GREGORIO v. HOOVER et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Emmet G. Sullivan on 02/28/2017. (lcegs3)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
) Civil Action No. 16-782 (EGS)
STANLEY K. HOOVER, and
CHESAPEAKE DISTRICT OF THE
Newton Gregorio, co-founder of the Capital Wesleyan Church
(“Capital”), brings this action individually and as the Pastor
and Minister in Charge of Capital against the Chesapeake
District of the Wesleyan Church (“Chesapeake”) and Stanley K.
Hoover, Chesapeake’s Superintendent. Mr. Gregorio asserts claims
of breach of contract, unjust enrichment, wrongful eviction,
defamation, and age discrimination. Defendants have moved to
dismiss Mr. Gregorio’s complaint for lack of subject matter
jurisdiction or, in the alternative, for failure to state a
claim upon which relief may be granted. Upon consideration of
the motion, the response and reply thereto, the applicable law,
and for the reasons discussed below, defendants’ motion to
dismiss is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.
The facts alleged in the complaint are as follows. In 1995,
Newton Gregorio and his wife, Lynette Gregorio, co-founded the
Capital Inner City Outreach Ministry, which they later
incorporated as the Capital Wesleyan Church. Compl., ECF No. 1-1
¶ 6. Capital adopted and affiliated itself with Wesleyan
religious doctrines and principles but retained its
organizational, administrative, and pastoral independence vis-àvis the national Wesleyan Church and the national Church’s midAtlantic regional subsidiary, the Chesapeake District of the
Wesleyan Church. Id. ¶¶ 6-8.
Despite that independence, Chesapeake procured a loan in
the amount of $110,000 from the Wesleyan Investment Foundation
(“WIF”) to be used for the purchase of property at 3831 14th
Street, Northwest, Washington, D.C., and Capital and Chesapeake
co-signed the promissory note related to that loan. Id. ¶ 7. The
Deed of Trust, however, was in Chesapeake’s name only, and
Chesapeake holds title to the property. Id. ¶¶ 7, 9. At some
point, Capital and Chesapeake “entered into an agreement”
related to the 3831 14th Street property that provided that
Chesapeake would secure and arrange the financing to purchase
the property; that Capital would be responsible for repaying the
loan; that Chesapeake would hold title to the property while the
loan was in repayment “to protect against Capital’s default on
the loan”; and that, when the loan was repaid, Chesapeake would
“relinquish the title to the property to Capital free and clear
of any encumbrances.” Id. ¶¶ 18, 21. By 2005, Capital, using
“the funds of the Capital membership without any contribution
from Chesapeake,” had fully repaid the loan, but since that time
Chesapeake has refused to transfer title to Capital. Id. ¶¶ 9,
16, 19, 21.
Chesapeake also obtained financing to purchase an adjacent
property at 3829 14th Street, Northwest, Washington, D.C. and
entered into a “special arrangement” with Capital “whereby the
property would be owned by Chesapeake, but Capital would be
responsible for payment of the [p]romissory [n]ote on the
property.” Id. ¶¶ 17, 31.1 Thus, Mr. Gregorio “raised the funds
to pay for” the 3829 14th Street property. Id. ¶ 10. Those
payments were made until Chesapeake took action in the spring
and summer of 2015 to remove Mr. Gregorio from his positions as
Pastor and Minister in Charge of Capital. See id. ¶ 31.
Mr. Gregorio had held those positions along with his wife
until she passed away in 2011. See id. ¶¶ 7, 10. After Mr.
Gregorio’s wife’s passing, Stanley K. Hoover, the District
Superintendent for Chesapeake, formally appointed Mr. Gregorio
Mr. Gregorio’s complaint has two consecutive paragraphs
numbered “17.” To avoid confusion, the Court will construe both
paragraphs to constitute a single paragraph 17.
as Minister in Charge of Capital. Id. ¶ 10. Although Mr.
Gregorio maintains that Mr. Hoover and Chesapeake had no
authority to determine who was Minister in Charge of Capital,
Mr. Gregorio accepted the appointment and, concurrent with it,
accepted a stipend of $1,500 per month. See id. ¶¶ 10-11. Mr.
Gregorio stopped receiving that stipend in October 2012. Id. ¶
On April 29, 2015, Mr. Hoover informed Mr. Gregorio that it
was time for Mr. Gregorio to retire because Chesapeake had
“younger people” capable of taking his place and that his last
day as Minister in Charge would be May 31, 2015. Id. ¶ 12. Mr.
Gregorio, however, continued to assert his authority to act as
Minister in Charge. Id. Chesapeake and Mr. Hoover responded by
changing the locks to the buildings on the 3829 and 3831 14th
Street properties without notice to Mr. Gregorio. Id. ¶ 13. On
June 26 and July 2, 2015, Chesapeake and Mr. Hoover sent a
letter to law enforcement authorities in the District of
Columbia and Maryland stating that Mr. Gregorio “had made
illegal and unauthorized entry onto the properties” and informed
Mr. Gregorio that he would be subject to arrest if he attempted
to enter them again. Id. ¶¶ 14, 38, 40.
Mr. Gregorio, individually and as Pastor and Minister in
Charge of Capital,2 alleges six counts against Chesapeake and Mr.
Hoover: (1) breach of contract based on defendants’ failure to
convey title to the 3831 14th Street property to Capital
pursuant to the agreement to carry out such a transfer upon
Capital’s repayment of the WIF loan, id. ¶¶ 17-22; (2) loss of
wages based on defendants’ failure to pay the promised monthly
stipend of $1,500 starting in October 2012, id. ¶¶ 23-26; (3)
unjust enrichment based on defendants’ retention of the title to
the 3831 14th Street property despite Capital’s repayment of the
relevant loan, and unjust enrichment based on defendants’
acceptance of Capital’s payments on the loan pertaining to the
3829 14th Street property, id. ¶¶ 27-31; (4) wrongful eviction
based on defendants changing the locks to the buildings on the
properties in order to prevent Mr. Gregorio from accessing them,
id. ¶¶ 32-26; (5) defamation based on the letter defendants
disseminated to law enforcement authorities that stated that Mr.
In a footnote and without citation to any legal authority,
defendants argue that Mr. Gregorio “lacks the capacity to sue as
the pastor of Capital.” See Defs.’ Mem. in Supp. of Mot. to
Dismiss, ECF No. 7-1 at 6 n.1. This Court “‘need not consider
cursory arguments made only in a footnote.’” Alsawam v. Obama,
864 F. Supp. 2d 1, 5 (D.D.C. 2012) (quoting Hutchins v. District
of Columbia, 188 F.3d 531, 539 n.3 (D.C. Cir. 1999) (en banc)).
