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Williams v. Purdue

United States District Court, District of Columbia

June 7, 2019

MELVIN K. WILLIAMS, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
SONNY PERDUE, in his official capacity as Secretary, United States Department of Agriculture et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          TREVOR N. MCFADDEN, U.S.D.J.

         Federal courts, like museums, have different portals for different people. A hapless tourist who enters through the employees' door may be ejected from a museum, even if he were otherwise entitled to be there. Similarly, a plaintiff who comes into federal court through the federal removal process may find his case thrown out, even if it could have properly arrived there another way. Such is the plight of Melvin Williams, who sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, alleging the Department discriminated and retaliated against him based on his disability. The Department's conduct, he contends, violated the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 701 et seq.

         The Department, as a federal defendant, exercised its right to remove the case to federal court. It now seeks dismissal, arguing, among other things, that this Court lacks jurisdiction over Mr. Williams's Complaint. The Court agrees. Because the Superior Court lacks jurisdiction over Rehabilitation Act cases involving federal agency defendants, this Court cannot exercise derivative jurisdiction. It will therefore dismiss the case.

         I.

         Mr. Williams worked for the Department for about a decade before being fired in 2017. Compl. 1, ECF No. 16. He alleges that he injured his right hand while “on the job as a printing equipment operator.” Id.[1] The Department responded to this accident, he believes, in several improper ways. See Id. at 1-2. First, it “pretended the injury had not occurred at all.” Id. It “denied his repeated requests for reasonable accommodation, and then falsely claimed that he had requested no accommodation.” Id. at 2. It “discriminated and retaliated against him by refusing to authorize his continued leave without pay.” Id. Finally, it “fir[ed] him on the fabricated pretext that he had been absent without leave.” Id. Relying on these allegations, Mr. Williams asserts that the Department engaged in “disability-based discrimination under Section 504” of the Rehabilitation Act. Id. at 18.

         After he was terminated, Mr. Williams filed a complaint with the Department's Equal Employment Opportunity Office. See ECF No.1-3 at 1. The Office investigated and issued a report detailing its findings. Id. at 2. Based on this report and the record, the Department's Office of Adjudication issued a Final Agency Decision on Mr. Williams's claims. Id. It concluded that “discrimination and harassment did not occur with respect to the issues in this complaint.” Id. at 17. It found, among other things, that

• Mr. Williams “was given numerous opportunities to continue to work and was given modified duties that addressed the limited performance of his right hand, ”
• He “continuously refused to report for duty, even after he was medically cleared to report to work, ” and
• The Department “proffered a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its decision to terminate [Mr. Williams].”

Id. at 14-15.

         Mr. Williams disagrees with these findings. Proceeding pro se, he challenged the Final Agency Decision in the District's Superior Court. Compl. 1 n.1, ECF No. 16. See also Pl.'s Petition for Review of Agency Decision, ECF No. 1-2 at 2. His Petition named the Department and four of its employees as defendants. Id. But it did not describe any of his factual allegations or legal claims. See id. Because Mr. Williams sued federal defendants alleging violations of a federal law, the Department removed the case to this Court under 28 U.S.C. § 1442. See ECF No. 1 at 1.

         The Department then moved to dismiss the individually named defendants and for a more definite statement of Mr. Williams's claims. See ECF Nos. 4 and 10. The Court granted both motions. In requiring a more definite statement from Mr. Williams, it noted that a complaint in federal court must contain a “short and plain statement of the grounds for the court's jurisdiction, ” a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” and a demand for the relief sought. See Court's October 9, 2018 Order, ECF No. 11 at 1 (discussing Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)).

         A few days after the Court's Order, Mr. Williams obtained counsel. See ECF No. 12. He then filed the current Complaint detailing his contentions of law and fact. See Compl. In response, the Department has moved to ...


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