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Seeley v. Huerta

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Fort Worth Division

April 2, 2018

EVAN C. SEELEY, Plaintiff,



         Came on for consideration the motion of defendants, Michael Huerta, Administrator, Federal Aviation Administration ("Huerta"), and Elaine L. Chao, Secretary, U.S. Department of Transportation ("Chao"), to dismiss. The court, having considered the motion, the response of plaintiff, Evan C. Seeley, the reply, the record, and applicable authorities, finds that the motion should be granted in part.

         I. Plaintiff's Claims

         The operative pleading is plaintiff's first amended complaint filed January 5, 2018. Doc.[1] 6. In it, plaintiff alleges: He is an air traffic control specialist employed by the Federal Aviation Administration ("FAA") at the Fort Worth Enroute Traffic Control Center in Fort Worth, Texas. On or about April 11, 2014, he made a written request to use four hours of leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601-54 ("FMLA") every Friday and eight hours of FMLA leave every Saturday through November 2 014, so that he could bond with his son born November 5, 2013. He also requested earlier shifts on Fridays to accommodate his familial responsibilities and offset the use of FMLA leave. Plaintiff was required to provide detailed documentation in support of his request that was not required of female co-workers who submitted similar requests, and he was not provided any assistance in filling out the forms to defendants' satisfaction. Defendants delayed ruling on plaintiff's leave requests and ultimately denied them. On the date of the denial, plaintiff filed a grievance to complain of the seemingly endless delay in processing his requests for leave. Defendants requested three separate thirty-day extensions of time to respond to the grievance, but never ruled on it. Plaintiff elected to pursue other procedures available by making a complaint on June 9, 2014, with the EEOC. A letter of notice of right to sue was issued December 1, 2017.

         Plaintiff seeks damages for discrimination and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2OOOe to 2000e-17 ("Title VII"). Plaintiff also asserts a claim for whistleblower retaliation, apparently under 5 U.S.C. § 2302.

         II. Grounds of the Motion

         Defendants say that plaintiff made an irrevocable election to pursue his discrimination claims through the FAA's grievance procedure and failed to exhaust his remedies thereunder. Thus, the court does not have jurisdiction over the discrimination claims. Further, plaintiff has failed to establish that the court has jurisdiction over his whistleblower claim or that he is entitled to any relief pursuant to it. And, finally, plaintiff should only have sued Chao and not Huerta.[2]

         III. Applicable Legal Standards

         A. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1)

         Dismissal of a case is proper under Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure when the court lacks the statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate the case. Home Builders Ass'n of Miss., Inc. v. City of Madison, Miss., 143 F.3d 1006, 1010 (5th Cir. 1998). When considering a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, the court construes the allegations of the complaint favorably to the pleader. Spector v. L.Q. Motor Inns, Inc., 517 F.2d 278, 281 (5th Cir. 1975). However, the court is not limited to a consideration of the allegations of the complaint in deciding whether subject matter jurisdiction exists. Williamson v. Tucker, 645 F.2d 404, 413 (5th Cir. 1981). The court may consider conflicting evidence and decide for itself the factual issues that determine jurisdiction. Id. Because of the limited nature of federal court jurisdiction, there is a presumption against its existence. See Owen Equip. & Erection Co. v. Kroger, 437 U.S. 365, 374 (1978); McMutt v. General Motors Acceptance Corp. of Ind., Inc., 298 U.S. 178, 189 (1936). A party who seeks to invoke federal court jurisdiction has the burden to demonstrate that subject matter jurisdiction exists. McNutt, 298 U.S. at 189; Ramming v. United States, 281 F.3d 158, 161 (5th Cir. 2001).

         B. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12 (b) (6)

         Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides, in a general way, the applicable standard of pleading. It 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)(2), "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 and ellipsis omitted). Although a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, the "showing" contemplated by Rule 8 requires the plaintiff to do more than simply allege legal conclusions or recite the elements of a cause of action. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 & n.3. Thus, while a court must accept all of the factual allegations in the complaint as true, it need not credit bare legal conclusions that are unsupported by any factual underpinnings. See Ashcroft v. Igbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009) ("While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations.").

         Moreover, to survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the facts pleaded must allow the court to infer that the plaintiff's right to relief is plausible. Igbal, 556 U.S. at 678. To allege a plausible right to relief, the facts pleaded must suggest liability; allegations that are merely consistent with unlawful conduct are insufficient. Id. In other words, where the facts pleaded do no more than permit the court to infer the possibility of misconduct, the complaint has not shown that the pleader is entitled to relief. Id. at 679. "Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief . . . [is] a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id.

         As the Fifth Circuit has explained: "Where the complaint is devoid of facts that would put the defendant on notice as to what conduct supports the claims, the complaint fails to satisfy the requirement of notice pleading." Anderson v. U.S. Dep't of Housing & Urban Dev., 554 F.3d 525, 528 (5th Cir. 2008), In sum, "a complaint must do more than name laws that may have been violated by the defendant; it must also allege facts regarding what conduct violated those laws. In other words, a complaint must put the defendant on notice as to what conduct is being called for defense in a court of law." Id. at 528-29. Further, the complaint must specify the acts of the defendants individually, not collectively, to meet the pleading standards of Rule ...

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