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Masseyv. American Federation of Government Employees

United States District Court, District of Columbia

May 15, 2017

DOUGLAS E. MASSEY, Plaintiff,
v.
AMERICAN FEDERATION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Amit P. Mehta United States District Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Douglas Massey filed this lawsuit against his union, Defendant American Federation of Government Employees ("AFGE"), and one of its officials, Defendant William A. Preston, alleging violations of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act ("LMRDA"), 29 U.S.C. § 411. Plaintiff asserts that Defendants falsely accused him of threatening and assaulting Preston at an AFGE National Convention ("Convention") for opposing the candidacy of the incumbent AFGE President, David Cox, and then retaliating against him in various ways, each in violation of the LMRDA. In a previous ruling, the court permitted Plaintiff to proceed on all counts of his Complaint against Preston, dismissed certain counts against the AFGE, and dismissed Cox from the case. See Massey v. Am. Fed'n of Gov 'tEmps., 196 F.Supp.3d 35 (D.D.C. 2016). Now before the court are Preston's and AFGE's Motions for Summary Judgment.

         In their Motions, Defendants contend that the doctrine of res judicata precludes all of Plaintiffs remaining claims. Specifically, Defendants point to an earlier litigation decided in D.C. Superior Court, in which Plaintiff accused Preston of abuse of process for seeking a restraining order against him as retribution for refusing to support Cox. That case proceeded to a bench trial. Preston testified that Plaintiff assaulted and threatened him at the Convention; Plaintiff denied those accusations, claiming he merely placed his arm around Preston and told Preston that he could not bully him into supporting Cox. The court credited Preston's testimony. It then concluded that the confrontation at the Convention gave Preston a genuine reason to fear Plaintiff and, therefore, Preston had applied for a restraining order in good faith, and not as retribution for Plaintiffs political views. Defendants in this case now argue that the doctrine of res judicata not only bars Plaintiff from re-litigating those factual issues in this court, but also precludes him from proving his remaining claims.

         The court agrees. Plaintiffs Complaint advances five counts, each of which rests on the same theory-that Preston invented out of whole cloth the threats and assault in order to get back at Plaintiff for opposing Cox's re-election. The Superior Court actually and necessarily found against Plaintiff on those issues, and, consequently, the doctrine of res judicata requires treating those adverse findings as uncontested in this case. As a result, Plaintiff cannot prove the facts underlying the claims he advances in this court.[1] Accordingly, the court grants Defendants' Motions for Summary Judgment.

         II. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         Plaintiff Douglas Masseyis a member of Defendant American Federation of Government Employees ("AFGE"). See Del Preston's Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 35, Mem. in Supp., ECF No. 36 [hereinafter Preston Mot.], at 1, 4. In 2015, Plaintiff was elected to serve as Second Vice President for a local chapter of AFGE, Local 17. Id. at 4. At that time, Defendant William A. Preston was the President of Local 17. Id. At some point in 2015, a rift developed between Plaintiff and Preston, stemming in part from Plaintiffs opposition to the re-election campaign of AFGE's incumbent President, Daniel Cox. Id. at 4-5. Both Plaintiff and Preston were elected as delegates to AFGE's 2015 National Convention ("Convention"), held in Orlando, Florida, in August 2015. Id. at 1-2, 4-5.

