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Goins v. Speer

United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Eastern Division

August 14, 2017

DANIELLE R. GOINS, Plaintiff,
v.
ROBERT M. SPEER, acting Secretary of the Army, and DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY, Defendants.

          ORDER

          JAMES C. DEVER III CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         On April 8, 2016, Danielle R. Goins ("Goins") filed a complaint against the Secretary of the Army[1] and the Department of the Army ("the government") alleging breach of contract based on a settlement agreement the parties executed in October 2004 to resolve a Title VII case [D.E. 1]. On April 19, 2016, Goins filed an amended complaint [D.E. 3].[2] Goins seeks specific performance of the settlement agreement and compensatory damages "in excess of $58, 631.00." Id. Prayer for Relief. On October 31, 2016, the government answered [D.E. 8]. On December 14, 2016, the government moved to dismiss Goins's amended complaint for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction [D.E. 10] and filed a supporting memorandum [D.E. 11]. On January 4, 2017, Goins responded in opposition [D.E. 16]. On January 6, 2017, Goins moved to amend her complaint [D.E. 18]. On January 18, 2017, the government responded in opposition to Goins's motion to amend [D.E. 19] and replied to Goins's response in opposition to the government's motion to dismiss [D.E. 20]. As explained below, the court grants the government's motion to dismiss and denies as futile Goins's motion to amend her complaint.

         I.

         On December 3, 2003, Goins sued the Acting Secretary of the Department of the Army in this district. See Complaint, Evans v. Brownlee. 5:03-CV-897, Compl. [D.E. 1] (E.D. N.C. ). A civilian employee, Goins alleged that the Army had fired her during her probationary period because of her race and sex in violation of Title VII. See Id. ¶¶ 1, 3-4. On October 6, 2004, the parties executed a settlement agreement ("the settlement agreement"). See Am. Compl. [D.E. 3] ¶ 8; [D.E. 8-2] (settlement agreement). The Army agreed to remove a form in Goins's personnel file stating that she had been terminated during her probationary period and to replace it with one stating that Goins had resigned for personal reasons. See [D.E. 8-2] ¶ 3(b); Am. Compl. ¶ 11. The Army agreed to cancel the original form and expunge it from Army records and Goins's personnel file. [D.E. 8-2] ¶ 3(c), In return, Goins agreed to dismiss the action with prejudice and to not seek employment with the Army for three years. Id. ¶ 3(d), (f). The settlement agreement also provided that it "constitute[d] the complete understanding" between Goins and the Army and that "[n]o other terms, promises, or agreements will have any force or effect unless reduced to writing and signed by all the parties to the Agreement." Id. ¶ 2. The court never approved the settlement, incorporated it into an order, or explicitly retained jurisdiction over its enforcement. On November 8, 2004, Goins filed a stipulation of dismissal with prejudice. See Evans v. Brownlee. 5:03-CV-897, [D.E. 9] (E.D. N.C. ).

         On December 1, 2004, an employee of the Army notified Goins that the Army had removed the original form stating that Goins had been terminated during her probationary period and replaced it with a form stating that she had resigned for personal reasons. Am. Compl. ¶ 12. On September 7, 2006, in response to Goins's inquiries, the Army again told Goins that it had removed and destroyed the original form. Id. ¶¶ 13-17.

         On February 9, 2015, Goins obtained a conditional appointment to serve in the Ultrasound Section of the U.S. Army Medical Command's Department of Radiology. Id. ¶ 18. Around March 2015, Goins applied to serve as a Supervisory Medical Instrument Technician (Ultrasound) with the U.S. Army Medical Command. Id.¶19. In her application, Goins stated that she had resigned from her position that was the subject of the 2003 lawsuit and resulting settlement agreement. Id. ¶ 20. After applying, Goins learned she was being investigated for allegedly lying about having resigned from her previous position. Id. ¶ 21. Nothing came of the investigation, but Goins did not obtain the position and its $58, 631.00 annual salary. Id. ¶¶ 22-23.

         On December 8, 2015, Goins reviewed her personnel file. Id. ¶ 24. She discovered that the Army had not replaced the original form. Id. ¶ 25. Her electronic personnel file similarly stated that she was terminated during her probationary period. Id. ¶ 26.

