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Jones v. Castro

United States District Court, District of Columbia

August 11, 2016

JERRY W. JONES, Plaintiff
v.
JULIAN CASTRO, Defendant

          MEMORANDUM OPINION and ORDER

          COLLEEN KOLLAR-KOTELLY United States District Judge

         In this case brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, Plaintiff Jerry Jones asserts retaliation and discrimination claims regarding actions of his employer, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”). Before the Court is Plaintiff’s [24] Motion for Leave to Amend Complaint. Previously, the Court granted in part and denied in part Defendant’s [10] Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. The Court granted the motion with respect to Plaintiff’s retaliation claim and dismissed that claim with prejudice. The Court also granted the motion with respect to Plaintiff’s discrimination claims insofar as they were based on adverse actions other than the five-day suspension and reassignment of Plaintiff by HUD.[1] The Court otherwise denied the motion. After the Court resolved that motion but before the Court held an Initial Scheduling Conference and set a period for discovery, Plaintiff moved to amend the complaint. Through that motion, Plaintiff seeks to (a) add a new retaliation claim based on an alleged conspiracy to coerce him to retire and (b) add additional allegations in support of the retaliation claim that the Court previously dismissed with prejudice. It is that motion that is now before the Court. Upon consideration of the pleadings, [2] the relevant legal authorities, and the record for purposes of this motion, the Court DENIES Plaintiff’s [24] Motion for Leave to Amend Complaint. For the reasons stated below, the Court concludes that the proposed amendment is futile, and therefore, the Court denies the motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The pertinent background of this case, including the statutory and regulatory framework, the factual background, and the procedural background, were laid out previously by this Court in Jones v. Castro, No. CV 15-310 (CKK), 2016 WL 777917, at *1-*5 (D.D.C. Feb. 29, 2016). There is no need to do so here once again, and the Court reserves further presentation of the relevant background for the discussion below.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b) provides that “any order ... that adjudicates fewer than all the claims or the rights and liabilities of fewer than all the parties ... may be revised at any time before the entry of a judgment adjudicating all the claims and all the parties' rights and liabilities.” A motion to reconsider brought under Rule 54(b) may be granted “as justice requires.” Singh v. George Wash. Univ., 383 F.Supp.2d 99, 101 (D.D.C. 2005) (quoting Cobell v. Norton, 224 F.R.D. 266, 272 (D.D.C. 2004)).

         Under the “as justice requires standard, ” it is appropriate to grant a Rule 54(b) motion “when the Court has patently misunderstood a party, has made a decision outside the adversarial issues presented to the Court by the parties, [or] has made an error not of reasoning but of apprehension.” Lemmons v. Georgetown Univ. Hosp., 241 F.R.D. 15, 22 (D.D.C. 2007) (quoting Singh, 383 F.Supp.2d at 101). “Errors of apprehension may include the Court's failure to consider controlling decisions or data that might reasonably be expected to alter the conclusion reached by the Court.” Id. (internal formatting omitted). The Court has broad discretion to consider whether relief is “necessary under the relevant circumstances.” Lewis v. District of Columbia, 736 F.Supp.2d 98, 102 (D.D.C. 2010) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Furthermore, under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a party may amend its pleadings once as a matter of course within a prescribed time period. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(1).

         Where, as here, a party seeks to amend its pleadings outside that time period, it may do so only with the opposing party's written consent or the district court’s leave. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(2). The decision whether to grant leave to amend a complaint is entrusted to the sound discretion of the district court, but leave “should be freely given unless there is a good reason, such as futility, to the contrary.” Willoughby v. Potomac Elec. Power Co., 100 F.3d 999, 1003 (D.C. Cir. 1996), cert. denied, 520 U.S. 1197 (1997). As the Supreme Court has observed:

If the underlying facts or circumstances relied upon by a plaintiff may be a proper subject of relief, he ought to be afforded an opportunity to test his claim on the merits. In the absence of any apparent or declared reason-such as undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive on the part of the movant, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, undue prejudice to the opposing party by virtue of allowance of the amendment, futility of amendment, etc.-the leave sought should, as the rules require, be “freely given.”

Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962). “[A] district court has discretion to deny a motion to amend on grounds of futility where the proposed pleading would not survive a motion to dismiss.” Nat’l Wrestling Coaches Ass’n v. Dep’t of Educ., 366 F.3d 930, 945 (D.C. Cir. 2004), cert. denied, 545 U.S. 1104 (2005). Review for futility is practically “identical to review of a Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal based on the allegations in the amended complaint.” In re Interbank Funding Corp. Secs. Litig., 629 F.3d 213, 215-16 (D.C. Cir. 2010) (quotation marks omitted). Because leave to amend should be liberally granted, the party opposing amendment bears the burden of coming forward with a colorable basis for denying leave to amend. Abdullah v. Washington, 530 F.Supp.2d 112, 115 (D.D.C. 2008).

         III. DISCUSSION

         The original Complaint in this case included a retaliation claim through which Plaintiff claimed that a variety of actions taken by HUD constituted retaliation for Plaintiff’s previous protected Equal Employment Opportunity (“EEO”) activity. Complaint (“Compl.”), ECF No. 1, ¶¶ 113-121. The Court dismissed the retaliation claim in its entirety with prejudice. The Court concluded that none of the agency actions that were the purported basis for that claim other than Plaintiff’s five-day suspension and reassignment qualified as materially adverse actions that qualified legally as bases for a retaliation claim. Jones, 2016 WL 777917, at *9. The Court further concluded that, insofar as the retaliation claim was based on the five-day suspension and reassignment, the Complaint failed to state a retaliation claim because “Plaintiff ha[d] not plausibly alleged that retaliation for his protected activity was the but-for cause of his suspension and reassignment.” Id. at *12. As noted above, through the proposed amended complaint, Plaintiff now seeks (a) to add a new retaliation claim based on an alleged conspiracy to coerce him to retire and (b) to add additional allegations in support of the retaliation claim that the Court previously dismissed with prejudice, specifically with regard to the five-day suspension and reassignment.

         Although both of these proposed changes relate in some fashion to Plaintiff’s allegations regarding a purported conspiracy to coerce him to retire, they raise distinct issues. Therefore, the Court first addresses the new retaliation claim that Plaintiff seeks to add to the operative complaint. The Court then addresses Plaintiff’s request to add new allegations in support of the previously-dismissed claim for retaliation, which Plaintiff seeks to have reinstated with regard to the five-day suspension and reassignment.

         A. Proposed Additional Retaliation Claim

         Plaintiff seeks to add a wholly new retaliation claim based on an alleged conspiracy by members of HUD’s Office of General Counsel to coerce Plaintiff into retiring prior to Hoban-Moore’s decision regarding the disciplinary proceeding as to Plaintiff. Defendant argues that the alleged retirement conspiracy does not qualify as a materially adverse action that could serve as proper basis for a retaliation claim. The Court agrees.[3]

         As explained by the Court in resolving Defendant’s Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, “[t]o prove unlawful retaliation, a plaintiff must show: (1) that he opposed a practice made unlawful by Title VII; (2) that the employer took a materially adverse action against him; and (3) that the employer took the action ‘because’ the employee opposed the practice.” McGrath v. Clinton,666 F.3d 1377, 1380 (D.C. Cir. 2012). “Materially adverse action would ‘dissuade[ ] a reasonable worker from making or supporting a charge of discrimination.’ ” Bridgeforth v. Jewell, 721 F.3d 661, 663 (D.C. Cir. 2013) (quoting Burlington N. & Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. White, 548 U.S. 53, 58 (2006)) (emphasis added). “To be materially adverse, the ...


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