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Knuckles v. Department of Army

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Augusta Division

March 7, 2017

JENIQUA IRENE KNUCKLES, Plaintiff,
v.
DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY, Defendant.

          ORDER

          HONORABLE J. RANDAL HALL UNITEj/ STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This suit arises out of the termination of Plaintiff's employment as a civilian employee at Fort Gordon. Plaintiff alleges that she was denied her right to arbitrate the propriety of her removal. She now asks the Court to compel arbitration. But because Plaintiff has failed to plead a basis for jurisdiction in this Court, and because she has failed to plead that she is entitled to compel arbitration, her claim fails. Accordingly, the Court GRANTS Defendant's amended motion to dismiss (doc. 14).

         I. Background

         Plaintiff previously served as a civilian employee at Fort Gordon. While employed at Fort Gordon, Plaintiff was a member of American Federation of Government Employees, Local 2017 ("AFGE"), a union. (Doc. 1 at 5.) During that time, AFGE and Defendant were parties to a collective-bargaining agreement. (See Doc. 14-2.) This agreement provided, among other things, procedures for employees and AFGE to resolve workplace grievances with Defendant. (Id. at 47-53.) Notably, the agreement allowed Defendant and AFGE to request arbitration under the agreement if they were dissatisfied with the outcome of other resolution procedures. But arbitration could be "invoked only by the [Defendant] or [AFGE]." (Id. at 52.)

         Plaintiff was eventually removed from service, which she claims was improper. And AFGE agreed to take her dispute to arbitration once it received certain documents from Defendant. (Doc. 1 at 5.) The arbitration, however, was continually postponed because, according to Plaintiff, Defendant "improperly withheld the documents for 480 days." (Id.) And during this delay, AFGE reorganized. (Id.) New officers now control AFGE, and Plaintiff is no longer a member of the union. (Id. at 6.) According to the complaint, "the new board members will invoke arbitration on [Plaintiff's] behalf but will not cover the costs . . . ." (Id.)

         Plaintiff filed this lawsuit in February 2016. She asks the Court to compel arbitration and to require Defendant to cover the cost of the arbitration. Defendant moves to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint because Plaintiff has failed to plead subject-matter jurisdiction and because Plaintiff has no right under the collective-bargaining agreement to compel arbitration.

         II. Legal Standards

         In considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint. Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974). The Court must accept as true all facts alleged in the complaint and construe all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Hoffman-Pugh v. Ramsey, 312 F.3d 1222, 1225 (11th Cir. 2002). The Court, however, need not accept legal conclusions as true, only well-pleaded facts. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009).

         A complaint also must "contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, 'to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Id. at 678 (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). The plaintiff is required to plead "factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ici. "The plausibility standard is not akin to a 'probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id.

         A motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) is "decided without reference to the merits of the underlying claim and lie within the exclusive province of the trial court." Morrison v. Amway Corp., 323 F.3d 920, 924-25 (11th Cir. 2003). A Rule 12(b)(1) motion may be either a "facial attack" or a "factual attack." McElmurry v. Consol. Gov't of Augusta-Richmond Cty., 501 F.3d 1244, 1251 (11th Cir. 2007). A facial attack requires the Court to "look and see if [the] plaintiff has sufficiently alleged a basis of subject matter jurisdiction" in her complaint. Id. (alteration in original) (citation omitted). A factual attack, on the other hand, challenges "the existence of subject matter jurisdiction in fact, irrespective of the pleadings . . . ." Id. (citation omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Ill. Discussion

         Defendant moves to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint because (1) she has failed to plead jurisdiction and (2) she has failed to state a claim. The Court addresses these arguments separately below.

         A. Plaintiff has failed to plead jurisdiction.

         Defendant argues that Plaintiff has failed to establish jurisdiction in this Court because she has not shown that Defendant has waived sovereign immunity. "Absent a waiver, sovereign immunity shields the Federal Government and its agencies from suit." FDIC v. Meyer, 510 U.S. 471, 475 (1994). Thus, as a federal agency, Defendant is immune from suit unless it has waived sovereign immunity. Sovereign immunity is jurisdictional, id., and it is a plaintiff's burden ...


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