Accordingly, the Court declines to consider defendants’
footnoted, unsupported argument concerning Mr. Gregorio’s
capacity to bring claims on behalf of the entity that he cofounded and incorporated.
Gregorio had illegally entered onto the properties, id. ¶¶ 3741; and (6) age discrimination based on Mr. Hoover forcing Mr.
Gregorio to retire from his position at Capital because younger
people were able to take his place. Id. ¶¶ 42, 45-47.
Defendants removed the case to this Court, see Notice of
Removal, ECF No. 1, and have moved to dismiss the claims against
them because, they argue, this Court lacks subject matter
jurisdiction or, in the alternative, because Mr. Gregorio has
failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. See
generally Defs.’ Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 7. Defendants’ motion
is now ripe and ready for the Court’s adjudication.
“A federal district court may only hear a claim over which
[it] has subject matter jurisdiction; therefore, a Rule 12(b)(1)
motion for dismissal is a threshold challenge to a court’s
jurisdiction.” Metro. Washington Chapter v. District of
Columbia, 57 F. Supp. 3d 1, 13 (D.D.C. 2014). To survive a Rule
12(b)(1) motion to dismiss, “the plaintiff bears the burden of
establishing jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence.”
Moran v. U.S. Capitol Police Bd., 820 F. Supp. 2d 48, 53 (D.D.C.
2011) (citing Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561
(1992)). Because Rule 12(b)(1) concerns a court’s ability to
hear a particular claim, “the court must scrutinize the
plaintiff’s allegations more closely when considering a motion
to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) than it would under a
motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6).” Schmidt v. U.S.
Capitol Police Bd., 826 F. Supp. 2d 59, 65 (D.D.C. 2011). In so
doing, the court must accept as true all of the factual
allegations in the complaint and draw all reasonable inferences
in favor of the plaintiff, but the court need not “accept
inferences unsupported by the facts alleged or legal conclusions
that are cast as factual allegations.” Rann v. Chao, 154 F.
Supp. 2d 61, 64 (D.D.C. 2001). In reviewing a motion to dismiss
pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), the court “may consider such
materials outside the pleadings as it deems appropriate to
resolve the question whether it has jurisdiction to hear the
case.” Scolaro v. D.C. Bd. of Elections & Ethics, 104 F. Supp.
2d 18, 22 (D.D.C. 2000); see also Jerome Stevens Pharm., Inc. v.
FDA, 402 F.3d 1249, 1253 (D.C. Cir. 2005).
A motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint.
Browning v. Clinton, 292 F.3d 235, 242 (D.C. Cir. 2002). A
complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim
showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, in order to give
the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the
grounds upon which it rests.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550
U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal quotation marks omitted). The
plaintiff need not plead all of the elements of a prima facie
case in the complaint. See Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S.
506, 511-14 (2002).
Despite this liberal pleading standard, to survive a motion
to dismiss, 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)
(internal quotation marks omitted). A claim is facially
plausible when the facts pled in the complaint allow the court
to “draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable
for the misconduct alleged.” Id. The standard does not amount to
a “probability requirement,” but it does require more than a
“sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id.
“[W]hen ruling on a defendant’s motion to dismiss [pursuant
to Rule 12(b)(6)], a judge must accept as true all of the
factual allegations contained in the complaint,” Atherton v.
D.C. Office of the Mayor, 567 F.3d 672, 681 (D.C. Cir. 2009)
(internal quotation marks omitted), and the court must give the
plaintiff the “benefit of all inferences that can be derived
from the facts alleged.” Kowal v. MCI Commc’ns Corp., 16 F.3d
1271, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1994). Even so, the court need not “accept
inferences drawn by plaintiffs if such inferences are
unsupported by the facts set out in the complaint” or “legal
conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations.” Id.
Further, “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of
action, supported by mere conclusory statements” are not
sufficient to state a claim. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.
“In determining whether a complaint states a claim, the
court may consider the facts alleged in the complaint, documents
attached thereto or incorporated therein, and matters of which
it may take judicial notice.” Abhe & Svoboda, Inc. v. Chao, 508
F.3d 1052, 1059 (D.C. Cir. 2007) (internal quotation marks
omitted). Among the documents subject to judicial notice on a
motion to dismiss are “public records.” Kaempe v. Myers, 367
F.3d 958, 965 (D.C. Cir. 2004).
First Amendment Religious Entanglement Doctrines
Relying on two doctrines rooted in the First Amendment’s
Religion Clauses——the ministerial exception and the
ecclesiastical abstention doctrine——defendants argue that Mr.
Gregorio’s claims are inextricably intertwined with religious
matters such that this Court, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), does
not have subject matter jurisdiction over them. See Defs.’ Mem.
in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss (“Defs.’ Mem. Supp.”), ECF No. 7-1
at 6-7. Although both of these doctrines can warrant dismissal
of claims on First Amendment grounds, the ministerial exception
“operates as an affirmative defense to an otherwise cognizable
claim, not a jurisdictional bar.” Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical
Lutheran Church & Sch. v. EEOC, 565 U.S. 171, 195 n.4 (2012).
Accordingly, defendants’ ministerial exception arguments are
properly analyzed under a Rule 12(b)(6), rather than a Rule
12(b)(1), lens. See Cannata v. Catholic Diocese of Austin, 700
F.3d 169, 171 (5th Cir. 2012). However, without definitive
guidance otherwise from the Supreme Court or the D.C. Circuit,
the Court will analyze defendants’ arguments under the
ecclesiastical abstention doctrine——which is “related” to but
“distinct” from the ministerial exception, see Kavanagh v.
Zwilling, 997 F. Supp. 2d 241, 248 n.7 (S.D.N.Y. 2014)——under a
Rule 12(b)(1) lens, as that approach is consistent with the
long-standing practice of treating questions of ecclesiastical
entanglement as jurisdictional. See id.
The ecclesiastical abstention doctrine is grounded in a
“long line of Supreme Court cases that affirm the fundamental
right of churches to ‘decide for themselves, free from state
interference, matters of church government as well as those of
faith and doctrine.’” EEOC v. Catholic Univ. of Am., 83 F.3d
455, 462 (D.C. Cir. 1996) (quoting Kedroff v. St. Nicholas
Cathedral of Russian Orthodox Church in N. Am., 344 U.S. 94, 116
(1952)). Accordingly, the doctrine “limit[s] the role of civil
courts in the resolution of religious controversies that
incidentally affect civil rights,” Serbian E. Orthodox Diocese
v. Milivojevich, 426 U.S. 696, 710 (1976), and “severely
circumscribes the role that civil courts may play in resolving
church property disputes.” Presbyterian Church v. Mary Elizabeth
Blue Hull Mem’l Presbyterian Church, 393 U.S. 440, 449 (1969).
