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Muhammad v. United States

United States District Court, District of Columbia

March 7, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff Raheem Muhammad, appearing pro se, has brought this action against the United States and several officials and employees of the U.S. Postal Service (the “USPS”) (collectively, for purposes of this motion, the “United States”), [1] as well as the District of Columbia, for alleged injuries he suffered when he slipped and fell on a sidewalk outside a Post Office located in the District of Columbia. ECF No. 1 (“Compl.”). Muhammad seeks $1 million in compensatory damages. Id. at 13. The District of Columbia has moved to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. ECF No. 9 (“DC Mem.”). The United States has moved to dismiss all counts under Rule 12(b)(6), as well as Count Two under Rule 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. ECF No. 16-1 (“US Mem.”). For the reasons explained below, the Court will (1) grant the District of Columbia's motion in its entirety, (2) grant the United States' motion in part and deny it in part, and (3) deny Muhammad's pending motions to vacate certain minute orders and transfer the case.[2]

         I. Background

         The Court accepts as true the facts as pled in Muhammad's complaint. On the afternoon of June 5, 2014, Muhammad slipped and fell on the “public sidewalks and . . . curbs that were directly adjacent to . . . 5636 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C.” Compl. ¶¶ 16-17. The USPS operates a Post Office at that address. Id. ¶ 2. Muhammad suffered “major injuries to his head, shoulder, ribcage and etcetera.” Id. ¶ 18. The fall “caused a hole” in his forehead, which resulted in “a massive amount” of bleeding. Id. ¶ 19. A passerby helped Muhammad enter the Post Office. Id. ¶ 20. Once inside, Muhammad asked “Defendant [Jane] Doe and/or . . . anyone else . . . to immediately call ‘911.'” Id. ¶ 22. However, Doe refused both this request and Muhammad's request to use the Post Office's bathroom. Id. ¶ 23. Doe instead instructed Muhammad to use the bathroom of a grocery store “located down the street.” Id. As a result, he was “compelled to seek out ‘public transportation' for his severe head injuries in order to seek immediate medical treatment.” Id. ¶ 24. Muhammad attributes his injuries to Defendants' negligence in failing to maintain the sidewalk, as well as to “racism and apathy.” See id.

         In the complaint, Muhammad asserts the following claims, each against all Defendants:

. Count One: Negligence for failure to maintain the “postal facility's adjoining sidewalks; walkways and curbs, free of defects and . . hazardous conditions, ” and for failure to warn “Postal Patrons and/or Postal Visitors of potentially dangerous public sidewalks and/or public sidewalks' curbs.” Id. ¶¶ 26-27.
. Count Two: Violations of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 for failure “to provide adequate and meaningful safeguards for people with physical disabilities within . . . Post Office Facilities, ” which caused Muhammad “to suffer major and permanent physical and/or mental injuries.” Id. ¶¶ 42-43.
. Count Three: Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (“IIED”) that caused Muhammad to “suffer[] and continue[] to suffer severe mental anguish and emotional and physical distress.” Id. ¶ 50.
. Count Four: Violations of the Fourteenth Amendment through the actions of Defendant Jane Doe, who allegedly “deliberately and intentionally and unconstitutionally discriminated against Plaintiff . . . on the basis of his Islamic Religious Beliefs and/or his Physical Disabilities and/or his Race, so as to deny him equal protection of the law ” Id. ¶ 53.

         II. Legal Standard

         A. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

         Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. See Gen. Motors Corp. v. EPA, 363 F.3d 442, 448 (D.C. Cir. 2004) (“As a court of limited jurisdiction, we begin, and end, with an examination of our jurisdiction.”). The law presumes that “a cause lies outside [the Court's] limited jurisdiction” unless the party asserting jurisdiction establishes otherwise. Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994); see also Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992) (the burden is on the party asserting jurisdiction to establish the court's subject matter jurisdiction). “As a general matter, courts should consider Rule 12(b)(1) challenges to its subject matter jurisdiction before assessing the legal sufficiency of a claim under Rule 12(b)(6).” Lempert v. Rice, 956 F.Supp.2d 17, 27 (D.D.C. 2013). “Because subject-matter jurisdiction focuses on the court's power to hear [a] claim, ” the plaintiff's factual allegations are given “closer scrutiny” than required in deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion for failure to state a claim. Grand Lodge of Fraternal Order of Police v. Ashcroft, 185 F.Supp.2d 9, 13 (D.D.C. 2001).

         B. Failure to State a Claim

         A 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). The motion does not test a plaintiff's ultimate likelihood of success on the merits, but only requires the court to determine whether a plaintiff has properly stated a claim. ACLU Found. of S. Cal. v. Barr, 952 F.2d 457, 467 (D.C. Cir. 1991). “To survive a motion to dismiss, the complaint must ‘plead[] factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged, ' and ‘must suggest a plausible scenario that shows that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” Patton Boggs LLP v. Chevron Corp., 683 F.3d 397, 403 (D.C. Cir. 2012) (citations omitted) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009); Jones v. Horne, 634 F.3d 588, 595 (D.C. Cir. 2011)). “Where a complaint pleads facts that are ‘merely consistent with' a defendant's liability, it ‘stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of “entitlement to relief.”'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 557 (2007)).

         On a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court must treat the plaintiff's factual allegations as true and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. See Momenian v. Davidson, 878 F.3d 381, 387 (D.C. Cir. 2017). But the Court “need not accept inferences drawn by plaintiff[] if such inferences are unsupported by the facts set out in the complaint, ” Kowal v. MCI Commc'ns Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1994), and it is “not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation, ” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (internal quotation omitted). Although a pro se complaint, such as here, “must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers, ” the plaintiff still must plead “‘factual matter' that permits the court to infer ‘more than the mere possibility of misconduct.'” Atherton v. D.C. Office of Mayor, 567 F.3d 672, 681-82 (D.C. Cir. 2009) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79).

         III. Analysis

         The Court will first consider, and deny, the United States' motion to dismiss Count Two for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Court will then consider the United States' and the District of Columbia's motions to dismiss all claims for failure to state a claim. As explained below, the District of Columbia's motion will be granted, and the United States' motion will be granted in part (as to Counts Two and Four) and denied in part (as to Counts One and Three).

         A. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

         The United States asserts that jurisdiction is lacking over Muhammad's Rehabilitation Act claim (Count Two) because he failed to exhaust his administrative remedies under the Act's “distinct remedial scheme.” U.S. Mem. at 7. The USPS has promulgated regulations implementing Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. See 39 C.F.R. pt. 255. Specifically, 39 C.F.R. § 255.6 sets out the administrative procedures for filing Section 504 complaints “alleging disability discrimination in any program or activity of the Postal Service and brought by members of the public.” 39 C.F.R. § 255.6(b). Under the regulations, a complainant “shall first exhaust informal administrative procedures before filing a formal ...

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