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Hall v. Duke

United States District Court, District of Columbia

April 15, 2019

STEVEN H. HALL, Plaintiff,
v.
ELAINE C. DUKE, ACTING SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY; UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          TANYA S. CHUTKAN United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Steven Hall, proceeding pro se, is a former employee of the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”). He brings this suit challenging the rescission of his Workers' Compensation benefits and his termination from federal service. (ECF No. 9 (“Am. Compl.”) ¶¶ 2-3.) Defendants have moved to dismiss Plaintiff's amended complaint in its entirety (ECF No. 17); and Plaintiff has filed two “motions not to dismiss” the case (ECF Nos. 21 and 22). On March 31, 2019, this court issued an Order GRANTING Defendants' motion to dismiss and DENYING Plaintiff's motions not to dismiss. (ECF. No. 29.) This Memorandum Opinion explains the court's reasons for that Order.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         Plaintiff, an African-American male and a disabled veteran, began working for DHS on August 2, 2010. (Am. Compl. ¶ 1.)

         In August 2012, Plaintiff suffered from “illnesses/injuries” at a construction site at St. Elizabeth's Hospital, where he presumably was assigned to work. (Id. ¶ 2.) On November 20, 2012, he filed a claim with the Department of Labor's Office of Workers' Compensation Programs (“OWCP”). (Id. ¶ 1.) His request for benefits was approved in January 2013. (Id.)

         By letter dated January 22, 2013, Gary Myers, a DHS Program Manager/Policy Advisor, requested that the OWCP overturn its decision and preclude Plaintiff from receiving benefits due to an insufficient causal link between Plaintiff's job placement at St. Elizabeth's and his respiratory issues. (Id. Ex. 6.) Plaintiff alleges that attached to Myers' letter was an air quality report that was “biased, untimely, and inconclusive.” (Id. ¶¶ 2, 5.)

         In February 2013, Plaintiff again suffered from “illnesses/injuries” at the St. Elizabeth's construction site. (Id. ¶ 2.) In April 2013, OWCP awarded Plaintiff $30, 000 as compensation for the “work-related injury/illness.” (Id. ¶ 1.) In May 2013, DHS again challenged the benefits paid to Plaintiff, and on June 10, 2013, OWCP rescinded Plaintiff's benefits, and Plaintiff's status with DHS changed to Absent Without Leave (“AWOL”). (Id. ¶¶ 1, 2, 5.) On November 18, 2013, Plaintiff was terminated because he had been marked as AWOL for an extended period of time. (Id. ¶¶ 3, 5.)

         Prior to his termination, on May 20, 2013, Plaintiff filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). (Id. ¶ 4.) Plaintiff alleges that from the time he filed his complaint until the date he was terminated, the EEOC took no action to address his complaint. (Id. ¶ 4.a.) In response to the EEOC's inaction, on March 22, 2015, Plaintiff sent an addendum as a “courtesy to inform the agency that no actions were taken to resolve his EEO complaints.” (Id. ¶ 4.b.) On August 28, 2015, the EEOC dismissed Plaintiff's complaint as untimely. (Id. ¶ 4.c.)

         According to documents submitted with a supplement to Plaintiff's response, Plaintiff settled his claims against DHS in an agreement dated November 23, 2015.[2] (See ECF No. 22 (“Pl.'s Corrected Mot. Not to Dismiss”) Ex. 14.) It appears that, since that date, notwithstanding the settlement, Plaintiff has continued to challenge the EEOC's determination that his complaint was untimely in several forums. (See e.g., Am. Compl. ¶¶ 4.e.-j; Exs. AA, 7, 8.)

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require that a complaint contain “a short and plain statement of the claim” and “the grounds for the court's jurisdiction” so that a defendant has fair notice of the claim and the grounds upon which it rests. Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a); Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (per curiam) (citing cases). Rule 12(b)(6) permits a party to move to dismiss on the grounds that the complaint fails “to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). A Rule 12(b)(6) motion “tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint.” Browning v. Clinton, 292 F.3d 235, 242 (D.C. Cir. 2002). To withstand a 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) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). “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.” Id.

         A plaintiff's factual allegations need not establish all elements of a prima facie case, see Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 511-14 (2002); Bryant v. Pepco, 730 F.Supp.2d 25, 28-29 (D.D.C. 2010), but they “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007) (citations omitted). A complaint containing only “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements” cannot survive a motion to dismiss. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. In addition, the presumption of truth accorded factual allegations at this stage does not apply to a plaintiff's legal conclusions in the complaint, including those “couched” as factual allegations. Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

         “In ruling on a motion to dismiss, the Court may consider not only the facts alleged in the complaint, but also documents attached to or incorporated by reference in the complaint and documents attached to a motion to dismiss for which no party contests authenticity.” Demissie v. Starbucks Corp. Office & Headquarters, 19 F.Supp.3d 321, 324 (D.D.C. 2014). Therefore, “‘where a document is referred to in the complaint and is central to the plaintiff's claim, such a document attached to the motion papers may be considered without converting the motion to one for summary judgment. . . Otherwise, a plaintiff with a legally deficient claim could survive a motion to dismiss simply by failing to attach a dispositive document on which it relied. . . Moreover, a document need not be mentioned by name to be considered ‘referred to' or ‘incorporated by reference' into the complaint.” Strumsky v. Washington Post Co., 842 F.Supp.2d 215, 217-18 (D.D.C. 2012) (citations and quotations omitted); see also Long v. Safeway, Inc., 842 F.Supp.2d 141, 144-45 (D.D.C. 2012), aff'd, 483 Fed.Appx. 576 (D.C. Cir. 2012).

         Finally, the court is mindful that pro se pleadings must be liberally construed, as they are held to “less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by trained lawyers.” Budik v. Dartmouth- Hitchcock Med. Ctr., 937 F.Supp.2d 5, 11 (D.D.C. 2013) (quoting Erickson, 551 U.S. at 94) (internal quotation marks omitted). However, this liberal standard “is not . . . a license to ignore the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.” Neuman v. United States, 70 F.Supp.3d 416, 422 (D.D.C. 2014) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). Accordingly, “[a] pro se ...


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