Even so, “not every civil court decision as to property claimed
by a religious organization jeopardizes values protected by the
First Amendment.” Id. Thus, “a State may adopt any one of
various approaches for settling church property disputes so long
as it involves no consideration of doctrinal matters, whether
the ritual and liturgy of worship or the tenets of faith.” Jones
v. Wolf, 443 U.S. 595, 602 (1979) (internal quotation marks
omitted). The District of Columbia has adopted the neutral
principles approach to resolve church property disputes. Family
Fed’n for World Peace v. Hyun Jin Moon, 129 A.3d 234, 249 (D.C.
2015). Under that approach, a court “relies exclusively on
objective, well-established concepts of trust and property law
familiar to lawyers and judges,” thereby keeping it free “from
entanglement in questions of religious doctrine, polity, and
practice.” Jones, 443 U.S. at 603. As long as its analysis
avoids judicial entanglement with religious doctrine, a court
under the neutral principles approach can appropriately assess
various documents, including deeds, corporate charters, and
church constitutions. See Md. & Va. Eldership of the Churches of
God v. Church of God at Sharpsburg, Inc., 396 U.S. 367, 367-68
(1970) (holding that a court’s resolution of a church property
dispute did not involve an inquiry into religious doctrine when
the court had assessed the language in deeds, the terms of
corporate charters, and the terms of a church’s constitution).
The related ministerial exception “precludes application of
[employment discrimination laws] to claims concerning the
employment relationship between a religious institution and its
ministers.” Hosanna-Tabor, 565 U.S. at 188. “The exception . . .
ensures that the authority to select and control who will
minister to the faithful——a matter strictly ecclesiastical——is
the church’s alone.” Id. at 194-95 (internal quotation marks and
citation omitted). The Supreme Court has expressed no view on
whether the exception bars claims other than employment
discrimination claims. Id. at 196. In this Circuit, the
exception does not bar a breach of contract claim when
resolution of such a claim is “subject to entirely neutral
methods of proof.” Minker v. Baltimore Annual Conference of
United Methodist Church, 894 F.2d 1354, 1359-61 (D.C. Cir.
Mr. Gregorio alleges that defendants discriminated against
him on the basis of age because Mr. Hoover forced him to retire
from his positions as Pastor and Minister in Charge of Capital
by telling him that he needed “to retire” because there were
“younger people” to take his place. Compl., ECF No. 1-1 ¶¶ 12,
45. Defendants argue that Mr. Gregorio’s age discrimination
claim is barred because whether he makes this claim under the
District of Columbia Human Rights Act (“DCHRA”), D.C. Code. § 21401.01 et seq., or the federal Age Discrimination in Employment
Act (“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq., he has failed to exhaust
his administrative remedies. Defs.’ Mem. Supp., ECF No. 7-1 at
30-31. In response to this argument, Mr. Gregorio maintains that
his age discrimination claim is not brought pursuant to the
DCHRA or the ADEA but rather should be “taken in connection with
his defamation claims and breach of contract claims.” Pl.’s Mem.
in Supp. of Opp. to Defs.’ Mot. to Dismiss (“Pl.’s Opp.”), ECF
No. 11 at 9. Although it is not entirely clear what Mr. Gregorio
means by his assertion that his age discrimination claim should
be “taken in connection with” certain of his other claims, it is
clear enough that Mr. Gregorio has abandoned any stand-alone age
discrimination claim. Accordingly, defendants’ motion to dismiss
Mr. Gregorio’s age discrimination claim is GRANTED.3
Even if Mr. Gregorio had not abandoned his age discrimination
claim, the ministerial exception bars such a claim. Mr.
Gregorio’s allegation is that Mr. Hoover “forced him to retire
because of his age,” thereby ending his tenure as Pastor and
Minister in Charge of Capital. Compl., ECF No. 1-1 ¶¶ 45-46. The
age discrimination claim before the Court thus “is an employment
discrimination [claim] brought on behalf of a minister,
challenging [his] church’s decision to fire [him].” See HosannaTabor, 565 U.S. at 196. “[T]he ministerial exception bars such a
[claim].” See id. That bar is in place because the Court’s
Breach of Contract to Pay Mr. Gregorio a Stipend
Mr. Gregorio asserts a claim that he calls “loss of wages,”
Compl., ECF No. 1-1 ¶¶ 23-26, or, alternatively, “lost revenue.”
Pl.’s Opp., ECF No. 11 at 7. This claim is based on the alleged
promise that was made to Mr. Gregorio to provide him with a
stipend of $1,500 per month. Compl., ECF No. 1-1 ¶ 11. Mr.
Gregorio stopped receiving this stipend in October 2012. Id.
Defendants argue that Mr. Gregorio’s claim for loss of
wages should be barred by the ministerial exception. Defs.’ Mem.
Supp., ECF No. 7-1 at 8-10. Even if the ministerial exception
poses no bar, defendants argue that the loss of wages claim
should be dismissed because there is no District of Columbia
cause of action for loss of wages. Id. at 26-27. And even if the
Court construes Mr. Gregorio’s claim as one for breach of
contract, defendants argue that that claim should still be
dismissed because Mr. Gregorio never alleges that defendants
agreed to pay him any compensation, which is consistent with his
involvement in assessing the propriety of Mr. Gregorio’s
termination would improperly entangle the Court in “an internal
church decision that affects the faith and mission of the church
itself.” Id. at 190; see also Minker, 894 F.2d at 1356-58
(affirming the dismissal of a minister’s age discrimination
claims on the ground that “evaluation of the ‘gifts and graces’
of a minister must be left to ecclesiastical institutions”). To
the extent that Mr. Gregorio’s argument is that he was never
employed by Chesapeake as a minister such that the ministerial
exception is inapposite, see Pl.’s Opp., ECF No. 11 at 9, 17-18,
he does not offer any viable non-employment basis for
maintaining an age discrimination claim.
repeated assertions that Capital is completely independent from
Chesapeake. Id. at 27-28. Defendants assert that “the only
reasonable inference” is that any promise to pay Mr. Gregorio
was made by Capital, not by Chesapeake or Mr. Hoover. Id. at 28.
