United States District Court, C.D. California
August 21, 2014
WILLIAM L. SCOTT, Plaintiff,
PATRICK DONAHOE, Postmaster General, United States Postal Service, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, and Does 1-50, inclusive, Defendants.
ORDER re: DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS 
RONALD S.W. LEW, Senior District Judge.
Currently before the Court is Defendants Patrick Donahoe ("Donahoe") and United States of America's (collectively, "Defendants") Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings  filed July 14, 2014. Plaintiff William L. Scott ("Plaintiff") filed his Opposition on July 31, 2014  and Defendants filed their Reply on August 6, 2014 . This matter was taken under submission on August 7, 2014 . Having reviewed all papers submitted pertaining to the Motion, and having considered all arguments presented to the Court, the Court NOW FINDS AND RULES AS FOLLOWS:
Defendants' Motion is hereby GRANTED.
A. Factual Background
Plaintiff was employed by the United States Postal Service ("USPS") from July 10, 1982 until January 30, 2012, June 30, 2012, or July 30, 2012 as a Mail Processing Clerk at the Compton Post Office. First Amended Compl. ("FAC") ¶ 8. Plaintiff cased and spread mail including flats, worked the registered cage, and helped with unloading trucks when the workload was heavy. Id. at ¶ 14.
Defendant Patrick R. Donahoe, the Postmaster General of the USPS, operates the USPS. Id. at ¶ 9. Defendants Tyrone Williams and James Dear were Plaintiff's supervisors at the USPS. Id. at ¶¶ 12, 13.
In 2005, Plaintiff suffered an injury to his right shoulder that ultimately rendered him "permanent and stationary." Id. at ¶ 15. Between 2006 and 2009, Plaintiff was under a 10 pound lifting restriction, with no pushing, pulling, or lifting above his shoulders. Id. at ¶ 23.
On November 7, 2008, Plaintiff received a Modified Limited Duty Job Assignment - specifically, he received a "Dutch door duty assignment." Id. at ¶ 16. Plaintiff alleges that the Dutch door duty assignment had been created for, assigned to, and performed by Plaintiff. Id . Plaintiff was given another "Dutch door duty assignment" on January 8, 2009. Id. at ¶ 17.
On April 21, 2009, Plaintiff alleges that the USPS wrongfully removed him from the "Dutch door assignment" and sent him home, claiming that it did not have any work available to him. Id. at ¶ 18. Plaintiff was told to return to work in two weeks. Id . Plaintiff alleges that since his "Dutch door assignment" was taken from him, the USPS improperly assigned these tasks to other employees. Id. at ¶ 31.
On May 11, 2009, after reporting back to work and working the "Dutch door assignment" for about 35 minutes, Plaintiff was told that there was no work available for him, was sent home, and was instructed to report back to work in two weeks. Id. at ¶ 20. On May 26, 2009, Plaintiff reported back to work, but was told by his supervisor, Tyrone Williams, to leave the Postal Service property and not to return unless instructed to do so. Id. at ¶ 21. Also on May 26, 2009, Plaintiff alleges that Tyrone Williams refused to meet with Plaintiff to discuss what work he could perform with respect to his disability. Id. at ¶ 25.
On June 2, 2009, the USPS Office of Workers' Compensation Programs ("OWCP") requested a medical update from Plaintiff. Id. at ¶ 26. Plaintiff's physician increased his lifting restrictions to 25 pounds. Id. at ¶ 27. On June 11, 2009, Plaintiff sent Ingrid McMillan, a USPS Injury Compensation staff member, copies of his physician's updated medical restrictions. Id. at ¶ 35. On June 26, 2009, Plaintiff sent McMillan a letter identifying the work at the Compton Post Office that was within his medical restrictions. Id. at ¶ 36. Plaintiff thereafter received notices from the USPS dated November 18, 2009 and December 21, 2009 that no work was available for him. Id. at ¶ 29, 39.
