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Betts v. Conecuh County Board of Education

United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division

December 10, 2014

TERRA BETTS, Plaintiff,
v.
CONECUH COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION, RONNIE BROGDEN, and MARY ANN DANFORD, Defendants.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

KATHERINE P. NELSON, Magistrate Judge.

Pending before the Court is the Defendants' "Motion to Dismiss or Alternatively for More Definite Statement" (Doc. 7) brought under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) and 12(e). The Plaintiff, Terra Betts ("Betts"), has timely filed a response in opposition (Doc. 12) to the motion, and the Defendants have timely filed a reply (Doc. 13) to the response. The motion is now under submission and is ripe for adjudication. ( See Doc. 11). The present motion has been referred to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge for entry of a report and recommendation under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B)-(C) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(b)(1). Upon consideration, the undersigned RECOMMENDS that the Defendants' "Motion to Dismiss or Alternatively for More Definite Statement" (Doc. 7) be GRANTED in part and DENIED in part, as set forth herein.

I. Applicable Legal Standards

In deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, " the Court construes the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, "accepting all well-pleaded facts that are alleged therein to be true." Miyahira v. Vitacost.com, Inc., 715 F.3d 1257, 1265 (11th Cir. 2013) (citing Bickley v. Caremark RX, Inc., 461 F.3d 1325, 1328 (11th Cir. 2006)). "To survive... a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face."'" Id. (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007))). "The plausibility standard calls for enough fact to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence' of the defendant's liability." Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

Under Rule 12(e), "[a] party may move for a more definite statement of a pleading to which a responsive pleading is allowed but which is so vague or ambiguous that the party cannot reasonably prepare a response. The motion must be made before filing a responsive pleading and must point out the defects complained of and the details desired." Whether to grant relief under Rule 12(e) is left to the Court's discretion. See Porter v. Duval Cnty. Sch. Bd., 406 F.Appx. 460, 461 (11th Cir. 2010) (per curiam) (unpublished) ("We review for abuse of discretion a district court's grant of a motion for a more definite statement." (citing Mitchell v. E-Z Way Towers, Inc., 269 F.2d 126, 131 (5th Cir. 1959)).

II. Background

Betts initiated this action on July 31, 2014, by filing a Complaint with the Court alleging claims against Defendants Ronnie Brogden ("Superintendent Brogden"), and Mary Ann Danford, Curriculum Coordinator/Counselor Coordinator for the Conecuh County school system ("Danford"). ( See Doc. 1). The following well-pleaded factual allegations in the Complaint are accepted as true for purposes of the present motion:[1]

Betts, an African-American, has been employed with the Defendant Conecuh County Board of Education ("the Board") for thirteen (13) years, having first been hired in 2001. At all times relevant to the claims in this action, Betts has been employed in the capacity of Guidance Counselor, a position in which she has served for the past eight (8) years. Betts has an undergraduate degree from Alabama State University (ASU) in Elementary Education, a graduate degree (Masters in Counseling) from ASU, and an Ed.S in school counseling from ASU/Auburn University Montgomery, jointly. ( Id. at 3, ¶ 7).
Defendant Ronnie Brogden ("Superintendent Brogden") is superintendent of the Conecuh County school system. Defendant Mary Ann Danford ("Danford") is employed with the Conecuh County school system in the Central Office in the capacity of Curriculum Coordinator/Counselor Coordinator. Danford is not certified in counseling. Both Superintendent Brogden and Danford are white. ( Id. at 4, ¶¶ 8-9).
On or about December 12, 2012, Betts was served with a "Notice of Recommendation of Termination of Employment" (hereinafter, the "Termination Recommendation Notice") signed by Superintendent Brogden. The Termination Recommendation Notice alleged "insubordination, incompetency, neglect of duty, failure to perform duties in a satisfactory manner, and/or other good and just cause...." Betts challenged the recommendation, and after a two day hearing commencing on February 12, 2013, Betts was reinstated to her employment. Betts returned to work on February 14, 2013. Though both Danford and Superintendent Brogden testified that they had not undertaken any efforts to replace Betts, Annette Bohannon, who is white, had already moved into Betts's office. ( Id., ¶ 10).
Upon her return to work, Betts submitted a correspondence to Superintendent Brogden demanding a work environment at Hillcrest High School free of any acts of retaliation, intimidation and hostility. On or about June 4, 2013, Superintendent Brogden submitted a "Notice of Recommendation of Transfer" (hereinafter, the "Transfer Recommendation Notice") to her and the Board. The Board ratified the recommendation and transferred Betts to Evergreen Elementary School. ( Id. at 4-5, ¶ 11).
In or about July 2013, Superintendent Brogden filed a complaint with the State of Alabama Department of Education requesting a "proposed revocation and non-renewal of Alabama professional Educator Certificate" against Betts. Superintendent Brogden's request and recommendation tracked verbatim the language of his December 12, 2012 Termination Recommendation Notice. ( Id. at 5, ¶ 11).

