United States District Court, District of Columbia
G. Sullivan United States District Judge
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.
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.
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. ¶
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.
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.
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.
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.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Rule 12(b)(1) - Subject-Matter Jurisdiction
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).
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
Rule 12(b)(6) - Failure to State a Claim
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
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.
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.