On February 5, 2010, Plaintiff received a letter from the USPS asking that he return to work. Id. at ¶¶ 29, 43. Plaintiff returned to work on February 8, 2010, and was given the "Dutch door assignment." Id. at ¶¶ 44, 45. On June 26, 2012, Plaintiff was confronted by one of his supervisors who ended the discussion with the threat, "What are you going to do about it?!" Id. at ¶ 50. Four days later, on June 30, 2012, Plaintiff retired from the USPS. Id. at ¶ 51.
Based on the above, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants violated the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 ("Rehab Act"), 29 U.S.C. § 701, et seq., and the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq. More specifically, Plaintiff brings claims for: (1) Disparate Treatment, (2) Retaliation, (3) Failure to Accommodate and Engage in the Interactive Process, (4) Hostile Work Environment, and (5) Constructive Termination. Id. at ¶¶ 63-99.
B. Procedural Background
Plaintiff filed his Complaint in this Action on May 31, 2013 . He filed his FAC on July 31, 2013 . The United States substituted in as the federal defendant in place of Defendants Williams and Dear on November 14, 2013 .
Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss on November 19, 2013 , which this Court granted on January 16, 2014 , dismissing Plaintiff's claims for negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Soon thereafter, on February 3, 2014, Defendants filed an Answer to the FAC . Defendants filed the instant Motion on July 14, 2014 .
This Action is at least Plaintiff's seventh attempt to bring employment or disability discrimination claims against the USPS.
Plaintiff's first action, William L. Scott v. Marvin Runyon, CV 92-3718 WMB (CTx), was filed on June 22, 1992. Def.'s Ex. 1. There, Plaintiff alleged that the USPS discriminated against him on the basis of his religious beliefs, sex, and race, and retaliated against him based on prior Equal Employment Opportunity ("EEO") activity. Id. at ¶¶ 6-7. Judgment was entered against Plaintiff in this action after a trial on May 29, 1996. Id . Ex. 2.
On September 30, 1998, Plaintiff filed another action, William L. Scott v. William J. Henderson, CV 98-7908 DT (VAPx), for employment discrimination based on Plaintiff's religion and also alleged retaliation. Id . Ex. 3. Summary judgment was entered in favor of the defendant in that action. Id . Ex. 4.
Plaintiff filed his third action, William L. Scott v. John E. Potter, CV 06-2236 MMM (PLAx), on April 12, 2006, again alleging that the USPS had discriminated against him on the basis of his religious beliefs, sex, race, and had retaliated against his prior EEO activity. Id . Ex. 5. The parties settled the dispute without a decision on the merits. Id . Ex. 6.
On June 15, 2009, Plaintiff filed the first of a series of three cases under the Rehab Act, William L. Scott v. John E. Potter, CV 09-04273 RGK (FMOx) ("Scott I"). Id . Ex. 7. Plaintiff alleged that he was disabled within the meaning of the Rehab Act and that the USPS had failed to accommodate his disability by not giving him suitable work. Id. at ¶¶ 21-28. The court granted summary judgment against Plaintiff on July 9, 2010, holding that the USPS provided reasonable accommodation to Plaintiff. Id . Ex. 8 at 7. The court also found in favor of the USPS on Plaintiff's other claims, including Plaintiff's disparate treatment, hostile work environment, and retaliation claims. Id. at 4-6.
Plaintiff followed Scott I with two more actions, William L. Scott v. John E. Potter, CV 09-6496 RGK (FMOx) ("Scott II"), filed September 8, 2009 (id. Ex. 9), and William L. Scott v. John E. Potter, CV 09-8702 RGK (FMOx) ("Scott III"), filed November 25, 2009 (id. Ex. 10). Scott II and Scott III were consolidated on November 4, 2010. Id . Ex. 11 at 2. On February 8, 2011, the court granted summary judgment against Plaintiff in Scott II and Scott III based upon the doctrine of res judicata. Id. at 2, 4. The court reasoned that all claims alleged in Scott II and Scott III were precluded by a final judgment on the merits in Scott I. Id. at 4. This judgment was affirmed on February 4, 2013 by the Ninth Circuit in William L. Scott v. John E. Potter, No. 11-55353. Id . Ex. 12. The Ninth Circuit found that Plaintiff's discrimination and retaliation claims were properly dismissed on res judicata grounds. Id. at 2.
