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Williams v. Brennan

United States District Court, District of Columbia

October 24, 2017

PAULETTE A. WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
MEGAN J. BRENNAN, Postmaster General, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          RANDOLPH D. MOSS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on an assortment of motions from Plaintiff and several Defendants, including two motions to dismiss, see Dkt. 21; Dkt. 29. For the reasons that follow, the Court will dismiss all claims against all Defendants-with the exception of Plaintiff's Rehabilitation Act claims against Megan Brennan in her official capacity as the Postmaster General.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Paulette Williams, proceeding pro se, filed this action in June 2017. Dkt. 1. The Court dismissed her initial complaint without prejudice for failure to comply with the minimal pleading requirements set forth in Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Dkt. 4. Williams moved for reconsideration; requested that the Court reopen the case; and filed an amended complaint. Dkt. 6; Dkt. 7 (Am. Compl.). The Court granted that motion and reopened the case. Dkt. 9. The amended complaint names sixteen Defendants. The United States Attorney's Office has appeared on behalf of eleven of the Defendants, including Postmaster General Megan Brennan and various Postal Service employees (“Federal Defendants”).[1] Private counsel has appeared on behalf of four additional Defendants, all of whom apparently work for the American Postal Workers Union (“APWU”).[2] As far as the Court can discern, counsel has yet to appear on behalf of the final Defendant, who is identified in the amended complaint as an “EEO Counselor.”[3]

         Most of the named Defendants are not discussed in any of the substantive allegations in the amended complaint. Although not a picture of clarity, the amended complaint appears to challenge the manner in which the Postal Service responded to Williams's “physical disability” and “mental health issues.” Dkt. 7 at 2-3 (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 1, 5). Williams first alleges that Tony Johnson, the Postmaster of Fort Belvoir, Virginia, (1) violated the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 by failing to accommodate her “physical disability;” (2) violated her “rights to return to work” under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973; and (3) “creat[ed] a hostile work environment” by making “crude remarks” about her “disability” and homelessness, presumably in violation of the Rehabilitation Act. Id. at 2 (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 1-3). Next, she alleges that Preston Phillips, the manager of a Postal Service facility in Gaithersburg, Maryland, retaliated against her due to a “pending grievance” and that he failed to accommodate her “mental health issues.” Id. at 3 (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 4-5). Third, she alleges that Patrice Shaw, the Officer in Charge at the Gaithersburg facility, threatened to “expos[e] her personal business” unless she met with Shaw “without a steward present, ” which was her “right [under the] collective bargaining agreement.” Id. (Am. Compl. ¶ 6). Shaw purportedly “victimized” Williams again by asking floor supervisor Loretta McCabe to notify Williams that her “job would . . . be abolished” on July 8, 2017, which contradicted a “certified letter stating [that] the abolishment would . . . take place” on July 22, 2017. Id. (Am. Compl. ¶ 8). Finally, Williams alleges that the Postal Service denied her “transfers, craft changes, other positions, advancements[, ] and promotions . . . due to [her] intent” to file suit against the agency and that she was “laid off again . . . due to [her] disability.” Id. at 3-4 (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 7, 9). Williams seeks “injunctive relief, ” id. at 4 (Am. Compl. Prayer), and $4, 440, 000 in damages for lost wages, mental anguish, and pain and suffering, id. at 10 (Am. Compl.).

         Two of the APWU Defendants, Romanah Nestor and Pamela Richardson, have moved to dismiss Williams's claims against them pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). Dkt. 21. Because the amended complaint “makes no factual allegations against” them, they argue, it does not provide adequate notice of Williams's claims and fails to state any claims against them. Id. at 2-3 (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a), 12(b)(6)). After Nestor and Richardson filed their motion, the Court advised Williams of the consequences of failing to respond and, in addition, ordered that Williams show cause why the Court should not dismiss “the claims against all Defendants not mentioned in the substantive averments” of the amended complaint. Dkt. 22 at 1-2. In response to the motion to dismiss and the Court's Order, Williams argues that her allegations against Nestor, Richardson, and “the other individuals named as defendants” were presented in her “initial complaint, ” and she makes several new factual assertions: (1) that APWU filed a grievance on Williams's behalf; (2) that APWU settled without her permission; (3) that after she learned of the “unfortunate pre-arbitration settlement, ” she informed Nestor and Richardson that she “had been sneakily bamboozled by APWU and [the Postal Service]” and would “not willingly . . . accept [such a] small payout;” and (4) that Nestor and Richardson failed to invalidate the settlement, barring Williams from pursuing arbitration. Dkt. 28 at 2-5. The other two APWU Defendants, Annette August-Taylor and Vance Zimmerman, filed a similar motion to dismiss. Dkt. 29. Williams's opposition, filed hours later, recounts how Williams allegedly contacted August-Taylor and Zimmerman to “figure out who [she] needed to meet with” to return the settlement check so that she could pursue arbitration. Dkt. 30 at 2.

