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Lawrence v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

March 8, 2019

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et. al., Defendant.


          AMY BERMAN JACKSON United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Samson Lawrence has brought this action against defendants District of Columbia and Chief of Police Peter Newsham, alleging that the District, acting through the Metropolitan Police Department (“MPD”), exceeded the statutory 90-day time limit to commence an adverse action to terminate him, in violation of D.C. Code § 5-1031 and the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution. Am. Compl. [Dkt. # 3] ¶ 17. Plaintiff also alleges that the MPD discriminated against him on the basis of race, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1944, as amended (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. Id. ¶ 19.

         Defendant District of Columbia has moved to dismiss plaintiff's claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and D.C. Code § 5-1031 for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), on the grounds that they are preempted by the Comprehensive Merit Personnel Act (“CMPA”), D.C. Code § 1-601, et. seq. Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss [Dkt. # 10] (“Def.'s Mot.”). The District has also moved to dismiss plaintiff's Title VII complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), on the grounds that plaintiff failed to state a claim on which relief can be granted. Id. For the reasons stated below, the Court will grant defendant's motion to dismiss as to plaintiffs D.C. Code § 5-1031 and constitutional due process claims but will deny the motion to dismiss as to the Title VII claim.


         Plaintiff was formerly employed as an officer with the MPD. Am. Compl. ¶ 3. On November 25, 2013, he was arrested in Maryland in connection with a domestic dispute with his wife. Id. ¶ 5. After plaintiffs arrest, MPD placed him on “non-contact status.” Id. ¶ 7. He was indicted in Maryland state court on December 19, 2013 for attempted first-degree murder, attempted second-degree murder, first-degree assault, second-degree assault, and two counts of carrying a weapon with intent to injure. Id. ¶ 9.

         On April 4, 2014, before the trial, MPD served plaintiff with a Notice of Proposed Adverse Action seeking to terminate his employment. Am. Compl. ¶ 10. Plaintiff requested an evidentiary hearing on the Notice. Id. The trial on the criminal charges took place in July, and on July 25, 2014, the court declared a mistrial because the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict. Id. ¶ 11. Plaintiff was re-tried, and on May 7, 2015, the jury found him not guilty on all charges in the indictment. Id. ¶ 12.

         Within one week of the not guilty verdicts, MPD fully restored plaintiff to his position as an MPD officer. Am. Compl. ¶ 13. However, on January 16, 2016, MPD presented plaintiff with an Amended Notice of Proposed Adverse Action for Removal based upon the conduct underlying the Maryland indictment. Id. MPD held evidentiary hearings on April 7 and April 20, 2016, and on June 10, 2016, a three-member review board issued a recommendation to terminate plaintiffs employment. Id. ¶ 15. On June 24, 2016, plaintiff appealed the recommendation to the Chief of Police. Id. ¶ 16. On July 18, 2016, the Chief of Police confirmed the review board's decision, and plaintiff was terminated from the MPD in August 2016. Id.

         Plaintiff filed its amended complaint on April 19, 2018. See Am. Compl. On July 6, 2018, the District of Columbia moved to dismiss the amended complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) for Counts I and II and 12(b)(6) for Count III. Def.'s Mot.; see Def.'s Mem. of P. & A. in Supp. of Def.'s Mot. [Dkt. # 10-1] (“Def.'s Mem.”) at 4-6. Plaintiff opposed the motion on August 17, 2018, see Pl.'s Statement in Opp. to Def.'s Mot. [Dkt. # 12] (“Pl.'s Opp.”), and the District of Columbia filed its reply on August 24, 2018. Def.'s Reply to Pl.'s Opp. [Dkt. # 13] (“Def.'s Reply”).


         In evaluating a motion to dismiss under either Rule 12(b)(1) or 12(b)(6), the Court must “treat the complaint's factual allegations as true and must grant plaintiff ‘the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged.'” Sparrow v. United Air Lines, Inc., 216 F.3d 1111, 1113 (D.C. Cir. 2000) (internal citation omitted), quoting Schuler v. United States, 617 F.2d 605, 608 (D.C. Cir. 1979); see also Am. Nat'l Ins. Co. v. FDIC, 642 F.3d 1137, 1139 (D.C. Cir. 2011), quoting Thomas v. Principi, 394 F.3d 970, 972 (D.C. Cir. 2005). Nevertheless, the Court need not accept inferences drawn by the plaintiff if those inferences are unsupported by facts alleged in the complaint, nor must the Court accept plaintiff's legal conclusions. Browning v. Clinton, 292 F.3d 235, 242 (D.C. Cir. 2002).

         I. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

         Under Rule 12(b)(1), the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence. See Lujan v. Defs. of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992); Shekoyan v. Sibley Int'l Corp., 217 F.Supp.2d 59, 63 (D.D.C. 2002). Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction and the law presumes that “a cause lies outside this limited jurisdiction.” Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994); see also Gen. Motors Corp. v. EPA, 363 F.3d 442, 448 (D.C. Cir. 2004) (“As a court of limited jurisdiction, we begin, and end, with an examination of our jurisdiction.”). “[B]ecause subject-matter jurisdiction is ‘an Art[icle] III as well as a statutory requirement . . . no action of the parties can confer subject-matter jurisdiction upon a federal court.'” Akinseye v. District of Columbia, 339 F.3d 970, 971 (D.C. Cir. 2003), quoting Ins. Corp. of Ir., Ltd. v. Compagnie des Bauxites de Guinee, 456 U.S. 694, 702 (1982).

         When considering a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction, unlike when deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court “is not limited to the allegations of the complaint.” Hohri v. United States, 782 F.2d 227, 241 (D.C. Cir. 1986), vacated on other grounds, 482 U.S. 64 (1987). Rather, “a court may consider such materials outside the pleadings as it deems appropriate to resolve the question [of] whether it has jurisdiction to hear the case.” Scolaro v. District of Columbia Bd. of Elections & Ethics, 104 F.Supp.2d 18, 22 (D.D.C. 2000), citing Herbert v. Nat'l Acad. of Scis., 974 F.2d 192, 197 (D.C. Cir. 1992); see also Jerome Stevens Pharms., Inc. v. FDA, 402 F.3d 1249, 1253 (D.C. Cir. 2005).

         II. Failure to State a Claim

         “To survive a [Rule 12(b)(6)] motion to dismiss, a 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), quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). In Iqbal, the Supreme Court reiterated the two principles underlying its decision in Twombly: “First, the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions, ” and “[s]econd, only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss.” Id. at 678-79, citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-56.

         A claim is facially plausible when the pleaded factual content “allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. at 678, citingTwombly, 550 U.S. at 556. “The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id., quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556. A pleading must offer more than “labels and conclusions” or a “formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action, ” id., quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, and ...

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