II. LEGAL STANDARD
1. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) - Judgment on the Pleadings
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) states that "[a]fter the pleadings are closed-but early enough not to delay trial-a party may move for judgment on the pleadings." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). "Judgment on the pleadings is properly granted when, taking all allegations in the pleading as true, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Knappenberger v. City of Phx. , 566 F.3d 936, 939 (9th Cir. 2009) (quoting Merchants Home Delivery Serv., Inc. v. Frank B. Hall & Co. , 50 F.3d 1486, 1488 (9th Cir. 1995)).
On a Rule 12(c) motion, the court must accept as true all the material facts alleged in the complaint and must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Fleming v. Pickard , 581 F.3d 922, 925 (9th Cir. 2009). In ruling on a Rule 12(c) motion, the court may not consider extrinsic evidence unless the motion is converted into a Rule 56 summary judgment. Hal Roach Studios, Inc. v. Richard Feiner & Co., Inc. , 896 F.2d 1542, 1550 (9th Cir. 1989) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c); Bonilla v. Oakland Scavenger Co. , 697 F.2d 1297, 1301 (9th Cir. 1982)). However, a court "may consider facts that are contained in materials of which the court may take judicial notice'" when considering a motion for judgment on the pleadings. Heliotrope Gen., Inc. v. Ford Motor Co. , 189 F.3d 971, 981 n.18 (9th Cir. 1999) (quoting Barron v. Reich , 13 F.3d 1370, 1377 (9th Cir. 1994)).
A. Plaintiff Cannot State a Cognizable ADA Claim Against Defendants
As a preliminary matter, Plaintiff cannot state a cognizable claim against Defendants under the ADA. Under Title I of the ADA, "the term employer' does not include the United States' or a corporation wholly owned by the government of the United States.'" Venter v. Potter , 694 F.Supp.2d 412, 420 (W.D. Pa. 2010) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 12111(5)(B)(i)). As the USPS is a part of the federal government (39 U.S.C. § 201), no claim under the ADA is permitted against it. Henrickson v. Potter , 327 F.3d 444, 447 (5th Cir. 2003).
Instead, the Rehab Act serves as the exclusive remedy for discrimination in employment on the basis of disability by federal agencies. See Boyd v. U.S. Postal Serv. , 752 F.2d 410, 413 (9th Cir. 1985) ("[S]ection 501 is the exclusive remedy for discrimination in employment by the Postal Service on the basis of handicap."). The liability standards under the ADA are incorporated into the Rehab Act. See 29 U.S.C. § 791(g); Walton v. U.S. Marshals Serv. , 492 F.3d 998, 1005 (9th Cir. 2007); McLean v. Runyon , 222 F.3d 1150, 1153 (9th Cir. 2000). To the extent, then, that Plaintiff attempts to raise an ADA claim against Defendants, those claims are DISMISSED with prejudice.
B. Res Judicata Bars Plaintiff's Remaining Claims
"The doctrine of res judicata provides that a final judgment on the merits bars further claims by parties or their privies based on the same cause of action.'" Headwaters Inc. v. U.S. Forest Serv. , 399 F.3d 1047, 1051 (quoting In re Schimmels , 127 F.3d 875, 881 (9th Cir. 1997)); Parklane Hosiery Co., Inc. v. Shore , 439 U.S. 322, 326 n.5 (1979). "The elements necessary to establish res judicata are: (1) an identity of claims, (2) a final judgment on the merits, and (3) privity between parties.'" Id. at 1052 (quoting Tahoe-Sierra Pres. Council, Inc. v. Tahoe Reg'l Planning Agency , 322 F.3d 1064, 1077 (9th Cir. 2003)). Crucially, "[r]es judicata, also known as claim preclusion, bars litigation in a subsequent action of any claims that were raised or could have been raised in the prior action.'" Owens v. Kaiser Found. Health Plan, Inc. , 244 F.3d 708, 713 (9th Cir. 2001) (quoting W. Radio Servs. Co. v. Glickman , 123 F.3d 1189, 1192 (9th Cir. 1997)).
