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Cruthirds v. Lacey

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

August 30, 2017

SHELIA Y. CRUTHIRDS, Plaintiff,
v.
RAYMOND P. LACEY, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          W. Earl Britt Senior U.S. District Judge

         This matter is before the court on the 26 June 2017 motion to dismiss filed by defendants Raymond P. Lacey, Brandi Stewart, Kathy Shearer, Sondra McMillan, Karen Miller, Child Youth School Services/Directorate Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation, and John M. McHugh, Secretary of the Department of the Army. (DE # 56.) Plaintiff Shelia Cruthirds filed a response in opposition on 21 July 2017. (DE # 59.) Defendants filed a reply on 3 August 2017, (DE # 60), and plaintiff filed a surreply on 24 August 2017, (DE # 61). The motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was formerly employed by the United States Army Directorate of Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation (“DFMWR”) in the Department of Child Youth School Services (“CYSS”) at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. (Am. Compl., DE # 55, at 2-3.) In 2011, plaintiff filed an administrative complaint of employment discrimination with the Army. (Id. at 3.) In 2012, plaintiff and the Army resolved the discrimination complaint through the execution of a negotiated settlement agreement, which required plaintiff's transfer to the Cook Child Development Center (“Cook CDC”) at Fort Bragg. (Id.)

         While working at Cook CDC, plaintiff alleges that her first-level supervisor, Kathy Shearer, engaged in “discriminatory behavior . . . to put [plaintiff] in [her] proper place.” (Id.) According to plaintiff, this discriminatory treatment caused her to experience issues with anxiety and depression. (Id. at 4.) Plaintiff eventually took an approved sick leave to address her anxiety and depression. (Id. at 2-3.)

         In August 2012, while out on leave, plaintiff submitted a reasonable accommodation request asking for a transfer from Cook CDC due to her continuing anxiety and depression. (Id. at 4-5.) Plaintiff did not receive a response to her request. (Id. at 3, 5.) Plaintiff was later diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and advised by her physician to take an extended period of eight months of sick leave from work. (Id. at 3, 6.) Based on this advice, plaintiff submitted leave forms requesting to be out of work for eight months or to be placed on Leave Without Pay Status (“LWOP”). (Id.) Plaintiff's leave requests were denied. (Id. at 3.)

         In January 2013, plaintiff's attorney informed her that she would be barred from Fort Bragg because emails she had sent to her coworkers were perceived as threatening, and withdrew his representation. (Id. at 4.) Following this communication, Colonel Jeffrey Sanborn barred plaintiff from Fort Bragg due to threats and harassment of other CYSS employees. (Id.) Plaintiff was subsequently issued a notice of separation due to her inability to go to her place of work. (Id. at 2.) In March 2013, DFMWR Director Raymond Lacey issued plaintiff a notice of decision to remove her from federal service. (Id.)

         Plaintiff has filed two prior actions stemming from her period of employment with the Army, debarment from Fort Bragg, and her termination following debarment. The first lawsuit, filed in this district on 17 March 2013, sought nullification of the debarment decision made by Colonel Sanborn and John M. McHugh, Secretary of the Department of the Army. See Cruthirds v. Sanborn, No. 5:13-CV-179-BR (E.D. N.C. ) (“Cruthirds I”). On 10 June 2014, following plaintiff's motion to dismiss, which was filed after the government's motion to dismiss, the court dismissed the suit without prejudice. See id., DE # 52 (E.D. N.C. June 10, 2014). The second lawsuit, filed in this district while Cruthirds I was pending, was filed against McHugh and Karen Miller, plaintiff's fourth-level supervisor. See Cruthirds v. Miller, No. 5:13-CV-849-BO, 2015 WL 507466 (E.D. N.C. Feb. 3, 2015) (“Cruthirds II”). In Cruthirds II, plaintiff alleged that Miller breached the 2012 negotiated settlement agreement, subjected plaintiff to a hostile work environment, intentionally retaliated against her, and discriminated against her based on her race. Id. at *1. Plaintiff further alleged that Miller's actions caused her attorney to withdraw from representation, and ultimately caused her debarment from Fort Bragg. Id. That suit was dismissed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim on 6 February 2015. Id. at *4. Plaintiff appealed, and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the decision on 21 April 2015. Cruthirds v. Miller, 600 F. App'x 146 (4th Cir. 2015).

         Plaintiff filed the present lawsuit on 28 April 2015, alleging that her debarment from Fort Bragg and consequent termination violated the FMLA and constituted a breach of contract. (DE # 10.) On 6 June 2016, while the present suit was pending, plaintiff and the Army entered into a global settlement agreement resolving the claims between them in the lawsuit. (Am. Compl., DE # 55, at 4-5; see also Pl.'s Ex. 3, DE # 55-3.) After entering this settlement agreement, defendants proceeded to file a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), arguing that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over plaintiff's claims. (Defs.' Mot., DE # 45.) Defendants also argued in the alternative that even if the court had jurisdiction, plaintiff's claims should be dismissed under the doctrines of res judicata and accord and satisfaction. (Defs.' Supp. Mem., DE # 46, at 2-3.)

         On 22 May 2017, this court issued an order dismissing plaintiff's FMLA claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, but allowing the suit to proceed as to plaintiff's breach of contract claim. (DE # 52.) As to the breach of contract claim, the court held that it was not appropriate to consider either the res judicata or accord and satisfaction defenses asserted by defendants because the defenses were not apparent from the face of plaintiff's complaint. (Id. at 9-10.) Specifically, the court noted that plaintiff's complaint did not contain any allegation with reference to Cruthirds II or the existence of a settlement agreement covering the subject matter of the complaint.[1] (Id.)

         Subsequent to the court's order, plaintiff filed an amended complaint on 12 June 2017. (DE # 55.) The amended complaint reasserts plaintiff's claim for breach of contract for her employment separation and request for accommodations, while adding claims of disability discrimination, violation of EEOC guidelines, and intentional infliction of emotional distress relating to the events leading up to her bar from entry to Fort Bragg and termination from employment. (Id.) In the amended complaint, plaintiff also includes a number of allegations concerning both the second lawsuit and the 2016 global settlement agreement between plaintiff and the Army. (Id. at 2, 4, 5.) Plaintiff specifically asserts that “[t]he last EEO Negotiated Settlement Agreement signed by Plaintiff was also discriminating, ” (id. at 2), and attaches a copy of the agreement as an exhibit to her amended complaint, (see Pl.'s Ex. 3, DE # 55-3).

         II. DISCUSSION

         Defendants once again move for dismissal pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, and pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. (Defs.' Mot., DE # 56.)

         A. ...


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