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Grant v. Department of Treasury

United States District Court, District of Columbia

June 16, 2016

DEPARTMENT OF TREASURY, et al., Defendants.


          ROSEMARY M. COLLYER United States District Judge

         Aaron Grant worked as a Special Agent in the Criminal Investigation Unit of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) until his removal for alleged misconduct on January 30, 2013. Mr. Grant appealed his removal and the agency’s final decision to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). An administrative judge upheld Mr. Grant’s removal and MSPB, in turn, affirmed the administrative judge’s decision. Thereafter, Mr. Grant, proceeding pro se, brought this action complaining generally about his removal, discrimination, and retaliation, as well as seeking judicial review of procedural improprieties during the administrative process. He sues Jacob J. Lew in his official capacity as Secretary of the Department of Treasury, MSPB, and the MSPB Chairman, Susan Tsui Grundmann. See Am. Compl. [Dkt. 7].

         Defendants moved to dismiss MSPB and its Chairman from the instant case as improper defendants. See Mot. to Dismiss [Dkt. 12] (MTD). Mr. Grant filed a timely opposition, see Opp’n [Dkt. 15], to which Defendants replied, see Reply [Dkt. 16]. For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss MSPB and its Chairman. The case shall proceed against Secretary Lew of the Department of Treasury.

         I. FACTS

         Mr. Grant asserts various claims arising from his removal from the IRS, which became effective on January 30, 2013. Mr. Grant first filed a Complaint on June 26, 2015, which the Court dismissed without prejudice on the basis that it failed to set forth a short and plain statement of his claims as required by Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See 10/1/15 Order [Dkt. 6]. Mr. Grant filed an Amended Complaint on November 2, 2015 against Defendants. Cognizant of the fact that Mr. Grant is proceeding pro se and he had made an effort to organize the Amended Complaint and provide somewhat detailed allegations, this Court denied Defendants’ second Motion to Strike the Amended Complaint under Rule 8 and ordered Defendants to respond to it. See 11/24/15 Minute Order; see also Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972) (noting that pleadings by pro se litigants are held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers). Treasury filed an Answer to the Amended Complaint, while MSPB and its Chairman moved to dismiss the claims against them.

         It is still not clear from the Amended Complaint what the circumstances were that gave rise to Mr. Grant’s removal. Also, it is not entirely clear which statutes Mr. Grant is invoking to assert his claims and whether he is asserting all claims against all Defendants. Mr. Grant utilizes broad terms such as disability, discrimination, retaliation, due process, harmful procedural error, suppression of evidence, and framing of charges. See generally Am. Compl. Defendants construe Mr. Grant’s allegations broadly and argue that, regardless of the claims being asserted, MSPB and its Chairman are not proper defendants in the instant case. The Court agrees.

         Defendants have offered some context to Mr. Grant’s Amended Complaint by including the Administrative Judge’s Initial Decision, Treasury’s Final Agency Decision, and MSPB’s Final Order as exhibits to their Motion to Dismiss. See MTD, Exs. A-C. These documents show that Mr. Grant was removed from his job because, according to Treasury, Mr. Grant: (1) grabbed the ponytail of a co-worker, Special Agent Tara Reed, pushed her against a wall, and kissed her against her will; (2) wore a firearm while consuming alcohol; (3) drove an official vehicle after consuming alcohol; (4) displayed nude photographs of women on his cellphone to a government attorney; and (5) failed to report a collision while driving an official vehicle. Id., Ex. A [Dkt. 12-1] at 2 (Initial Decision). On October 8, 2010, Treasury proposed Mr. Grant’s removal in light of these allegations. Mr. Grant responded in writing to the proposed removal, but Treasury sustained the removal effective December 10, 2010. See id.

         Mr. Grant appealed the agency’s decision to MSPB alleging, among other things, discrimination. The Administrative Judge held a two-day hearing and, on December 15, 2011, sustained the agency’s reasons and upheld the removal. See Id. at 3. On appeal, MSPB issued a Final Order on August 1, 2012 rejecting Mr. Grant’s allegations of discrimination, but reversing his removal on the basis that the proposing and deciding Treasury official violated Mr. Grant’s due process rights by engaging in ex parte communications during a reply period. Id.

         In light of MSPB’s Order, Treasury reinstated Mr. Grant to his position in September 2012. Upon his return, Supervisory Special Agent Troy Burrus and Special Agent in Charge Rick Raven told Mr. Grant that he was likely going to face new disciplinary action based on information in Treasury’s Report of Investigation in 2010. See Id. In response, Mr. Grant filed an equal employment opportunity (EEO) complaint alleging discrimination and retaliation by agency officials. On December 7, 2012, Treasury proposed again Mr. Grant’s removal and, while Mr. Grant filed a written response to the proposed removal, it was sustained by Treasury effective January 30, 2013. Id. at 3-4.

         On February 13, 2013, Mr. Grant filed a second EEO complaint alleging discrimination and retaliation. Treasury rejected these allegations in its Final Agency Decision. See MTD, Ex. B [Dkt. 12-2] (Final Agency Decision). On December 11, 2013, Mr. Grant appealed his removal and Treasury’s Final Agency Decision. Mr. Grant’s appeal alleged, among other things, that the agency: (1) failed to prove misconduct by a preponderance of the evidence; (2) violated his due process rights; (3) retaliated against him for prior protected activity; and (4) discriminated against him on the basis of his disability (alcohol dependency), race, and gender. See Initial Decision at 5. The Administrative Judge upheld the removal and rejected Mr. Grant’s claims. Id. at 51. On May 27, 2015, MSPB affirmed the judge’s decision, but ordered the judge to “clarify the . . . analysis that [Mr. Grant] failed to prove his due process claims.” MTD, Ex. C [Dkt. 12-3] at 2 (Final Order).[1] MSPB’s Final Order notified Mr. Grant that if he did not request the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to review the final decision, he could file a civil action with “the district court no later than 30 calendar days after [Mr. Grant’s] receipt of this order.” Id. at 19-20.[2]

         Mr. Grant brought the instant lawsuit against Secretary Lew of the Department of Treasury, MSPB, and Chairman Susan Tuis Grundmann. Mr. Grant complains about his removal from Treasury and the processing of his employment grievances. He seeks to be reinstated to his former position as a Criminal Investigator, as well as back pay. See Am. Compl. ¶ 67.


         A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) challenges the adequacy of a complaint on its face. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). A complaint must be sufficient “to give a defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal citations omitted). Although a complaint does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief “requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Id. A court must treat the complaint’s factual allegations as true, “even if doubtful in fact, ” id., but a court need not accept as true legal conclusions set forth in a complaint, see Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim for relief that is “plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. A complaint must allege sufficient facts that would allow the court “to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79. In deciding a motion under Rule 12(b)(6), a court may consider the facts alleged in the complaint, documents attached to the complaint as exhibits or incorporated by reference, and matters about which the court may take judicial notice. See Abhe, 508 F.3d at 1059.

         III. ...

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