Defendants argue that all of Plaintiff's remaining claims under the Rehab Act are barred by res judicata. Mot. 15:1-4.
Plaintiff does not appear to dispute that the July 9, 2010 "Order Re Defendant John Potter's Motion for Summary Judgment" in Scott I (Def.'s Ex. 8) and the February 8, 2011 "Order Re Defendant John Potter's Motion for Summary Judgment" (Def.'s Ex. 11) constitute final judgments on the merits. Plaintiff also does not contest that an identity of parties exists between the parties in Scott I, II, and III and those in this case.
Instead, Plaintiff focuses his argument on contesting the identity of claims between the suits. Plaintiff argues that res judicata cannot apply to the wrongful acts alleged in this Action because the wrongful acts alleged in Scott I, II, and III occurred at different times than those in this Action. See Opp'n 2:25-4:17.
"Identity of claims exists when two suits arise from the same transactional nucleus of facts.'" Stratosphere Litig. L.L.C. v. Grand Casinos, Inc. , 298 F.3d 1137, 1142 n.3 (9th Cir. 2002) (quoting Owens , 244 F.3d at 714); see also Adams v. Cal. Dep't of Health Servs. , 487 F.3d 684, 689 (9th Cir. 2007) (quoting Constantini v. Trans World Airlines , 681 F.2d 1201-02 (9th Cir. 1982)) (noting that whether two suits arose out of the same transactional nucleus of facts is the most important factor for determining the identity of claims). "Whether two suits arise out of the same transactional nucleus depends on whether they are related to the same set of facts and whether they could conveniently be tried together.'" Turtle Island Restoration Network v. U.S. Dep't of State , 673 F.3d 914, 918 (9th Cir. 2012) (quoting ProShipLine Inc. v. Aspen Infrastructures Ltd. , 609 F.3d 960, 968 (9th Cir. 2010)). In fact, in most cases, this inquiry is the same as whether the claim could have been brought in the first action. Id . (quoting United States v. Liquidators of European Fed. Credit Bank , 630 F.3d 1139, 1151 (9th Cir. 2011)). "[W]here claims arise from the same factual circumstances, a plaintiff must bring all related claims together or forfeit the opportunity to bring any omitted claim in a subsequent proceeding." Id.
Plaintiff's allegations in the instant Action arise from the same transactional nucleus of facts as those in Scott I, II, and III. Many of Plaintiff's claims in this Action are identical to those alleged in Scott I, II, and III. Just as they did in Scott I, II, and III, Plaintiff's claims in this Action stem from Plaintiff's 2005 right shoulder repetitive motion injury. FAC ¶ 15; Def.'s Ex. 7 at ¶ 14; Def.'s Ex. 9 at ¶ 14; Def.'s Ex. 10 at ¶ 14.
Furthermore, in this Action, stemming from Plaintiff's repetitive motion injury, Plaintiff claims that on April 21, 2009, May 11, 2009, May 26, 2009, November 18, 2009, and December 21, 2009, the USPS sent him home or denied him work because it had no available necessary tasks within his medical restrictions. FAC ¶¶ 6, 18-21, 37, 39, 41. In this manner, Plaintiff claims, Defendants discriminated against him in violation of the Rehab Act, retaliated against him for his prior EEO activity, failed to accommodate him, subjected him to a hostile work environment, and constructively terminated him. FAC ¶¶ 63-99.
