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Battles v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority

United States District Court, District of Columbia

September 28, 2017

SHELDON BATTLES, Plaintiff,
v.
WASHINGTON METROPOLITAN AREA TRANSIT AUTHORITY, SUMMON CANNON and DEVIN WALKER Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Emmet G. Sullivan United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Sheldon Battles, proceeding pro se, has sued defendants Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority ("WMATA") and two of its employees - Summon Cannon and Devin Walker (together, "Individual Defendants") - for breach of contract, wrongful termination in violation of public policy, defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. Before the Court are defendants' motions to dismiss the complaint under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). After careful consideration of the complaint, the memoranda filed by the parties, and the applicable case law, the Court grants in part and denies in part WMATA's motion to dismiss, and grants the Individual Defendants' motion to dismiss.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Mr. Battles, a Maryland resident, worked for WMATA from January 1997 until his termination on November 27, 2015. Compl. ¶ 8. Originally hired as a bus operator, Mr. Battles earned a series of promotions between 2007 and 2015, eventually holding the position of Assistant Superintendent at the West Ox Division. Id.

         The facts that eventually led to Mr. Battles' termination and this subsequent lawsuit arise out of an approximately two-month long consensual sexual relationship between Mr. Battles and a subordinate female employee. Id. ¶ 9. The relationship began in May 2015, while the employee was on leave. Id. ¶¶ 9-10. By the time the employee returned to work on July 23, 2015, "the relationship between the Plaintiff and the subordinate employee had ceased." Id. ¶ 11.

         Shortly after returning to work, the employee "began exhibiting attendance issues." Id. ¶ 12. As her supervisor, Mr. Battles disciplined the employee about these issues on October 1, 2015. Id. ¶ 13. That same day, the employee filed a complaint with WMATA accusing Mr. Battles of sexual harassment. Id. ¶ 14. Defendant Devin Walker, an investigator in WMATA's Office of Civil Rights, launched an investigation into the employee's sexual-harassment allegations. Id. ¶¶ 15, 20. In the course of the investigation, the employee "admit[ted] that her involvement in the sexual relationship was [] consensual." Id. ¶ 17. At the conclusion of the investigation, WMATA "found no probabl[e] cause for sexual harassment" and the Office of Civil Rights issued a determination letter finding that Mr. Battles had not "violate[d] any Title VII laws or policies." Id. ¶¶ 15, 18. Despite finding in favor of Mr. Battles on the sexual-harassment allegations, Mr. Walker determined that Mr. Battles had violated WMATA's nepotism/favoritism policy. Id. ¶¶ 20-21. As a result, defendant Summon Cannon, the Superintendent, fired Mr. Battles from his position on November 27, 2015. Id. ¶ 22.

         Mr. Battles claims that WMATA's stated reasons for terminating his employment are "false and pretextual." Id. ¶ 8. According to Mr. Battles, WMATA fired him "in retaliation for his numerous complaints and reports regarding events and practices that created an unsafe work environment for him and create[d] conditions that undermined his ability to effectively supervise his subordinates." Id. In particular, Mr. Battles asserts that he was terminated as a result of his "complaints to administrators about the disparate treatment his female subordinates received after falsely accusing him of inappropriate behavior" - e.g., "the female subordinate that made the false allegations was not even disciplined." Id.

         Based on these allegations, Mr. Battles asserts five causes of action: (1) wrongful termination (breach of contract), id. ¶¶ 26-31; (2) wrongful termination (public policy violation), id. ¶¶ 32-37; (3) defamation, id. ¶¶ 38-51; (4) intentional infliction of emotional distress, id. ¶¶ 52-55; and (5) negligent infliction of emotional distress, id. ¶¶ 56-57. These causes of actions are asserted against both WMATA and the Individual Defendants. Mr. Battles seeks "lost past and future wages" in an amount to be determined. Id. Prayer ¶ 3. He also requests damages for "loss of employability, mental pain and anguish and emotional distress." Id. Prayer ¶ 1. Finally, he seeks punitive damages and costs available under any applicable statutory provision. Id. Prayer ¶¶ 2, 4-9.

