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Akbar-Hussain v. Acca, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division

January 17, 2017

ACCA, INC., Defendant.



         This matter is before the Court on the Defendant's Partial Motion to Dismiss and Motion to Strike Claim for Compensatory and Punitive Damages and Jury Demand. [Dkt. 15.] For the following reasons, the Court will grant Defendant's partial motion to dismiss. The Court will also grant Defendant's motion to strike.

         I. Background

         This case is brought by pro se Plaintiff Selai Akbar-Hussain (“Plaintiff”) against ACCA, Inc. (“Defendant” or “ACCA”). Plaintiff alleges that she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (“ADHD”) in 2010. (Amend. Compl. ¶ 6.) Due to her mental impairments, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant engaged in unlawful discrimination and failed to make appropriate accommodations for her at work. (Id. at 2.) Moreover, Plaintiff claims that Defendant wrongfully terminated her. (Id.) The following facts are taken from Plaintiff's Amended Complaint and, for the purposes of this motion, are presumed true.

         Plaintiff was formerly employed as a Child Development Aide at ACCA. On November 18, 2014, Plaintiff took part in a mediation meeting with Maria-Isabel Balivian, ACCA's Director, and Jennifer Shaw, Plaintiff's supervisor. (Amend. Compl. ¶ 7.) Plaintiff alleges that the topic of conversation during this meeting was her mental health. (Id.) She alleges that she was told that she was “too sensitive, ” her “disability [was] affect[ing] the way [she] see[s] and think[s] about things, ” and that she “needed more help than ACCA could offer.” (Id.) Plaintiff also alleges that ACCA staff recommended a mental health facility to her that could provide medication and therapy. (Id.)

         The following day, Plaintiff arrived at work and asked to speak to Ms. Shaw. (Amend. Compl. ¶ 9.) Plaintiff alleges that she expressed concern about the comments made about her mental health during the prior day's meeting. (Id.) More specifically, she alleges that she informed Ms. Shaw that she had ADA rights that protected her from discrimination. (Id.) Plaintiff claims that Ms. Shaw told her to go home for the day. (Id.) Plaintiff allegedly told Ms. Shaw that she was able to work and that sending her home would amount to unlawful retaliation. (Id.) Ms. Shaw then allowed Plaintiff to go to her classroom. (Id. ¶¶ 9-10.) That afternoon, however, Plaintiff was asked to report to Ms. Balivian's office, where she met with Ms. Balivian and Ms. Shaw. (Id. ¶ 10.) Plaintiff was then terminated. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that she asked if she was being fired because she had voiced concerns over ACCA's actions towards her the previous day. (Id.) Plaintiff claims that Ms. Balivian responded to Plaintiff's question by clarifying that, in Virginia, employment is at-will, so ACCA did not need an excuse for firing her. (Id.)

         Plaintiff filed suit in state court on September 28, 2015. [See Dkt. 1-1 at 2.] On October 19, 2016, Defendant filed a notice of removal to federal court. [Dkt. 1.] On December 14, 2016, Defendant filed the instant partial motion to dismiss and motion to strike. [Dkt. 15.] On December 30, 2016, Plaintiff filed her memorandum in opposition, [Dkt. 19], to which Defendant replied on January 5, 2017 [Dkt. 20]. Oral argument was held on January 12, 2017. Defendant's motions are now ripe for disposition.

         II. Standard of Review

         “A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of a complaint; importantly, it does not resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses.” Republican Party of N.C. v. Martin, 980 F.2d 943, 952 (4th Cir. 1992) (citation omitted). The Supreme Court has stated that in order “[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, a [c]omplaint must contain 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) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “A claim has facial plausibility when the pleaded factual content allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id.

         “Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief [is] . . . a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (citations omitted). While legal conclusions can provide the framework for a complaint, all claims must be supported by factual allegations. Id. Based upon these allegations, the court must determine whether the plaintiff's pleadings plausibly give rise to an entitlement for relief. Id. Legal conclusions couched as factual allegations are not sufficient, Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, nor are “unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments, ” E. Shore Mkts., Inc. v. J.D. Assocs. Ltd. P'ship, 213 F.3d 175, 180 (4th Cir. 2000). The plaintiff, however, does not have to show a likelihood of success; rather, the complaint must merely allege-directly or indirectly-each element of a “viable legal theory.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 562-63.

         At the motion to dismiss stage, the court must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, read the complaint as a whole, and take the facts asserted therein as true. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Generally, a district court does not consider extrinsic materials when evaluating a complaint under Rule 12(b)(6). It may, however, consider “documents incorporated into the complaint by reference.” Tellabs, Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights, Ltd., 551 U.S. 308, 322 (2007); see also Blankenship v. Manchin, 471 F.3d 523, 526 n.1 (4th Cir. 2006). In addition, the court may consider documents attached to the defendant's motion to dismiss if those documents are central to the plaintiff's claim or are “sufficiently referred to in the complaint, ” so long as the plaintiff does not challenge their authenticity. Witthohn v. Fed. Ins. Co., 164 F. App'x 395, 396-97 (4th Cir. 2006).

         The Court construes the pro se Complaint in this case more liberally than those drafted by an attorney. See Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). Further, the Court is aware that “[h]owever inartfully pleaded by a pro se plaintiff, allegations are sufficient to call for an opportunity to offer supporting evidence unless it is beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts entitling him to relief.” Thompson v. Echols, No. 99-6304, 1999 WL 717280, at *1 (4th Cir. 1999) (citing Cruz v. Beto, 405 U.S. 319 (1972)). Nevertheless, while pro se litigants cannot “be expected to frame legal issues with the clarity and precision ideally evident in the work of those trained in law, neither can district courts be required to conjure up and decide issues never fairly presented to them.” Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1276 (4th Cir. 1985). Thus, even in cases involving pro se litigants, the Court “cannot be expected to construct full blown claims from sentence fragments.” Id. at 1278. Further, the Court may not construct a plaintiff's legal arguments for him or her. See, e.g., Small v. Endicott, 998 F.2d 411, 417-18 (7th Cir. 1993).

         III. Analysis

         A. Partial Motion to Dismiss ...

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