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Harriott v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority

United States District Court, District of Columbia

December 23, 2019

KENNETH HARRIOTT et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
WASHINGTON METROPOLITAN AREA TRANSIT AUTHORITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          TIMOTHY J. KELLY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Defendant Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) has moved to strike or dismiss Plaintiffs' class allegations and to dismiss Count II of the Amended Complaint. WMATA argues that Plaintiffs failed to move for class certification within the time limit imposed by this Court's Local Rules. WMATA also argues that it is immune from Plaintiffs' age discrimination claims. For the reasons discussed below, the Court will grant Defendant's motion. Accordingly, it will strike Plaintiffs' class claims and dismiss Count II of the Amended Complaint for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.

         I. Class Claims

         Local Rule of Civil Procedure 23.1(b) requires a plaintiff to move for certification under Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(c)(1) within 90 days of filing the first complaint bringing a class-wide claim. E.g., Sakyi v. Estee Lauder Cos., 298 F.Supp.3d 16, 17-18 (D.D.C. 2018). “Local Rule 23.1(b) and its predecessors have been strictly applied in this Circuit.” Howard v. Gutierrez, 474 F.Supp.2d 41, 53 (D.D.C. 2007); see also McCarthy v. Kleindienst, 741 F.2d 1406, 1411 (D.C. Cir. 1984) (explaining that the 90-day deadline “implements the policy behind the already extant requirement of Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(c)(1) that class certification decisions be made as soon as practicable”) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Here, Plaintiffs raised class-wide claims in their first complaint, which they filed on June 6, 2019. See ECF No. 1 ¶ 12. Therefore, they had to move for class certification by September 4, 2019. They failed to do so. They also failed to seek an extension from the Court or explain why, before responding to the instant motion, class certification should be saved for a later time. “Serious consequences often flow from a fair application of time limits, and that is the case here.” Howard, 474 F.Supp.2d at 57 n.11. Because Plaintiffs offer no persuasive reasons to excuse their neglect, see, e.g., id. at 55- 57, the Court will grant Defendant's motion and strike the class allegations from the Amended Complaint, see Artis v. Yellen, 309 F.R.D. 69, 73 (D.D.C. 2015).

         II. Count II: Age Discrimination Claim

         Under D.C. Circuit precedent, the Eleventh Amendment renders WMATA immune from suit under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA). Jones v. Washington Metro. Area Transit Auth., 205 F.3d 428, 431-32 (D.C. Cir. 2000). Plaintiffs make several attempts to circumvent this holding. First, they argue that the Supreme Court's decision in Mount Lemmon Fire District v. Guido, 139 S.Ct. 22 (2018), abrogated Jones. ECF No. 7 at 12- 13. The Court disagrees. Guido's holding was narrow; it focused exclusively on the ADEA definition of “employer.” See Guido, 139 S.Ct. at 25-26. It never so much as cited Kimel v. Fla. Bd. of Regents, 528 U.S. 62, 91 (holding that the ADEA did not validly abrogate states' Eleventh Amendment immunity), the decision on which the Jones court relied. Moreover, the passage in Guido to which Plaintiffs point cites the Supreme Court's earlier decision in EEOC v. Wyoming, 460 U.S. 226 (1983). And Wyoming addressed the ADEA in the context of the Tenth Amendment and Congress's power to regulate interstate commerce. It never so much as mentioned a state's sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment. By contrast, Kimel- which briefly discusses Wyoming in passing-explicitly invalidated “[t]he ADEA's purported abrogation of the States' sovereign immunity, ” Kimel, 528 U.S. at 91. And finally, even if the Court agreed with Plaintiffs' reading of Guido (which it does not), it could not so easily sidestep this Circuit's controlling precedent. “[D]istrict judges, like panels of [the D.C. Circuit], are obligated to follow controlling circuit precedent until either [the Circuit], sitting en banc, or the Supreme Court, overrule it.” United States v. Torres, 115 F.3d 1033, 1036 (D.C. Cir. 1997). And an intervening Supreme Court decision “effectively overrules” controlling precedent only if it “eviscerates” the prior precedent such that the two cases are “incompatible.” Perry v. Merit Sys. Prot. Bd., 829 F.3d 760, 764 (D.C. Cir. 2016) (citation omitted), vacated on other grounds sub nom. Perry v. Ross, 697 Fed.Appx. 18 (D.C. Cir. 2017). Whatever may be said of Guido, it does not “eviscerate” Jones.

         Next, Plaintiffs argue that WMATA waived its Eleventh Amendment immunity when it agreed to comply with the ADEA in a funding agreement with the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). ECF No. 7 at 13-14. Of course, Congress can condition receipt of federal funds on a state's waiver of immunity if Congress “manifests ‘a clear intent'” to do so. Barbour v. Washington Metro. Area Transit Auth., 374 F.3d 1161, 1163 (D.C. Cir. 2004) (citation omitted). However, Plaintiffs do not suggest that Congress imposed the relevant condition here. Rather, they argue that the FTA, an administrative agency, did. But they cite no authority for the notion that Congress can delegate its power to condition funds on a state's waiver of immunity to an administrative agency.[1] In other words, they have “not shown that Congress, by a silent, implicit delegation of authority, can open the door for expansions of federal power that it otherwise could not have accomplished without satisfying a stringent clear-statement rule.” See Slack v. Washington Metro. Area Transit Auth., 325 F.Supp.3d 146, 154 (D.D.C. 2018). Nor have they explained why merely agreeing to comply with the ADEA necessarily involves consenting to suits brought by private third parties. See Id. at 154-55. For these reasons, the Court declines to find that WMATA waived its sovereign immunity through the terms of its agreement with the FTA.

         Finally, Plaintiffs argue that WMATA waived immunity by including age discrimination protections in its own policies. ECF No. 7 at 14-16.[2] In the policy Plaintiffs reference, WMATA commits “to complying with all applicable federal laws that prohibit workplace discrimination and retaliation, ” on the basis of a variety of characteristics, including age. Id. at 14-15 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).[3] The policy also states that it “is not intended to prohibit Employees . . . from filing complaints with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.” Id. at 15 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). “Plaintiff[s'] argument, however, fails to grasp the distinction between WMATA's obligation to comply with federal laws . . . and its immunity from private suit in the absence of a sufficient waiver or abrogation of that immunity.” Buck v. Washington Metro. Area Transit Auth., No. CV 17-632 (RDM), 2019 WL 6617853, at *10 (D.D.C. Dec. 5, 2019). WMATA's statement in a policy that it will comply with federal laws that apply to it does not constitutes the “clear declaration” necessary to waive immunity. See Sossamon v. Texas, 563 U.S. 277, 284 (2011) (quoting Coll. Sav. Bank v. Fla. Prepaid Postsecondary Educ. Expense Bd., 527 U.S. 666, 682 (1999)).[4]

         Because WMATA is immune from Plaintiffs' ADEA claims, the Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over Count II of the Amended Complaint and must dismiss it. See Burkhart v. Washington Metro. Area Transit Auth., 112 F.3d 1207, 1216 (D.C. Cir. 1997) (noting that sovereign immunity is jurisdictional).

         III. Conclusion and Order

         For all the above reasons, it is hereby ORDERED that Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Count II and Strike Plaintiffs' Class Allegations, ECF No. 6, is GRANTED. It is FURTHER ORDERED that Plaintiffs' class allegations are STRICKEN; and Count II of Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint, ECF No. 5, is DISMISSED without prejudice.

         SO ORDERED.

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