Similarly, in Scott I, Plaintiff alleged that the USPS violated the Rehab Act when his supervisor "told Plaintiff to spread the flats' or go home." Def.'s Ex. 7 at ¶ 23. Plaintiff refused, which meant that the USPS "failed to provide Plaintiff with reasonable accommodations, which accommodations would have provided him with eight (8) hours of work for a work week." Id. at ¶ 24. In other words, Plaintiff alleged that the USPS violated the Rehab Act by sending him home after determining that it had no work within Plaintiff's medical restrictions. Plaintiff also alleged that the USPS created a hostile work environment (id. at ¶ 21), subjected him to disparate treatment (id. at ¶ 27), and retaliated against him as a result of his physical disability and participation in EEO activity. These actions took the form of the USPS failure to reasonably accommodate his disability, as well as through minor confrontations with supervisors, such as Postmaster Tyrone Williams ordering Plaintiff to remove an earpiece and denying his leave requests. Id. at ¶¶ 21-27.
In Scott II, Plaintiff alleged that the USPS violated the Rehab Act by denying him a suitable job offer and refusing to provide him with available work. Def.'s Ex. 9 at ¶¶ 21-23. Furthermore, Plaintiff alleged that his supervisors discriminated against him by refusing to respond to his leave and schedule change requests, did not allow him to work his reasonably accommodating job duties, and retaliated against him for his EEO activity. Id. at ¶¶ 21-33, 38-41. In Scott III, Plaintiff alleged that the USPS violated the Rehab Act and subjected him to a hostile work environment, disparate treatment, and retaliation when "[o]n April 20, 2009, Postmaster Tyrone Williams notified Plaintiff that the United States Postal Service did not have any work within his medical restrictions, and told him to go home and not to report back for duty unless contacted by the Agency." Id . Ex. 10 at ¶ 26. Plaintiff's allegations in Scott II and III mirror those in Scott I and in this Action. In all four cases, the USPS is alleged to have sent Plaintiff home or denied him work because it did not have any available necessary tasks within his medical requirements. In fact, some of Plaintiff's allegations in Scott III fall within the same time frame as the allegations in this Action. Given that all of Plaintiff's claims in this Action stem from his 2005 injury, they arise from the same transactional nucleus of facts as those in Scott I, II, and III. Plaintiff's claims in this Action, then, are barred by the doctrine of res judicata.
Plaintiff avers, however, that applying res judicata here would be inequitable because he could not have pleaded them in a prior district court action. Opp'n 4:18-5:2. Plaintiff claims that he was put on leave several times between 2009 and 2012 and could not have alleged these instances in Scott II or III because those actions were on appeal. Id. at 8:3-14.
Plaintiff's argument is clearly without merit with respect to those claims occurring prior to November 25, 2009, when his Scott III complaint was filed. Def.'s Ex. 10. There is no question that Plaintiff could have alleged all alleged acts of discrimination occurring prior to that point in his Scott III complaint. With respect to Plaintiff's allegation that the USPS denied him work on December 21, 2009, Plaintiff plainly had the opportunity to seek a stay or attempt to amend his complaint to add this claim in Scott I as that court did not issue its summary judgment order until July 9, 2010 (id. Ex. 8) and the Scott II and III court did not issue its summary judgment order until February 8, 2011 (id. Ex. 11). Nevertheless, Plaintiff failed to do so and his claims are thus barred by res judicata. See Owens , 244 F.3d at 714-15 (holding that Title VII claims are not exempt from res judicata where plaintiffs have not sought a stay or tried to amend their complaint to include those claims).
Finally, Plaintiff argues that he only pursued the instant case after appealing Defendants' December 21, 2009 Letter of Decision informing Plaintiff that it had no work for him with the Merit Systems Protection Board ("MSPB") (Opp'n 8:15-9:2) and filing two formal complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") on January 11, 2012 and June 22, 2012 for continued discrimination and retaliation (Opp'n 9:3-11).
To the extent that Plaintiff claims that his filing of an appeal with the MSPB regarding the December 21, 2009 letter allows him to avoid the doctrine of res judicata, that argument is squarely foreclosed. Courts have held that claims litigated to a judgment in another case are not exempt from res judicata merely because a party properly exhausted his administrative remedies in the interim. Peters v. Dist. of Columbia , 873 F.Supp.2d 158, 177 (D.D.C. 2012) (quoting Int'l Union v. Clark, No. 02-1484 , 2006 WL 2598046, at *12 n.19 (D.D.C. Sept. 11, 2006)). To the extent that Plaintiff argues that his filing of complaints with the EEOC in 2012 revives his claims of discrimination and retaliation, that argument is similarly foreclosed. See Boateng v. InterAmerican Univ., Inc. , 210 F.3d 56, 63 (1st cir. 2000) (holding that Title VII claims may be precluded by a prior adjudication even though a right-to-sue letter had not been obtained until after final judgment had been entered in the first action); Churchill v. Star Enters. , 183 F.3d 184, 193 (9th Cir. 1999).