Based on the preceding factual allegations, Betts asserts the following causes of action against the Defendants:

• Count 1 - discriminatory disparate treatment on the basis of race, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., as amended by the Civil Rights Act of 1991, 42 U.S.C. § 1981a ("Title VII"). ( See Doc. 1 at 5-6).
• Count 2 - unlawful retaliation. ( See id. at 6-7).
• Count 3 - discrimination on the basis of race and ethnicity "in violation of the Constitution and laws of the United States that secure and guarantee to her the equal protection of the law" -specifically, "[t]he Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution" - "as enforced by Title 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983."[2], [3] ( Id. at 1, 7-8).

Betts states that Superintendent Brogden "is being sued in his individual capacity relative to [her] §§ 1981 and 1983 claims." ( Id. at 3, ¶ 6). The Complaint does not specify in what capacit(ies) Betts is suing Superintendent Brogden as to her Title VII claims, or at all for Danford.

III. Analysis

In subsection A, infra, the undersigned will determine those claims that, regardless of whether they have sufficiently been plead, can be dismissed as a matter of law, as this will narrow the scope of claims that will require a more definite statement, as set forth in subsection B, infra.

A. Rule 12(b)(6) Dismissal

1. Title VII Claims against Superintendent Brogden and Danford

The Defendants argue that Betts's Title VII claims against Superintendent Brogden and Danford in Counts One and Two of the Complaint are due to be dismissed because they are not her "employers" within the meaning of Title VII. ( See Doc. 7 at 9-11). Betts's complaint and her response both expressly acknowledge that, at all relevant times, she was an employee of the Board. (Doc. 1 at 3, ¶ 5; Doc. 12 at 4). Eleventh Circuit precedent is clear "that "[t]he relief granted under Title VII is against the employer, not [against] individual employees whose actions would constitute a violation of the Act."'" Dearth v. Collins, 441 F.3d 931, 933 (11th Cir. 2006) (per curiam) (quoting Hinson v. Clinch Cnty. Bd. of Educ., 231 F.3d 821, 827 (11th Cir. 2000)). Accord Busby v. City of Orlando, 931 F.2d 764, 772 (11th Cir. 1991) (per curiam); Cross v. State of Ala., State Dep't of Mental Health & Mental Retardation, 49 F.3d 1490, 1504 (11th Cir. 1995). Thus, "[i]ndividual capacity suits under Title VII are... inappropriate.'" Cross, 49 F.3d at 1504 (quoting Busby, 931 F.2d at 772) (alteration added). See also Yeldell v. Cooper Green Hosp., Inc., 956 F.2d 1056, 1060 (11th Cir. 1992) ("[B]oth this court and the Fifth Circuit have held that Title VII actions are not appropriately brought against government officials in their personal capacities. Such suits may be brought only against individuals in their official capacity and/or the employing entity.").

"The only proper individual defendants in a Title VII action would be supervisory employees in their capacity as agents of the employer." Hinson, 231 F.3d at 827. In her response, Betts admits that her "retaliation claim is a statutory right pursuant to Title VII" and that "[t]he individual defendants are being sued in their individual capacity." (Doc. 12 at 6). Based on the foregoing authority, the undersigned finds that Betts's Title VII claims against Superintendent Brogden and Danford in their individual capacities are due to be DISMISSED.

Moreover, the Eleventh Circuit has held that "the proper method for a plaintiff to recover under Title VII is by suing the employer, either by naming the supervisory employees as agents of the employer or by naming the employer directly.'" Cross, 49 F.3d at 1504 (emphasis added) (quoting Busby, 931 F.2d at 772). Here, Betts has already asserted Title VII claims against her employer, the Board. Thus, to the extent Superintendent Brogden and Danford are being sued under Title VII in their capacities as agents of the Board, such claims are redundant and due to be DISMISSED. See Shoots v. City of Mobile, Civil Action No. 11-00673-KD-M, 2013 WL 3281875, at *3 (S.D. Ala. June 28, 2013) (DuBose, J.) ("To the extent Shoots' alleges [Title VII ]claims against the individual defendants in their official capacities..., such claims are redundant as her employer has been named as a defendant." (citing Cross, 49 F.3d at 1504; Portera v. State of Ala. Dep't of Fin., 322 F.Supp.2d 1285, 1287 (M.D. Ala. 2004) ("[A]ny claim against McClenney in ...


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