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Gordon v. James Madison University

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Harrisonburg Division

June 30, 2014

PAMELA J. GORDON, Plaintiff
v.
JAMES MADISON UNIVERSITY, Defendant.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

JOEL C. HOPPE, Magistrate Judge.

This matter is before the Court on the Plaintiff's Motion to Amend/Correct her Amended Complaint (ECF No. 56) and the Defendant's Motion to Dismiss the Plaintiff's Amended Complaint (ECF No. 52). The motions were referred to me for report and recommendation under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). ( See ECF No. 55.) After considering the parties' briefs, oral arguments, and the applicable law, I recommend that this Court DENY the Plaintiff's Motion to Amend/Correct her Amended Complaint and DENY as moot the Defendant's Motion to Dismiss the Plaintiff's Amended Complaint.

I. Procedural History

Plaintiff Pamela Gordon alleges that she was forced to resign from her job as a police dispatcher at James Madison University ("JMU" or "the University") because of her age. (ECF No. 22, 1-2.) After exhausting her administrative remedies under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 623(a), Gordon filed suit, pro se , in this Court on November 27, 2012. ( See ECF No. 1.) Her complaint consisted only of her original letter to the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission ("EEOC") and a demand for $620, 000 in damages against JMU. ( See id. ; ECF No. 1-2.)

A. First Amended Complaint - December 2012

On December 4, 2012, Gordon filed a 49-page amended complaint, which again consisted only of her original letter to the EEOC and accompanying exhibits. (ECF No. 3.) The University moved to dismiss Gordon's first amended complaint with prejudice under Rules 8(a), 10(b), 12(b)(1), and 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (ECF No. 5.) It also claimed Eleventh Amendment immunity "to the extent Plaintiff [was] seeking to recover money damages for [JMU's] alleged violations of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act." (ECF No. 6, 2.)

On April 23, 2013, Magistrate Judge B. Waugh Crigler recommended that the District Court dismiss Gordon's ADEA damages claim with prejudice, but allow Gordon 20 days to amend her complaint to comply with the federal rules' pleading standards. (ECF No. 15.) Given the narrative state of Gordon's pleadings, Judge Crigler was "unable to discern, short of acting as the plaintiff's advocate, what cause of action [she was] alleging." ( Id. 3.) District Judge Michael F. Urbanski adopted Judge Crigler's recommendations on May 24, 2013. (ECF No. 21.) The Court dismissed Gordon's ADEA damages claim with prejudice because the University was immune from such claims under the Eleventh Amendment, and "no amendment to the complaint could cure th[at] defect." ( Id. 2.) The Court also allowed Gordon to amend her complaint for a second time.

B. Second Amended Complaint - May 2013

Gordon immediately filed a second amended complaint. (ECF No. 22.) This document complied with the federal rules to the extent that it contained a caption with this Court's name, the parties' names, numbered paragraphs, and a clear statement of the relief sought. ( See id. ) But, once again, Gordon sought only damages against JMU under the ADEA. ( See id. ) The University moved to dismiss Gordon's complaint with prejudice under Rule 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (ECF No. 24.) Specifically, the University argued that the Court did not have authority to consider any fact that Gordon did not include in her original letter to the EEOC. ( Id. 4-6.) It also argued that Gordon did not allege facts from which the court could reasonably infer it was "plausible" that the University forced Gordon to resign "because of" her age. ( Id. 8-13.)

Judge Crigler recommended that the District Court grant in part and deny in part JMU's motion to dismiss. (ECF No. 39.) He rejected the Rule 12(b) arguments but recommended that the court again dismiss Gordon's ADEA damages claim with prejudice. ( Id. 3-7.) Judge Crigler noted that Gordon "once more [sought] only monetary relief in the amount of $620, 000, and [did] not plead any claim for equitable relief" against the University. ( Id. 6.) In response, Gordon filed a document titled "Amended Monetary Relief to Equitable Relief." (ECF No. 41; see also ECF No. 41-1.) That document "clarified" that Gordon was "seeking EQUITABLE RELIEF in the form of Front Pay and Back Pay to include benefits lost and, [ sic ] compensatory damages" against the University. (ECF No. 41.)

Judge Urbanski adopted Judge Crigler's recommendations on September 17, 2013. (ECF Nos. 42, 43.) He noted that Gordon's ADEA damages claim had been dismissed with prejudice, that the Court had twice told her that it could not grant such relief, and that it had pointed out her failure to seek equitable relief, such as reinstatement. ( See ECF No. 41, 2-3.) He also explained that adding the words "equitable relief" to a claim for damages did not change the nature or availability of the underlying claim. ( See id. 3.) The Court again dismissed Gordon's ADEA damages claim with prejudice and dismissed the action without prejudice. Judge Urbanski did not grant Gordon leave to amend her complaint for a third time. ( See ECF No. 43.)

C. Gordon's Appeal to the Fourth Circuit

Gordon appealed Judge Urbanski's order to the Fourth Circuit in October 2013. (ECF No. 44.) The panel dismissed Gordon's appeal for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction in January 2014. (ECF No. 47.) See Gordon v. James Madison Univ., Va. , 551 Fed.App'x 64 (4th Cir. Jan. 23, 2014) (Mem. Op.) (per curiam). The court concluded that the "order Gordon [sought] to appeal [was] neither a final order nor an appealable interlocutory or collateral order because it [was] possible for her to cure the pleading deficiencies in the complaint that were ...


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