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Taunton v. Blg Logistics, Inc.

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

May 20, 2015

RHETANNA TAUNTON, Plaintiff,
v.
BLG LOGISTICS, INC., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

KARON OWEN BOWDRE, Chief District Judge.

This employment discrimination matter is before the court on "Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Counts II, III, and IV of Plaintiff's Third Amended Complaint, or, in the Alternative, Motion for More Definite Statement." (Doc. 25). The pro se Plaintiff responded (doc. 29), and the Defendant filed a reply (doc. 30). For the reasons stated in this Memorandum Opinion, the court FINDS that the motion to dismiss is due to be DENIED, and that the alternative motion for more definite statement is due to be GRANTED.

I. LEGAL STANDARD

The motion to dismiss in the instant case attacks the sufficiency of the Second Amended Complaint filed by a pro se Plaintiff. Although the court is required to show leniency in reviewing a pro se plaintiff's pleadings, his complaint is still "subject to the relevant law and rules of court, including the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure." Moon v. Newsome, 863 F.2d 835, 837 (11th Cir. 1989). Pro se complaints must "comply with the procedural rules that govern pleadings." Beckwith v. Bellsouth Telecomms. Inc., 146 Fed.Appx. 368, 371 (11th Cir. 2005).

Generally, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require only that the complaint provide "a short and plain statement of the claim' that will give the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)). A plaintiff must provide the grounds of his entitlement, but Rule 8 generally does not require "detailed factual allegations." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley, 355 U.S. at 47). It does, however, "demand[] more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Ashcroft v. Iqbal 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Pleadings that contain nothing more than "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action" do not meet Rule 8 standards nor do pleadings suffice that are based merely upon "labels or conclusions" or "naked assertions" without supporting factual allegations. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557.

The Supreme Court explained that "[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting and explaining its decision in Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). To be plausible on its face, the claim must contain enough facts that "allow[] the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Although "[t]he plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement, '" the complaint must demonstrate "more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. "Where a complaint pleads facts that are merely consistent with a defendant's liability, it stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.'" Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).

The Supreme Court has identified "two working principles" for the district court to use in applying the facial plausibility standard. The first principle is that, in evaluating motions to dismiss, the court must assume the veracity of well-pleaded factual allegations; however, the court does not have to accept as true legal conclusions even when "couched as [] factual allegation[s]" or "threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. The second principle is that "only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss." Id. at 679. Thus, under prong one, the court determines the factual allegations that are well-pleaded and assumes their veracity, and then proceeds, under prong two, to determine the claim's plausibility given the well-pleaded facts. That task is "context-specific" and, to survive the motion, the allegations must permit the court based on its "judicial experience and common sense... to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct." Id . If the court determines that well-pleaded facts, accepted as true, do not state a claim that is plausible, the claim must be dismissed. Id.

DISCUSSION

Defendant directs this motion to three counts of the five-count Second Amended Complaint: Count II, alleging race discrimination in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981; Count III, asserting a claim for hostile work environment brought pursuant to Title VII; and Count IV, asserting retaliation brought pursuant to Title VII. The court addresses each claim separately.

A. Count II: Race Discrimination in Violation of § 1981

Although Counts I and II both assert claims for race discrimination, Defendant's motion only challenges Count II as failing to state a claim of race discrimination. Indeed, Count I contains specific facts to support the claim of race discrimination brought under Title VII. On the other hand, Count II, brought pursuant to § 1981, contains only general, conclusory allegations of race discrimination without specific facts to give the court and the Defendant notice regarding upon what that claim is based. Such unsupported conclusions and general allegations do not meet the standards of pleading that the Supreme Court set forth in Iqbal and Twombly. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting and explaining its decision in Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).

The court recognizes that the standards of proof and analytical elements are the same for race discrimination brought under both Title VII and § 1981, although Title VII requires administrative prerequisites that § 1981 does not. See, e.g., Jimenez v. Wellstar Health Sys., 596 F.3d 1304, 1312 (11th Cir. 2010) (citing Standard v. ABEL Servs., Inc., 161 F.3d 1318, 1330 (11th Cir. 1998)). Accordingly, logic suggests that the factual allegations supporting the Title VII claim for race discrimination in Count I would likewise support the § 1981 claim for race discrimination. Unfortunately, under Count II, the Plaintiff did not restate those facts; Count II contains no specific facts supporting the general conclusory allegations. Given the circumstances, the court will DENY the motion to dismiss Count II, but will GRANT the alternative motion as to that count and give the Plaintiff one last opportunity to provide a more definite statement of the facts supporting Count II.

B. Count III - Hostile Work Environment

In this count, the Plaintiff alleged generally that she belongs to a protected class, but she did not initially identify that protected class. In paragraph 44, she referred to "racially discriminatory practices, " without explaining how the general allegations of harassment are based on race; however, ...


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