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Duncan v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority

United States District Court, District of Columbia

March 31, 2016

JAMES DUNCAN, Plaintiff,
v.
WASHINGTON METROPOLITAN AREA TRANSIT AUTHORITY, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

RANDOLPH D. MOSS, United States District Judge

James Duncan worked for 25 years as a detective for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (“WMATA”). In 2011, Duncan claims, he was instructed to stop investigating a death at the Farragut North Metro station. On August 13, 2012, over a year later, Duncan was questioned in connection with an investigation into whether he had falsified information on unrelated incident reports. Shortly thereafter, he filed a complaint with WMATA’s inspector general regarding the 2011 investigation, alleging that he had been instructed to “cover up” a potential homicide. Ten days later, after having been formally told he was under investigation and having been stripped of his badge and gun, Duncan retired. He then brought an administrative claim under the National Transit Systems Security Act of 2007 (“NTSSA”), alleging that he had been retaliated against for filing a complaint with the inspector general. When the Department of Labor (“DOL”) failed to act on Duncan’s retaliation claim in a timely manner, Duncan brought this suit, raising the same allegation. The matter is before the Court on WMATA’s motion for summary judgment. Dkt. 15. For the following reasons, the Court will grant WMATA’s motion.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Background and 2011 Investigation

James Duncan worked for approximately 25 years as a detective for WMATA’s Metro Transit Police Department (“MTPD”). Dkt. 15-1 at 1 (Def.’s Mot. Summ. J. (“MSJ”), Ex. 1, at 1). On January 15, 2011, Duncan was assigned to investigate a death reported at the Farragut North Metro station. Id. According to an affidavit submitted by Duncan’s partner, Alanna Watkins, a Metro customer had noticed a body lying on the tracks. Dkt. 18-1 at 8 (Pl.’s Opp., Ex. 2, ¶ 4) (“Watkins Aff.”). By identifying the decedent and determining the time he had entered the Metrorail system, Duncan and Watkins were able to obtain digital video of the time period between the decedent’s exit from the last passenger Metro train (around 3 a.m.) and the discovery of his body. Id. (Watkins Aff. ¶¶ 5–6). On viewing the video, the detectives noticed that the decedent had left the train accompanied by a second person. Id. (Watkins Aff. ¶ 6). One train operator said that he observed the decedent “help[ing] an intoxicated individual off the train” at Farragut North. Id. (Watkins Aff. ¶ 7). The detectives concluded that the decedent had likely been hit by a train run for WMATA employees. Id. at 8–9 (Watkins Aff. ¶ 10). The video appeared to show the second person “behaving oddly” after this train entered Farragut North, “pacing back and forth and appearing to use a cellular phone.” Id. at 9 (Watkins Aff. ¶ 14). But the video quality was too low to identify the second person. Id. (Watkins Aff. ¶ 13).

Duncan and Watkins sought to continue the investigation. Id. at 8 (Watkins Aff. ¶¶ 8–9). But their supervisors denied permission, stating that they were “concerned about overtime costs.” Id. (Watkins Aff. ¶ 9). Watkins sent the video clips to the U.S. Secret Service for enhancement, but their efforts were unsuccessful. Id. at 9 (Watkins Aff. ¶ 16). Watkins and Duncan reached out to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia to see if there was anything else they could do, but they were told the death would be deemed an accident or suicide absent clear evidence of homicide. Id. (Watkins Aff. ¶ 15); see Dkt. 15-3 at 2 (Def.’s MSJ, Ex. 3, at 9) (“Investigation Report”). In May 2011, at the behest of the decedent’s family, several family members viewed portions of the video clips. See Dkt. 18-1 at 9 (Watkins Aff. ¶ 17); see also Id. at 12, 15 (Pl.’s Opp., Ex. 3) (affidavits of decedent’s relatives). The family members attested that the images on the clips were “far away and vague, ” Dkt. 18-1 at 12 (Pl.’s Opp, Ex. 3), and Duncan contends that the video was altered, see Dkt. 18 at 10. It does not appear that the family members were shown the part of the tapes that captured the second person “pacing back and forth.” Dkt. 18-1 at 9 (Watkins Aff. ¶ 17).

B. 2012 Investigation and Resignation

The present action arises out of a routine review of WMATA investigative matters in the summer of 2012. According to WMATA, on or about June 12, 2012, WMATA officer Vernon Clayton reviewed a case that Duncan had submitted for suspension. Dkt. 15-5 at 1 (Def.’s MSJ, Ex. 5, at 1) (“Clayton Memo”). Clayton asserts that, upon reviewing the file, he noticed that it bore certain similarities to a case assigned to another officer, and he asked that officer to follow up with the victim in Duncan’s case. Id. When the second officer contacted the victim, she told him that-contrary to what Duncan had written in his incident report-she had never spoken to Duncan or any other WMATA detective. Id. In response to this discrepancy, Kevin Gaddis, who at the time was responsible for investigating police misconduct as the head of the MTPD’s Office of Professional Responsibility and Investigations (“OPRI”), directed Clayton and several other officers to audit Duncan’s prior incident reports. Dkt. 15-8 at 1–2 (Def.’s MSJ, Ex. 8, ¶¶ 1, 3–4) (“Gaddis Aff.”). According to Gaddis, the officers under his direction contacted 100 victims purportedly contacted by Duncan in prior investigations; of those witnesses, ten stated that they had never been contacted by Duncan. Id. at 2 (Gaddis Aff. ¶ 5).

