United States District Court, District of Columbia
L. FRIEDRICH UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
the Court is the defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment.
Dkt. 16. Because the plaintiff lacks standing, the Court will
dismiss the suit without prejudice.
plaintiff Chris Tate, a mail handler in the Washington, D.C.
office of the United States Postal Service, sued the National
Postal Mail Handlers Union (the Union) and its local regional
president, Felandria Jackson. Tate claims that Sandra
Anderson-a Postal Service coworker and union agent who he
says was charged with representing his interests-wrongfully
submitted an unfavorable witness statement after he was
involved in a verbal altercation with another mail handler on
April 14, 2016. He seeks $15, 000 in damages. Compl. at 1,
Union certifies “stewards” to represent employees
by investigating, presenting, and settling workplace
grievances. Union Agreement, Dkt. 16-4 at 24. As a
Union-designated “alternate steward, ” Anderson
was responsible for assuming the duties of an absent
regularly assigned steward. Id.; Vines Decl. ¶
5, Dkt. 16-2. The regularly assigned steward was off work at
the time of the altercation, Vines Decl. ¶ 6, and the
parties dispute whether that placed Anderson in the steward
role. See Anderson Decl. ¶ 5, Dkt. 16-5
(Anderson testifying that she “engaged in no steward
activities” on the day of the altercation); Tate Dep.,
Dkt. 16-3 at 14 (Tate testifying that Anderson “is at
all times, as a matter of fact, a shop steward”).
Anderson witnessed at least part of the altercation, and
eight days later a supervisor asked her to provide a witness
statement. Anderson Decl. ¶ 6. As Anderson told it, the
altercation began when a coworker arrived at work, noticed
Tate sitting idly while Anderson worked, and confronted him
about his inactivity. Witness Statement, Dkt. 16-5 at
4. That provoked a heated exchange of words,
Anderson reported, and Tate “chest bump[ed]” and
threatened his antagonist. Id. Anderson then left to
get help. Id. In Tate's version of the story, he
simply stood up for himself after a drunken coworker who had
no authority over him berated him for not doing his job, when
in fact he had been working hard all morning. Tate Dep. at
16-19. Tate did not face any disciplinary action as a result
of the altercation. Vines Decl. at ¶ 7; Tate Dep. at
days after the altercation, Tate filed a claim for benefits
with the United States Office of Workers' Compensation
Programs. Citing the altercation, Tate alleged that he had
suffered a traumatic injury and sustained an emotional
condition because of a stressful work environment.
Workers' Compensation Decision, Dkt. 16-3 at 75. On June
9, 2016, the Office of Workers' Compensation denied the
claim on two independent grounds, concluding that (1) Tate
was not performing work duties when the altercation occurred;
and (2) Tate failed to produce evidence establishing a
medical diagnosis and a causal link between his work
activities and medical harm. Id. Upon learning of
the decision, Tate requested copies of the documents filed
with the Office of Worker's Compensation in his case, and
Anderson's witness statement was among them. Tate Dep. at
sued Jackson and the Union in D.C. Superior Court on
September 13, 2016, and the defendants removed the case to
this Court. See Dkt. 1-3. The complaint states in
its entirety: “I was misrepresented by Local 305 shop
steward pertaining to incident on 4-14-16.” Compl. at
1. Construed favorably on behalf of the pro se plaintiff, the
Court reads the complaint to allege that the witness
statement breached the duty of fair representation owed by
unions to employees under federal labor laws. See Vaca v.
Sipes, 386 U.S. 171, 177 (1967) (describing the duty and
explaining that it bars unions from conduct that is
arbitrary, discriminatory, or in bad faith); Tate Opp'n
Mem. at 2, Dkt. 18 (Tate elaborating the reasons for the
suit). The case was reassigned to the undersigned judge on
December 5, 2017.
grants summary judgment if the moving party “shows that
there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the
movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). Regardless of the
stage of litigation, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
requires a court to dismiss a suit when the court lacks
subject-matter jurisdiction. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3). It is
“presumed that a cause lies outside [the court's]
limited jurisdiction.” Kokkonen v. Guardian Life
Ins. Co., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). At the summary
judgment stage, standing-a requisite to subject-matter
jurisdiction-must be premised not on “mere
allegations” but on “specific facts” set
forth “by affidavit or other evidence.” Lujan
v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992) (some
quotation marks omitted).
Constitution empowers the federal judiciary to adjudicate
only cases or controversies. U.S. Const. art. III, § 2,
cl. 1. This limitation confines federal courts to “the
traditional role of Anglo-American courts, which is to
redress or prevent actual or imminently threatened injury to
persons caused by private or official violation of
law.” Summers v. Earth Island Inst., 555 U.S.
