United States District Court, District of Columbia
DANIEL M. COVINGTON, Plaintiff,
HELIX ELECTRIC, INC., Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
TIMOTHY J. KELLY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Covington used to work for Helix Electric, Inc., as an
electrician in the District of Columbia. He asserts that he
injured himself while on the job at a worksite here, but he
filed a workers' compensation claim in Maryland, where he
resides. After his injury, and before he filed his claim,
Helix suspended Covington from his position and never asked
him back. Covington now claims Helix fired him in retaliation
for his pursuit of workers' compensation benefits. In
this lawsuit, he brings a single common-law claim of wrongful
discharge in violation of public policy.
has moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that Covington
cannot bring his wrongful discharge claim under District of
Columbia law. In particular, it argues that Covington has
failed to identify a public policy, as expressed in a statute
or regulation, that his termination violated. And it further
argues that the District of Columbia Court of Appeals has
foreclosed the specific type of wrongful discharge claim he
Court agrees that Covington cannot bring his claim under
District of Columbia law. But that does not end the matter; a
choice-of-law analysis is required. The Court finds that
under the District of Columbia's choice-of-law rules,
Maryland law applies to Covington's claim. And under
Maryland law, that claim may proceed. Accordingly,
Helix's motion to dismiss is denied.
Factual and Procedural Background
facts, recounted here as alleged in the complaint, are
uncomplicated. Daniel Covington is a licensed electrician.
ECF No. 1 (“Compl.”) ¶ 3. In 2016, he was
employed by Helix Electric, Inc., to work in the District of
November 2016, while on the job, Covington “tripped
over debris in an unlit area, ” injuring his right
foot, ankle, and leg. Id. ¶¶ 8-9, 11.
Helix took him to receive medical attention. Id.
¶ 11. Five days later, Helix suspended him
“without providing a reason.” Id. ¶
12. Covington thereafter never “return[ed] to work for
Helix.” Id. A week later, Covington filed a
claim with the Maryland Workers' Compensation Commission
based on the injuries he sustained while working for Helix.
Id. ¶ 14.
years later, Covington commenced this action, bringing a
single claim for the common-law tort of wrongful discharge.
See Id. ¶¶ 7-17. He claims that
“Helix terminated [him] as a result of [his injury] on
November 6, 2016[, ] and [his] viable claim for workers'
compensation benefit[s].” Id. ¶ 15. That
termination, Covington contends, “[was] a clear
violation of the public policies surrounding workers'
compensation benefits, ” id. ¶ 17, and he
seeks compensatory and punitive damages, see Id. at
now moves to dismiss the complaint under Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim.
See ECF No. 3-1 (“MTD”). Covington has
filed an opposition, ECF No. 6 (“Opp'n”), and
Helix a reply, ECF No. 7.
motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the legal
sufficiency of a complaint. Browning v. Clinton, 292
F.3d 235, 242 (D.C. Cir. 2002). When ruling on such a motion,
a court must determine whether the complaint contains
“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)). The court is generally limited to
“the facts alleged in the complaint, documents attached
thereto or incorporated therein, and matters of which it may
take judicial notice.” Stewart v. Nat'l Educ.
Ass'n, 471 F.3d 169, 173 (D.C. Cir. 2006). It must
accept the factual allegations as true and construe them
liberally, granting the plaintiff “the benefit of all
inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged,
” but it need not “accept legal conclusions cast
in the form of factual allegations.” Kowal v. MCI
Commc'ns Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1994).
argument for dismissal is straightforward. Covington brings a
single claim of wrongful termination in violation of public
policy-specifically, termination in retaliation for filing a
workers' compensation claim in Maryland. As this action
proceeds under the Court's diversity jurisdiction,
see Compl. ¶ 5, the Court must apply state
substantive law. See Hanna v. Plumer, 380 U.S. 460,
465 (1965). Wrongful termination, Helix acknowledges, is a
common-law tort recognized in the District of Columbia.
See MTD at 1 (citing Adams v. George W. Cochran
& Co., 597 A.2d 28 (D.C. 1991)). But to bring such a
claim, Covington must identify the source of the alleged
public policy in a statute or regulation. Covington's
complaint, Helix notes, cites no such source in District of
Columbia law. Indeed, Covington only references
Maryland's workers' compensation statute.
See Compl. ¶ 6. Therefore his claim must fail.
See MTD at 4-5.
Helix argues, even if Covington could rely on a Maryland
public policy-i.e. one expressed in Maryland's
workers' compensation statute-for purposes of his tort
claim under District of Columbia law, the District of
Columbia Court of Appeals forecloses claims for wrongful
discharge based on a statute that itself already provides a
remedy for the party aggrieved by its violation. See
Id. at 5 (citing Nolting v. Nat'lCapital Grp, Inc., 621 A.2d ...