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Ingalls v. U.S. Space and Rocket Center

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division

July 27, 2015

JANICE INGALLS, et al.,
v.
U.S. SPACE AND ROCKET CENTER, et al., Defendants. on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

W. KEITH WATKINS, Chief District Judge.

Plaintiffs Janice Ingalls, Milton Parker, and Kamara Bowling (collectively, "Plaintiffs") are former employees of the Alabama Space Science Exhibit Commission (the "Commission") who worked at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center (the "USSRC") in Huntsville, Alabama. In this putative class action, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants - the Commission, three of its officers, and the USSRC - violated Alabama's statutes governing compensation for paid state holidays and longevity incentives and that these violations support causes of action under federal and state laws.

Pending is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Doc. # 32) pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). Plaintiffs filed a response in opposition to the motion (Doc. # 39), to which Defendants replied (Doc. # 41). Plaintiffs also provided a notice of supplemental authority (Doc. # 42), to which Defendants replied (Doc. # 43). After careful review of the arguments, the Second Amended Complaint, and the relevant law, the court grants Defendants' motion to dismiss the federal-law claims with prejudice and declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state-law claims.

I. JURISDICTION AND VENUE

The parties do not contest personal jurisdiction or venue. However, subject-matter jurisdiction is in dispute.

II. STANDARDS OF REVIEW

A. Rule 12(b)(1)

A Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss challenges the court's subject-matter jurisdiction and permits a facial or factual attack. McElmurray v. Consul. Gov't of Augusta-Richmond Cnty., 501 F.3d 1244, 1251 (11th Cir. 2007). On a Rule 12(b)(1) facial attack, as is present here, the court evaluates whether the complaint "sufficiently allege[s] a basis of subject matter jurisdiction, " employing standards similar to those governing Rule 12(b)(6) review. Houston v. Marod Supermarkets, Inc., 733 F.3d 1323, 1335-36 (11th Cir. 2013).

B. Rule 12(b)(6)

When evaluating a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the court must take the facts alleged in the complaint as true and construe them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Resnick v. AvMed, Inc., 693 F.3d 1317, 1321-22 (11th Cir. 2012). Rule 12(b)(6) review also includes consideration of any exhibits attached to the complaint. Thaeter v. Palm Beach Cnty. Sheriff's Office, 449 F.3d 1342, 1352 (11th Cir. 2006). To survive Rule 12(b)(6) scrutiny, "a complaint 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)). "[F]acial plausibility" exists "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

III. FACTS[1]

In March 1970, the USSRC opened its doors in Huntsville, Alabama, and began offering visitors a unique glimpse into the United States space program. To manage the facility and programming, the Alabama Legislature established the Commission pursuant to Alabama Code §§ 41-9-430 through 41-9-439. Today the USSRC, through the Commission, provides the leading museum experience for those interested in the United States space program while offering various educational opportunities for children, including the Space Camp and Aviation Challenge.

Plaintiffs are three former state employees who worked for the Commission at the USSRC for more than ten years.[2] Defendants are the Commission, the USSRC, Deborah E. Barnhart, Brooke Balch, and Vickie Henderson (collectively, "Defendants"). Barnhart serves as the Commission's chief executive officer; Balch is the Commission's chief financial officer; and Henderson is the Commission's vice president of human resources. Plaintiffs sue these three officials in their individual capacities only.

Plaintiffs allege that, during their employment, Defendants failed to comply with Alabama law when administering their employee-compensation plan. Plaintiffs contend that Defendants disregarded state statutes, namely, Alabama Code §§ 1-3-8(e) and 36-6-11(a), concerning paid state holidays and longevity pay, depriving them of benefits to which they were legally entitled.

