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Ashbourne v. Hansberry

United States District Court, District of Columbia

March 29, 2017

ANICA ASHBOURNE, Plaintiff,
v.
DONNA HANSBERRY, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          COLLEEN KOLLAR-KOTELLY United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Anica Ashbourne, a tax attorney proceeding pro se, brings this action against the Treasury Department and certain employees thereof under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq., alleging employment discrimination on the basis of her race and gender. Before the Court is Defendants' [6] Motion to Dismiss and/or for Summary Judgment. Defendants have moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), and for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56(a), in the alternative. Defendants present a number of bases for dismissing Plaintiff's lawsuit at this procedural juncture, including that Plaintiff abandoned her Title VII claims when she failed to include them in a prior lawsuit, that she is precluded from bringing this action by the legal doctrine of res judicata, and that, in any event, Defendants are entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiff's claims.

         Upon consideration of the pleadings, [1] the relevant legal authorities, and the record for purposes of the pending motion, the Court GRANTS Defendant's [6] Motion pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). As explained further below, the Court concludes that, on a Rule 12(b)(6) analysis of the Complaint and certain other materials of which the Court may take judicial notice for purposes of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, this action is barred by res judicata in its entirety, and therefore must be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Accordingly, there is no need to reach Defendants' other grounds for seeking dismissal of this lawsuit.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The Court presents only those factual and procedural points that are relevant to its resolution of the pending motion on the basis of res judicata. As this matter is resolved on the basis of a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the Court assumes the truth of the allegations in the Complaint.

         Plaintiff was employed in the Department of the Treasury's Global High Wealth division from June 21, 2010 until she was terminated on May 10, 2011. Compl. ¶ 8. Prior to her termination, Plaintiff received a “Notice of Proposed Termination, ” which informed her that her termination was predicated on Defendants' view that she had misrepresented certain aspects of her employment history. Id. ¶ 9. In particular, Defendants concluded that Plaintiff had misrepresented the nature of her employment with Ashbourne & Company, her sole proprietorship, and her resignation from another employer. Id. Plaintiff alleges that these reasons were pretextual and that her termination and other adverse employment actions were the product of race and gender discrimination. Id. ¶ 24.

         At the end of 2011, Plaintiff filed three lawsuits in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland against the Treasury Department and her former supervisors, alleging violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983; the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 621; the Equal Pay Act, 29 U.S.C. § 206(d)(1); and the Privacy Act of 1974, 5 U.S.C. §552A.[2] All three cases were consolidated into the first filed case, and the consolidated cases were transferred to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. Order, ECF No. 22, Ashbourne v. Geithner, et al., 8:11-cv-02818-RWT (D. Md. July 12, 2012).

         Subsequently, United States District Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell ordered Plaintiff to file a single amended complaint “containing all claims remaining in this consolidated case.” Order Denying Mot. to Dismiss Without Prejudice, ECF No. 44, Ashbourne v. Geithner, et al., 1:12-cv-01153-BAH (D.D.C. Aug. 9, 2013) (“Ashbourne I”). As ordered, Plaintiff filed the amended complaint on October 29, 2013. ECF No. 49, Ashbourne I. The amended complaint was brought against the same parties as the complaint in this action, and alleged violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Privacy Act. Id. Chief Judge Howell dismissed Plaintiff's section 1983 claim on the basis of Defendants' motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, ECF No. 58, Ashbourne I, and subsequently granted summary judgment in favor of Defendants on Plaintiff's sole remaining claim under the Privacy Act, ECF No. 92, Ashbourne I. That decision is now on appeal before the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (“D.C. Circuit”), No. 15-5351.