Because a court’s determination of whether a plaintiff has
stated a claim turns not on “labels and conclusions” or the
“formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action,” see
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, but rather turns on whether a
plaintiff has alleged “sufficient factual matter, accepted as
true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face,”
see Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (internal quotation marks omitted),
there is no reason to dismiss a claim merely because Mr.
Gregorio affixes a misleading doctrinal label to it. See Rose
Hall, Ltd. v. Chase Manhattan Overseas Banking Corp., 93 F.R.D.
858, 862 (D. Del. 1982) (“[I]f facts are pleaded which establish
that recovery is warranted, a Court will apply the relevant
theory even though not pleaded.”). Accordingly, scrutinizing the
factual allegations rather than the labels in the complaint, the
Court appropriately construes Mr. Gregorio’s loss of wages claim
as one for breach of contract.
In the District of Columbia, the elements of a breach of
contract claim are: “‘(1) a valid contract between the parties;
(2) an obligation or duty arising out of the contract; (3) a
breach of that duty; and (4) damages caused by breach.’” Brown
v. Sessoms, 774 F.3d 1016, 1024 (D.C. Cir. 2014) (quoting
Tsintolas Realty Co. v. Mendez, 984 A.2d 181, 187 (D.C. 2009)).
Defendants argue that there was no valid contract between them
and Mr. Gregorio because Mr. Gregorio has not specifically
alleged that defendants agreed to pay him a stipend and that
“the only reasonable inference” is that Capital made that
promise of a stipend. Defs.’ Mem. Supp., ECF No. 7-1 at 27-28.
This argument is unavailing. Mr. Gregorio alleges that he “was
promised a stipend/allowance” of $1,500 per month. Compl., ECF
No. 1-1 ¶ 11. Although it is not entirely clear who made that
promise, on a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim,
the complaint is construed liberally in Mr. Gregorio’s favor,
and the Court should grant him the benefit of all inferences
that can be derived from the facts that have been alleged. See
Kowal, 16 F.3d at 1276. Accordingly, at this stage of
proceedings, the Court infers that defendants promised to pay
Mr. Gregorio for his services as Pastor and Minister in Charge
and that they breached their duty to make that payment when they
withheld payment starting in October 2012. See Compl., ECF No.
1-1 ¶ 11.
Defendants’ argument that the ministerial exception bars
this breach of contract claim is also unavailing. In Minker, the
D.C. Circuit recognized that a “church is always free to burden
its activities voluntarily through contracts, and such contracts
are fully enforceable in civil court.” 894 F.2d at 1359. There,
the court considered a breach of an oral employment contract
claim asserted by a minister. Id. at 1359. The court recognized
that “[i]t could turn out that in attempting to prove his case,
[the minister] will be forced to inquire into matters of
ecclesiastical policy even as to his contract claim.” Id. at
1360. But in recognition of the possibility that “it may turn
out that the potentially mischievous aspects of [his] claim . .
. are subject to entirely neutral methods of proof,” the court
deemed dismissal premature. Id. The same analysis is warranted
here. If it turns out that resolution of Mr. Gregorio’s claim
that defendants breached a contract to pay him a stipend
requires excessive entanglement with religious doctrine, the
Court can grant summary judgment in favor of defendants. See id.
But because at this early stage it is not entirely clear that
resolution of Mr. Gregorio’s claim will require anything other
than “neutral methods of proof,” dismissal on ministerial
exception grounds is not warranted. See id. Accordingly,
defendants’ motion to dismiss Mr. Gregorio’s claim of breach of
a contract to pay him a stipend is DENIED.
Breach of Contract to Convey Title to Real Property
Mr. Gregorio also asserts that defendants have breached a
contract to convey title to the 3831 14th Street property to
Capital. He acknowledges that “Chesapeake’s name only” is on the
deed of trust and that “Chesapeake still holds the title” to the
property in question. Compl., ECF No. 1-1 ¶¶ 7, 9. Even so, Mr.
Gregorio alleges that Capital and Chesapeake “entered into an
agreement” whereby Capital would repay the loan and Chesapeake
would hold title until the loan was fully repaid. Id. ¶ 18. Upon
repayment of the loan, Chesapeake was to “relinquish the title
to the property to Capital.” Id. ¶ 21.
Defendants argue that the Court lacks subject matter
jurisdiction over this breach of contract claim. The first
argument that defendants put under the subject matter
jurisdiction heading is that because Capital is a component or
subsidiary of Chesapeake, Chesapeake is the rightful owner of
any real property in question, and thus Mr. Gregorio’s claims
related to that property are merely alternative
characterizations of his underlying employment-related claims:
i.e., his age discrimination claim and breach of contract claim
concerning the promised stipend. See Defs.’ Mem. Supp., ECF No.
7 at 11-12. According to defendants, because those underlying
employment-related claims should be barred due to excessive
religious entanglement, the claims concerning real property
should be similarly barred. Id. at 13.
This argument is unpersuasive. Even assuming that “Capital
is a part of the Chesapeake District,” see id. at 11-12, it is
not clear why Capital’s status as a subsidiary to Chesapeake
would deprive this Court of jurisdiction to resolve a claim of
breach of contract brought on Capital’s behalf. See Stamp v.
Inamed Corp., 777 F. Supp. 623, 628 (N.D. Ill. 1991) (“[A]
subsidiary surely can sue its parent for breach of contract.”).
That is, even if Capital were a component of Chesapeake, that
does not automatically bar claims brought against Chesapeake on
Capital’s behalf. Thus the claims concerning real property,
including the breach of contract claim, cannot simply be reduced
to and dismissed as alternative characterizations of Mr.
Gregorio’s employment-related claims. To the extent that
defendants’ argument is that it is impermissible for Mr.
Gregorio to allege facts resembling an employment relationship
to support his age discrimination claim and stipend contract
claim, see, e.g., Compl., ECF No. 1-1 ¶ 10 (“Hoover . . .
appointed [Mr. Gregorio] as Minister in Charge of . . .
Capital.”), at the same time that he alleges facts suggesting
Capital’s independence from Chesapeake to support the claims
concerning real property, see, e.g., id. ¶ 8 (“The only
assistance Chesapeake gave to Capital was to procure a loan . .
. .”), that argument is unavailing. The Federal Rules “permit[ ]
inconsistency in both legal and factual allegations . . . .”
Indep. Enters. v. Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Auth., 103 F.3d 1165,
1175 (3d Cir. 1997).
