WILLIAMS v. BRENNAN et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER: It is hereby ORDERED (1) that Defendants Nestor and Richardson's motion to dismiss, Dkt. 21, and Defendants August-Taylor and Zimmerman's motion to dismiss, Dkt. 29, are GRANTED pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6); (2) t hat Williams's claim against Dana Claybrooks is DISMISSED sua sponte for failure to comply with Rule 8(a); (3) that Williams's ADA and due process claims are DISMISSED sua sponte as to all Federal Defendants; and (4) that Williams's Re habilitation Act claims are DISMISSED sua sponte as to all Federal Defendants with the exception of Megan Brennan in her official capacity. It is further ORDERED (1) that Williams's motion for a preliminary injunction, Dkt. 18, is DENIED; (2) th at Williams's motions for appointment of counsel, Dkt. 13; Dkt. 23; Dkt. 35, are DENIED without prejudice; and (3) that Williams's motion for leave to file a second amended complaint, Dkt. 34, is DENIED without prejudice. It is further ORDE RED that Defendant Brennan shall answer or otherwise respond to the amended complaint within the time provided by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(a)(2). It is further ORDERED that the following Defendants are DISMISSED from this action: Linda Acke rman, Annette August-Taylor, Henry Bear, Dana Claybrooks, Monique Gillis, Tony Johnson, Managing Counsel of the U.S. Postal Service, Kym Matthews, Robbyn Mayfield, Lisa Murray, Romanah Nestor, Pamela Richardson, Alicia Taylor, Mary Walls, and Vance Zimmerman. See document for details. Signed by Judge Randolph D. Moss on 10/24/2017. (lcrdm2, ) Modified on 10/24/2017 to add "Memorandum Opinion and" in front of entry (kt).
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
PAULETTE A. WILLIAMS,
Civil Action No. 17-1285 (RDM)
MEGAN J. BRENNAN, Postmaster General,
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
This matter is before the Court on an assortment of motions from Plaintiff and several
Defendants, including two motions to dismiss, see Dkt. 21; Dkt. 29. For the reasons that follow,
the Court will dismiss all claims against all Defendants—with the exception of Plaintiff’s
Rehabilitation Act claims against Megan Brennan in her official capacity as the Postmaster
Plaintiff Paulette Williams, proceeding pro se, filed this action in June 2017. Dkt. 1. The
Court dismissed her initial complaint without prejudice for failure to comply with the minimal
pleading requirements set forth in Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Dkt. 4.
Williams moved for reconsideration; requested that the Court reopen the case; and filed an
amended complaint. Dkt. 6; Dkt. 7 (Am. Compl.). The Court granted that motion and reopened
the case. Dkt. 9. The amended complaint names sixteen Defendants. The United States
Attorney’s Office has appeared on behalf of eleven of the Defendants, including Postmaster
General Megan Brennan and various Postal Service employees (“Federal Defendants”). 1 Private
counsel has appeared on behalf of four additional Defendants, all of whom apparently work for
the American Postal Workers Union (“APWU”). 2 As far as the Court can discern, counsel has
yet to appear on behalf of the final Defendant, who is identified in the amended complaint as an
“EEO Counselor.” 3
Most of the named Defendants are not discussed in any of the substantive allegations in
the amended complaint. Although not a picture of clarity, the amended complaint appears to
challenge the manner in which the Postal Service responded to Williams’s “physical disability”
and “mental health issues.” Dkt. 7 at 2–3 (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 1, 5). Williams first alleges that Tony
Johnson, the Postmaster of Fort Belvoir, Virginia, (1) violated the Americans with Disabilities
Act of 1990 by failing to accommodate her “physical disability;” (2) violated her “rights to
return to work” under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973; and (3) “creat[ed] a hostile work
environment” by making “crude remarks” about her “disability” and homelessness, presumably
in violation of the Rehabilitation Act. Id. at 2 (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 1–3). Next, she alleges that
Preston Phillips, the manager of a Postal Service facility in Gaithersburg, Maryland, retaliated
against her due to a “pending grievance” and that he failed to accommodate her “mental health
issues.” Id. at 3 (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 4–5). Third, she alleges that Patrice Shaw, the Officer in
In addition to the Postmaster General, these Defendants are Linda Ackerman, Henry Bear,
Monique Gillis, Tony Johnson, the Managing Counsel of the U.S. Postal Service, Kym
Matthews, Robbyn Mayfield, Lisa Murray, Alicia Taylor, and Mary Walls. See Dkt. 25.
