection under § 104(d) of the CBA between WMATA and the Union (“Count II”), id. ¶¶ 48-61; and, (3) the terms of the Settlement Agreement governing the plaintiff’s conditional reinstatement (“Count III”), id. ¶¶ 62-69. On July 13, 2015, the defendant moved, pursuant to Federal Rule Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), to dismiss the Complaint in its entirety, Def.’s Mot., and this motion is now ripe for consideration.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires that a complaint contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” to encourage brevity and, at the same time, “give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (ellipses in original; internal quotations and citations omitted); Tellabs, Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights, Ltd., 551 U.S. 308, 319 (2007). The Supreme Court has cautioned that although “Rule 8 marks a notable and generous departure from the hyper-technical, code-pleading regime of a prior era . . . it does not unlock the doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009).

To survive a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the “‘complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’” Wood v. Moss, __ U.S. __, 134 S.Ct. 2056, 2067 (2014) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). A claim is facially plausible when the plaintiff pleads factual content that is more than “‘merely consistent with’ a defendant’s liability, ” but allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556-57); see also Rudder v. Williams, 666 F.3d 790, 794 (D.C. Cir. 2012). Although “detailed factual allegations” are not required to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a complaint must offer “more than labels and conclusions” or “formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action” to provide “grounds” of “entitle[ment] to relief, ” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (alteration in original), and “nudge[] [the] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible, ” id. at 570. Thus, “a complaint [does not] suffice if it tenders ‘naked assertion[s]’ devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.’” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557) (second alteration in the original).

In considering a motion to dismiss for failure to plead a claim on which relief can be granted, the court must consider the complaint in its entirety, accepting all factual allegations in the complaint as true, even if doubtful in fact. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; Harris v. D.C. Water and Sewer Auth., 791 F.3d 65, 68 (D.C. Cir. 2015) (in considering Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the “court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint” and “draw the reasonable inference” therefrom “that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged, ” but that tenet “is inapplicable to legal conclusions, ” and “threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice” (internal quotations and citations omitted)).

III. DISCUSSION

In the present motion, WMATA asserts alternative grounds for dismissing each of the plaintiff’s claims. First, WMATA argues that the plaintiff failed to file his claim within the six-month limitations period set out under § 10(b) of the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”), 29 U.S.C. § 160, and asserts that the Complaint must be dismissed entirely as untimely filed. Def.’s Mem. Supp. Def.’s Mot. (“Def.’s Mem.”) at 3-5. Alternatively, WMATA asserts separate grounds for dismissing each count of the Complaint. Specifically, WMATA contends that the plaintiff’s constitutional claim should be dismissed because the plaintiff failed to take advantage of the comprehensive grievance procedure outlined in the CBA between WMATA and the Union and, therefore, has failed to allege sufficient facts to demonstrate that WMATA’s decision to rescind the plaintiff’s reinstatement constituted a violation of the Due Process Clause. Id. at 5-7. Further, WMATA argues that the plaintiff’s breach-of-contract claims must be dismissed because ...


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