         On December 17, 2015, Goins wrote the Equal Employment Opportunity ("EEO") Director at Fort Bragg. Id. ¶ 27; see [D.E. 8-9]. Goins alleged that the Army had breached the settlement agreement and demanded $55, 000.00 in compensatory damages. Am. Compl. ¶ 27; [D.E. 8-9]. On December 21, 2015, the EEO Director told Goins to notify the Director of EEO Compliance and Complaints Review at Fort Belvoir of the alleged breach. Am. Compl. ¶ 28; [D.E. 8-10]. On January 5, 2016, Goins contacted the Director of EEO Compliance and Complaints Review concerning the alleged breach. See Am. Compl. ¶ 29.

         On January 12, 2016, the Director of EEO Compliance and Complaints Review issued a Final Decision denying Goins's request for relief because the agency lacked jurisdiction to render a decision. [D.E. 8-3]. The agency lacked jurisdiction because "the allegation of noncompliance involves a settlement agreement reached in United States District Court and the settlement agreement neither resolved other pending administrative claims nor contained a blanket waiver of all pending EEO claims." Id. at 2. In support, the Final Decision cited EEOC opinions holding that the agency lacks jurisdiction to entertain allegations that a federal agency breached a settlement agreement entered into to resolve a civil action filed in a United States District Court. Id. at 3. The Final Decision concluded that Goins's "allegations of breach of the civil action settlement agreement should be raised in a different forum such as a United States [D]istrict [C]ourt." Id. The Final Decision also stated that Goins could appeal to the EEOC or, "[i]n lieu of an appeal to the Commission, " that Goins "may file a lawsuit in the appropriate United States District Court" as "authorized under Title VII, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ('ADEA'), and the Rehabilitation Act." Id. at 5.

         On April 8, 2016, Goins filed a complaint in this court against the Secretary of the Army and the Department of the Army alleging breach of the settlement agreement [D.E.I]. Goins seeks specific performance of the settlement agreement and compensatory damages "in excess of $58, 631.00." [D.E. 3] Prayer for Relief.

         II.

         The government moves to dismiss Goins's complaint for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. A motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) tests subject-matter jurisdiction, which is "the court's statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate the case." Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env't 523 U.S. 83, 89 (1998) (emphasis omitted); see Hollowav v. Paean River Dockside Seafood Inc.. 669 F.3d 448, 453 (4th Cir. 2012). "[T]he party invoking federal jurisdiction bears the burden of establishing its existence." Steel Co.. 523 U.S. at 104; see, e.g., Evans v. B.F. Perkins Co.T 166 F.3d 642, 647 (4th Cir. 1999). In considering a motion to dismiss for lack of subj ect-matter jurisdiction, the court may consider evidence outside the pleadings without converting the motion into one for summary judgment. See, e.g.. Richmond. Fredericksburg & Potomac R.R. Co. v. United States. 945 F.2d 765, 768 (4th Cir. 1991).

         Enforcement of a settlement agreement, "whether through award of damages or decree of specific performance, is more than just a continuation or renewal of the dismissed suit, and hence requires its own basis for jurisdiction." Kokkonen v. Guardian T.ife Tns. Co. of Am.. 511 U.S. 375, 378 (1994). One such basis arises when the district court retains jurisdiction over a settlement agreement's enforcement. For jurisdiction to exist on this basis, "[t]he obligation to comply with a settlement's terms must be expressly made part of a court's order." Smyth ex rel. Smyth v. Rivero. 282 F.3d 268, 283 (4th Cir. 2002). A district court cannot enforce a settlement agreement "unless the obligation to comply with its terms is 'made part of the order of dismissal-either by separate provision (such as a provision 'retaining jurisdiction' over the settlement agreement) or by incorporating the terms of the settlement agreement in the order.'" IcL at 280-81 (quoting Kokkonen, 511 U.S. at 381).

         In 2004, the court did not expressly make the settlement agreement's terms part of a court order. Accordingly, "jurisdiction to enforce the settlement agreement [does] exist absent some independent basis of ...


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