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Niles v. U.S. Capitol Police

United States District Court, District of Columbia

April 25, 2019

LISA NILES, Plaintiff,
v.
U.S. CAPITOL POLICE, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          TANYA S. CHUTKAN United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Lisa Niles, a former police officer with the U.S. Capitol Police (“USCP”), brings this suit challenging her termination, alleging disability discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) (Count I), race and sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Count II), and a violation of her right to Due Process under the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution (Count III). (ECF No. 17 (“Am. Compl.”) at ¶¶ 37-54.) USCP moves, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), to dismiss Niles' disability discrimination claim for failure to state a claim, or, in the alternative for summary judgment, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. USCP also moves for summary judgement on Niles' race and sex discrimination claims. Finally, USCP moves to dismiss Niles' due process claim, or, in the alternative for summary judgment.

         On March 31, 2019, this court issued an Order GRANTING in part, and DENYING in part Defendant's motion to dismiss; and DENYING, without prejudice, Defendant's motion for summary judgment. This Memorandum Opinion explains the court's reasons for DENYING the motion to dismiss and DENYING, without prejudice, the motion for summary judgment with respect to Count I (disability discrimination); DENYING, without prejudice, the motion for summary judgment with respect to Count II (race and sex discrimination); and GRANTING the motion to dismiss with respect to Count III (violation of due process rights).

         I. BACKGROUND [1]

         While on duty as a USCP officer in 2005, Niles, who is African American, hit her head on a bike rack, fell to the ground, hitting her head again, and suffered a seizure. (Am. Compl. ¶ 17; ECF No. 23-1 (“Pl.'s Resp.”) at 21.) She was transported to the hospital where it was determined that her seizure was caused by the fall and/or a brain tumor. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 17-18.) Approximately seven years later, in 2012, Niles was promoted to the rank of Sergeant. (Id. ¶ 5.)

         On or about February 26, 2014, Niles was on an Amtrak train commuting to work when she was accused of taking a “seat check ticket.” (Id. ¶ 7.) She was unable to produce a ticket because she had obtained oral permission from an Amtrak conductor to ride the train without paying. (Id.) Because she did not have a ticket, Niles was sent to Amtrak Police, where she was questioned and warned that she could not board Amtrak trains without a paid ticket or a conductor's permission. (Id.) Niles continued to commute on Amtrak as a “courtesy rider” until May 17, 2014. (Id. ¶ 8.)

         During her Amtrak commute on May 17, 2014, Niles boarded the train after she asked a conductor if she could take a courtesy ride as a law enforcement officer and the conductor nodded. (Id. ¶ 9.) A different conductor later “seat-checked” Niles, who explained that she had been given permission to board as a “courtesy rider.” (Id. ¶ 10.) The conductor said she would not allow Niles a “courtesy ride, ” and Niles disembarked at the next stop, in Baltimore, Maryland, because she “did not want any problems.” (Id.) As Niles got off the train in Baltimore, Amtrak Police met her and asked her to follow them to their office. (Id. ¶ 11). Once there, they asked for identification, and Niles identified herself as a USCP Officer. (Id. ¶ 12.) The police then asked Niles for her credentials and her supervisor's name and phone number, which Niles provided. (Id.) After deciding “that she would rather pay the fare in order to avoid any other issues, ” Niles paid the fare and was allowed to proceed to Washington, D.C. (Id.)

         Three days later, Amtrak Police informed the USCP Office of Professional Responsibility (“OPR”) of the two incidents. (Id. ¶ 13.) OPR began an investigation, during which Niles “could not and would not” admit that Amtrak Police advised her in February 2014 that she “could face a citation or arrest for theft of services.” (Id. ¶¶ 7, 14.) Niles also denied that what she had done was illegal and maintained that she had no recollection of the February 2014 incident. (Id. ¶ 14.)

         The following month, Niles was charged by USCP with violating policies relating to “Conduct Unbecoming” and “Truthfulness.” (Id. ¶ 16.)

         Niles subsequently consulted with Dr. Clifford Reed, because she could not recall the February incident. (Id. ¶ 15.) Dr. Reed diagnosed Niles with transient global amnesia (“TGA”), a loss of memory “that manifests itself as a paroxysmal, transient loss of memory function. Immediate recall ability is preserved, as is remote memory, however, patients experience striking loss of memory for recent events and an impaired ability to retain new information temporary [sic].” (Id.) Niles then consulted with another doctor for a second opinion. (ECF No. 23-4 (“Pl.'s Ex. 1”) at 16-18.) The second doctor confirmed Dr. Reed's diagnosis and added a diagnosis of “short-term memory loss related to severe stress, depression, [and] anxiety.” (Id. at 18.)

         On February 12, 2015, the Disciplinary Review Board (“DRB”) held a hearing at which Niles presented medical evidence and Dr. Reed testified about the TGA diagnosis. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 20, 32-33.) Niles was found guilty of both charges. (Id. ¶ 20.)

         The DRB subsequently held a penalty assessment hearing and issued a report recommending that Niles be demoted due to the Conduct Unbecoming charge and terminated due to the Truthfulness charge. (Id. ¶ 21.) The report recommended that in the event the termination was mitigated and the demotion was held in abeyance, there should be further investigation of possible additional charges. (Id. ¶ 22.)

         On August 24, 2015, after being given the option to resign or be terminated, Niles was terminated. (Id. ¶ 24.) She alleges that USCP treated white male officers who engaged in misconduct more favorably and did not subject them to termination. (Id. ¶ 28.) Specifically, she alleges:

Upon information and belief, some white male officers were charged with filing false overtime claims from the unit that provided dignitary protective security for House and Senate leaders and other lawmakers. None of the white male officers were terminated. Upon information and belief, some white male officers left the [sic] service weapon in the public bathroom without any punishment. A white male officer was reprimanded for pornography. Some male officer had [an] adulterous relationship, but there was no punishment at all. None of these individuals were being terminated.

(Id.)

         II. STANDARDS OF REVIEW

         A. Rule 12(b)(6)

         A motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint. Browning v. Clinton, 292 F.3d 235, 242 (D.C. Cir. 2002). “To survive 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) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is plausible when it alleges sufficient facts to permit the court “to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citation omitted). When considering a defendant's motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the court must construe the complaint in a light most favorable to the plaintiff and must accept as true all reasonable factual inferences drawn from well-pleaded factual allegations. See Schuler v. United States, 617 F.2d 605, 608 (D.C. Cir. 1979), aff'd on reh'g, 628 F.2d 199 (D.C. Cir. 1980) (internal quotations omitted) (“The complaint must be liberally construed in favor of the plaintiff, who must be granted the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts ...


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