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Powell v. Davis

United States District Court, District of Columbia

October 30, 2018

THEODORE E. POWELL, Plaintiff,
v.
ELIZABETH DAVIS, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          CHRISTOPHER R. COOPER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Theodore Powell, a former teacher, contends that the Washington Teachers Union failed to adequately represent him in challenging his termination by the District of Columbia Public Schools. Because federal court is not the proper forum for Mr. Powell to press his complaint, the Court will dismiss the case. And because Mr. Powell has persisted in filing lawsuit after lawsuit alleging the exact same claims despite repeated warnings that his efforts were futile and wasteful, the Court will enjoin him from filing any similar suit in the future without first obtaining leave of this Court.

         I. Background

         Mr. Powell was a physical education teacher for the District of Columbia Public Schools (“DCPS”) and a member of the Washington Teachers Union (“WTU”). He states that he was “battered by students” and was the victim of “several on the job assaults, ” leading to loss of eyesight, necrosis in his feet, and emotional trauma. Compl. at 2, 5. Powell says that his school's principal did nothing about it; even worse, the principal fired him. Compl. At 2-3. Powell alleges that the WTU breached its duty of fair representation to him by failing to advance his grievances about work-related injuries and to contest his termination.[1]

         Powell has sought recourse for these alleged wrongs for over seven years, through eight different legal actions in three different fora. In this latest action, he has named WTU's President, Elizabeth Davis, as the sole defendant. Because Ms. Davis's motion to dismiss and request for an injunction barring future litigation are premised on the fact that this current suit is no different from previous incarnations, the Court will recount that litigation history briefly here.[2]

February 2011: Powell sued WTU and various WTU officials in District of Columbia Superior Court. All claims stemmed from the alleged failure of the WTU to support him regarding workplace injuries and in challenging his DCPS termination. Powell v. Am. Fed'n of Teachers, 883 F.Supp.2d 183, 184 (D.D.C. 2012). After removal to this Court, Judge Sullivan dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction, reasoning that Powell's claims were subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the D.C. Public Employee Relations Board (“PERB”). Id. at 186-87.
April 2011: Powell filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the PERB, contending that the WTU failed to adequately represent him regarding workplace injuries and in challenging his DCPS termination. Powell v. Wash. Teachers' Union, PERB Case No. 11-U-26, Op. No. 1136, 2011 WL 13079466, at *1 (Oct. 7, 2011). The PERB dismissed the complaint. Id. at *2-3.
August 2012: Powell filed suit in federal court, naming WTU, various WTU officials, and the PERB as defendants, and again contending that the WTU failed to adequately represent him regarding workplace injuries and in resisting his DCPS termination. Powell v. Am. Fed'n of Teachers, Civ. A. No. 12 1384, 2012 WL 3757731, at *1 (D.D.C. Aug. 22, 2012). Powell also requested that the Court review the PERB's decision. Judge Lamberth, like Judge Sullivan before him, dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction. Id.
September 2013: Powell filed two more lawsuits in this district, the first asking for a writ of mandamus that would compel DCPS to re-hire him, and the second repeating the now-familiar claim that WTU failed to adequately represent him. Powell v. Washington Teachers' Union, 968 F.Supp.2d 267 (D.D.C. 2013); Powell v. Gray, Civ. A. No. 13-1568, 2013 WL 5615129 *1 (D.D.C. Sept. 26, 2013). Judge Howell referenced the prior decisions by Judges Sullivan and Lamberth, dismissed both cases for lack of jurisdiction, and warned Powell that he “still has no recourse in this Court.” Powell, 2013 WL 5615129 at *1.
November 2014: Powell filed yet another suit in this district against WTU for allegedly failing to represent him; he also challenged the PERB's dismissal of his complaint. Powell v. Gray, No. 1:14-cv-01997, 2014 WL 6734809, at *1 (D.D.C. Nov. 25, 2014). Judge Contreras dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction and res judicata. Id.
July 2015: Powell filed a second petition for review of the PERB decision in D.C. Superior Court, but the petition was dismissed as barred by res judicata and collateral estoppel. Powell v. Bowser, No. 2015 CA 004962 P(MPA) (D.C. Super. Ct. Oct. 6, 2015).
May 2017: Powell returned for a fifth time to this district, asking it to review the PERB's dismissal of Powell's complaint. Powell v. Bowser, Civ. A. No. 1:17-cv-01135 (D.D.C. May 19, 2017). Judge Chutkan recognized the suit as “yet another attempt by [Powell] to challenge his termination, ” noted that Powell had been “told before” of the futility of pursuing relief in federal court, and dismissed the case. Id. at 2.

         This unbroken string of defeats has not deterred Mr. Powell. He is back for a ninth time, pressing the same basic complaints about the WTU's alleged failure to adequately represent him-this time against WTU's current President, Ms. Davis. Liberally construed, Powell's pro se complaint also attempts to spell out a constitutional due process claim and a claim under the D.C. Human Rights Act. Davis has moved to dismiss the complaint in its entirety, Powell has opposed that motion, [3] and the matter is now ripe for the Court's resolution.

         II. ...


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