Because the amended complaint appears to provide their work addresses, the Court will construe
the pleading to name these individuals as well as Megan Brennan as Defendants in their official
These Defendants are Annette August-Taylor, Romanah Nestor, Pamela Richardson, and
Vance Zimmerman. See Dkt. 31 at 1–2.
There is no evidence that this Defendant, Dana Claybrooks, has been served.
Charge at the Gaithersburg facility, threatened to “expos[e] her personal business” unless she
met with Shaw “without a steward present,” which was her “right [under the] collective
bargaining agreement.” Id. (Am. Compl. ¶ 6). Shaw purportedly “victimized” Williams again
by asking floor supervisor Loretta McCabe to notify Williams that her “job would . . . be
abolished” on July 8, 2017, which contradicted a “certified letter stating [that] the abolishment
would . . . take place” on July 22, 2017. Id. (Am. Compl. ¶ 8). Finally, Williams alleges that the
Postal Service denied her “transfers, craft changes, other positions, advancements[,] and
promotions . . . due to [her] intent” to file suit against the agency and that she was “laid off again
. . . due to [her] disability.” Id. at 3–4 (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 7, 9). Williams seeks “injunctive relief,”
id. at 4 (Am. Compl. Prayer), and $4,440,000 in damages for lost wages, mental anguish, and
pain and suffering, id. at 10 (Am. Compl.).
Two of the APWU Defendants, Romanah Nestor and Pamela Richardson, have moved to
dismiss Williams’s claims against them pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). Dkt. 21. Because the
amended complaint “makes no factual allegations against” them, they argue, it does not provide
adequate notice of Williams’s claims and fails to state any claims against them. Id. at 2–3 (citing
Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a), 12(b)(6)). After Nestor and Richardson filed their motion, the Court
advised Williams of the consequences of failing to respond and, in addition, ordered that
Williams show cause why the Court should not dismiss “the claims against all Defendants not
mentioned in the substantive averments” of the amended complaint. Dkt. 22 at 1–2. In response
to the motion to dismiss and the Court’s Order, Williams argues that her allegations against
Nestor, Richardson, and “the other individuals named as defendants” were presented in her
“initial complaint,” and she makes several new factual assertions: (1) that APWU filed a
grievance on Williams’s behalf; (2) that APWU settled without her permission; (3) that after she
learned of the “unfortunate pre-arbitration settlement,” she informed Nestor and Richardson that
she “had been sneakily bamboozled by APWU and [the Postal Service]” and would “not
willingly . . . accept [such a] small payout;” and (4) that Nestor and Richardson failed to
invalidate the settlement, barring Williams from pursuing arbitration. Dkt. 28 at 2–5. The other
two APWU Defendants, Annette August-Taylor and Vance Zimmerman, filed a similar motion
to dismiss. Dkt. 29. Williams’s opposition, filed hours later, recounts how Williams allegedly
contacted August-Taylor and Zimmerman to “figure out who [she] needed to meet with” to
return the settlement check so that she could pursue arbitration. Dkt. 30 at 2.
Nestor, Richardson, August-Taylor, and Zimmerman (“APWU Defendants”) filed a joint
reply. Dkt. 31. They argue that Williams cannot amend her complaint through her opposition
brief and that the Court should dismiss her claims with prejudice because “individual union
officials and employees cannot be held liable” for breaching a union’s duty of fair representation.
Dkt. 31 at 2–4. In addition, they assert—preemptively—that the Court should deny leave to
amend to sue the APWU itself because such an amendment would be futile. Dkt. 31 at 4–8.
Because Williams responded to August-Taylor and Zimmerman’s motion to dismiss
before the Court could notify her of the consequences of failing to respond or to address
particular arguments, the Court permitted her to file a supplemental opposition. Dkt. 32. Her
supplemental opposition clarifies that her claims against August-Taylor and Zimmerman are
based on their “refus[al] to allow [her] the opportunity to g[o] before an administrative law
judge.” Dkt. 33 at 2. The next day, Williams moved for leave to file a second amended
complaint but did not attach a proposed pleading. Dkt. 34. In addition, Williams has filed a
second motion for a preliminary injunction barring the Postmaster General “from constantly
doing things in a mischievous manner to [Williams’s] wages” and requiring that the Postal
Service “put [Williams] back to work straightaway.” Dkt. 18. Finally, Williams has renewed
her request that the Court appoint counsel to represent her, Dkt. 13; Dkt. 23, and has filed an
“emergency motion to appoint counsel,” Dkt. 35.