Defendants’ second subject matter jurisdiction argument is
no more persuasive. Defendants argue that the ecclesiastical
abstention doctrine poses a jurisdictional bar to the Court’s
resolution of the breach of contract claim related to the 3831
14th Street property because, according to defendants,
resolution of that claim will require the Court “to delve into
the doctrinal beliefs of both Capital and the Wesleyan Church.”
Defs.’ Mem. Supp., ECF No. 7-1 at 13. Specifically, defendants
explain that the deed concerning the 3831 14th Street property
states that the property is to be held by Chesapeake in trust
for the use and benefit of the Wesleyan Church, which is
“‘subject to The Discipline.’” Id. at 16 (citing Deed, Ex. 1-A,
ECF No. 7-3). The Discipline is the foundational document of the
Wesleyan Church. Id. It explains the structure and
administration of the Church and “sets forth the fundamental
precepts and doctrinal beliefs to which the Church adheres.” Id.
Because the deed specifies that Chesapeake is to hold the
property in trust for the benefit of the Wesleyan Church and
that Church, in turn, is subject to The Discipline, that
foundational text “control[s] every aspect of [Chesapeake’s]
ownership” of the 3831 14th Street property. Id. at 16-17. The
Discipline states that Chesapeake can only convey real property
“‘as may be deemed necessary or convenient for the purpose of
[Chesapeake].’” Id. at 17 (quoting The Discipline, § 4120(6),
Ex. 1-C, ECF No. 7-5). The “purpose” of Chesapeake, in turn,
“‘shall be religious, benevolent, charitable and educational in
keeping with the purposes of The Wesleyan Church as set forth in
its Discipline.’” Id. (quoting The Discipline, § 4120(2), Ex. 1C, ECF No. 7-5). Defendants argue that because any conveyance of
real property by Chesapeake must be consistent with the
religious “purpose” of the Wesleyan Church, the Court is barred
from resolving the breach of contract claim on religious
entanglement grounds. Id. at 18-19. In sum, defendants argue
that resolution of the breach of contract claim turns on whether
conveyance of title to Capital would be consistent with the
Wesleyan Church’s religious principles and because that
determination would involve a judicial assessment of religious
doctrine, the Court is barred from resolving the breach of
contract claim concerning the 3831 14th Street property.
Assuming defendants are correct that terms in The
Discipline are relevant to resolution of a claim that Chesapeake
breached a contract to convey title to Capital,4 it is still not
The relevant deed states that Chesapeake holds the 3831 14th
Street property in trust for the Wesleyan Church and describes
the Wesleyan Church as being “subject to The Discipline.” See
Deed, Ex. 1-A, ECF No. 7-3. But defendants have not relied on
any case law or any other legal authority to support the
proposition that The Discipline, by virtue of being mentioned as
a governing document for the Wesleyan Church in the deed,
necessarily constrains the sort of contracts Chesapeake can make
concerning the real property. See Defs.’ Mem. Supp., ECF No. 7-1
at 15-19. The Court’s own research reveals that at least some
apparent that resolution of the claim would require the Court to
assess religious doctrine or policy. The fulcrum of defendants’
religious entanglement argument is the provision in The
Discipline that states that Chesapeake can only convey property
“as may be deemed necessary or convenient for the purpose of
[Chesapeake].” The Discipline, § 4120(6), Ex. 1-C, ECF No. 7-5.5
Defendants argue that this provision mandates that any contract
to convey title must be consistent with the religious “purpose”
of the Wesleyan Church and the Court, in making that assessment
as part of the breach of contract analysis, would be
impermissibly assessing religious doctrine. Not so. The
provision does not require that any conveyance of real property
actually be consistent with the Wesleyan Church’s religious
“purpose.” Instead, it states that any conveyance must have been
other courts have “held that church regulations will be given
legal effect even if they add to the statutory requirements for
conveyancing.” See Greater Friendship A.M.E. Church v. Spann,
336 So. 2d 1087, 1090 (Ala. 1976). In any event, because the
Court is not convinced that resolution of the breach of contract
claim concerning the real property will involve impermissible
religious entanglement even if the terms of The Discipline are
applicable, the Court assumes that those terms are applicable in
5 Mr. Gregorio argues that consideration of materials outside the
pleadings warrants conversion of defendants’ motion to dismiss
to a motion for summary judgment. Pl.’s Opp., ECF No. 11 at 910. But because a “district court may consider materials outside
the pleadings in deciding whether to grant a motion to dismiss
for lack of jurisdiction,” Jerome Stevens Pharm., Inc., 402 F.3d
at 1253, it is appropriate for the Court to consider The
Discipline and other materials when assessing defendants’
jurisdictional ecclesiastical abstention arguments.
“deemed necessary or convenient” for that religious purpose by
the appropriate individuals acting on Chesapeake’s behalf. Id.
(emphasis added). An assessment of whether Chesapeake deemed
conveyance of its property to Capital necessary or convenient
for its religious purpose is a neutral determination that would
not involve the Court in determining what the Church’s religious
principles actually are. Thus, assuming the terms of The
Discipline are relevant to this breach of contract claim,
defendants have not demonstrated that resolution of that claim
will require the Court to undertake an assessment of religious
doctrine or policy. Again, to the extent that it becomes
apparent that the Court would be required to make such an
assessment as this case progresses, the Court at that time can
grant summary judgment on the ground that resolution of the
claim would create an excessive entanglement with religion. But,
at this early stage, with that entanglement not yet apparent,
dismissal on ecclesiastical abstention grounds would be
Even if the breach of contract claim concerning the 3831
14th Street property is not barred on religious entanglement
grounds, defendants offer various arguments as to why that claim
should still be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon
which relief can be granted. None of these arguments is
First, defendants argue that Mr. Gregorio fails to state a
claim because the deed to the property in question “conclusively
shows that [Chesapeake] is the sole owner of the property.”
Defs.’ Mem. Supp., ECF No. 7-1 at 23. Although the relevant deed
does indicate that Chesapeake holds title to the 3831 14th
Street property, see Deed, Ex. 1-A, ECF No. 7-3,6 Mr. Gregorio’s
allegation is that Capital and Chesapeake entered into an
agreement whereby Chesapeake would transfer title to Capital
upon Capital’s repayment of the WIF loan. Compl., ECF No. 1-1 ¶¶
18-22. That defendants can point to a deed indicating that
Chesapeake holds title thus does not mean that Mr. Gregorio has
failed to state a claim that Chesapeake breached a contract to
convey the title that it holds.