C. Plaintiff's Constructive Termination Claim is Also Barred by Res Judicata
Plaintiff argues, however, that his constructive termination claim arose in June 2012 and is therefore not barred by res judicata. Mot. 15:5-19:2; Opp'n 5:3-23.
The crux of Plaintiff's constructive termination claim is that on January 30, June 30, or July 30, 2012, Plaintiff retired because he was subject to intolerable working conditions arising out of his past EEO activity and for filing a claim with the USPS' OWCP. FAC ¶ 94. The only facts Plaintiff alleges as occurring outside the scope of Scott I, II, and III are a June 26, 2012 incident where Plaintiff was confronted by a supervisor who asked Plaintiff "What are you going to do about it?!" and Plaintiff's retirement four days later. FAC ¶¶ 50-51.
Plaintiff predicates the entirety of his claim, however, on allegedly intolerable practices already adjudicated to be lawful in Scott I. More specifically, the only acts Plaintiff alleges to constitute constructive termination are Defendants' failures to accommodate Plaintiff by finding him work within his medical requirements - all arising from Plaintiff's 2005 shoulder injury. FAC ¶¶ 18-21, 25, 29, 37-39, 41. These same facts - and many of the same instances - were already addressed in the Scott I court's summary judgment order. Plaintiff cannot relitigate his claims by simply alleging a few additional facts. Misischia v. St. John's mercy Health Sys. , 457 F.3d 800, 805 (8th Cir. 2006) (quoting Dubuc v. Green Oak Twp. , 312 F.3d 736, 751 (6th Cir. 2002)) ("The doctrine of res judicata would become meaningless if a party could relitigate the same issue... merely by positing a few additional facts that occurred after the initial suit"). The Court finds that Plaintiff's constructive termination claim is similarly barred by res judicata as it is identical to the claims he litigated in Scott I, II, and III.
D. Leave to Amend is Not Granted
Plaintiff requests leave to amend if this Court is inclined to grant Defendants' Motion. Plaintiff seeks leave to add a number of new allegations, including an alleged diagnosis of bipolar disorder, harassment and retaliation as a result of his doctor's visits, and whistleblowing activity relating to unlawful activity at the Compton Post Office. Opp'n 6:24-8:6.
Courts have discretion to grant Rule 12(c) motions with leave to amend. Lonberg v. City of Riverside , 300 F.Supp.2d 942, 945 (E.D. Cal. 2004) (citing Carmen v. S.F. Unified Sch. Dist. , 982 F.Supp. 1396, 1401 (N.D. Cal. 1997)). This is particularly true where any amendment would be futile. See In re Dynamic Random Access Memory (Dram) Antitrust Litig. , 516 F.Supp.2d 1072, 1113 (N.D. Cal. 2007).
In this case, any further amendment would be futile because Plaintiff's claims are barred by res judicata. See Dommisse v. Napolitano , 474 F.Supp.2d 1121, 1129 (D. Ariz. 2007) ("Because of res judicata, this is a case where no amendment can cure the defects"); see also Winget v. JP Morgan Chase Bank, N.A. , 537 F.3d 565, 574 (6th Cir. 2008) (holding that district court did not abuse its discretion in dismissing complaint without leave to amend where amendment would be futile due to application of res judicata). As such, the Court finds that leave to amend is not warranted here and exercises its discretion to dismiss this Action with prejudice.
For the reasons set forth above, this Court GRANTS Defendants' Motion and DISMISSES this Action with prejudice.
IT IS SO ORDERED.