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Barryman-Turner v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

February 3, 2017

KAREN BERRYMAN-TURNER, [1] Plaintiff,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant. Berryman-Turner First Amended Complaint Lightfoot Third Amended Complaint

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          RANDOLPH D. MOSS United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Karen Berryman-Turner, a former employee of the D.C. Department of Corrections, alleges that the D.C. Department of Employee Services terminated her disability compensation benefits without adhering to the requirements of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment and District of Columbia law. The Court granted in part the District's motion to dismiss the original complaint, see Barryman-Turner v. District of Columbia, 115 F.Supp.3d 126 (D.D.C. 2015), and Berryman-Turner subsequently filed a seven-count amended complaint, see Dkt. 10. The first five counts assert constitutional claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Dkt. 10 ¶¶ 28-44. The sixth alleges that the District violated subsections 1-623.24(b) and (d) of the D.C. Code by requiring Berryman-Turner to seek reconsideration of the order terminating her benefits before allowing her to request an administrative hearing. Dkt. 10 ¶ 46. And the seventh count alleges that Berryman-Turner is or will be entitled to future damages “if a work related injury worsens.” Dkt. 10 ¶¶ 47-49.

         The matter is now before the Court on the District's Motion to Dismiss and for Summary Judgment. See Dkt. 11. That motion argues (1) that counts one, three, four, and five are barred by res judicata; (2) that Berryman-Turner is barred from seeking damages for the violation of D.C. law alleged in count six under the law-of-the-case doctrine; (3) that Berryman-Turner lacks standing to assert the claims for injunctive and declaratory relief raised in count seven; and (4) that Berryman-Turner was afforded all the process she was due in the revocation of her benefits. Id. at 1. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will GRANT the District's Motion to Dismiss and for Summary Judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The relevant factual background of this case is undisputed. Karen Berryman-Turner worked as a correctional officer for the D.C. Department of Corrections. Dkt. 10 at 2, ¶¶ 4-5. During the course of her employment, she suffered two injuries to her head. On March 3, 1996, while she was lowering a bucket to a co-worker, a strong gust of wind caused a metal crank to swing at her head, knocking her unconscious. Dkt. 11-4 at 1. Shortly after she returned to work from that injury, her supervisor, who did not realize that Berryman-Turner was behind him, slammed a door in her face, causing her to suffer a concussion. Id.; Dkt. 11-3 at 3.

         Berryman-Turner received disability compensation benefits from the District for both injuries. Dkt. 10 at 6-7, ¶¶ 25-26. On April 15, 2003, however, the District notified her of its intent to terminate her medical benefits effective May 17, 2003. Id. at 7, ¶ 27. The District's decision was based on two independent medical reports-an independent medical examination report dated December 9, 2002, in which Robert A. Smith M.D. opined that “Ms. Berryman- Turner could return to work on a full duty basis, ” and a second IME report dated April 2, 2003, in which A. Jerry Friedman, M.D. opined that “Ms. Berryman-Turner is able to return to work without limitations or restrictions.” Dkt. 11-2 at 1. The District's notice also informed Berryman-Turner of her right either to request reconsideration or to appeal the decision to the Department of Employment Services (“DOES”). Id. The notice provided for an extension of benefits through the reconsideration process, should Berryman-Turner elect to pursue that course, but informed her that her benefits would not continue through the appeals process if she chose that option. Id. Berryman-Turner declined to seek the reconsideration and appealed the District's decision to a DOES Administrative Law Judge; as a result, her benefit payments terminated on May 17, 2003. Dkt. 10 at 7, ¶ 27. The Administrative Law Judge upheld the revocation of Berryman-Turner's benefits on October 1, 2003. Id.

         Before Berryman-Turner's benefits were terminated, a class-action suit was brought against the District challenging “the policies and procedures applied to terminate, suspend, and modify [the] disability compensation benefits” on behalf of a class of former D.C. employees whose disability benefits had been terminated. Lightfoot v. District of Columbia (Lightfoot I), No. 01-1484, 2007 WL 148777, at *1 (D.D.C. Jan. 16, 2007). On January 14, 2004, the Court certified a class that included “[a]ll persons who have received or will receive disability compensation benefits” under the relevant provisions of the D.C. Code, and “whose benefits have been terminated, suspended, or reduced since June 27, 1998 or whose benefits will be terminated, suspended or reduced in the future.” Lightfoot, No. 01-1484, Dkt. 153 at 1 (D.D.C. Jan. 14, 2004). The Court subsequently modified the class, limiting it to those “whose benefits were terminated, suspended or reduced between June 27, 1998 and April 5, 2005.” Lightfoot, No. 01-1484, Dkt. 333 at 1 (Apr. 17, 2007). There is no dispute that Berryman-Turner was a member of both iterations of the Lightfoot class.

