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Valentine B. andela v. Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts

April 30, 2013

VALENTINE B. ANDELA
v.
ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICE OF THE U.S. COURTS, ET AL.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joyner, Ch. J.

MEMORANDUM

Plaintiff Valentine B. Andela brings this action against the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts ("AO"), the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), the U.S. Department of Education - Office of Civil Rights ("OCR"), and several of those entities' unidentified employees. His claims are based on the defendants' alleged mishandling of his employment discrimination claims, a related "conspiracy" to deprive him of his constitutional rights, and the EEOC's failure to provide him with certain information under the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"). Andela seeks to proceed in forma pauperis. For the following reasons, the Court will grant him leave to proceed in forma pauperis, and dismiss his claims with the exception of his FOIA claim.

I. FACTS

In 2007, Andela filed a charge of employment-discrimination with the EEOC against the University of Miami and the University of North Carolina at Chapel-Hill.*fn1 (Compl. ¶ 13). The EEOC transferred Andela's complaint to the Florida Commission for Human Relations ("FCHR") for review. Andela subsequently filed a complaint with OCR, alleging that the University of Miami and the University of North Carolina retaliated against him for filing a complaint. According to Andela, OCR "delegat[ed] its statutory authority to the EEOC Miami District Office" and did not follow up on his claim. (Id. ¶ 20.)

It appears that Andela received a hearing before an administrative law judge, who rejected his claims of employment discrimination, and that the FCHR affirmed the administrative law judge's decision. Andela v. Univ. of Miami, 461 F. App'x 832, 836 (11th Cir. 2012) (per curiam). Andela thereafter requested that the EEOC perform a substantial weight review of his claims and, at the same time, appealed the FCHR's ruling to the Florida District Court of Appeals. (Compl. ¶ 15.) The state appellate court affirmed the FCHR's decision. The next day, the EEOC issued a notice of right to sue letter indicating that it had adopted the FCHR's determination. (Id. ¶ 22.) Andela alleges that the EEOC should have completed its review earlier, so that the state appellate court would have the benefit of the its findings, and alleges that the EEOC's issuance of its notice immediately after the state court's rejection of his appeal is "[s]trongly revealing of a conspiracy." (Id. ¶¶ 17 & 22.)

Andela subsequently filed a FOIA request with the EEOC, in which he sought a copy of the substantial weight review that the agency prepared in his case. He claims that the EEOC "dissimulated" his request, so he submitted a second request. (Compl. ¶ 23.) In response, he received an email indicating that the EEOC did not have a record of his initial FOIA request and that it would process his second request by August 3, 2009. However, Andela was not provided with the document as of that date.

Around the same time, Andela filed a lawsuit in the Southern District of Florida, pursuant to Title VI and Title VII, against the University of Miami and the University of North Carolina. He apparently sought to join the FCHR, the EEOC, and the OCR as defendants pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 19, but the district court denied his motion. The district court dismissed some of Andela's claims, granted summary judgment to the defendants on others, and declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over any state law claims. See Andela, 692 F. Supp. 2d at 1379-80. Andela appealed.

The Eleventh Circuit initially dismissed Andela's appeal for lack of jurisdiction but, upon reconsideration, reinstated the appeal. The Court dismissed Andela's appeal of his Title VII claims against the University of Miami on the basis that he sought review and rejection of the state court's judgment, and affirmed the dismissal of his remaining claims. Andela, 461 F. App'x at 836-37. Andela believes that the Court's opinion is "manifestly inaccurate" and sought rehearing en banc, but his motion was denied. (Compl. ¶¶ 29-30.)

Andela subsequently "submitted several FOIA requests and appeals to both the OCR and the EEOC." (Compl. ¶ 31.) In response, the EEOC released a redacted copy of its substantial weight review, which was signed by then District Director Jacqueline McNair. Andela notes that, less than a year after signing the review, McNair was demoted "based on her allegedly unacceptable performance." (Id. (quotations omitted).) He sought an unredacted copy, but the EEOC denied his FOIA request.

Based on those facts, Andela raises the following claims: (1) a FOIA claim against the EEOC based on the EEOC's failure to provide him with an unredacted copy of the substantial weight review; (2) claims against all of the defendants under the Declaratory Judgment Act; (3) claims against the government agents "involved in the procedural handling of [his] Title VI and Title VII claims," pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), based on his allegations that the agents "actively undermined his substantive and constitutionally guaranteed rights" (Compl. ¶ 46); (4) claims against all of the defendants pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1985, based on his allegations that they "actively conspired to undermine the substance of [his] constitutionally guaranteed rights" (Id. ¶ 50); (5) claims against all of the defendants pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1986, based on his allegations that they failed to prevent interference with his civil rights; and (6) a claim under the Fair Tort Claims Act ("FTCA") against the EEOC. Andela seeks injunctive relief under FOIA, a declaration that he "was [continuously] prevented from properly litigating his Title VI and Title VII claims" due to the defendants' conduct, and damages. (Compl. ¶ IV.B.)

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

The Court grants Andela leave to proceed in forma pauperis because he has satisfied the criteria set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 1915. Accordingly, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) applies. That provision requires the Court to dismiss the complaint if it is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune. A complaint is frivolous if it "lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact," Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989), and is legally baseless if "based on an indisputably meritless legal theory." Deutsch v. United States, 67 F.3d 1080, 1085 (3d Cir. 1995).

Whether a complaint fails to state a claim under ยง 1915(e) is governed by the same standard applicable to motions to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), see Tourscher v. McCullough, 184 F.3d 236, 240 (3d Cir. 1999), which requires the Court to determine whether the complaint contains "sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quotations omitted). Although any factual allegations must be taken as true, courts evaluating the viability of a complaint should "disregard legal conclusions and recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements." Santiago v. Warminster Twp., 629 F.3d 121, 128 (3d Cir. 2010) (quotations omitted). Thus, although the Court must construe Andela's allegations liberally because he is proceeding pro se, Higgs v. Att'y Gen., 655 F.3d 333, 339 (3d Cir. 2011), he must recite more than ...


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