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Cureton v. Nielsen

United States District Court, District of Columbia

September 26, 2018

KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, Secretary, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff, appearing pro se, sues the U.S. Department of Homeland Security ("DHS") and several DHS employees, claiming reprisal for engaging in protected activity under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e. The complaint is far from clear but stems from an alleged negative reference that "management officials" of the Office of Chief Financial Officer ("OCFO") provided to Immigration and Customs Enforcement ("ICE") as part of a pre-employment screening investigation. Compl. ¶ III.

         Pending is defendants' Motion to Dismiss [Dkt. # 6] ("Defs.' Mot.") under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which plaintiff has opposed. See Pl.'s Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss [Dkt. # 8] ("Opp'n"). Defendants contend that plaintiff failed to timely exhaust her administrative remedies and has otherwise failed to plead sufficiently under Rule 8(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. In addition, defendants contend that dismissal of all named defendants except DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen is required. Plaintiff has filed an unfocused opposition recounting events that were the subject of her previous employment discrimination cases in this court. See Cureton v. Nielsen, 304 F.Supp.3d 102 (D.D.C. 2018), appeal dismissed, No. 18-5104, 2018 WL 4099617 (D.C. Cir. July 25, 2018) ("Cureton II); Cureton v. Duke, 272 F.Supp.3d 56 (D.D.C. 2017), appeal dismissed sub nom. Cureton v. Nielsen, No. 17-5251, 2018 WL 4154788 (D.C. Cir. July 25, 2018) ("Cureton I). For the reasons explained below., defendants' motion is GRANTED.


         Plaintiff claims generally "Employment Discrimination Based upon Reprisal, previous EEO activity during federal employment 9/2013, 8/2015, 2/2016." Compl. ¶ II. A. She "believes she has been subjected to intentional discrimination and treated unfairly by DHS" since September 16, 2013, when she filed an age discrimination claim "while employed by DFIS" at the OCFO. Opp'n at 1; see also Compl. at 5.[1] In this case, plaintiff reasserts a retaliation claim that was dismissed in 2017 for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. Defs.' Mot. at 2 (citing Cureton I). The relevant facts follow.

         A. Adverse Fitness Decision

         On March 14, 2016, plaintiff was offered the full-time position of Senior Records Manager/Project Manager with a federal contractor, BarnAllen Technologies, Inc. The position was assigned to ICE's Agency Records Management project located at an ICE facility in Washington, D.C. See Compl. Attachments [Dkt. # 1-1] at 7 (offer letter). Plaintiffs "expected start date [was] contingent upon" the government's "acceptance of [her] qualifications" and "a favorable security clearance by the government." Id.

         By letter of May 6, 2016, plaintiff was informed by Anthony Pierri, ICE's Section Chief of the Personnel Security Unit, that "based upon the investigative results" of the pre-employment screening, she was "found unfit" due to "dishonest conduct as evidenced by your failure to honor just debts." Compl. Attach, at 15 (fitness letter). Plaintiff attributes Pierri's decision to an alleged "negative reference" that certain senior managers at OCFO had allegedly provided "Anthony Pierri and/or Kim Hodge." Id. at 4-5. Plaintiff surmises that Pierri "overturned Ms. Hodge's favorable suitability determination"-that she alleges was "granted ... via phone." Id. at 5.

         B. Related EEO Activity

         Meanwhile, in March 2016, plaintiff filed an EEO complaint, charging that DHS Headquarters failed to hire her in February 2016 for an advertised Management and Program Analyst position because of her prior EEO activity. Curelon I, 272 F.Supp.3d at 60. Plaintiff sought to amend that charge in May 2016 to add a claim of reprisal arising from the foregoing fitness decision, but DHS denied plaintiff's request upon determining that the amended claim was "not like or related to [the original] Complaint, as it involves a different agency, i.e. ICE, and could not have been reasonably expected to grow out of the investigation of the original claim against this agency." Id. (record citations omitted). The letter provided information about pursuing an EEO claim with ICE, including the name and address of the office to contact. Id.

         On reconsideration, DHS Headquarters affirmed the decision to deny the amendment as to ICE's fitness decision but permitted plaintiff to add a charge based on the alleged "negative employment reference" OCFO managers Rhonda Brooks and Chip Fulghum gave in May 2016 "in the course" of plaintiffs "candidacy for the contractor position" at BarnAllen Technologies, Inc. See Compl. Attach, at 1 (June 3, 2016 Amended Acceptance Letter - Revised); see also Cureton I, 272 F.Supp.3d at 60-61. The appeal letter again referred plaintiff to ICE's EEO office to redress ICE's negative fitness determination. See Cureton I, 272 F.Supp.3d at 60. As of October 26, 2016, ICE had no record of plaintiffs contacting ICE's Office of Diversity and Civil Rights, which "is responsible for receiving and processing EEO complaints filed by employees and applications of ICE." Id. at 61 (record citation omitted).


         A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss challenges the adequacy of a complaint on its face, testing whether a plaintiff has properly stated a claim. "While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiffs obligation to provide the grounds of [her] entitle[ment] to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (alteration in original) (citations and internal quotations marks omitted). The 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) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). "[T]he [C]ourt need not accept inferences drawn by plaintiff[] if such inferences are unsupported by the facts set out in the complaint." Kowal v. MCI Commc'ns Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1994).

         In ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court may consider "any documents either attached to or incorporated in the complaint . . . without converting the motion to dismiss into one for summary judgment." Baker v. Henderson,150 F.Supp.2d 13, 15 (D.D.C. 2001) (citations omitted). This includes documents that are "referred to in the complaint and [] central to the plaintiffs claim'" even if they are produced not by the plaintiff in the complaint but by the defendant in a motion to dismiss. Solomon v. Office of the Architect of the Capitol,539 F.Supp.2d 347, 349-50 (D.D.C. 2008) (citing Vanover v. Hantman,77 F.Supp.2d 91, 98 (D.D.C. 1999), aff'd 38 Fed. Appx. 4 (D.C. Cir. 2002)) (internal citations omitted). In addition, the Court may consider "matters of which it may take judicial notice," EEOC v. St. Francis ...

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