         Prior to filing her complaints in the District of Maryland, Plaintiff initiated administrative proceedings regarding her termination with the Department of the Treasury, and alleged “harassment and/or disparate treatment due to her race (African American) and/or sex (female)” under Title VII. FAD at 2-3 (noting June 8, 2011 as the date of initial counselor contact). Ultimately, the Department of the Treasury issued a Final Agency Decision (“FAD ”) on December 12, 2012 concluding that a “finding of no discrimination/no harassment/hostile work environment is appropriate in this matter.” Id. at 14. The FAD informed Plaintiff that she could either file an appeal with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) within 30 days, or “file a civil action in an appropriate United States District Court within 90 days . . . .” Id. at 16. The FAD further informed Plaintiff that she could file a civil action “after 180 days from the date of filing an appeal with EEOC if there has been no final decision by EEOC.” Id. at 17. Although the exact date of Plaintiff's filing with the EEOC is not apparent from the record, Plaintiff did in fact choose to pursue an appeal to the EEOC. See EEOC Decision at 1. On September 11, 2015, the EEOC dismissed Plaintiff's appeal as it found that Plaintiff's consolidated civil case in this District (i.e., Ashbourne I) raised the same claims that Plaintiff had pursued on appeal to the EEOC, and “Commission regulations mandate dismissal of the EEO complaint under these circumstances so as to prevent a Complainant from simultaneously pursuing both administrative and judicial remedies on the same matters . . . .” Id. at 3.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Defendants, inter alia, move to dismiss the Complaint for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted” pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). “[A] complaint [does not] suffice if it tenders ‘naked assertion[s]' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 557 (2007)). Rather, a complaint must contain sufficient factual allegations that, if accepted as true, “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. “A c laim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. “Res judicata may be raised in a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim when the defense appears on the face of the complaint and any materials of which the court may take judicial notice.” Jessup v. Progressive Funding, No. CV 15-1214 (CKK), 2016 WL 1452332, at *2 (D.D.C. Apr. 13, 2016) (Kollar-Kotelly, J.) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Stanton v. D.C. Court of Appeals, 127 F.3d 72, 76 (D.C. Cir. 1997) (noting that “courts have allowed parties to assert res judicata by dispositive motions under” Rule 12(b)(6)).

         In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court may consider “the facts alleged in the complaint, documents attached as exhibits or incorporated by reference in the complaint, ” or “documents upon which the plaintiff's complaint necessarily relies even if the document is produced not by the plaintiff in the complaint but by the defendant in a motion to dismiss.” Ward v. District of Columbia Dep't of Youth Rehab. Servs., 768 F.Supp.2d 117, 119 (D.D.C. 2011) (internal quotation marks omitted). The court may also consider documents in the public record of which the court may take judicial notice. Abhe & Svoboda, Inc. v. Chao, 508 F.3d 1052, 1059 (D.C. Cir. 2007). Consequently, the Court may take judicial notice of the FAD and the EEOC Decision as those are official, public documents subject to judicial notice. Grant v. Dep't of Treasury, 194 F.Supp.3d 25, 28 n.2 (D.D.C. 2016) (“Treasury's Final Agency Decision . . . [is] official, public document[] subject to judicial notice”); Buie v. Berrien, 85 F.Supp.3d 161, 166 (D.D.C. 2015) (“That final category encompasses ‘public records, ' . . . including an EEOC decision.” (citation omitted)). The Court make also take judicial notice of the Ashbourne I docket and the public filings therein. Al-Aulaqi v. Panetta, 35 F.Supp.3d 56, 67 (D.D.C. 2014) (“A court may take judicial notice of facts contained in public records of other proceedings . . . .” (citing Covad Communications Co. v. Bell Atlantic Co., 407 F.3d 1220, 1222 (D.C. Cir. 2005))); Clark v. D.C., No. CV 16-385 (CKK), 2017 WL 1011418, at *7 (D.D.C. Mar. 14, 2017) (“the Court may take judicial notice of docket sheets which are public records” (citation omitted)).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Under the doctrine of res judicata, “a final judgment on the merits of an action precludes the parties or their privies from relitigating issues that were or could have been raised in that action.” Drake v. F.A.A., 291 F.3d 59, 66 (D.C. Cir. 2002) (emphasis in original) (internal quotation marks omitted). “A judgment on the merits is one that reaches and determines the real or substantial grounds of action or defense as distinguished from matters of practice, procedure, jurisdiction or form.” Ilaw v. Dep't of Justice, 148 F.Supp.3d 24, 35 (D.D.C. 2015) (Kollar-Kotelly, J.) (internal quotation marks omitted), aff'd sub nom. Ilaw v. Littler Mendelson P.C., 650 F.App'x 35 (D.C. Cir. 2016). The granting of Defendants' motion to dismiss and motion for summary judgment in Ashbourne I, which together disposed of all of Plaintiffs' claims in that matter, see supra at 3, were both judgments on the merits. See Ilaw, 148 F.Supp.3d at 35 (“A decision on a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) presents a ruling on the merits with res judicata ...


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