On August 13, 2012, Gaddis asked Duncan to meet with him in his office. Gaddis says that he “questioned [Duncan] on his understanding of the procedures of writing and completing [incident reports], ” id. (Gaddis Aff. ¶ 6); see Dkt. 15 at 20 (Def.’s Statement of Material Facts ¶ 17), and Duncan does not dispute that characterization of the meeting, see Dkt. 18 at 25 (Pl.’s Statement of Material Facts ¶ 17). In an affidavit submitted to the DOL, Gaddis also stated that Duncan specifically discussed the manner in which he contacted victims in the incident reports that he prepared. See Dkt. 18-1 at 38 (Pl.’s Opp, Ex. 11, ¶ 9); see also Id. at 57 (Pl.’s Opp., Ex. 16, at 1) (Duncan stating that he was “instructed by Captain Gaddis . . . that they were making inquiries on the method of [preparing incident reports]”). Shortly after his meeting with Gaddis, Duncan went to WMATA’s Office of Inspector General (“OIG”), where he reported that he had been told to “cover up” a potential homicide in early 2011. Dkt. 18-1 at 24 (Pl.’s Opp, Ex. 6, at 4). The timing of this meeting is not clear from the record. Duncan claims that he met with an OIG employee on August 13, 2012, the same day as his first meeting with Gaddis. Id.; Dkt. 15-2 at 5; Compl. ¶ 47. An affidavit submitted to the DOL by an OIG official, however, states that this meeting did not occur until August 15, 2012, after the events described below had already taken place. Dkt. 18-1 at 28 (Pl.’s Opp., Ex. 7, ¶ 4); see also id. at 21 (Pl.’s Opp., Ex. 5). In any event, the parties agree that the meeting took place after Duncan’s first meeting with Gaddis.

Gaddis officially informed Duncan on August 14, 2012, that WMATA was investigating him for falsifying incident reports. See Dkt. 15-8 at 2 (Gaddis Aff. ¶ 8). On August 21, 2012, Gaddis met with Duncan again, and, at that time, he informed Duncan that he had identified ten cases in which Duncan appeared to have falsified statements in incident reports. See Id. (Gaddis Aff. ¶ 9). During this meeting, at Gaddis’s direction, Clayton confiscated Duncan’s gun, badge, and official credentials, which Gaddis attests is “the standard procedure for a serious misconduct investigation.” Id. at 2–3 (Gaddis Aff. ¶ 10). Duncan emailed the acting chief of the MTPD to submit his resignation the following day. See Dkt. 15-7 at 1 (Def.’s MSJ, Ex. 7). He submitted a formal resignation letter on August 24, 2012. Id.

C. Prior Proceedings

On January 2, 2013, Duncan, then represented by counsel, submitted a complaint to DOL under the NTSSA. See Dkt. 15-1 at 1 (D’s MSJ, Ex. 3, at 1). Duncan argued that he had been the subject of unlawful retaliation. Id. He claimed that he had “voice[d] concerns regarding a cover-up of a homicide to his supervisors and the [OIG], ” and, in turn, had been “forced to retire.” Id. Because DOL did not issue a final decision on Duncan’s complaint within 210 days, see 6 U.S.C. § 1142(c)(7), he filed this action on February 17, 2014, raising substantially the same claims. Dkt.1 (Compl.). In May 2014, DOL finally issued a decision regarding Duncan’s complaint. Dkt. 15-1 (Def.’s MSJ, Ex. 1). It concluded that (1) Duncan had not engaged in protected activity under the NTSSA, because he should have reported the alleged cover-up to the FBI or the U.S. Attorney’s Office, rather than WMATA; and (2) Duncan had not suffered an adverse employment action, because he voluntarily resigned from WMATA. Id. at 3 (Def.’s MSJ, Ex. 1, at 3).

This matter is before the Court on WMATA’s motion for summary judgment. Dkt. 15. In April and May 2015, shortly after WMATA filed its motion, Duncan’s attorneys applied for and were granted permission to withdraw, leaving Duncan to proceed pro se in this matter. Apr. 30, 2015 Minute Order; May 18, 2015 Minute Order. Although the Court granted Duncan a 60- day period in which to obtain new counsel, Duncan did ...


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