United States District Court, District of Columbia
N. McFADDEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Sylvia Singletary, a licensed doctor of veterinary medicine,
alleges that her former employer, Howard University,
unlawfully terminated her employment and seeks damages and
other relief for breach of contract and under the
Anti-Retaliation Clause of the False Claims Act and the
District of Columbia's wrongful termination public policy
exception. First Am. Compl. (“Am. Compl.”)
¶¶ 1-2, 7, ECF No. 4. The University seeks to
dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim,
contending that Dr. Singletary did not engage in activity
protected under the False Claims Act and that the University
did not actually terminate her employment. Howard Univ.'s
Mem. of P. & A. in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss (“Mot.
to Dismiss”) 6-12, ECF No. 9. The Court finds that Dr.
Singletary has neither sufficiently alleged that she engaged
in protected activity nor that the University terminated her
employment. Dr. Singletary's False Claims Act claim
should therefore be dismissed for failure to state a claim,
and because the University's other grounds for dismissal
presents a challenge to her standing, her other claims will
be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The
University's motion will accordingly be granted and the
Amended Complaint will be dismissed.
Singletary, a licensed doctor of veterinary medicine, is a
former University employee. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 7,
At the University, she was responsible for the care,
treatment, and custody of all laboratory animals at the
University's College of Medicine. Id.
¶¶ 9-10. She also was responsible for maintaining
the University's compliance with various federal statutes
and regulations on the care of the laboratory animals,
including the Animal Welfare Act (“AWA”) and the
Health Research Extensions Act (“HREA”), both
enforced by the National Institute of Health
(“NIH”). Id. ¶¶ 11, 14.
in 2014, Dr. Singletary allegedly noticed and informed her
superiors that the animals' living conditions violated
the AWA and HREA; specifically, that the animals were being
kept in areas that were too hot, leading to the
“unnecessary suffering and deaths” of some
animals. Id. ¶ 12. After her “efforts and
many communications to her superiors, ” Dr. Singletary
alleges that she formally lodged a complaint to the NIH on
April 15, 2014. Id. ¶ 15. After making her
complaint, Dr. Singletary alleges that she was subject to
“open hostility from management” and that the
University gave her notice in June 2014 that she would be
terminated. Id. ¶¶ 16, 18.
Singletary's three-count Amended Complaint alleges that
(1) the University retaliated against her in violation of the
False Claims Act (“FCA”) because she engaged in
protected activity by communicating her concern to her
superiors and making a report to NIH, id.
¶¶ 28-29; (2) she was wrongfully terminated in
violation of the public policy of the District of Columbia,
id. ¶ 33; and (3) the University breached its
employment contract with her by terminating her without
cause, id. ¶¶ 21, 37.
matter jurisdiction concerns a court's power to hear a
claim. Macharia v. United States, 334 F.3d 61, 64
(D.C. Cir. 2003). If the “irreducible constitutional
minimum of standing” is not met, a court lacks subject
matter jurisdiction over the claim. See Lujan v.
Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560-61 (1992). The
plaintiff bears the burden of proof to establish that she has
standing and must show that she personally suffered an actual
or imminent injury because of the defendant's illegal
conduct, and that the injury can be redressed by a favorable
court decision. Id. at 560. A court may look beyond
the complaint to consider “undisputed facts evidenced
on the record” to satisfy itself that it has subject
matter jurisdiction. Coalition for Underground Expansion
v. Mineta, 333 F.3d 193, 198 (D.C. Cir. 2003).
may move to dismiss a complaint because it “fail[s] to
state a claim upon which relief can be granted.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). A complaint must contain sufficient
factual allegations that, if true, “state a claim to
relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl.
Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). A complaint
is insufficient if it merely offers “‘labels and
conclusions'” or “‘naked
assertion[s]' devoid of ‘further factual
enhancement.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S.
662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555,
546). Rather, “[a] claim has facial plausibility when
the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to
draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable
for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S.
at 678. Plausibility “asks for more than a sheer
possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully, ”
id., and pleading facts that are “merely
consistent with” a defendant's liability
“stops short of the line between possibility and
plausibility.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 545-46.
evaluating a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court
must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to
the plaintiff and accept as true all reasonable factual
inferences drawn from well-pleaded factual allegations.
See In re United Mine Workers of Am. Emp. Benefit Plans
Litig., 854 F.Supp. 914, 915 (D.D.C. 1994). The Court
does not accept as true legal conclusions or
“[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of
action, supported by mere conclusory statements.”
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. “In determining
whether a complaint fails to state a claim, [the court] may
consider only the facts alleged in the complaint, any
documents either attached to or incorporated in the complaint
and matters of which [the court] may take judicial
notice.” EEOC v. St. Francis Xavier Parochial
Sch., 117 F.3d 621, 624 (D.C. Cir. 1997). A court
“may judicially notice a fact that is not subject to
reasonable dispute because it . . . can be accurately and
readily determined from sources whose accuracy cannot
reasonably be questioned.” Fed.R.Evid. 201(b)(2).
Dr. Singletary's claims fail. Her FCA claim fails to
state a claim because she has not sufficiently pleaded that
she engaged in a protected activity. Dr. Singletary's
other claims fail because she has not met her burden to show
that she has standing for her claims of wrongful termination
and breach of contract. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 9-10. Both
bases are discussed below.
imposes liability on “any person who knowingly
presents, or causes to be presented, a false or fraudulent
claim for payment or approval.” 31 U.S.C. §
3729(a)(1)(A). Individuals who aid the Government in these
actions receive a monetary award up to 25% of the proceeds of
the action or settlement of the claim. Id. §
3730(d)(1)(b). The FCA also provides broad anti-retaliation
protection for whistleblowers. An “employee,
contractor, or agent” may seek relief if an employer
“discharged, demoted, suspended, threatened, harassed,
or in any other manner discriminated against in the terms and
conditions of employment because of [the] ...