Second, defendants argue that Mr. Gregorio’s allegations
are insufficiently specific to state a claim, as they argue that
Mr. Gregorio’s allegations concerning the agreement to convey
title to Capital never specifically state that Chesapeake “would
transfer ownership of the property to Capital.” Id. at 22. This
argument fails because Mr. Gregorio alleges that defendants
“have breached their agreement with Capital by refusing to
Contrary to Mr. Gregorio’s assertion otherwise, see Pl.’s Opp.,
ECF No. 11 at 9-10, the Court can properly consider a deed——a
public record——without converting defendants’ motion to dismiss
for failure to state a claim into a motion for summary judgment.
See George v. Bank of Am. N.A., 821 F. Supp. 2d 299, 301 n.5
relinquish the title to the property to Capital free and clear
of any encumbrances.” Compl., ECF No. 1-1 ¶ 21. To the extent
that there is any doubt that this allegation sufficiently
specifies that, pursuant to their agreement, Chesapeake would
transfer title to Capital, the Court construes the allegation
liberally in Mr. Gregorio’s favor to conclude that he has
alleged an agreement between Capital and Chesapeake whereby
Chesapeake, as part of its end of the bargain, was to transfer
title to Capital. See Kowal, 16 F.3d at 1276.
And third, defendants argue that because the alleged
agreement concerns real property, Mr. Gregorio’s failure to
allege or produce a writing memorializing the agreement to
convey title runs afoul of the statute of frauds. Id. at 23-24
(citing D.C. Code § 28-3502). They argue that that written
agreement must be produced “at this time.” Id. at 23. Defendants
are correct that, subject to certain limited exceptions, the
statute of frauds “mandates that certain agreements, including
those concerning real estate, must be in writing to guard
against perjury and protect against unfounded and fraudulent
claims.” Railan v. Katyal, 766 A.2d 998, 1007 (D.C. 2001)
(internal quotation marks omitted). But defendants overlook that
“[i]n order for an agreement to violate the statute of frauds on
the face of the complaint, the plaintiff must indicate that the
agreement is not written.” Pub. Health Equip. & Supply Co. v.
Clarke Mosquito Control Prods., Inc., 410 F. App’x 738, 741 (5th
Cir. 2010). Mr. Gregorio’s complaint gives no indication that
the agreement is not written. Accordingly, it would be premature
to dismiss the breach of contract claim concerning the 3831 14th
Street property on statute of frauds grounds. Thus, defendants’
motion to dismiss this claim is DENIED.
Mr. Gregorio also asserts claims of unjust enrichment. He
alleges that defendants have been unjustly enriched by having
Capital repay the WIF loan concerning the 3831 14th Street
property while failing to convey title to that property to
Capital upon complete repayment of the loan, and by having
Capital repay the loan concerning the adjacent 3829 14th Street
property. Compl., ECF No. 1-1 ¶¶ 27-31.
Defendants’ arguments concerning the Court’s subject matter
jurisdiction as to these claims are the same as those that it
offers regarding the claim of breach of contact concerning the
3831 14th Street property. See Defs.’ Mem. Supp., ECF No. 7-1 at
11-20. The Court’s response is likewise the same: At this stage,
it is not apparent that resolution of the claims will involve
impermissible religious entanglement. See supra Part III.C.
Accordingly, at the present juncture, the Court can properly
exercise jurisdiction over the unjust enrichment claims.
Under District of Columbia law, the elements of an unjust
enrichment claim are: “(1) the plaintiff conferred a benefit on
the defendant; (2) the defendant retains the benefit; and (3)
under the circumstances, the defendant’s retention of the
benefit is unjust.” Falconi-Sachs v. LPF Senate Square, LLC, 142
A.3d 550, 556 (D.C. 2016) (internal quotation marks omitted).
Defendants’ arguments as to why Mr. Gregorio has failed to state
a claim of unjust enrichment based on the allegations that
Capital repaid the loan related to the 3831 14th Street property
and Chesapeake retained title to that property are the same
arguments it offers as to why Mr. Gregorio has failed to state a
claim of breach of contract concerning that property. See Defs.’
Mem. Supp., ECF No. 7-1 at 22-24. Those arguments are just as
unavailing in the unjust enrichment context as they are in the
breach of contract context. Based on the allegations that
Chesapeake has retained title to a property even though
Chesapeake promised to convey title to Capital upon repayment of
the relevant loan, Mr. Gregorio has stated a claim of unjust
enrichment: Capital has conferred a benefit on Chesapeake that
Chesapeake has retained and, in light of the agreement to convey
title to Capital upon full repayment of the loan, it would be
unjust for Chesapeake to retain the title. Accordingly,
defendants’ motion to dismiss this unjust enrichment claim is
Mr. Gregorio has, however, failed to state a claim of
unjust enrichment regarding Capital’s repayment of the loan
related to the 3829 14th Street property. As defendants
correctly explain, see id. at 25-26, Mr. Gregorio has failed to
allege any facts that suggest that defendants’ retention of the
benefit deriving from Capital’s repayment of the loan concerning
the 3829 14th Street property is unjust. Mr. Gregorio alleges
that “Capital and Chesapeake entered into a special arrangement
whereby the property would be owned by Chesapeake, but Capital
would be responsible for payment of the [p]romissory [n]ote on
the property.” Compl., ECF No. 1-1 ¶ 17. While making these
payments might have entitled Capital and Mr. Gregorio to “use
and control over the property,” he does not allege that the
payments entitled them to anything beyond that use and control.
Although “there can be no claim for unjust enrichment when an
express contract exists between the parties,” Schiff v. Am.
Ass’n of Retired Persons, 697 A.2d 1193, 1194 (D.C. 1997),
“[c]ourts in this District have found that a plaintiff should be
permitted to plead both breach of contract and unjust
enrichment.” The Scowcroft Grp., Inc. v. Toreador Res. Corp.,
666 F. Supp. 2d 39, 44 (D.D.C. 2009). Accordingly, Mr. Gregorio
may go forward with both the breach of contract and unjust
enrichment claims concerning the 3831 14th Street property. This
conclusion is in the interest of justice, as concluding
otherwise could leave him “without any remedy should the factfinder determine at a later stage that there was no express
agreement between the parties.” See id.
See id. Given that Mr. Gregorio and Capital ceased making the
payments when they were deprived of use and control of the
property, id., there does not appear to be any injustice in
permitting Chesapeake to retain the benefit of the payments that
were made. That is, payments were made for as long as use and
control of the property was permitted, and payments ceased when
that use and control was forbidden. Because Mr. Gregorio has not
adequately pled the third element of his unjust enrichment claim
concerning the 3829 14th Street property, defendants’ motion to
dismiss that claim is GRANTED.
