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Hall v. Nielsen

United States District Court, District of Columbia

January 17, 2019

STEVEN H. HALL, Plaintiff,
KIRSTJEN M. NIELSEN, in her capacity as Secretary, Department of Homeland Security, Defendant.



         Plaintiff Steven H. Hall used to work for Defendant Department of Homeland Security. After DHS terminated his employment, he sought administrative relief for a variety of forms of alleged discrimination. Before the case ever reached court, the parties entered into a settlement awarding Hall $55, 000. But, at least from Hall's perspective, the battle was only beginning. He subsequently filed a flurry of pro se lawsuits in various courts seeking damages against the agency and an attorney who represented him during the settlement process, Rosemary Dettling. These consolidated actions are the latest of those suits. The Court previously dismissed the claims against Dettling, and it now does the same for DHS.

         I. Background

         The Court has related the facts underlying Hall's lawsuits in several previous Opinions. See, e.g., Hall v. Nielsen, No. 18-461, 2018 WL 5840663 (D.D.C. Nov. 8, 2018); Hall v. Dep't of Homeland Security, 219 F.Supp.3d 112 (D.D.C. 2016). Only a brief summary is needed to catch readers up on the terrain. The Court first discusses Hall's employment with DHS before delving into the procedural history underlying his years-long traipse through different administrative and judicial fora. It closes with a brief elucidation of the claims he brings in this case.

         This story starts in 2012, when Plaintiff was working for DHS at its construction site on the former grounds of St. Elizabeth's. See ECF No. 12 (Second Amended Compl.) at ECF p. 58. (Docket citations that do not contain any case number refer to filings in the lead case, No. 18-461.) That year, he requested an accommodation for several respiratory illnesses that were exacerbated by dusty conditions at his workplace. Id. Over the next several years, Hall alleges, DHS sometimes accommodated his illnesses but other times did not. Id. at ECF pp. 58-60. It also provided him with workers' compensation for some periods during which he was ill but not for others. Id. Around the same time, Hall's supervisors disciplined him for misconduct and taking leave without authorization - charges that Hall denied. Id. DHS eventually terminated Hall's employment for misconduct on November 18, 2013. Id. at ECF p. 62.

         Plaintiff challenged his termination and his treatment in the lead-up to his firing before the Merit Systems Protection Board, retaining Rosemary Dettling to help with the case. Id. He subsequently agreed to a settlement that awarded him $55, 000 in exchange for withdrawing his claims against the agency. See ECF No. 38 (MTD), Exh. 1 (Settlement Agreement) at 3. Hall later sought to overturn the settlement before the MSPB, arguing that it was invalid and that he had revoked his prior acceptance. See Hall v. Dep't of Homeland Security, 2016 WL 3438497, ¶ 1 (M.S.P.B. June 23, 2016). The MSPB rejected his arguments, concluding that “he knowingly and voluntarily signed the settlement agreement.” Id., ¶ 10.

         Hall next turned to the courts. He first filed a lawsuit against DHS in this Court. See Hall v. Dep't of Homeland Security, No. 16-1471. Several months later, he voluntarily dismissed the government defendants from that action, choosing to pursue only his claims against his previous attorney Dettling. Id., Minute Order of August 18, 2016. The Court then dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction. Id., ECF No. 10, aff'd sub nom. Hall v. Dettling, 2017 WL 2348158 (D.C. Cir. May 17, 2017). Hall next challenged the MSPB's decision in the Federal Circuit, which dismissed the case because it did not have jurisdiction over his claims and because the appeal was untimely. See MTD, Exh. 3 (Federal Circuit Decision) at 2. His current lawsuit, which the Court discusses in more depth below, “does not seek judicial review of [that] MSPB decision.” Second Amended Compl. at ECF p. 1. The MSPB decision upholding the settlement thus remains the final word on that issue.

         One could be forgiven for thinking that would be the end of the story. Plaintiff, in fact, was just getting started. In 2018, he filed four additional lawsuits against his former employer in this Court. See Civil Action Nos. 18-444, 18-461, 18-1283, 18-1548. As two of those suits raised similar claims against many of the same parties, they were consolidated here. See Nos. 18-461 & 18-1548, Minute Orders of October 3, 2018.

         In each, Plaintiff asserts more than twenty counts and seeks more than a dozen different remedies. His claims against the Government, as best the Court can discern, fall into roughly three categories. The first set relates directly to his employment with DHS. In that regard, he alleges that Defendant discriminated against him on the basis of age and disability and that it improperly failed to pay him workers' compensation. See Second Amended Compl. at ECF pp. 67-69 (Counts I-XV, XVIII-XX, XXII); No. 18-1548, ECF No. 7 (Amended Compl.) at ECF pp. 19-21 (Counts I-XV, XVIII-XIX, XXI). He seeks an order requiring the agency to engage in an interactive process with him to accommodate his disability, to expunge all negative items from his personnel file, and to award him more than $800, 000 in compensatory and punitive damages. See Second Amended Compl. at ECF p. 71; No. 18-1548, Amended Compl. at ECF p. 23.

         The second category relates to the settlement agreement. Here, he claims that the settlement should be voided because it was the result of misrepresentation, duress, and collusion. See Second Amended Compl. at ECF pp. 68-69 (Counts I, XV-XVII, XXI, XXVI); No. 18-1548, Amended Compl. at ECF pp. 21-22 (Counts I, XV-XVII, XX, XXV-XXVI). He seeks an order from the Court finding the settlement “void as unconscionable and signed under duress.” Second Amended Compl. at ECF p. 71; No. 18-1548, Amended Compl. at ECF p. 23.

         Hall's third and final set of claims is his least intelligible but appears to relate to the Government's conduct during prior federal-court litigation. He specifically alleges that Defendant retaliated against him by failing to file an Answer, refusing to admit subject-matter jurisdiction, and preventing him from gaining discovery and a trial on the merits. See Second Amended Compl. at ECF pp. 69-70 (Counts XXIII-XXV); No. 18-1548, Amended Compl. at ECF p. 22 (Counts XXII-XXIV).

         Dettling, who was named as a Defendant only in No. 18-461, previously filed a motion to dismiss the claims against her on res judicata grounds, which the Court granted. See Hall, 2018 WL 5840663, at *3-5. The Government has filed its own Motion to Dismiss everything else, which is now ripe for the Court's consideration.

         II. Legal Standard

         Defendant seeks dismissal of this case under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1), the plaintiff bears the burden of proving that the Court has subject-matter jurisdiction to hear his claims. See Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992); U.S. Ecology, Inc. v. U.S. Dep't of Interior, 231 F.3d 20, 24 (D.C. Cir. 2000). A court has an “affirmative obligation to ensure that it is acting within the scope of its jurisdictional authority.” Grand Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police v. Ashcroft, 185 F.Supp.2d 9, 13 (D.D.C. 2001). For this reason, “‘the [p]laintiff's factual allegations in the complaint . . . will bear closer scrutiny in resolving a 12(b)(1) motion' than in resolving a 12(b)(6) motion for failure to state a claim.” Id. at 13-14 (quoting 5A Charles A. Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Fed. Practice & Procedure § 1350 (2d ed. 1987)). Additionally, unlike with a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court “may consider ...

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