         There, the acrimony between Plaintiff and Preston would come to a head, culminating in a physical confrontation atthe Convention hotel. See Preston Mot., Ex. l, ECFNo. 36-1 [hereinafter Trial Tr.], at 67-74. Both men recount the episode quite differently. According to Preston, while he was tending to his official duties at the Convention, he noticed Plaintiff and smiled at him. Plaintiff immediately approached him, said "get that bullshit smile off your face, " and then grabbed him by the back of the neck and said "don't threaten me." Id., at 70-73. After talking to his wife, Preston then reported the incident first to the AFGE Sergeant-at-Arms Committee and then to hotel security and the police. Id. at 73-75, 119-21. Plaintiff, for his part, admits that there was a confrontation at the hotel, but denies that he threatened or grabbed Preston. According to Plaintiff, before the Convention, he had criticized Cox's spending of union funds and had told Preston that he would be opposing Cox's re-election, even though Preston strongly backed Cox. PL's Opp'n to Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 39 [hereinafter PL's Opp'n], Ex. 1, ECF No. 39-1 [hereinafter Massey DecL], ¶¶ 7-8. At the Convention itself, Plaintiff actively campaigned against Cox, handing out flyers critical of Cox and urging his defeat. Id. ¶¶ 7, 10. Inside the hotel, Preston approached him, looked at one of Plaintiff s flyers, and asked him to support Cox. When Plaintiff declined, Preston purportedly threatened to take away Plaintiff s official time-that is, time he could work as a union official during regular work hours-if he did not support Cox. Id. ¶ 12. The two then walked away from one another, but a few minutes later, Plaintiff claims that he approached Preston, merely put his arm around his shoulder, and said "I'm the wrong guy to bully. You cannot bully me this time." Id. ¶ 14. Plaintiff denies that he ever grabbed Preston by the neck.

         Shortly thereafter, the AFGE Sergeant-at-Arms Committee (the "Committee") convened to investigate the incident. Preston Mot. at 5; Def AFGE's Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 37 [hereinafter AFGE Mot.], at 1-2. The Committee heard from both Plaintiff and Preston, credited Preston's version of events, and concluded Plaintiff had disrupted the Convention. AFGE Mot. at 1-2. As punishment, the Committee prohibited Plaintiff from further participating in Convention activities, except voting for national officers. Id. After the Convention, Preston notified Plaintiff that he intended to remove Plaintiffs official time. Preston Mot. at 5.

         Roughly two weeks after the incident, Preston filed an application for a temporary restraining order ("TRO") and a petition seeking a preliminary injunction against Plaintiff in D.C. Superior Court. Preston Mot. at 5-6. TheD.C. Superior Court denied the TRO, and Preston, who no longer worked in the same office as Plaintiff, abandoned his suit. Id.

         Determined to hold Preston accountable for making false accusations, Plaintiff filed his own suit in Small Claims Court in the D.C. Superior Court on December 11, 2015, asserting a common law abuse of process claim. Id. at 6. The case proceeded to a bench trial on June 28, 2016, before the Honorable Joseph Beshouri. Id. Both Plaintiff and Preston testified at the trial, relating the vastly different accounts described above. Trial Tr. at 17-59, 62-117. The only other witness to testify was Preston's wife, who said that Preston had called her from the Conference "very upset" and "shaking" and had told her that "Doug Massey had assaulted him in public . . . by placing his fingers and thumb on the back of his neck and squeezing very hard to cause pain, and had made threatening comments." Id. at 119-20.

         Judge Beshouri sided with Preston. He credited the testimony of Preston and Preston's wife, and found that Preston had sought the TRO based on a legitimate fear of Plaintiff arising from the incident at the Convention. Id. at 153-57. Judge Beshouri entered judgment in favor of Preston, which Plaintiff did not appeal.

         B. Procedural Background

         OnDecember7, 2015, around the same time that Plaintiff filed suit in D.C. Superior Court, he also filed suit in this court, alleging that Defendants Preston, Cox, and AFGE had fabricated claims against him in retaliation for opposing Cox, in violation of his rights under the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act. See Compl., ECF No. 1 (filed Dec. 7, 2015). Defendants each filed Motions to Dismiss Plaintiffs Complaint. See Def Preston's Mot. to Dismiss, ECFNo. 13; Defs.' AFGE and Cox's Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 14. The court (1) granted Defendant Cox's Motion in its entirety and dismissed all claims against him, (2) granted in part and denied in part Defendant AFGE's Motion and dismissed all claims against AFGE except for Counts I and II, and (3) denied Defendant Preston's Motion in its entirety. See Massey, 196 F.Supp.3d at 35.

         The parties then proposed pre-discovery summary judgment briefs on the question whether the doctrine of res judicata barred Plaintiffs remaining claims. See Joint Rule 26(f) Report, ECFNo. 33, at 1, 3. The court agreed to summary judgment briefing on that narrow issue, see Minute Order, Sept. 22, 2016, and now turns to Defendants' Motions.

         III. ...


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