Mr. Gregorio also asserts a claim of wrongful eviction. He
alleges that defendants wrongfully evicted him when they changed
the locks on the buildings on the 3829 and 3831 14th Street
properties such that he was unable to access those buildings.
Id. ¶¶ 32-36.
Defendants’ arguments concerning subject matter
jurisdiction as to this claim are the same as those that it has
put forth regarding the other real property-related claims, and
the Court’s response to these arguments remains the same: At
this stage, it is not apparent that resolution of the claim will
involve impermissible religious entanglement. See supra Part
III.C. Accordingly, at this stage of the proceedings, the Court
can properly exercise jurisdiction over the wrongful eviction
In the District of Columbia, “[i]n order to establish
wrongful eviction, a tenant must prove that the landlord
performed some act of a permanent character with the intention
and effect of depriving the tenant of the enjoyment of the
demised premises or a part thereof.” Hinton v. Sealander
Brokerage Co., 917 A.2d 95, 101 (D.C. 2007) (internal quotation
marks omitted). Moreover, “a landlord is prohibited from using
self-help to evict a tenant and must proceed instead by using
the process provided by law.” Id. at 102. This prohibition of
self-help eviction applies even outside the context of a
residential tenancy. See Sarete, Inc. v. 1344 U Street Ltd.
P’ship, 871 A.2d 480, 489-90 (D.C. 2005). Defendants argue that
Mr. Gregorio has failed to state a claim of wrongful eviction
because he has not sufficiently established an ownership
interest or tenancy as to the properties in question. Defs.’
Mem. Supp., ECF No. 7-1 at 24-25. They emphasize that Mr.
Gregorio “does not allege the existence of a lease or any other
legal document that would give him a right to use or occupy the
property.” Id. at 25.
Defendants’ argument here is unavailing. “[T]he D.C. Court
of Appeals has left open the possibility that a cause of action
for wrongful eviction may nonetheless be available to an
individual who has ‘something less than some sort of tenancy.’”
Mitchell v. Eastern Sav. Bank, FSB, 890 F. Supp. 2d 104, 108
(D.D.C. 2012) (quoting Sarete, 871 A.2d at 494). Thus
defendants’ argument that Mr. Gregorio’s wrongful eviction claim
must fail because, according to defendants, he was neither an
owner nor a tenant does not have much traction at the motion to
dismiss stage. Mr. Gregorio’s status vis-à-vis the properties in
question can be more concretely determined following discovery
and, accordingly, dismissal of the wrongful eviction claim at
this stage would be premature. See id. at 108-09.
Additionally, even assuming a tenancy——and not just
“something less than some sort of tenancy”——is required to
sustain a District of Columbia wrongful eviction claim, Mr.
Gregorio has alleged facts that support the existence of a
tenancy. Whether he and Capital were tenants “depends upon the
circumstances surrounding the use and occupancy of the
property.” See Young v. District of Columbia, 752 A.2d 138, 143
(D.C. 2000). Those circumstances include the existence of “a
lease agreement, the payment of rent and other conditions of
occupancy between the parties.” See id. Moreover, “certain
tenancies may arise by oral agreement of the parties.” Id. at
142. Defendants point out that Mr. Gregorio has not alleged the
existence of a lease agreement, Defs.’ Mem. Supp., ECF No. 7-1
at 25, but, as concerns the 3829 14th Street property, Mr.
Gregorio alleges that “Capital and Chesapeake entered into a
special arrangement whereby the property would be owned by
Chesapeake, but Capital would be responsible for payment of the
[p]romissory [n]ote on the property.” Compl., ECF No. 1-1 ¶ 17.
Payment of that note entitled Capital to the “exclusive use and
control over the property on a day to day basis.” Id. The
arrangement Mr. Gregorio describes in his complaint sounds very
much like a landlord-tenant relationship. Defendants seem to
admit as much when they note that “[o]n the face of the
[c]omplaint, it seems that Plaintiff allegedly paid [Chesapeake]
in exchange for use of the property.” Defs.’ Mem. Supp., ECF No.
7-1 at 26. Because a wrongful eviction might be sustained based
on “something less than some sort of tenancy” and because it
appears that a tenancy may have existed here, defendants’ motion
to dismiss Mr. Gregorio’s wrongful eviction claim is DENIED.
Mr. Gregorio also asserts a claim of defamation. He argues
that defendants defamed him when they disseminated a letter to
law enforcement officers in the District of Columbia and
Maryland that stated that he “had made illegal and unauthorized
entry onto the properties.” Compl., ECF No. 1-1 ¶ 38; Pl.’s
Opp., ECF No. 11 at 7-8.
Defendants argue that this Court lacks subject matter
jurisdiction over the defamation claim under the ecclesiastical
abstention doctrine because they plan on asserting the defense
of truth to the defamation claim and, according to defendants,
determining the truth regarding the ownership of the properties
in question will impermissibly implicate this Court in matters
of religious doctrine and policy. Defs.’ Mem. Supp., ECF No. 7-1
at 20. This argument is unpersuasive. For the reasons already
stated above, see supra Part III.C, the Court is not convinced
that resolving the real property-related claims will necessitate
inappropriate judicial meddling in religious matters.
Accordingly, at this juncture, the defamation claim is not
barred on religious entanglement grounds.
“To state a cause of action for defamation, plaintiff must
allege and prove four elements: (1) that the defendant made a
false and defamatory statement concerning the plaintiff; (2)
that the defendant published the statement without privilege to
a third party; (3) that the defendant’s fault in publishing the
statement amounted to at least negligence; and (4) either that
the statement was actionable as a matter of law irrespective of
special harm or that its publication caused the plaintiff
special harm.” Oparaugo v. Watts, 884 A.2d 63, 76 (D.C. 2005)
(internal quotation marks omitted). Defendants argue that Mr.
Gregorio has failed to state a claim of defamation because their
statements, having been made to law enforcement authorities,
were protected by a qualified privilege. Defs.’ Mem. Supp., ECF
No. 7-1 at 29 (citing Carter v. Hahn, 821 A.2d 890, 894 (D.C.