488, 492 (2009). The doctrine of standing enforces this
limitation. Id. To establish standing, a plaintiff
must demonstrate a concrete injury-in-fact that is fairly
traceable to the defendant's action and capable of being
redressed by a favorable judicial decision. Id. at
493. A court “has an independent obligation to assure
that standing exists, regardless of whether it is challenged
by any of the parties.” Id. at 499. If
standing does not exist, the court may not “step
where the Constitution forb[ids] it to tread” by
addressing the merits. Hancock v. Urban Outfitters,
Inc., 830 F.3d 511, 513 (D.C. Cir. 2016).
lacks standing because Anderson's witness statement
caused him no injury. The mere fact that the Union allegedly
breached the statutory duty of fair representation is not
enough. A plaintiff cannot premise standing on “a bare
violation of the . . . law, ” id. at 514,
because “Article III standing requires a concrete
injury even in the context of a statutory violation, ”
Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, 136 S.Ct. 1540, 1549 (2016);
see also Id. (“[A] bare procedural violation,
divorced from any concrete harm, ” is insufficient.).
In certain cases, to be sure, the “actual or threatened
injury required by Art. III may exist solely by virtue of
statutes creating legal rights, the invasion of which creates
standing.” Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 500
(1975) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Carey
v. Piphus, 435 U.S. 247, 266-67 (1978). But
Spokeo clarified that any presumption of injury is
limited to cases in which a sufficient “risk of real
harm” inheres in the statutory violation. 136 S.Ct. at
1549; see also Id. at 1550 (vacating the circuit
court judgment because the court “did not address the
question framed by our discussion, namely, whether the
particular procedural violations alleged in this case entail
a degree of risk sufficient to meet the concreteness
requirement”); Hancock, 830 F.3d at 514
(describing an argument that statutory violations are
generally presumptively injurious as “vastly
overread[ing]” Warth v. Seldin in light of
Spokeo); Braitberg v. Charter Commc'ns,
Inc., 836 F.3d 925, 929-930 (8th Cir. 2016) (similar);
Owner-Operator Indep. Drivers Ass'n, Inc. v. United
States Dep't of Transp., 879 F.3d 339, 343 (D.C.
Cir. 2018) (observing that the presumptively injurious
statutory violations given as examples by the Supreme Court
“resulted either from the disclosure of potentially
harmful information or from the withholding of public
information” when “[t]here is no reason to doubt
. . . that the information would help [the plaintiffs],
” FEC v. Akins, 524 U.S. 11, 21 (1998)). When
an alleged statutory violation “result[s] in no harm,
” no injury-in-fact exists. Spokeo, 136 S.Ct.
at 1550. In other words, a suit cannot proceed “without
some concrete interest” affected by the statutory
violation. Summers, 555 U.S. at 496.
concrete interest is absent here. Both Tate and the Union
suggest that the denial of the workers' compensation
claim injured Tate and thus confers standing. See
Tate Opp'n Mem. at 2; Union Suppl. Mem. at 5, Dkt.
But no causal link exists between the Office of Workers'
Compensation decision and Anderson's witness statement.
The decision was based on two independent grounds: (1)
Tate's alleged injuries did not occur during the
performance of work duties; and (2) Tate failed to produce
medical evidence. Workers' Compensation Decision at 75.
The letter of decision contains no indication that
Anderson's witness statement contributed to either
conclusion. In the letter's only mention of the witness
statement, the Office of Workers' Compensation observed
that the witness statement “corroborated”
Tate's assertion that an altercation occurred.
Id. It is true that after explaining its grounds for
decision, the Office of Workers' Compensation mentioned
that “[s]everal witness statements” reflected a
consensus that Tate had trouble getting along with coworkers,
id. at 76, and Anderson's witness statement
likely was one of them. But the conclusion that the
altercation did not occur during the course of work
performance was not based on that purported consensus.
Moreover, Tate's failure to produce medical evidence
could not have been caused by the witness statement-he did
not even know about the witness statement until after his
claim was rejected. See Union Mot. Summ. J., Dkt.
16, at 16-17. In other words, it is clear that had
Anderson's statement never been given, Tate's
workers' compensation claim still would have been denied.
And it requires speculation to suggest that the statement
played any adverse role in the decision at all.
the rejection of the workers' compensation claim, Tate
suffered no adverse event in the aftermath of the
altercation. See generally Tate Dep. Tate based his
damages calculation on leave time that he was forced to
expend, he claims, because of injuries resulting from the
altercation. See Id. at 65. That alleged harm,
however, derives solely from the altercation itself and the
denial of the workers' compensation claim; it is
unrelated to Anderson's witness statement. And while Tate
views the witness statement as malicious, unfair, and