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Allen v. United States Department of Agriculture

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Greenville Division

September 23, 2014

MARGARET ALLEN, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE; TOM VILSACK, Secretary; and AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH SERVICE, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS OR, IN THE ALTERNATIVE, FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

GLEN H. DAVIDSON, Senior District Judge.

Presently before the Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment [8]. Upon due consideration, the Court finds that the motion should be granted for the reasons stated below.

A. Factual and Procedural Background

After a complicated EEO and EEOC process, Plaintiff Margaret Allen ("Plaintiff') initiated this suit in the Circuit Court of Bolivar County, Mississippi against her employer, the United States Department of Agriculture (the "USDA"), as well as Tom Visack, its secretary, and the Agricultural Research Service, an agency of the USDA. Plaintiff claims she has suffered sex discrimination, retaliation, hostile work environment, and the denial of benefits in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. She also urges a breach-of-contract claim for Defendants' alleged "failure or refusal to comply with the terms and conditions of the Resolution Agreement" reached between Plaintiff and Defendants during her EEO proceeding "with regard to her prior, internal complaints of harassment, discrimination, and unlawful employment practices." Pl.'s State-Ct. Compl. [2] ΒΆΒΆ 16-17. On October 7, 2013, Defendants timely removed the case to this Court.

On December 16, 2013, in lieu of filing an answer, Defendants filed the present motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment [8] raising challenges to Plaintiffs' claims under Rule 12(b)(1), Rule 12(b)(6), and Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Plaintiff has filed a response, and Defendants have filed a reply. The matter is now ripe for review.

B. Analysis and Discussion

a. Rule 12(b)(1)

A court must address a Rule 12(b)(1) jurisdictional challenge before addressing a challenge on the merits, as doing so "prevents a court without jurisdiction from prematurely dismissing a case with prejudice." Ramming v. United States, 281 F.3d 158, 161 (5th Cir. 2001). Accordingly, the Court first addresses Defendants' Rule 12(b)(1) arguments.

"Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction; without jurisdiction conferred by statute, they lack the power to adjudicate claims." In re FEMA Trailer Formaldehyde Prods. Liab. Litig., 668 F.3d 281, 286 (5th Cir. 2012) (citing Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377, 114 S.Ct. 1673, 128 L.Ed.2d 391 (1994); Stockman v. Fed. Election Comm'n, 138 F.3d 144, 151 (5th Cir. 1998)). A claim is "properly dismissed for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction when the court lacks the statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate" the claim. Home Builders Ass'n, Inc. v. City of Madison, Miss., 143 F.3d 1006, 1010 (5th Cir. 1998) (internal citation omitted).

"[A] factual attack under Rule 12(b)(1) may occur at any stage of the proceedings, and plaintiff bears the burden of proof that jurisdiction does in fact exist." Arena v. Graybar Elec. Co., 669 F.3d 214, 223 (5th Cir. 2012) (quoting Menchaca v. Chrysler Credit Corp., 613 F.2d 507, 511 (5th Cir. 1980) (citations omitted)).

In such a consideration, the Court must take the well-pled factual allegations of the complaint as true and view them in the light most favorable to, the plaintiff... [U]nder Rule 12(b)(1), the court may find a plausible set of facts by considering any of the following: (1) the complaint alone; (2) the complaint supplemented by the undisputed facts evidenced in the record; or (3) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts plus the court's resolution of disputed facts.

Lane v. Halliburton, 529 F.3d 548, 557 (5th Cir. 2008) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). "Subject matter jurisdiction involves a court's power to hear a case and therefore cannot be forfeited or waived, " Herod v. Potter, 255 F.Appx. 894, 896 (5th Cir. 2007) (per curiam) (citing Arbaugh v. Y & H Corp., 546 U.S. 500, 514, 126 S.Ct. 1235, 163 L.Ed.2d 1097 (2006)).

Defendants contend that the Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1) over certain claims of Plaintiff; that Plaintiff's EEO complaint only concerns claims of disparate treatment and possibly hostile work environment; and that consequently, those were the only issues in this case that were exhausted administratively. Accordingly, Defendants ask this Court to dismiss Plaintiffs claims of retaliation for making internal complaints of sexual discrimination, hostile work environment by being placed on a performance improvement plan, and that she was subjected to baseless and falsified "write-ups" related to her work performance.[1]

Plaintiff argues in response that Defendants are judicially estopped from now arguing that Plaintiff has failed to exhaust her administrative remedies in this matter, because Defendants filed as part of the prosecution of the matter before the EEOC a notice of civil action which alleged that "[t] he purported issues listed in the civil action Complaint are identical to the facts underlying the Agency Case... and therefore the EEO Case should be dismissed"; Plaintiff attaches this notice of civil action to her response. See EEOC No. 420-2013-00140X Notice of Civil Action [11-2] at 1-9. Plaintiff further maintains that the Administrative Judge found that Plaintiff had properly filed each of the issues listed in her complaint in the case sub judice before the EEOC as part of her grievance process and that the ...


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