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Zak v. City of Arab

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

July 24, 2015

MIKE ZAK and HOWETOWN MAGAZINE, Plaintiffs,
v.
CITY OF ARAB and ARAB CHAMBER OF COMMERCE, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

JOHN E. OTT, Chief Magistrate Judge.

In this action, Plaintiffs Mike Zak and Hometown Magazine allege that the City of Arab, Alabama (the "City"), relying on information provided by the Arab Chamber of Commerce (the "Chamber"), published defamatory statements about Plaintiffs on the City's Facebook page. (Doc. 9).[1] In their second amended complaint, Plaintiffs have asserted state law claims against both the City and the Chamber and claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the City only. The case has been assigned to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to the court's general order of reference dated January 2, 2015. The parties have consented to an exercise of plenary jurisdiction by the magistrate judge under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and FED. R. CIV. P. 73.

Before the court are three motions to dismiss filed by the City (docs. 1-14, 3 & 12) and a motion to dismiss filed by the Chamber (doc. 1-17). Because the City's first two motions precede the second amended complaint, the court will address the third motion to dismiss (doc. 12), which adopts the arguments in the City's second motion to dismiss and the accompanying brief (docs. 3 & 4).[2] Upon consideration, the court concludes that the City's motion is due to be granted as it relates to Plaintiffs' federal law claims. The court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state law claims and will remand such claims to state court.

I. REVIEW STANDARDS

Rule 12(b)(6) of the FEDERAL RULES OF CIVIL PROCEDURE authorizes a court to dismiss all or some of the claims in a complaint on the ground that its allegations fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. However, FEDERAL RULE OF CIVIL PROCEDURE 8(a)(2) requires only "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, " in order to "give the defendant fair notice of what the... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957). On a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the plaintiff must plead sufficient facts "to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 547 (2007). While specific facts are not necessary, a plaintiff's complaint must provide the defendant with "fair notice." Id.

The court assumes the factual allegations in the complaint are true and gives the plaintiff the benefit of all reasonable factual inferences. Hazewood v. Foundation Financial Group, LLC, 551 F.3d 1223, 1224 (11th Cir. 2008) (per curiam). However, "courts are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.'" Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (quoting Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009) ("Rule 8 marks a notable and generous departure from the hyper-technical, code-pleading regime of a prior era, but it does not unlock the doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions."). Nor is it proper to assume that the plaintiff can prove facts it has not alleged or that the defendants have violated the law in ways that have not been stated. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 563 n.8 (citing Associated Gen. Contractors of Cal., Inc. v. Cal. State Council of Carpenters, 459 U.S. 519, 526 (1983)).

"While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Id. at 555 (citations, brackets, and internal quotation marks omitted). "Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level...." Id. Thus, "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face, '" that is, its "factual content... allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citations omitted).

II. BACKGROUND

A. Procedural History

Plaintiffs initiated this action in the Circuit Court of Cullman County, Alabama on August 22, 2014, with the filing of a complaint against the City and the Chamber (and certain fictitious parties) alleging only state law claims. (Doc. 1-6). The City moved to dismiss the complaint and transfer venue to Marshall County, Alabama. (Doc. 1-14). The Chamber joined in the City's motion. (Doc. 1-17). While the motion was pending, Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint adding federal claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the City. (Doc. 1-1). The case was then transferred by the Circuit Court of Cullman County to the Circuit Court of Marshal County. (Doc. 1-22).

The case was removed to this court on February 9, 2015. (Doc. 1). The City then filed a second motion to dismiss directed to the claims in the amended complaint. (Doc. 3). Within one hour of the filing of the City's second motion to dismiss, Plaintiffs filed a second amended complaint adding new factual allegations. (Doc. 9). The City then filed a third motion to dismiss directed to the second amended complaint. (Doc. 12). All of the matters have been fully briefed and are ripe for decision.

B. Substantive Claims

Zak is a resident of Alabama. (Compl. at ¶ 1).[3] Hometown Magazine is a sole proprietorship operated by Zak. ( Id. at ¶ 9). Through Hometown Magazine, Zak ran a coupon distribution business. ( Id. at ¶ 2). On or about October 11, 2013, Zak obtained a valid business license for Hometown Magazine from the City. ( Id. at ¶ 8).

On or around November 13, 2013, the City posted on its Facebook account a publication concerning Zak and Hometown Magazine. (¶ ...


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