United States District Court, District of Columbia
E. BOASBERG UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Chris deLeon is a former employee of the Department of
Veterans Affairs Medical Center here in Washington. His stint
there was short but tumultuous. In just two years, he was
involved in several altercations, including one with his
superior and another with a Medical Center visitor, the
latter of which resulted in criminal assault charges. After
conducting an investigation into this incident, the agency
terminated deLeon. Plaintiff responded with this suit against
the VA and several officials, asserting various
constitutional and statutory causes of action arising from
his termination and other purported mistreatment. Defendants
now move to dismiss, contending that this Court lacks
subject-matter jurisdiction over certain counts and that
deLeon has failed to state any claims upon which relief can
be granted. Agreeing on both scores, the Court will grant the
Motion and dismiss the case.
must at this stage, the Court draws the facts from the
Complaint. See Sparrow v. United Air Lines, Inc.,
216 F.3d 1111, 1113 (D.C. Cir. 2000). In May 2017, deLeon
began working as a police sergeant for the Medical Center.
See Compl., ¶ 6. Some nine months later, in
February 2018, he became embroiled in a parking-lot
altercation, sustaining several injuries. Id.,
¶¶ 8-9; see id., ¶ 10 (limited range
of motion in his shoulder and inability to carry more than
five pounds). DeLeon's doctor, therefore, ordered him to
limit his physical activity. Id., ¶ 11. So when
Plaintiff returned to work, the agency assigned him a new
role - one that met these limitations - within the Physical
Security and Training section. Id.
after, in May 2018, Defendant Elton Artis became the Medical
Center's Acting Deputy Chief of Police. Id.,
¶ 13. Among other duties, he supervised deLeon's
assigned section. Id., ¶ 14. That month, Artis
asked Plaintiff to submit an agency form that sets out an
employee's specific work limitations. Id.
Believing that he had already submitted the necessary
paperwork, deLeon refused. Id. Not so easily
deterred, Artis reached out to Human Resources for
Plaintiff's medical records. Id., ¶ 15.
When deLeon learned that HR staff had been attempting to view
his records without his consent, he protested to the Deputy
Chief of that department. Id., ¶ 16. His
efforts, however, met with little success. The deputy
remarked that staff had the authority to review his records;
she also explained that because he was unable to fulfill his
assignment's duties, he was going to be reassigned to a
different role. Id.
alleges that shortly thereafter he was subjected to
harassment. At one point, for instance, Artis confronted
deLeon “in an angry tone while in possession of his
service weapon.” Id., ¶ 18. Fearing for
his safety, Plaintiff filed a complaint in D.C. Superior
Court, where he sought a protective order against Artis.
Id. The agency then allegedly retaliated against him
through a series of workplace incidents. Id.,
¶¶ 19-30. More on that later.
to the Complaint, his ill treatment did not end there. At the
beginning of 2019, the agency reassigned deLeon to an entry
desk at the Medical Center, where he was responsible for
screening and processing visitors. Id., ¶¶
29-30. While on duty there, on February 28, he became
entangled in yet another imbroglio, this time with visitor
Ilene Dadey. Id., ¶ 31. DeLeon alleges that
she, in contravention of agency policy, attempted to
photograph or videotape him. Id. Concerned for his
safety, Plaintiff grabbed her arm. Id. When Artis
learned of this, he contacted the D.C. Metropolitan Police
Department, which investigated the matter and arrested deLeon
for assault. Id. The agency, too, reviewed the
incident and placed him on administrative leave.
Id., ¶¶ 32-34. It eventually concluded
that his conduct was inappropriate and terminated him on
April 8. Id., ¶ 34. Later that month, Plaintiff
appealed his termination to the Merit Systems Protection
Board - an agency whose relevance will become plain shortly.
however, did not wait for an MSBP decision. On April 29,
shortly after filing his administrative appeal, he brought
suit against Defendants Artis, Robyn Hardy (the Chief of
Police of the Medical Center), Stanley Staton (an Assistant
Medical Director), and the agency. Id., ¶ 5. He
brings four claims - three constitutional and one statutory.
