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Harris v. Wilson

United States District Court, District of Columbia

October 11, 2017

ARABA J. HARRIS, Plaintiff,
v.
TYRONE WILSON, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          AMY BERMAN JACKSON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Araba J. Harris has brought this action, pro se, against defendants Tyrone Wilson and Joseph Bush, who are employees of the U.S. Postal Service ("USPS"), alleging that they assaulted her when she went to the post office to buy stamps on July 7, 2016. On behalf of the defendants, the United States has moved to dismiss the case. Because defendants were acting within the scope of their employment at the time of the alleged tort, this case must be brought against the United States. And since plaintiff has not exhausted the administrative steps she must pursue before she may sue the government in Court, the Court will grant the motion and will dismiss this case without prejudice. This means that plaintiff is not barred from filing a proper action in the future.

         BACKGROUND

         The following facts, which the Court must accept as true at this stage of the proceedings, are set forth in plaintiffs complaint and were supplemented by plaintiffs opposition to the motion to dismiss. Ex. A to Notice of Removal [Dkt. # 1-1] ("Compl."); Pl.'s Mem. in Opp. of Mot. to Dismiss [Dkt. # 9] ("Pl.'s Mem."); see Schnitzler v. United States, 761 F.3d 33, 38 (D.C. Cir. 2014) (requiring a court to consider a. pro se plaintiffs "filings as a whole" in resolving a motion to dismiss).

         Plaintiffs complaint states simply that on July 7, 2016, she "went to buy stamps with [her] signed credit card and was assaulted by Officer Wilson." Compl. In her memorandum in opposition to the motion to dismiss, plaintiff supplies additional facts. She states that when she went to pay for the stamps at the post office, she was asked for identification. Pl.'s Mem. at 2. Believing that the request for identification was a pretext for race-based discrimination, she called USPS Customer Service to lodge a complaint while she was still at the post office. Id. at 2, 5. During the call, plaintiff asked the representative whether the call was being recorded. Id. at 2. Plaintiff alleges that this upset "the Customer Service Manager." Id. The manager's role is somewhat unclear from the memorandum, but plaintiff appears to be referring to a USPS employee at the post office branch where she was standing, who then allegedly refused to sell the plaintiff stamps. Id. Plaintiff claims that when she refused to leave the post office, the defendants dragged her to the curb. Id.

         On July 6, 2017, plaintiff filed a lawsuit in the Small Claims and Conciliation Branch of the Superior Court for the District of Columbia, alleging that she was assaulted by the postal workers. Compl. The United States removed the action to this Court on July 26, 2017, and they attached to the notice of removal a certification that the postal employees were acting in the scope of their employment at the time. Notice of Removal [Dkt. # 1-2]. The United States then moved to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Mot. to Dismiss [Dkt. # 5] ("U.S. Mot."). Plaintiff opposed the motion, Pl.'s Mem., and she also filed a motion to consolidate this case with the claims she made "at different levels of the USPS." Pl.'s Mot. to Consolidate Claims [Dkt. # 10] at 1. The United States did not file a reply.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         In evaluating a motion to dismiss under either Rule 12(b)(1) or 12(b)(6), the Court must "treat the complaint's factual allegations as true . . . and must grant plaintiff 'the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged.'" Sparrow v. United Air Lines, Inc., 216 F.3d 1111, 1113 (D.C. Cir. 2000) (internal citations omitted), quoting Schuler v. United States, 617 F.2d 605, 608 (D.C. Cir. 1979); see also Am. Nat'l Ins. Co. v. FDIC, 642 F.3d 1137, 1139 (D.C. Cir. 2011). Nevertheless, the Court need not accept inferences drawn by the plaintiff if those inferences are unsupported by facts alleged in the complaint, nor must the Court accept plaintiffs legal conclusions. Browning v. Clinton, 292 F.3d 235, 242 (D.C. Cir. 2002).

         I. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

         Under Rule 12(b)(1), the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence. See Lujan v. Defs. of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992); Shekoyan v. Sibley Int'l Corp., 217 F.Supp.2d 59, 63 (D.D.C. 2002). Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction and the law presumes that "a cause lies outside this limited jurisdiction." Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994); see also Gen. Motors Corp. v. EPA, 363 F.3d 442, 448 (D.C. Cir. 2004) ("As a court of limited jurisdiction, we begin, and end, with an examination of our jurisdiction."). "[B]ecause subject-matter jurisdiction is 'an Art[icle] III as well as a statutory requirement ... no action of the parties can confer subject-matter jurisdiction upon a federal court.'" Akinseye v. District of Columbia, 339 F.3d 970, 971 (D.C. Cir. 2003), quoting Ins. Corp. of Ir., Ltd. v. Compagnie des Bauxites de Guinee, 456 U.S. 694, 702 (1982).

         When considering a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction, unlike when deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court "is not limited to the allegations of the complaint." Hohri v. United States, 782 F.2d 227, 241 (D.C. Cir. 1986), vacated on other grounds, 482 U.S. 64 (1987). Rather, "a court may consider such materials outside the pleadings as it deems appropriate to resolve the question [of] 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), citing Herbert v. Nat'l Acad. of Scis., 974 F.2d 192, 197 (D.C. Cir. 1992); see also Jerome Stevens Pharm., Inc. v. FDA, 402 F.3d 1249, 1253 (D.C. Cir. 2005).

         II. Failure to State a Claim

         "To survive a [Rule 12(b)(6)] 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 (2009), quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). In Iqbal, the Supreme Court reiterated the two principles underlying its decision in Twombly: "First, the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions, " and "[s]econd, only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss." Id. at 678-79.

         A claim is facially plausible when the pleaded factual content "allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. at 678, citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556. "The plausibility standard is not akin to a 'probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id., quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556. A pleading must offer more than "labels and conclusions" or a "formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action, " id., quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, and "[t]hreadbare recitals of the ...


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