Complaints by pro se litigants are held to “less stringent standards than formal pleadings
drafted by lawyers.” Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). The Court, accordingly, may
“consider supplemental materials filed by [Williams,] a pro se litigant[,] in order to clarify the
precise claims” raised in the amended complaint. Greenhill v. Spellings, 482 F.3d 569, 572
(D.C. Cir. 2007). Even a pro se litigant, however, must comply with the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure. Jarrell v. Tisch, 656 F. Supp. 237, 239 (D.D.C. 1987). Rule 8(a) of the Federal
Rules of Civil Procedure requires that a complaint contain “a short and plain statement of the
claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(1). This requirement
“ensures that the opposing party will receive ‘fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds
upon which it rests.’” Jones v. Changsila, --- F. Supp. 3d ---, 2017 WL 4179881, at *7 (D.D.C.
Sept. 20, 2017) (quoting Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007)). “Where a complaint is
insufficiently focused, it places an undue burden on the defendant to answer or move[,] and it
invites unnecessary delay and confusion in the proceedings.” Achagzai v. Broad. Bd. of
Governors, 109 F. Supp. 3d 67, 71 (D.D.C. 2015). Moreover, “a pro se complaint, like any
other, must present a claim upon which relief can be granted,” as required by Rule 12(b)(6).
Henthorn v. Dep’t of Navy, 29 F.3d 682, 684 (D.C. Cir. 1994) (citation omitted)).
Williams’s amended complaint does not contain any factual allegations with respect to
the individual APWU Defendants, but, rather, merely alleges that she was “tricked” by the
APWU. Dkt. 7 at 3 (Am. Compl. ¶ 7). As her oppositions clarify, Williams contends that the
union procured an unauthorized and inadequate settlement and that the individual APWU
Defendants failed to take corrective action. See Dkt. 28; Dkt. 30. The Postal Reorganization Act
provides, “Any money judgment against a labor organization . . . shall be enforce[a]ble only
against the organization as an entity and against its assets, and shall not be enforce[a]ble against
any individual member or his assets.” 39 U.S.C. § 1208(c). Accordingly, to the extent Williams
intends to allege that the individual APWU Defendants breached the duty of fair representation,
her claims must be dismissed. See Price v. Union Local 25, 787 F. Supp. 2d 63, 66 (D.D.C.
2011) (“[I]ndividual union officer[s] may not be held liable for money damages based on . . .
actions undertaken as an officer of the union.”). 4 To the extent Williams intends to assert other
claims against the APWU Defendants, such claims cannot be discerned from the amended
complaint and, therefore, must also be dismissed. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a), 12(b)(6).
In their joint reply, the APWU Defendants argue that the Court should preemptively deny
Williams leave to amend her complaint to assert claims against APWU. Because Williams has
not submitted a proposed second amended complaint, denying her leave to amend would be
Price addressed a duty of fair representation claim brought pursuant to § 301 of the Labor
Management Relations Act (“LMRA”), 29 U.S.C. § 185. Price, 787 F. Supp. 2d at 66. The
Postal Reorganization Act of 1970, 39 U.S.C. § 1208, however, is the “analogue” of § 301 of the
LMRA, Nat’l Ass’n of Letter Carriers, AFL-CIO v. U.S. Postal Service, 590 F.2d 1171, 1174
(D.C. Cir. 1978), and the same conclusion the Court reached in Price applies under the Postal
Accordingly, the Court will grant the APWU Defendants’ motions to dismiss, Dkt. 21;
Dkt. 29, for failure to state a claim and will dismiss Williams’s claims against Defendants
Nestor, Richardson, August-Taylor, and Zimmerman.
The amended complaint also names Dana Claybrooks as a Defendant; identifies her as an
“EEO Counselor;” and lists the U.S. Postal Service Headquarters as her address. Dkt. 7 at 6.
Williams has not alleged any facts respecting Claybrooks. Because the Court cannot discern
the substance of Williams’s claim against Claybrooks, the Court will, sua sponte, dismiss the
amended complaint as to this Defendant. See Fontaine v. JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A., 42 F.
Supp. 3d 102, 109 n.3 (D.D.C. 2014).
The amended complaint alleges that Tony Johnson, the Postmaster of the Fort Belvoir,
Virginia facility, discriminated against Williams in violation of the Americans with Disabilities
Act of 1990 (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C.