2003)). Defendants argue that, given the applicable qualified
privilege, their statements can only give rise to a defamation
claim upon a showing of malice. Id. (citing Carter, 821 A.2d at
894). They assert that a showing of malice requires that they
knew the statements they made were false or that they acted with
reckless disregard as to the truth or falsity of the statements
that they made. Id. (citing Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., 418
U.S. 323, 327-28 (1974)). Because Mr. Gregorio has not alleged
facts “sufficient to support a finding of malice,” defendants
argue that Mr. Gregorio’s defamation claim must be dismissed.
Id. at 29-30.
Defendants correctly explain that “a qualified privilege
exists when a statement about suspected wrongdoing is made in
good faith to law enforcement authorities.” See Columbia First
Bank v. Ferguson, 665 A.2d 650, 655 (D.C. 1995). They also
correctly explain that the qualified privilege is lost upon a
showing of malice. See id. at 656. But they misunderstand what
is meant by “malice.” The actual malice standard that they
describe——i.e., whether the statements were made with knowledge
that they were false or with reckless disregard of whether they
were false or not——“is not to be confused with the common law
concept of ‘malice.’” Montgomery v. Risen, No. 16-126, 2016 WL
3919809, at *28 (D.D.C. July 15, 2016). That common law concept
of malice——“a showing of ill will,” id. (internal quotation
marks omitted)——is what applies in the context of a District of
Columbia defamation claim. Columbia First Bank, 665 A.2d at 656
(describing “malice as it relates to qualified privilege in
defamation cases” as “ill will”). Thus, defendants’ arguments
concerning what Mr. Gregorio has alleged about what they knew
are largely inapposite. Instead, whether defendants acted with
malice turns on their motivations: If they disseminated the
statements with reckless disregard as to Mr. Gregorio’s feelings
such that it could be said that they acted with ill will, then
they acted with malice sufficient to overcome the applicable
qualified privilege. See id.
Mr. Gregorio has made allegations sufficient to support a
finding of malice. At this stage, the Court must accept as true
all of Mr. Gregorio’s allegations. See Atherton, 567 F.3d at
681. Thus the Court accepts as true the allegation that
Chesapeake contracted with Capital to convey title to the 3831
14th Street property to Capital upon repayment of the WIF loan
but then refused to honor that contract. Compl., ECF No. 1-1 ¶¶
17-22. That allegation alone is sufficient to support the
conclusion that defendants acted with ill will——that is, common
law malice——when they disseminated a letter to law enforcement
authorities stating that Mr. Gregorio was illegally accessing
that property. Thus defendants’ argument that the defamation
claim must be dismissed on the basis of qualified privilege is
Defendants’ other argument——that because they “have
established the truth of their allegedly defamatory statements,
[Mr. Gregorio] cannot prevail on his claim for defamation,”
Defs.’ Mem. Supp., ECF No. 7-1 at 30——is also unavailing. Based
on his allegations, Mr. Gregorio has stated a claim that
Chesapeake breached a contract to convey title to the 3831 14th
Street property to Capital, see supra Part III.C, so defendants
have not yet established that they disseminated a truthful
statement when they told law enforcement authorities that Mr.
Gregorio was illegally accessing that property. Defendants’
motion to dismiss Mr. Gregorio’s defamation claim is thus
Claims Against Mr. Hoover in His Individual Capacity
Defendants argue that to the extent that Mr. Gregorio has
stated claims against Chesapeake, his claims against Mr. Hoover
in his individual capacity should still be dismissed. Defs.’
Mem. Supp., ECF No. 7-1 at 32-33. Under District of Columbia
law, corporate officers can be personally liable for wrongful
acts “‘which they commit, participate in, or inspire, even
though the acts are performed in the name of the corporation.’”
Perry ex rel. Perry v. Frederick Inv. Corp., 509 F. Supp. 2d 11,
18 (D.D.C. 2007) (quoting Lawlor v. District of Columbia, 758
A.2d 964, 974 (D.C. 2000)). That individual liability “must be
premised upon a corporate officer’s meaningful participation in
the wrongful acts . . . [which] can exist when there is an act
or omission by the officer which logically leads to the
inference that he had a share in the wrongful acts of the
corporation which constitute the offense.” McWilliams Ballard,
Inc. v. Broadway Mgmt. Co., 636 F. Supp. 2d 1, 9 (D.D.C. 2009)
(internal quotation marks omitted). Defendants argue that Mr.
Gregorio “has failed to allege that [Mr.] Hoover meaningfully
participated in the purported wrongful acts” other than age
discrimination.8 Defs.’ Mem. Supp., ECF No. 7-1 at 32. Instead,
Mr. Gregorio’s complaint alleges in generalized fashion that
“Hoover and Chesapeake” or “Defendants” committed the alleged
wrongful acts. Id. Accordingly, defendants assert, the breach of
contract, unjust enrichment, wrongful eviction, and defamation
claims must be dismissed as to Mr. Hoover in his individual
capacity. Id. at 32-33.
Defendants are correct that Mr. Gregorio has made
allegations that generally refer to “Defendants” or “Hoover and
Chesapeake,” rather than making allegations that specify the
Because Mr. Gregorio has abandoned his age discrimination claim
and because, in any event, that claim is barred by the
ministerial exception, see supra Part III.A, the Court need not
address Mr. Hoover’s potential individual liability as to that
claim. That claim is dismissed as to both Chesapeake and Mr.
exact acts or omissions of Mr. Hoover. See, e.g., Compl., ECF
No. 1-1 ¶¶ 26(“The Defendants refusal to compensate Plaintiff
for his services since 2012 has resulted in a loss of wages . .
. .”), 38 (“Hoover and Chesapeake . . . circulated a letter
containing materially false and damaging information . . . .”).
But this somewhat generalized pleading style does not warrant
dismissal of the various claims as to Mr. Hoover in his
individual capacity. Mr. Gregorio need “not prove[ ] [Mr.
Hoover’s] involvement in the alleged violations” at the motion
to dismiss stage. See Cooper v. First Gov’t Mortg. & Inv’rs
Corp., 206 F. Supp. 2d 33, 36 (D.D.C. 2002). Rather, Mr.
Gregorio is “entitled to offer evidence at a later time to
support these claims.” See id. Accordingly, the motion to
dismiss the claims against Mr. Hoover in his individual capacity
For the reasons stated above, defendants’ motion to dismiss
is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART. Mr. Gregorio’s age
discrimination claim and the unjust enrichment claim concerning
the 3829 14th Street property are hereby dismissed. All
remaining claims shall proceed against both defendants. An
appropriate Order accompanies this Memorandum Opinion.
Emmet G. Sullivan
United States District Judge
February 28, 2017
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