Trinka v. McDonough

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA JAMES TRINKA, : : Plaintiff, : Civil Action No.: 21-2904 (RC) : v. : Re Document Nos.: 14, 15 : DENIS MCDONOUGH, et al., : : Defendants. : MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART WITHOUT PREJUDICE DEFENDANTS’ MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT; GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART WITHOUT PREJUDICE PLAINTIFF’S CROSS-MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT; AND REMANDING TO THE AGENCY INTRODUCTION Plaintiff James Trinka (“Plaintiff” or “Trinka”) brings the instant action against the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (the “VA”) and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough (the “Secretary”) (collectively, “Defendants”) to challenge the termination of his employment as a career appointee in the Senior Executive Service of the VA. Specifically, the VA removed Trinka from his position for conduct unbecoming a federal supervisor because, according to the VA’s Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection (“OAWP”), Trinka provided false or inaccurate information to the VA Office of Inspector General (“OIG”) when he stated during an interview that he had disclosed his wife’s undocumented immigration status to three supervisors. Trinka now raises various claims. First, he claims that his termination violated the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment because Defendants denied him access to certain evidence, an evidentiary hearing, and a meaningful opportunity to be heard; relied improperly on ex parte communications; applied an unconstitutional evidentiary standard; and unlawfully applied 38 U.S.C. § 713 retroactively. Compl. ¶¶ 208–62, ECF No. 1. Second, Trinka claims that his removal was not in accordance with the law because it violated the Due Process Clause, 38 U.S.C. § 713, and the VA’s policies and procedures as set out in its Corporate Senior Executive Management Office Letter No: 006-17-1 – Senior Executive Accountability and Grievance Procedures (“CSEMO Letter”). Id. ¶¶ 263–83. Third, Trinka claims that his termination was arbitrary, capricious, and/or an abuse of discretion. Id. ¶¶ 290–307. Fourth, and finally, Trinka claims that his termination was not supported by substantial evidence. Id. ¶¶ 308–19. Defendants and Trinka have filed cross-motions for summary judgment. For the reasons explained below, the Court grants in part and denies in part without prejudice Defendants’ motion for summary judgment. Further, the Court grants in part and denies without prejudice Trinka’s cross-motion for summary judgment. Finally, the Court remands the matter to the agency for further consideration consistent with this Opinion. BACKGROUND A. Statutory and Regulatory Framework 1. Civil Service Reform Act The Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 (“CSRA”) “provides a ‘framework for evaluating adverse personnel actions against federal employees’ and ‘prescribes in great detail the protections and remedies applicable to such action, including the availability of administrative and judicial review.’” Esparraguera v. Dep’t of the Army, No. 21-cv-421, 2022 WL 873513, at *1 (D.D.C. Mar. 24, 2022), appeal docketed, No. 22-5150 (D.C. Cir. 2022) (quoting United States v. Fausto, 484 U.S. 439, 443 (1988)). Established by Congress in Title IV of the CSRA, see Senior Executives Ass’n v. United States, 576 F. Supp. 1207, 1209 …

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