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Aguilar v. Department of Veterans Affairs, Agency

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division

May 29, 2019

DANIEL C. AGUILAR, Plaintiff,
v.
DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS, AGENCY, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          HOLLY A. BRADY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 12). For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's Complaint for Damages will be dismissed pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         The facts of this case, as alleged in Plaintiff's Complaint for Damages (ECF No. 3), are as follows. During the relevant time, Plaintiff was a canteen worker at the Department of Federal Affairs Canteen Services facility in Marion, Indiana. Starting on February 20, 2014, Plaintiff was granted four hundred and twenty hours of FMLA leave and began taking intermittent leaves of absence from work. Sometime in July of 2014, Plaintiff called to request leave and Defendant's management official responded, “what's wrong with you.” From July 2014, through September 2014, Plaintiff took an extended period of continuous FLMA leave. By August 19, 2014, Plaintiff had exhausted his allotted FLMA leave.

         On August 8, 2014, Defendant's Human Resource Specialist sent an email to the canteen chief at the Marion facility stating that Plaintiff had called and left a voice mail indicating that he wanted to resign. On October 3, 2014, the canteen chief sent a Return of Duty Letter to Plaintiff seeking clarification of Plaintiff's employment status and requesting that Plaintiff return to work immediately. Also on October 3, 2014, Plaintiff's union representative emailed the canteen chief to ask about Plaintiff's employment status and to communicate Plaintiff's desire to return to work. Defendant responded on March 3, 2015, by sending a letter to Plaintiff formally documenting Plaintiff's resignation and providing him with options for post-employment benefits.

         PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On January 25, 2016, Plaintiff filed his formal complaint of discrimination with Defendant alleging he was subjected to harassment and a hostile work environment based on his disability and in reprisal for prior EEO activity. Defendant issued its Final Agency Decision on December 16, 2016. Plaintiff appealed the Final Agency Decision to the EEOC. However, on July 6, 2017, and before the EEOC issued its decision, Plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court under Cause No. 1:17-cv-280. Plaintiff moved to dismiss that cause without prejudice on January 22, 2016 (Cause No. 1:17-cv-280, ECF No. 25). In relevant part, Plaintiff's Motion to Dismiss Without Prejudice states that Plaintiff is seeking dismissal “in that he has not finalized the administrative process with defendant and . . . [t]he parties [sic] counsel have discussed said dismissal and Defendant has no objection.” (Id.). Plaintiff's motion was granted on January 23, 2018.

         The EEOC rendered its Decision on July 26, 2018, affirming the Final Agency Decision's determination that there was no discrimination. Thereafter, on October 9, 2018, Plaintiff filed his Complaint for Damages in the Grant County, Indiana, Circuit Court. (ECF No. 3). Defendant removed the action to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1442(a)(1). (ECF No. 1). Defendant filed its Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 12) and Memorandum in Support (ECF No. 13) on February 4, 2019. Plaintiff filed his Response (ECF No. 14) on March 4, 2019. This matter is now ripe for review by the Court.

         LEGAL ANALYSIS

         A. Defendant's Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction

         Defendant first asserts that this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff's claim. Defendant argues that the Grant Circuit Court lacked jurisdiction over the claim, and therefore this Court also lacks jurisdiction under the derivative jurisdiction doctrine. As set forth below, this Court concludes that the Grant Circuit Court did have jurisdiction over the claim. However, even if the Grant Circuit Court lacked jurisdiction, that would not create a jurisdictional bar here. Accordingly, this Court concludes that Defendant's subject matter jurisdiction argument should be rejected.

         1. Legal Standard

         Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) provides that a case will be dismissed if the court lacks the statutory authority to hear and decide the dispute. The standard of review for a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss depends on the purpose of the motion. See United Phosphorous, Ltd. v. Angus Chem. Co., 322 F.3d 942, 946 (7th Cir. 2003). If subject matter jurisdiction is not evident from the face of the complaint, a court must analyze the motion like any other motion to dismiss and assume for purposes of the motion that the allegations in the complaint are true. Where, as here, the complaint is formally sufficient, but the contention is that there is no subject matter jurisdiction, the movant may use affidavits and other materials to support the motion. The burden of proof on the Rule 12(b)(1) issue is on the party asserting jurisdiction. Id.

         2. Concurrent Jurisdiction over Title VII Claims

         The enforcement provision of Title VII provides that “[e]ach United States district court and each United States court of a place subject to the jurisdiction of the United States shall have jurisdiction of actions brought under this subchapter.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(3). In Yellow Freight Sys., Inc. v. Donnelly, 494 U.S. 820 (1990), a unanimous Supreme Court interpreted this provision as providing for concurrent jurisdiction between state and federal courts over Title VII actions. Defendant acknowledges Yellow Freight but suggests that this Court should find exclusive jurisdiction in the federal courts for Title VII claims against federal employers, relying on Bullock v. Napolitano, 666 F.3d 281 (4th Cir. 2012). The Court declines Defendant's suggestion.

         The issue on which the courts in Yellow Freight and Bullock diverge is how to interpret Congress' omission of any reference to state court jurisdiction in 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(3). The Supreme Court in Yellow Freight determined that principles of federalism mandated a finding of concurrent jurisdiction unless Congress explicitly provided otherwise.

Under our system of dual sovereignty, we have consistently held that state courts have inherent authority, and are thus presumptively competent, to adjudicate claims arising under the laws of the United States. To give federal courts exclusive jurisdiction over a federal cause of action, Congress must, in an exercise of its powers under the Supremacy Clause, affirmatively divest state courts of their presumptively concurrent jurisdiction.

Yellow Freight, 494 U.S. at 823 (citations omitted). Accordingly, the Supreme Court found that the lack of reference to state court jurisdiction was “strong, and arguably sufficient, evidence that Congress” did not intend exclusive federal jurisdiction. Id. Although the Court noted that the legislative history was “persuasive” in showing an anticipation by Congress that Title VII cases would be handled by federal courts, the Court concluded that “such anticipation does not overcome the presumption of concurrent jurisdiction that lies at the core of our federal system.” Id. at 826.

         The Fourth Circuit took a conflicting position regarding the effect of Congressional silence in Bullock. While Yellow Freight concentrated on Congress' ability to divest state courts of jurisdiction, Bullock focused on the sovereign's ability to confer jurisdiction via its waiver of sovereign immunity. As stated by the Bullock court:

Sovereign immunity is “jurisdictional in nature, ” FDIC v. Meyer, 510 U.S. 471, 475 (1994), and “the terms of [a sovereign's] consent to be sued in any court define that court's jurisdiction to entertain the suit, ” United States v. Sherwood, 312 U.S. 584, 586 (1941) (emphasis added). Sovereign immunity is not only a bar to liability but also a bar to the courts in which suits against the United States can be filed, see id. at 588-91, and to the remedies claimed, see Shaw, 478 ...

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