         Like the present action, the Lightfoot case alleged that the District's procedures for terminating or modifying disability benefits violated the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment and D.C. law, and it sought declaratory and injunctive relief. See Third Am. Compl., Lightfoot, No. 01-1484, Dkt. 152 at 3, 32 (D.D.C. Sept. 7, 2003). After substantial motions practice and a related appeal, the Lightfoot court ultimately dismissed all of the class-wide claims, except for the as-applied due process challenge to the District's alleged failure to provide beneficiaries with an adequate opportunity to show that they were entitled to continue to receive benefits. See Lightfoot I, 2007 WL 148777, at *1; Lightfoot v. District of Columbia (Lightfoot II), No. 01-1484, 2007 WL 1087474, at *1 (D.D.C. Apr. 10, 2007). The court dismissed the facial challenge to D.C. Code § 1623.24(d) because plaintiffs failed to establish “that no set of circumstances exist under which the [law] would be valid.” Lightfoot II, 2007 WL 1087474, at *4 (quoting United States v. Salerno, 481 U.S. 739, 745 (1987)). The court dismissed the other constitutional claims on the merits for failure to state a claim. See Lightfoot I, 2007 WL 148777, at *1. The court then declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the sole D.C. law claim, and dismissed it without prejudice. Id. Thus, after the Lightfoot court's order of April 10, 2007, the only surviving claim against the District was the as-applied challenge to D.C. Code § 1-623.24(d). Lightfoot II, 2007 WL 1087474, at *6.

         After the Lightfoot parties completed further discovery on the remaining claim, the court concluded that the plaintiffs could “satisfy neither the ‘commonality' requirement of Rule 23(a)(2) nor the ‘cohesiveness' requirement of Rule 23(b)(2).” Lightfoot v. District of Columbia (Lightfoot III), 273 F.R.D. 314, 324 (D.D.C. 2011). As a result, the Lightfoot court decertified the class on January 10, 2011. Id. at 339.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         To resolve a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction brought under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), the Court may consider the complaint standing alone or in tandem with any “undisputed facts evidenced in the record, ” and may also resolve any factual disputes necessary to determine its jurisdiction. Herbert v. Nat'l Academy of Scis., 974 F.2d 192, 197 (D.C. Cir. 1992). The burden of establishing jurisdiction rests on the party asserting it. Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994).

         A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) “tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint, ” Browning v. Clinton, 292 F.3d 235, 242 (D.C. Cir. 2002), and in evaluating such a motion, the Court “must first ‘tak[e] note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state [the] claim' to relief, and then determine whether the plaintiff has pleaded those elements with adequate factual support to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face, '” Blue v. District of Columbia, 811 F.3d 14, 20 (D.C. Cir. 2015) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 675, 678 (2009)) (alterations in original) (internal citation omitted). Although “detailed factual allegations” are not necessary to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007), “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, [if] accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face, '” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). A plaintiff may survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion even if “recovery is very remote and unlikely, ” but the facts alleged in the complaint “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-56 (quotation marks omitted). In considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the Court “may consider only the facts alleged in the complaint, any documents either attached to or incorporated in the complaint and matters of which [the Court] may take judicial notice.” Trudeau v. FTC, 456 F.3d 178, 183 (D.C. Cir. 2006). “Related proceedings in other courts” are among those matters of which the Court may take judicial notice. Dupree v. Jefferson, 666 F.2d 606, 608 n.1 (D.C. Cir. 1981).

         Finally, to establish entitlement to summary judgment, the moving party must show “that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986); Holcomb v. Powell, 433 F.3d 889, 895 (D.C. Cir. 2006). A fact is “material” if it is capable of affecting the outcome of the litigation. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 248; Holcomb, 433 F.3d at 895. A dispute is “genuine” if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. See Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007); Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 248; Holcomb, 433 F.3d at 895. “A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by . . . citing to particular parts of materials in the record . . . .” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A). In considering a motion for summary judgment, “[t]he evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.” Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 255; see also Mastro v. Pepco, 447 F.3d 843, 850 (D.C. Cir. 2006). The non-movant's opposition, however, must consist of more than allegations or denials and must be supported by affidavits, declarations, or other competent evidence, setting forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). The non-movant must provide evidence that would permit a reasonable jury to find in its favor. See Laningham v. U.S. Navy, 813 F.2d 1236, 1241 (D.C. Cir. 1987). If her evidence is “merely colorable” or “not significantly probative, ” the court may grant summary judgment to the moving party. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 249-50.

         III. DISCUSSION

         The District moves to dismiss Claims One, Three, Four, Five, Six, and Seven for failure to state a claim, arguing that Lightfoot I precludes Claims One, Three, Four, and Five; that this Court's decision on July 24, 2015 already dismissed what is now Claim Six, see Barryman-Turner, 115 F.Supp.3d at 137; and that Claim Seven is not ripe for adjudication. The District moves for summary judgment on Claim Two, Berryman-Turner's as-applied due process challenge to the revocation of her benefits. The Court will consider each argument in turn.

         A. Motion to ...


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