Id., ¶¶ 35-49. The first asserts that
Defendants retaliated against him in violation of the First
Amendment after he sought a protective order against Artis.
Id., ¶¶ 35-37. The second alleges that a
number of agency actions damaged his reputation and hindered
his employment prospects in violation of the Fifth Amendment.
Id., ¶¶ 38-41. The third makes out Privacy
Act violations based on the nonconsensual disclosure of his
personal information. Id., ¶¶ 42-44. And
the fourth alleges that Defendants, in violation of the
Fourth Amendment, conspired with MPD to arrest deLeon.
Id., ¶¶ 45-49.
recompense for the violations, he seeks, inter alia,
compensatory and punitive damages to the tune of 10 million
dollars. Id. at 19. Defendants, for their part, have
moved to dismiss deLeon's entire suit under Federal Rules
of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6).
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, “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 Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550
U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). 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, 216 F.3d at 1113 (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 thge facts set out 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); then quoting Kowal v. MCI
Commc'ns Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C. Cir.
1994)). For a plaintiff to survive a 12(b)(6) motion, the
facts alleged in the complaint “must be enough to raise
a right to relief above the speculative level.”
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.
Rule 12(b)(1), Plaintiff bears the burden of proving that the
court has subject-matter jurisdiction to hear his claims.
See Lujan v. Defs. of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561
(1992). A court also has an “affirmative obligation to
ensure that it is acting within the scope of its
jurisdictional authority.” Grand Lodge of Fraternal
Order of Police v. Ashcroft, 185 F.Supp.2d 9, 13 (D.D.C.
2001). As such, “‘the [p]laintiff's factual
allegations in the complaint . . . will bear closer scrutiny
in resolving a 12(b)(1) motion' than in resolving a
12(b)(6) motion for failure to state a claim.”
Id. at 13-14 (quoting 5A Charles A. Wright &
Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1350
(2d ed. 1987)).
mentioned above, deLeon accuses Defendants of violating the
First Amendment (Count I), Fifth Amendment (Count II), and
Privacy Act (Count III), as well as conspiring to violate the
Fourth Amendment (Count IV). See Compl.,
¶¶ 35-49. The First and Fourth Amendment claims are
asserted against individual Defendants pursuant to Bivens
v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of
Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971). In contrast, the Fifth
Amendment count is brought against the agency itself in the
name of the Secretary. Although the Defendants vary depending
on the count in question, the Court need not parse this too
finely at this point given the result. For ease of analysis,
it will begin by addressing Counts I and II together, as they
fall for the same reasons. It will then separately analyze
the remaining ones.
Counts I & II
first claims that he suffered certain work-related harms -
e.g., delayed and arbitrarily deflated performance
reviews, reduced workload and overtime potential, undesirable
assignments, and termination - that were inflicted in
retaliation for engaging in speech protected by the First
Amendment. See Compl., ¶¶ 35-37 (Count I).
That speech, he alleges, consisted of filing for a protective
order in Superior Court against Artis following a heated
confrontation. Id., ¶ 37. DeLeon further
alleges that Defendants, through these adverse employment
actions, violated his due-process rights, harmed his
reputation, and “prevented him from obtaining
employment in his chosen profession.” Id.,
¶¶ 38-41 (Count II). These wrongs, he argues,
violated his Fifth Amendment rights. Id.
moving to dismiss these two counts, Defendants contend both
that subject-matter jurisdiction is lacking and that the
claims suffer from substantive defects. See
Defs.' MTD at 6- 11; Defs.' Reply at 3-7. The Court
considers these arguments in turn.
their first submission, Defendants maintain that deLeon has
failed to exhaust his remedies under the Civil Service Reform
Act (codified as amended in scattered sections of 5 U.S.C.).
See Defs.' MTD at 6-7. Before delving into this
argument, the Court offers a few general words on the ...