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Doe v. United States

United States District Court, D. Maryland

March 27, 2015

PYLORD P. DOE, M.D., Plaintiff,
v.
THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, for the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

THEODORE D. CHUANG, District Judge.

Plaintiff Pylord P. Doe. M.D., brought this action against Defendant United States Department of Health and Human Services ("HHS") for alleged violations under the Federal Tort Claims Act ("FICA"), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1346(b), 2671-2680 et seq. (2012). Now pending before the Court is HHS's motion to dismiss, ECF No. 17, and Dr. Doe's motion for summary judgment. ECF No. 19. The issues have been fully briefed, and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2014). For the reasons set forth below, the Government's motion to dismiss is GRANTED, and Dr. Doe's motion for summary judgment is DENIED.

BACKGROUND

This lawsuit follows the dismissal on summary judgment of Dr. Doe's earlier case in this Court against Donna E. Shalala, then-Secretary of Health and Human Services. See Doe v. Shalala, No, AMD-95-0153, Mem. Op. at 1 (D. Md. Aug. 27, 1997). In that case, Dr. Doe alleged race discrimination and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., stemming from the termination of his visiting fellowship at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke ("NINDS") in Bethesda. Maryland. Id. 1-2, 6. The National Institutes of Health ("NTH") awarded Dr. Doe the fellowship in 1989. Id. at 2. Dr. Doe initially conducted research under Dr. Milton Brightman at the NINDS. Id. at 3-4. While working in Dr. Brightman's laboratory, however, Dr. Doe filed an informal complaint against Dr. Brightman with the NIH Office of Equal Opportunity in which he alleged that a lab assistant had discriminated against him, and that Dr. Brightman had inadequately addressed the discrimination. Id. at 4. Dr. Doe subsequently transferred to two different laboratories at NINDS at which he continued to have personal conflicts with fellow laboratory personnel. Id. NINDS eventually terminated Dr. Doe's fellowship in March 1992. Id. at 6.

On January 18, 1995, Dr. Doe filed the earlier lawsuit alleging that NIH discriminated against him by wrongfully terminating him, and that NIH interfered with his subsequent employment relationships in retaliation for filing the informal complaint against Dr. Brightman. Id. On summary judgment, the court (Davis, J.) concluded that Dr. Doe was not an NIH employee and thus could not recover under Title VII. Id. at 10-11. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment. See Doe v. Shalala, 139 F.3d 888, 1998 WL 129935, at *1 (4th Cir. Mar. 24, 1998) (per curium).

In the present Complaint, Dr. Doe asserts that when he applied for a position with the National Institute on Drug Abuse ("NIDA") in 2012 through a personal contact with Dr. Phil Skolnick, the Drug Discovery Program Director, Dr. Skolnick did not offer Dr. Doe the job because of his "troubled backgound" with NIH and Dr. Brightman, and because Dr. Doe did not publish any articles while at NIH. Compl. at 4-5. ECF No. 1. The rejection prompted Dr. Doe to "do a literature search" in which he discovered that Dr. Brightman had plagiarized Dr. Doe's research findings in a 1992 article published in the academic journal, Progress in Brain Research. Id. at 5; see also Compl. Ex. 3. ECF No. 1-4. The article listed as co-authors Dr. Brightman and three scientists from the Juntendo University School of Medicine in Tokyo, Japan. Compl. at 5; see also Compl. Ex. 3.

On May 7, 2013. Dr. Doe filed an administrative tort claim with the HHS Office of the General Counsel under the FTCA, alleging that a "document" by Dr. Brightman rendered him unemployable and that Dr. Brightman had plagiarized his research. Compl. Ex. 4, ECF No. 1-5. HHS denied the claim on July 2, 2013. Id. On December 13, 2013, Dr. Doe, proceeding pro se, filed> this FICA case against HHS in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.[1] See ECF No. 1. In the Complaint, Dr. Doe asserts tort claims under the FTCA relating to the alleged discrimination and retaliation against him by NIH and Dr. Brightman, the continuing effect of his "negative personnel file" at NIH, and alleged plagiarism by Dr. Brightman. The case was transferred to this District on April 30, 2014. See ECF No. 8. HHS now moves to dismiss based on res judicata and the failure to state a claim under the FICA. See ECF 17. In response, Dr. Doe moves for summary judgment. See ECF No. 19.

DISCUSSION

1. Legal Standard

To defeat a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the complaint must allege enough facts to state a plausible claim for relief. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). A claim is plausible when the facts pled allow the Court "to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. Although legal conclusions or conclusory statements do not suffice and are not entitled to the assumption of truth, id. at 678, "a document filed pro se is to be liberally construed, and a pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (internal citations omitted).

The Court must examine the complaint as a whole, consider the factual allegations in the complaint as true, and construe the factual allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 268 (1994); Lambeth v. Bd. of Comm'rs of Davidson city., 407 F.3d 266, 268 (4th Cir. 2005). When resolving a motion to dismiss on res judicata grounds, "a court may take judicial notice of facts from a prior judicial proceeding when the res judicata defense raises no disputed issue of fact." Andrews v. Daw, 201 F.3d 521, 524 n.1 (4th Cir. 2000).

II. Res Judicata

Res judicata bars many of Dr. Doe's claims. Under the doctrine of res judicata, a final judgment on the merits in an earlier action precludes the parties from relitigating issues that were or could have been raised during that action. Pueschel v. United States, 369 F.3d 345, 354 (4th Cir. 2004). Res judicata applies when there is: (1) a final judgment on the merits in a prior suit; (2) an identity of cause of action in both the earlier and later suit; and (3) an identity of parties or their privies in the two suits. Id. at 354-55. There can be no dispute that Doe v. Shalala culminated in a final judgment on the merits or that the parties in both suits are identical. In Doe Shalala, Dr. Doe brought suit against HHS, as he does here, and the dismissal on summary judgment was affirmed by the Fourth Circuit.

The focus, then, is on the second prong. Cases involve the same cause of action if they arise out of the same transaction, series of transactions, or core of operative facts. Pueschel, 369 F.3d at 355. Even if the plaintiff is proceeding under a different legal theory, "[a]s long as the second suit arises out of the same transaction or series of transactions as the claim resolved by the prior judgment, the first suit will have preclusive effect." Ohio Valley Envtl. Coal. v. Aracoma coal Co., 556 F.3d 177, 210 (4th Cir. 2009) (internal citation and quotation marks omitted). Res ...


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