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Bell v. McDonald

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

June 1, 2015

TEMPIE ANN BELL, Plaintiff,
v.
ROBERT A. McDONALD, Secretary, Department of Veterans Affairs, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

WILLIAM L. OSTEEN, Jr., District Judge.

Plaintiff Tempie Ann Bell ("Plaintiff") commenced this action by filing a Complaint (Doc. 1) with this court on March 4, 2014 against the Secretary of Veteran Affairs ("Defendant").[1] Plaintiff moved to amend her complaint on June 10, 2014 (Doc. 5), and this court granted Plaintiff's motion on September 29, 2014. (Doc. 10.)

While Plaintiff's motion to amend was pending, Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Third and Fourth Cause of Action and supporting Memorandum (Docs. 6, 7). Plaintiff filed a Response (Doc. 8) opposing Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, and Defendant filed a Reply (Doc. 9). Plaintiff filed her Amended Complaint (Doc. 11) on October 11, 2014. Per this court's September 29, 2014 Order, Defendant filed a Notice (Doc. 13), requesting that this court rule on Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 6) as if it has been filed subsequent to the Amended Complaint.

This court has carefully reviewed Defendant's Motion and Memorandum, Plaintiff's Response, and Defendant's Reply. For the reasons stated below, this court will grant Defendant's Motion to Dismiss. However, this court will allow Plaintiff leave to file an amended complaint to waive all damages in excess of $10, 000 in her third cause of action, the breach of contract claim.

I. BACKGROUND

The present action stems from allegations of disability discrimination and breach of a settlement contract. (Amended Complaint ("Am. Compl.") (Doc. 11).) Plaintiff, a resident of Orange County, North Carolina, was an employee of the Department of Veteran Affairs ("VA"), with her primary place of employment being the VA Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina. (Id. ¶¶ 1-2.)

As a result of previous litigation in this district, Plaintiff and Defendant entered into a Settlement Agreement ("Agreement") in 2005.[2] (Id. ¶ 4.) Plaintiff asserts that the Agreement provided that Defendant would provide Plaintiff with "employment in diabetes education, which would not involve significant lifting." (Id. ¶ 5.) In addition to other stipulations, the Agreement also called for Plaintiff to obtain certification as a diabetes educator. (Id. ¶ 6.) However, Plaintiff asserts that, as an alternative to this certification, Plaintiff and Defendant agreed that Plaintiff would obtain her Master's Degree with financial assistance from Defendant. (Id.) Plaintiff further alleges that when she completed her Master's Degree in September 2009, Plaintiff was informed by her supervisor that she had a deadline of December 20, 2009, to obtain her diabetes educator certification, despite being told that the Master's Degree would supersede this requirement. (Id. ¶ 8.) Plaintiff did not obtain said certification by the deadline date. (Id.)

Plaintiff suffers from chronic back pain that limits her ability to work. (Id. ¶ 7.) On or about February 1, 2010, Plaintiff was assigned to ward nursing duties. (Id. ¶ 9.) Plaintiff complained to senior management that she was unable to perform the ward nursing duties, because of her back pain. (Id.) On May 20, 2010, Plaintiff filed a complaint in state court[3] challenging the transfer from diabetes educator to ward nurse. (Id. ¶ 10.) This action was dismissed. (Id.) During this period, Plaintiff sought assistance from her union and senior management, but remained assigned to ward nursing. (Id. ¶ 11.) Plaintiff asserts that between February and August 2010, Plaintiff was followed, stalked, and had numerous confrontations with her managers. (Id.) During this period, the hospital still provided diabetes education, but that work was assigned to others. (Id. ¶ 12.) In addition, Plaintiff requested transfers to work that would accommodate her back pain, but those transfers were refused. (Id.)

On or about August 10, 2010, a manager confronted Plaintiff and threated to initiate the revocation of her nursing license. (Id. ¶ 14.) Plaintiff asserts that, as a result of this confrontation, she became so distraught that she fell, hit her head, and suffered major injuries. (Id. ¶ 15.) Plaintiff filed a worker's compensation claim. (Id. ¶ 16.) Plaintiff alleges that as a result of her fall and inability to work due to the injuries sustained from the fall, Defendant "continued its pattern of unjustified actions against Plaintiff."[4] (Id. ¶ 17.) On or about September 16, 2010, Defendant insisted Plaintiff return to work as a ward nurse or be terminated. (Id. ¶ 18.) Defendant terminated Plaintiff in March 2011.[5] (Id.) Plaintiff filed two EEOC claims regarding this matter and the agency issued its final decision on December 9, 2013]. (Id. ¶ 19.) Subsequently, Defendant billed Plaintiff for financial assistance advanced to Plaintiff to help pay for her Master's Degree. (Id. ¶ 21.)

Plaintiff asserts four causes of action: (1) wrongful discrimination based on disability, (2) retaliation, (3) breach of contract based on Defendant's alleged violation of the Settlement Agreement, and (4) asking this court to enjoin Defendant from collecting any tuition assistance money from Plaintiff. Presently, Defendant asks this court to dismiss the third and fourth causes of action.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Defendant's Motion to Dismiss requests that this court dismiss Plaintiff's third and fourth causes of action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) and for failure to state a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss (Doc. 6) at 1.)

A. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1)

Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides for the dismissal of an action when the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction. When determining whether jurisdiction exists, the district court may consider evidence outside the pleadings without converting the motion to one for summary judgment. Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac R.R. Co. v. United States 945 F.2d 765, 768 (4th Cir. 1991). The burden of proving subject matter ...


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