United States District Court, District of Columbia
N. MCFADDEN, U.S.D.J.
Singletary alleges that Howard University terminated her
employment in violation of the False Claims Act
(“FCA”) and in breach of her contract with the
University. After she amended her initial complaint, the
University moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim. The
Court granted that motion, finding that Dr. Singletary
neither sufficiently pleaded that she had engaged in
protected activity as required by the FCA nor that she was in
fact terminated by the University. See Singletary v.
Howard Univ., 314 F.Supp.3d 330 (D.D.C. 2018)
(“Singletary I”). Dr. Singletary now
seeks leave to file a Second Amended Complaint. See
Pl.'s Mem. in Supp. of Mot. for Leave to File, ECF No. 18
(“Pl.'s Mem.”). Because she has failed to
remedy the deficiencies of her prior complaint, and because
her proposed claims would not survive a motion to dismiss if
brought by the University, the Court will deny leave to file.
Singletary is a licensed veterinarian employed by Howard
University from early 2013 until August 2014. Second Am.
Compl. 3, 10, ECF No. 18-1. During that time, she served as
the University's Director of Veterinary Services. Second
Am. Compl. Ex. 1 at 1, ECF No. 18-3. She also served as a
member of the University's Institutional Animal Care and
Use Committee (“IACUC”). Second Am. Compl. 4.
recipient of government grants, the University must comply
with various federal laws about the use of laboratory
animals. Id. at 3. Dr. Singletary claims that during
her tenure the “animals at Howard were being kept in
conditions clearly in violation of” two such laws, the
Animal Welfare Act and the Health Research Extension Act.
Id. at 4. Mice were being housed “in areas
that were too hot.” Id. Starting in mid-2013,
Dr. Singletary told her supervisor, Dr. Thomas Obisesan, of
the rodents' living conditions “[o]n several
occasions, ” each time “exhort[ing]” him to
remedy the problem. Id. at 5. Dr. Obisesan was also
on the University's IACUC, serving as Howard's
designated “Institutional Official.” Id.
Dr. Obisesan “did not act on Dr. Singletary's
concerns, she made the same complaints” to IACUC Chair
Thomas Heinbockel and medical school Dean Mark Johnson.
Id. at 5-6. The air temperature problem was
“allowed to continue, ” and in April 2014, Dr.
Singletary “found 21 laboratory animals dead of heat
exhaustion.” Id. at 6-7. Dr. Singletary then
“decided that leaving the matter solely in Dr.
Obisesan's hands would not be prudent.”
Id. at 7. She emailed the National Institutes of
Health's Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare
(“NIH”), a federal agency, to notify them of the
rodents' death. Id.
Obisesan “was incensed by Dr. Singletary's
submission” to NIH, which “finally spurred Howard
to act and add air conditioning capacity that solved the
problem.” Id. At a team meeting a few weeks
later, Dr. Obisesan “excoriated Dr. Singletary”
and accused her “of a lack of professionalism and
integrity” for contacting NIH. Id. at 7-8. Dr.
Obisesan felt that she “had humiliated Howard before
[NIH].” Id. at 8.
little over a month later, Dr. Obisesan “sent Dr.
Singletary a letter informing her that [her employment
contract] was terminated.” Id. The letter
“gave her notice” that her last day of employment
would be December 31, 2014. Id. Dr. Singletary
continued working for the University until August 2014, when
she resigned. Id. In a sworn declaration submitted
to the Court, she explained that she resigned “because
[she] found new employment, ” but that she also
believed her resignation “was an involuntary
termination forced upon [her] by Howard.” Decl. of
Sylvia Singletary 3, ECF No. 11-1. She “had no choice
but to leave Howard” because “the attending
veterinarian community is small[, ] and she needed to protect
her reputation” from “rumors within her
professional community.” Second Am. Compl. 10.
proposed complaint alleges that (1) to receive and retain
grant money, the University falsely certified to the
government that it maintained appropriate living conditions
for the laboratory animals; (2) Dr. Singletary tried to
inform her supervisors that the University was not in
compliance with federal law; (3) she contacted NIH directly
when the University failed to take corrective action; (4) Dr.
Obisesan fired her for contacting NIH; (5) “termination
of [her] eighteen month initial appointment at Howard six
months early constituted unlawful retaliation” in
violation of the FCA; and (6) the University breached its
employment contract with her by forcing her resignation.
Second Am. Compl. 13-16. Dr. Singletary seeks various forms
of relief, including back pay, lost benefits, contract
damages, damages for emotional pain and suffering, and
attorney's fees. Id. at 15-16.
plaintiff can amend her complaint “once as a matter of
course within 21 days” of service. Fed.R.Civ.P.
15(a)(1). In “all other cases, ” she may amend
“only with the opposing party's written consent or
the court's leave.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). The
“grant or denial of an opportunity to amend is within
the discretion” of the Court. Foman v. Davis,
371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962). Denial is warranted where the
amended complaint shows a “repeated failure to cure
deficiencies by amendments previously allowed.”
Id. Leave to amend may also be denied as futile
“if the proposed claim would not survive a motion to
dismiss.” James Madison Ltd. by Hecht v.
Ludwig, 82 F.3d 1085, 1099 (D.C. Cir. 1996).
may move to dismiss a complaint when it “fail[s] to
state a claim upon which relief can be granted.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). A valid complaint must contain factual
allegations that, if true, “state a claim to relief
that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). Mere “labels
and conclusions” or “naked assertion[s] devoid of
further factual enhancement” are insufficient.
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)
(quotations omitted). Rather, “[a] claim has facial
plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that
allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the
defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.”
evaluating a motion to dismiss, the Court must construe the
complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and
accept as true all reasonable factual inferences drawn from
well-pleaded allegations. In re United Mine Workers of
Am. Emp. Benefit Plans Litig., 854 F.Supp. 914, 915
(D.D.C. 1994). The Court need not, however, accept legal
conclusions or mere conclusory statements as true.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Evaluating a motion to
dismiss is a “context-specific task that requires the
reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common
sense.” Id. at 679. It “may consider
only the facts alleged in the complaint, any documents either
attached to or incorporated in the complaint and matters of
which [the court] may take judicial notice.” EEOC
v. St. Francis Xavier Parochial Sch., 117 F.3d 621, 624
(D.C. Cir. 1997). The Court may judicially notice any fact
that “is not subject to reasonable dispute because it
can be accurately and readily determined from sources whose
accuracy cannot reasonably be questioned.” Fed.R.Evid.
Singletary's proposed amendments do not remedy the
defects of her previous complaint, and her allegations would
not withstand a motion to dismiss. Her FCA claim fails
because she has not sufficiently pleaded that she engaged in
protected activity giving the University notice that she was
investigating fraud. And, because she resigned voluntarily,