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Nouna v. Ross

United States District Court, D. Maryland

March 17, 2017

PASCAL N. NOUNA, Plaintiff,
v.
WILBUR ROSS, Secretary of Commerce Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ROGER W. TITUS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pascal N. Nouna (“Nouna”) is employed as a mechanic at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), an agency of the United States Department of Commerce. ECF No. 31-4 at 1. Nouna identifies himself as “Black” or “African, ” and he is originally from Cameroon. ECF No. 31-4 at 3-4.

         Nouna filed this action on July 1, 2013 against the Secretary of Commerce (“Commerce”), Wilbur Ross, [1] pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e, et seq., alleging employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin. See ECF No 1 at 1-2. Nouna alleges NIST and Commerce failed to promote him on “[m]any occasions.” ECF No. 1 at 2. In addition to a failure to promote, he claims that he experienced continued harassment, insults, intimidation, and retaliation. ECF No. 1 at 2-3. In sum, Nouna alleges three claims against Commerce: (1) discrimination based on race, color, and national origin; (2) a hostile work environment; and (3) retaliation. ECF No. 1 at 2.

         In his pro se Complaint, Nouna seeks back pay, injunctive relief of “$121, 120.00 during three years as wage grade 5 and than [sic] three years as wage grade 8, ” monetary damages in the amount of $20, 000, costs and attorneys fees, as well as “Lack of training $25, 000” and “Health issues $30, 000.” ECF No. 1 at 1, 3-4. The Court will now address all of the pending motions in this Memorandum Opinion.

         I. Procedural Background

         After he initiated this proceeding, the Court granted Nouna a stay on December 30, 2013 during his deployment with the U.S. military. ECF No. 13. Following the conclusion of Nouna's deployment, Commerce filed a timely Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim or, in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 31) on July 7, 2016. Simultaneously, it filed a Motion to Seal Exhibits from Agency (ECF No. 33). Commerce attached to its Motion the Agency's Record of Investigation (ROI).

         When Nouna failed to properly file a Response, Commerce filed a Motion for Extension of Time (ECF No. 36) to set forth a clear date by which to respond to any opposition by Nouna. ECF No. 36 at 1. In this Motion, Commerce brought to the Court's attention that it had received from Nouna a “Motion to Stay” that was not properly filed with the Clerk's Office. ECF No. 36 at 1. Although unclear, the Court will consider Nouna's submission as an Opposition to Commerce's Motion to Dismiss, as well as a separate Motion to Stay. This Opposition is docketed, as it is titled, as “Complainant's Motion to Stay Agency's Motion to Dismiss or in the Alternative for Summary Judgment Until After a Hearing and Decision on Complainant's Motion to Compel Discovery” (ECF No. 38). On September 8, 2016, Commerce filed a Reply in Support of Defendant's Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 39).

         II. Analysis

         A. Commerce's Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim or, in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 31]

         1. Pro Se Standard

         A federal district court is charged with liberally construing a complaint filed by a pro se litigant to allow the development of a potentially meritorious case. Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5, 9 (1980). Nonetheless, liberal construction does not mean that a court can ignore a clear failure in the pleading to allege facts that set forth a cognizable claim. See Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387, 391 (4th Cir. 1990). The mandated liberal construction afforded to pro se pleadings means that if the court can reasonably read the pleadings to state a valid claim on which the plaintiff could prevail, it should do so; however, a district court may not rewrite a complaint in order for it to survive a motion to dismiss. See Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985).

         2. Motion to Dismiss Based on 12(b)(6)

         Commerce has moved to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. ECF No. 31 at 1. A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) serves “to test the sufficiency of a complaint.” Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999). In order to be sufficient to survive dismissal, a complaint must allege “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). On a motion to dismiss, courts “are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986). Rule 8 “requires a ‘showing, ' rather than a blanket assertion, of entitlement to relief.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556 n.3. To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must put forth “plausible claim[s] for relief.” Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 192 (4th Cir. 2009). “But where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not ‘show[n]'-‘that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). While a plaintiff is not required to allege facts in his complaint sufficient to prove his case as an evidentiary matter, “a plaintiff is required to allege facts that support a claim for relief. Bass v. E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co., 324 F.3d 761, 765 (4th Cir. 2003) (emphasis in original). Further, “self-serving, inaccurate legal conclusions cannot rescue a factually deficient complaint.” Faulkner Advertising v. Nissan Motor Corp., 945 F.2d 694, 695 (4th Cir. 1991). A plaintiff must provide more than mere “conclusory allegations or speculation.” Mackey v. Shalala, 360 F.3d 463, 469-70 (4th Cir. 2004).

         On a motion to dismiss, if a court considers matters outside the pleadings, the motion must be treated as one for summary judgment, and all parties must be given an opportunity to present all materials pertinent to the motion. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d). However, the Court may consider “documents attached to the complaint, see Fed. R. Civ. P. 10(c), as well as those attached to the motion to dismiss, so long as they are ...


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