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Hall v. McAleenan

United States District Court, District of Columbia

October 3, 2019

STEVEN H. HALL, Plaintiff,
v.
KEVIN MCALEENAN, Acting Secretary, Department of Homeland Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          JAMES E. BOASBERG UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pro se Plaintiff Steven H. Hall has filed a litany of lawsuits related to his employment with, and 2013 termination from, the Department of Homeland Security, as well as the 2015 settlement agreement concluding those affairs. In fact, a few months ago, this Court issued a Memorandum Opinion and separate Order enjoining him from filing future suits regarding, inter alia, his termination from DHS without prior leave of this Court. Hall v. McAleenan, No. 18-461, ECF Nos. 60-61. The current case does not fall within such proscription because it was filed before the injunction issued. The Complaint here nonetheless illustrates the necessity of the injunction, as it essentially repeats many of the same facts regarding his tenure and firing, although it admittedly adds a few other incidents that may have occurred after the settlement agreement. The Government now moves to dismiss, citing judicial estoppel, the settlement agreement, and claim preclusion. Believing this suit no more meritorious than the others, the Court will grant the Motion.

         I. Background

         As was the case in many of his prior pleadings, Hall favors a scattershot approach that jumbles myriad facts relating to various purported claims in one document and then adds multiple exhibits or appendices containing different facts and claims. See ECF No. 1 (Complaint) & Exhs. J (Chronological Facts), K (Legal Standards), L (Legal Basis for Compensatory and Liquidated Damages). As best the Court can discern - and based in part on prior Opinions in his other cases - Hall worked at DHS from August 2010 to November 2013. See Compl. at 4. After complaints about his behavior surfaced,

DHS placed Hall on administrative leave in 2013. See ECF No. 12 (Am. Compl.), Exh. N (Facts) at 3. The agency then indefinitely suspended and eventually terminated him. Id. at 5. Believing that his firing was the result of retaliation and discrimination, Hall filed several complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Merit Systems Protection Board. Id. at 5. He hired [attorney Rosemary] Dettling to represent him in these matters. Id. Although Hall settled with DHS during the administrative process, he believes he was given a poor deal. See, e.g., ECF No. 28 (Pl. Opp.) at 13-15. His dissatisfaction with both the underlying agreement and his representation in the matter has spurred the flurry of lawsuits that he has filed against both DHS and Dettling.

Hall v. Nielsen, No. 18-461, 2019 WL 1116911, at *1 (D.D.C. March 11, 2019).

         In the current suit, his specific causes of action are best understood as being set forth in Exhibit K to the Complaint, titled “Legal Standards.” Indeed, the Complaint explains that “Plaintiff's stated claims are listed in Ex. K.” Compl. at 12. That document spells out twelve separate allegations, many relating to discrimination and defamation in 2013, some concerning the 2015 settlement agreement, and others citing subsequent mistreatment, particularly DHS's placement of Hall on a Do Not Admit (DNA) List. The Government, not surprisingly, moves to dismiss.

         II. Legal Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of an action where a complaint fails to “state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Although “detailed factual allegations” are not necessary to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007), “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 Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). The Court “must treat the complaint's factual allegations as true and must grant [the] plaintiff ‘the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged.'” Sparrow v. United Air Lines, Inc., 216 F.3d 111, 1113 (D.C. Cir. 2000) (quoting Schuler v. United States, 617 F.2d 605, 608 (D.C. Cir. 1979)). It need not accept as true, however, “a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation” or an inference unsupported by the facts set forth in the Complaint. Trudeau v. FTC, 456 F.3d 178, 193 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (quoting Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)).

         Even at the Rule 12(b)(6) stage, a court can review “documents attached as exhibits or incorporated by reference in the complaint” or “documents upon which the plaintiff's complaint necessarily relies even if the document is produced not by the plaintiff in the complaint but by the defendant in a motion to dismiss.” Ward v. D.C. Dep't of Youth Rehab. Servs., 768 F.Supp.2d 117, 119 (D.D.C. 2011) (citations omitted); see also Banneker Ventures, LLC v. Graham, 798 F.3d 1119, 1133 (D.C. Cir. 2015) (“A district court may consider a document that a complaint specifically references without converting the motion into one for summary judgment.”).

         III. Analysis

         In seeking dismissal here, although the Government has many weapons at its disposal, its Motion focuses on two: claim/issue preclusion (in two forms) and judicial estoppel. The Court will analyze them in turn.

         A. Claim/Issue Preclusion re: Settlement Agreement

         At least two of Hall's causes of action attack the settlement agreement itself. Despite walking away with $55, 000, he believes himself ill used. Specifically, “Plaintiff states a claim pertaining to an illegal settlement breach term agreement (SBTA) from November 21, 2015, ” Legal Standards at 2 (Claim 7), and “Plaintiff states a claim pertaining to the settlement agreement from November 23, 2015.” Id. (Claim 10). Yet, this Court has previously concluded that the agreement is valid and was not procured by any improper means. In a recent Opinion, it explained again that claims relating to the agreement had already been rejected: “[B]ecause the validity of the settlement has been established [in prior litigation], any stand-alone counts ...


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