         Nestor, Richardson, August-Taylor, and Zimmerman (“APWU Defendants”) filed a joint reply. Dkt. 31. They argue that Williams cannot amend her complaint through her opposition brief and that the Court should dismiss her claims with prejudice because “individual union officials and employees cannot be held liable” for breaching a union's duty of fair representation. Dkt. 31 at 2-4. In addition, they assert-preemptively-that the Court should deny leave to amend to sue the APWU itself because such an amendment would be futile. Dkt. 31 at 4-8.

         Because Williams responded to August-Taylor and Zimmerman's motion to dismiss before the Court could notify her of the consequences of failing to respond or to address particular arguments, the Court permitted her to file a supplemental opposition. Dkt. 32. Her supplemental opposition clarifies that her claims against August-Taylor and Zimmerman are based on their “refus[al] to allow [her] the opportunity to g[o] before an administrative law judge.” Dkt. 33 at 2. The next day, Williams moved for leave to file a second amended complaint but did not attach a proposed pleading. Dkt. 34. In addition, Williams has filed a second motion for a preliminary injunction barring the Postmaster General “from constantly doing things in a mischievous manner to [Williams's] wages” and requiring that the Postal Service “put [Williams] back to work straightaway.” Dkt. 18. Finally, Williams has renewed her request that the Court appoint counsel to represent her, Dkt. 13; Dkt. 23, and has filed an “emergency motion to appoint counsel, ” Dkt. 35.

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Williams's Claims

         Complaints by pro se litigants are held to “less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). The Court, accordingly, may “consider supplemental materials filed by [Williams, ] a pro se litigant[, ] in order to clarify the precise claims” raised in the amended complaint. Greenhill v. Spellings, 482 F.3d 569, 572 (D.C. Cir. 2007). Even a pro se litigant, however, must comply with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Jarrell v. Tisch, 656 F.Supp. 237, 239 (D.D.C. 1987). Rule 8(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires that a complaint contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(1). This requirement “ensures that the opposing party will receive ‘fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'” Jones v. Changsila, ___ F.Supp.3d ___, 2017 WL 4179881, at *7 (D.D.C. Sept. 20, 2017) (quoting Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007)). “Where a complaint is insufficiently focused, it places an undue burden on the defendant to answer or move[, ] and it invites unnecessary delay and confusion in the proceedings.” Achagzai v. Broad. Bd. of Governors, 109 F.Supp.3d 67, 71 (D.D.C. 2015). Moreover, “a pro se complaint, like any other, must present a claim upon which relief can be granted, ” as required by Rule 12(b)(6). Henthorn v. Dep't of Navy, 29 F.3d 682, 684 (D.C. Cir. 1994) (citation omitted)).

         1. APWU Defendants

         Williams's amended complaint does not contain any factual allegations with respect to the individual APWU Defendants, but, rather, merely alleges that she was “tricked” by the APWU. Dkt. 7 at 3 (Am. Compl. ¶ 7). As her oppositions clarify, Williams contends that the union procured an unauthorized and inadequate settlement and that the individual APWU Defendants failed to take corrective action. See Dkt. 28; Dkt. 30. The Postal Reorganization Act provides, “Any money judgment against a labor organization . . . shall be enforce[a]ble only against the organization as an entity and against its assets, and shall not be enforce[a]ble against any individual member or his assets.” 39 U.S.C. § 1208(c). Accordingly, to the extent Williams intends to allege that the individual APWU Defendants breached the duty of fair representation, her claims must be dismissed. See Price v. Union Local 25, 787 F.Supp.2d 63, 66 (D.D.C. 2011) (“[I]ndividual union officer[s] may not be held liable for money damages based on . . . actions undertaken as an officer of the union.”).[4] To the extent Williams intends to assert other claims against the APWU Defendants, such claims cannot be discerned from the amended complaint and, therefore, must also be dismissed. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a), 12(b)(6).

         In their joint reply, the APWU Defendants argue that the Court should preemptively deny Williams leave to amend her complaint to assert claims against APWU. Because Williams has not submitted a proposed second ...


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