§ 701 et seq. 5 She also alleges that other Defendants failed reasonably to accommodate her
disabilities; that she was subject to harassment and retaliation; and that she was improperly
suspended or “laid off” due to her disability. Dkt. 7 at 2–3 (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 1, 4–5, 7). Mindful
that pro se pleadings should not be held to the strict standards applicable to pleadings filed by
The amended complaint also alleges that Williams’s due process rights under the Fourteenth
Amendment to the U.S. Constitution were violated because she was “deprived” of something
“without fair procedures.” Dkt. 7 at 10. The Court will construe the pleading to allege a
violation of Williams’s due process rights under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,
which applies to the federal government. Williams, however, has not identified the Defendant
responsible for the alleged deprivation nor clarified the nature of that deprivation. Accordingly,
the Court will dismiss any due process claim that the amended complaint may be construed to
counsel, the Court will construe Williams’s amended complaint to allege claims under both the
ADA and the Rehabilitation Act against each of the Federal Defendants.
Even liberally construed, Williams’s ADA claims fail as a matter of law. The ADA does
not apply to federal employees because “the federal government is not considered an ‘employer’
under the ADA.” Ahmed v. Napolitano, 825 F. Supp. 2d 112, 115 (D.D.C. 2011); see also 42
U.S.C. § 12111 (“The term ‘employer’ does not include . . . the United States . . . .”). Williams’s
claims under the ADA will, therefore, be dismissed as to all Federal Defendants.
The Rehabilitation Act, in contrast, does provide a remedy to federal employees, and,
indeed, constitutes “the exclusive remedy for federal employees alleging disability
discrimination.” Welsh v. Hagler, 83 F. Supp. 3d 212, 222 (D.D.C. 2015) (collecting cases).
Under the Rehabilitation Act, however, “only the heads of federal agencies in their official
capacity may be sued, not their individual employees.” Richardson v. Yellen, 167 F. Supp. 3d
105, 118 (D.D.C. 2016); see also Nurriddin v. Bolden, 674 F. Supp. 2d 64, 81–82 (D.D.C. 2009);
Marshall v. Potter, 634 F. Supp. 2d 66, 68 n.1 (D.D.C. 2009); Paegle v. Dep’t of Interior, 813 F.
Supp. 61, 64 n.2 (D.D.C. 1993) (“Since the Rehabilitation Act draws from the procedures of
Title VII, the only proper defendant is the head of the department, agency or unit.” (citations and
internal quotation marks omitted)). Williams apparently seeks to assert claims under the
Rehabilitation Act against Postmaster General Megan Brennan as well as ten other Postal
Service employees. See Dkt. 30. As the head of the Postal Service, the Postmaster General is
the only proper defendant with respect to Williams’s disability discrimination claims. In
addition, the amended complaint does not allege any facts concerning nine of the ten other Postal
Accordingly, the Court will sua sponte dismiss Williams’s claims under the
Rehabilitation Act as to all Federal Defendants except the Postmaster General: Defendants
Ackerman, Bear, Gillis, Johnson, Managing Counsel of the U.S. Postal Service, Matthews,
Mayfield, Murray, Taylor, and Walls. As a result, the only remaining Defendant in this action is
Postmaster General Megan Brennan; the only remaining claims stem from Williams’s allegations
that the Postal Service violated her rights under the Rehabilitation Act.
Williams’s Motion for a Preliminary Injunction
Shortly after her case was reopened, Williams filed a motion for a preliminary injunction.
Dkt. 14. The Court denied that motion, holding that the only two Defendants who had been
served at that time were “apparently not subject to [that] motion” and that the motion was,
accordingly, premature. Dkt. 17. Two days later, Williams filed a second motion for a
preliminary injunction. Dkt. 18. The Federal Defendants have now responded to that motion,
Dkt. 25, and Williams has filed a reply brief, Dkt. 26. The Court concludes that no hearing is
required to resolve Williams’s second motion for a preliminary injunction.
As an initial matter, it is not clear what preliminary relief Williams seeks. See Dkt. 18.
At one point, Williams asserts that she is asking that the Court order the Postal Service to put her
“back to work straightaway,” Dkt. 18 at 3, while, at another point, she asserts that she “is back to
work after being forced off for two whole months,” id. at 1; see also Dkt. 26 at 2 (referring to
Williams’s prior layoff, at least two weeks of which were with pay). Elsewhere, she appears to
seek an injunction that would prevent the Postal Service from laying her off in the future. Dkt.