         WMATA and the Individual Defendants filed the instant motions to dismiss on September 9 and 16, 2016, respectively, arguing that they are entitled to dismissal on the basis of sovereign immunity and because Mr. Battles fails to plausibly allege his claims. See WMATA Mem. in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss ("WMATA Mem."), ECF No. 3; Individual Defs.' Mem. in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss ("Individual Defs.' Mem."), ECF No. 4. Mr. Battles timely opposed WMATA's motion to dismiss, and that motion was fully ripe on September 28, 2016. See Pl.'s Mem. in Opp. to WMATA's Mot. to Dismiss ("Pl.'s Opp."), ECF No. 5; WMATA's Reply in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss ("WMATA's Reply"), ECF No. 6. Instead of opposing the Individual Defendants' motion to dismiss, Mr. Battles moved to strike that motion as untimely filed and for failure to provide accurate information on the certificate of service. See Pl.'s Mot. to Strike, ECF No. 7. The Court declined to strike the Individual Defendants' motion, but it warned defendants that failure to provide accurate information could lead to the imposition of sanctions. See Minute Order (Apr. 4, 2017). The Court further directed Mr. Battles to file his opposition to the Individual Defendants' motion by no later than April 21, 2017. Id. Despite this Order, Mr. Battles did not file any opposition to the Individual Defendants' motion. Instead, on April 24, 2017, without seeking leave of the Court, Mr. Battles filed a First Amended Complaint. See Am. Compl., ECF No. 19. On May 8, 2017, WMATA and the Individual Defendants moved to dismiss that complaint. See WMATA's Mot. to Dismiss Pl.'s Am. Compl., ECF No. 22; Individual Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss Pl.'s Am. Compl., ECF No. 21. To date, Mr. Battles has not responded to either motion.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A. Rule 12(b)(1) - Subject-Matter Jurisdiction

         "A federal district court may only hear a claim over which [it] has subject-matter jurisdiction; therefore, a Rule 12(b)(1) motion for dismissal is a threshold challenge to a court's jurisdiction." Gregorio v. Hoover, 238 F.Supp.3d 37 (D.D.C. 2017) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). To survive a Rule 12(b)(1) motion, the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing that the court has jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence. Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561, 112 S.Ct. 2130, 119 L.Ed.2d 351 (1992). Because Rule 12(b)(1) concerns a court's ability to hear a particular claim, "the court must scrutinize the plaintiff's allegations more closely when considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) than it would under a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6)." Schmidt v. U.S. Capitol Police Bd., 826 F.Supp.2d 59, 65 (D.D.C. 2011). In so doing, the court must accept as true all of the factual allegations in the complaint and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff, but the court need not "accept inferences unsupported by the facts alleged or legal conclusions that are cast as factual allegations." Rann v. Chao, 154 F.Supp.2d 61, 64 (D.D.C. 2001).

         In reviewing a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), the court "may consider such materials outside the pleadings as it deems appropriate to resolve the question whether it has jurisdiction to hear the case." Scolaro v. D.C. Bd. of Elections & Ethics, 104 F.Supp.2d 18, 22 (D.D.C. 2000); see also Jerome Stevens Pharm., Inc. v. FDA, 402 F.3d 1249, 1253 (D.C. Cir. 2005). Faced with motions to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) and Rule 12(b)(6), a court should first consider the Rule 12(b)(1) motion because "[o]nce a court determines that it lacks subject matter jurisdiction, it can proceed no further." Ctr. for Biological Diversity v. Jackson, 815 F.Supp.2d 85, 90 (D.D.C. 2011) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).

         B. Rule 12(b)(6) - Failure to State a Claim

         A motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint. Browning v. Clinton, 292 F.3d 235, 242 (D.C. Cir. 2002). A complaint must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, in order to give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Despite this liberal pleading standard, to survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint "must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (internal quotation marks omitted). A claim is facially plausible when the facts pled in the complaint allow the court to "draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. The standard does not amount to a "probability requirement, " but it does require more than a "sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id.

         "[W]hen ruling on a defendant's motion to dismiss [pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6)], a judge must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint." Atherton v. D.C. Office of the Mayor, 567 F.3d 672, 681 (D.C. Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks omitted). In addition, the court must give the plaintiff the "benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged." Kowal v. MCI Commc'ns Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1994). A "pro se complaint is entitled to liberal construction." Washington v. Geren, 675 F.Supp.2d 26, 31 (D.D.C. 2009) (citing Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520, 92 S.Ct. 594, 30 L.Ed.2d 652 (1972)). Even so, "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements" are not sufficient to state a claim. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         III. ...


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