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Swanson v. Howard University

United States District Court, District of Columbia

April 13, 2017



          AMY BERMAN JACKSON United States District Judge.

         On December 15, 2016, plaintiff Ruthie Michelle Swanson, proceedingpro se, brought this action in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia against defendant Howard University, Inc. ("Howard") alleging that in 2002, defendant acted negligently by placing her back on full duty status as a nurse, thereby causing her to suffer a physical injury that resulted in a permanent disability. Def Howard's Notice of Removal [Dkt. # 1] ("Def's Notice of Removal"); Ex. A to Def's Notice of Removal [Dkt. # 1-2] ("Compl.").

         Defendant removed this action on diversity grounds under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). Def's Notice of Removal ¶¶ 5-12.[1] On January 26, 2017, defendant filed a motion to dismiss plaintiffs complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), arguing that: (1) plaintiffs claim is barred under the doctrine of res judicata- (2) plaintiff failed to allege sufficient facts to state a claim; (3) a worker's compensation claim is plaintiffs exclusive remedy for any work-related injury; and (4) plaintiffs claim is barred by the statute of limitations. Def. Howard's Mot. to Dismiss [Dkt. # 6] ("Def.'s Mot."); Mem. of P. & A. in Supp. of Def.'s Mot. [Dkt. # 6-1] ("Def.'s Mem.") at 6-9. Plaintiff opposed defendant's motion on February 10, 2017, maintaining that she stated a claim for negligence against defendant. Resp. to Def.'s Mot. [Dkt. # 9] ("Pl.'s Opp.") at 1. Defendant replied on February 21, 2017. Def.'s Reply to Pl.'s Opp. [Dkt. # 10] ("Def.'s Reply").

         On January 26, 2017, defendant also filed a motion for costs and fees under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11, arguing that plaintiff has filed "multiple baseless claims" against it that are "based on the same incident, " and that plaintiff should be sanctioned for filing "frivolous claims [] without a legal basis" that "are intended to harass Howard." Def Howard's Mot. for Attorney's Costs & Fees [Dkt. # 7] ("Def.'s Mot. for Costs & Fees") ¶¶ 8-9. Plaintiff opposed the motion on March 13, 2017. Opp. to Mot. for Sanctions [Dkt. # 11] ("Pl.'s Opp. to Def.'s Mot. for Costs & Fees").

         After considering the parties' submissions, defendant's motion to dismiss will be granted and this case will be dismissed. The Court will decline to award defendant costs and fees at this time, so that motion will be denied.


         I. Factual Background[2]

         Plaintiff was employed as a nurse at Howard University Hospital. Pl.'s Opp. at 1, 5. During her employment, she developed "seronegative rheumatoid arthritis, " and her doctor recommended that she be placed on light duty. See Id. at 5. Plaintiff worked in the Neonatal Unit and had been instructed not to lift more than ten pounds. Id. at 1. However, one of plaintiffs supervisors "demanded that [she] go to a heavy adult floor or be fired." Id. On September 11, 2002, when plaintiff lifted an adult patient, she sustained a wrist fracture in her "dominant right hand, " which "precipitated a prompt flare of her rheumatoid arthritis and a dramatic progressive decline in her clinical status." Id. at 1, 5.

         Plaintiff claims that she applied for worker's compensation benefits after she suffered her injury. Pl.'s Opp. at 1. Her pleadings reveal that she received disability benefits of $1, 181 per month, but she maintains that she was entitled to more, and that by failing to pay her, defendant has breached its "Union Contract" with plaintiff. Pl.'s Opp. at 1, 3. Plaintiff now seeks $10, 000, 000 in damages. Compl.

         II. Related

         Cases Prior to filing the present case, Ms. Swanson filed two actions against defendant Howard and Prudential Insurance Company of America ("Prudential") in the Superior Court for the District of Columbia. Both cases have since been removed to this Court.

         A. Swanson v. Howard Univ., et al., No. 1:16-cv-01863 (D.D.C.) (Swanson I")

         On August 10, 2016, Ms. Swanson, proceeding pro se, initiated an action against Howard and Prudential in the Superior Court for the District of Columbia. Swanson I, Def Prudential's Notice of Removal [Dkt. # 1] ("Swanson I Notice of Removal") ¶ 1; Ex. to Swanson I Notice of Removal [Dkt. #1-1] ("Swanson I Compl") at 4. According to the complaint, plaintiff "was taken off [her] light duty status and placed on full duty status illegally - thereby causing [her] disability." Swanson I Compl. at 4. Ms. Swanson also claimed that "Howard University never paid" her worker's compensation benefits, but rather "the university manager hid [her] union contract" and only paid her twenty-eight percent of her "pay per month" when she was supposed to receive sixty percent of her pay per month as a disability payment. Id. She sought $25, 000, 000 in damages. Id. The Court construed plaintiffs claim as one arising under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq., since the disability benefits she sought were provided under an employer-sponsored insurance policy. See Swanson I, Min. Order (Oct. 5, 2016).

         Defendants moved to dismiss the case pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), and because plaintiff "failed to file a response to defendants' motions to dismiss on or before October 27, 2016" after being ordered to do so, the Court "treated defendants' motions as conceded and dismiss[ed] the case." Swanson I, Order [Dkt. # 13].

         Ms. Swanson moved for reconsideration of the Court's Order granting defendants' motions to dismiss, Swanson I, PI.' s Mot. for Recons. [Dkt. # 15], but the Court denied her ...

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