18 at 1. She also asserts, without elaboration, that she is seeking an order “enjoining” the Postal
Service “from constantly doing things in a mischievous manner to [her] wages.” Id. at 2. Her
motion, moreover, contains little argument explaining why she is entitled to a preliminary
A preliminary injunction is “an extraordinary remedy that may only be awarded upon a
clear showing that the plaintiff is entitled to such relief.” Winter v. Nat. Res. Def. Council, Inc.,
555 U.S. 7, 22 (2008). Williams must demonstrate that (1) she is likely to succeed on the merits;
(2) that she is likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief; (3) that the
balance of equities tips in her favor; and (4) that an injunction is in the public interest. Id. at 20.
If Williams cannot show a likelihood of success on the merits, “there is no need to consider the
remaining factors.” Greater New Orleans Fair Hous. Action Ctr. v. U.S. Dep’t of Hous. &
Urban Dev., 639 F.3d 1078, 1088 (D.C. Cir. 2011).
Even liberally construing Williams’s amended complaint and motion for a preliminary
injunction, she has failed to carry her burden of demonstrating that she is entitled to preliminary
relief. As explained above, the sole claim that remains at this time is her claim against the
Postmaster General for violating the Rehabilitation Act. Her motion for a preliminary
injunction, however, does not establish that she is likely to prevail on that claim. Indeed, the
Court has before it little more than conclusory assertions—unsupported by any evidence—that
the Postal Service failed to accommodate Williams’s disability and has, in the past, taken
retaliatory and harassing actions against her. It is unclear whether Williams has exhausted her
Rehabilitation Act claim, see Spinelli v. Goss, 446 F.3d 159, 162 (D.C. Cir. 2006); it is unclear
whether her claim was addressed in whole or in part through the APWU grievance proceeding
she references, see Dkt. 28 at 2–3, and it is unclear what the Postal Service has allegedly done—
and, more importantly—what it is likely to do in the near future that would violate Act.
The Court must, accordingly, deny Williams’s motion for a preliminary injunction, Dkt.
Shortly after filing her amended complaint, Williams moved for appointment of counsel.
Dkt. 8. The Court, however, determined that “appointment of counsel [was] not warranted” at
that time in part because Plaintiff had not demonstrated “that her claims [were] particularly
complex or that ‘any greater interest of justice [would] be served by appointing counsel in this
case than in any other pro se case.’” Dkt. 11 at 3 (quoting Lamb v. Millennium Challenge Corp.,
228 F. Supp. 3d 28, 47 (D.D.C. 2017)); see also Local Civil Rule 83.11(b)(3). The Court also
noted that it was not clear whether her claims would survive threshold motions. Dkt. 11 at 3.
Since the Court’s Order, Plaintiff has filed three more motions to appoint counsel. See Dkt. 13;
Dkt. 23; Dkt. 35. The Court will deny these motions for the reasons discussed in its earlier
Finally, Williams has moved for leave to file a second amended complaint. Dkt. 34.
Because she has already amended her complaint once, she is not entitled to amend as of right
under Rule 15(a)(1). See Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(1). To the extent she seeks leave to amend under
Rule 15(a)(2), Williams must attach the proposed pleading to her motion to allow the Court to
assess whether the amendment would be appropriate. See Local Civil Rule 48(g) (“A motion for
leave to file an amended pleading shall be accompanied by an original of the proposed pleading
as amended.”). The Court will, therefore, deny her motion for leave to amend, Dkt. 34, without
It is hereby ORDERED that Nestor and Richardson’s motion to dismiss, Dkt. 21, and
August-Taylor and Zimmerman’s motion to dismiss, Dkt. 29, are GRANTED pursuant to Rule
12(b)(6); and it is further
ORDERED that Williams’s claim against Dana Claybrooks is DISMISSED sua sponte
for failure to comply with Rule 8(a); and it is further
ORDERED that Williams’s ADA and due process claims are DISMISSED sua sponte
as to all Federal Defendants; and it is further
ORDERED that Williams’s Rehabilitation Act claims are DISMISSED sua sponte as to
all Federal Defendants with the exception of Megan Brennan in her official capacity; and it is
ORDERED that Williams’s motion for a preliminary injunction, Dkt. 18, is DENIED;
and it is further
ORDERED that Williams’s motions for appointment of counsel, Dkt. 13; Dkt. 23; Dkt.
35, are DENIED without prejudice; and it is further
ORDERED that Williams’s motion for leave to file a second amended complaint, Dkt.
34, is DENIED without prejudice; and it is further
ORDERED that Defendant Brennan shall answer or otherwise respond to the amended
complaint within the time provided by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(a)(2).
/s/ Randolph D. Moss
RANDOLPH D. MOSS
United States District Judge
Date: October 24, 2017
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