Section § 1-3-8(e) provides that "[a]ny state employee working on a state holiday shall receive a day of compensatory leave or paid compensation in lieu of the holiday as provided herein." Ala. Code § 1-3-8(e). Section 1-3-8(a) enumerates paid state holidays for state employees. Throughout Plaintiffs' employment, the USSRC's Benefits Summary allotted the following seven state holidays with pay: New Year's Day; Martin Luther King Jr.'s Birthday; Memorial Day; Independence Day; Labor Day; Thanksgiving Day; and Christmas Day. But under the Benefits Summary, Plaintiffs did not receive compensatory leave or paid compensation for the following six state holidays: George Washington's Birthday; Confederate Memorial Day; Jefferson Davis's Birthday; Columbus Day/American Indian Heritage Day; Veteran's Day; and Thomas Jefferson's Birthday. See Ala. Code § 1-3-8(a). Plaintiffs allege that the Commission's compensation plan for state holidays "represents a disregard of" § 1-3-8(a). (Doc. # 31, at ¶ 25.)

As Plaintiffs progressed in their employment, each also began receiving longevity pay. Pursuant to the USSRC's Benefits Summary, as pertinent to this lawsuit, employees receive a lump sum of $300.00 annually after five years of employment. After ten years of service, an employee's annual longevity bonus increases to $400.00, and, after fifteen years of employment, the bonus increases to $500.00 per year. These benefits mirror those allotted under Alabama Code § 36-6-11(a), but § 36-6-11(a) also provides the following additional benefit for "[e]ach person employed by the State of Alabama, ... whether subject to the state Merit System or not":

Beginning October 1, 2006, and continuing each fiscal year thereafter in which an employee does not receive a cost-of-living increase in compensation, each per annum amount provided in this subsection shall be increased by one hundred dollars ($100) per year to a maximum amount of one thousand dollars ($1000) for 25 years of total service as long as the employee remains in service.

Ala. Code § 36-6-11(a). Plaintiffs allege that Defendants have "violated Alabama law with regard to the proper statutory payment of [l]ongevity [p]ay." (Doc. # 31, at ¶ 29.)

As an entity of the State and recipient of public funds, the Commission falls under the purview of the State's Department of Examiners of Public Accounts (the "Department").[3] In January 2014, the Department concluded its examination of the Commission and issued a report concerning the entities' "compliance with applicable laws and regulations of the State of Alabama and whether the public officers, agents, and employees of the Commission properly and lawfully accounted for money and other public assets or resources received, disbursed, or in the custody of the Commission." (Doc. # 31-1, at 5.) Incorporated in the report was a schedule of state legal compliance and other findings, in which the Department delineated eight specific findings of noncompliance, two of which are relevant to the present action.

First, the Department found that "the Commission provide[d] six fewer holidays to its state employees than are mandated by law for state employees." (Doc. # 31-1, at 10.) The Department recommended that the Commission "award its employees the holidays provided by" § 1-3-8(a), and "provide a day of compensatory leave or paid compensation in lieu of any holiday of which the employee is required to work." (Doc. # 31-1, at 11.) Second, the Department found that

[t]he Commission's employees who were entitled to receive longevity payments received less than the amount to which they were entitled. Underpayments occurred because longevity amounts due the employees were not increased in accordance with the requirements of state law, which provides that longevity pay amounts will be increased when employees do not receive a cost of living raise.

(Doc. # 31-1, at 10.) To cure the deficiency, the Department recommended that the Commission "re-compute longevity pay for each employee for all years in which [he or she was] qualified to receive longevity pay for reason of not having received a cost of living pay increase and... pay the employees the total amount of all underpayments due them." (Doc. # 31-1, at 10.)

Before the official release of the report, the Department presented its findings and corresponding recommendations to the Commission at a meeting held on October 18, 2013. Defendants Barnhart and Balch were present at the meeting on behalf of the Commission. After the Department released the report, the Commission held a meeting with all of the full-time, part-time, and presently employed seasonal staff working at the USSRC. During the meeting, the Commission's leadership, which included Barnhart, Balch, and Henderson, acknowledged the report, voiced its belief that the Department's findings were made in error, [4] and noted that it would implement changes if required. Plaintiffs allege that the Commission has failed to change any of its policies or take remedial measures with regard to its holiday or longevity-pay policies. As a result, Plaintiffs filed the present lawsuit against the USSRC, the Commission, and the three officers.

The governing Second Amended Complaint raises claims under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and under state law for breach of contract. Plaintiffs seek various forms of declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as compensatory damages, attorney's fees, and costs.

IV. DISCUSSION

Defendants move to dismiss the federal- and state-law claims in the Second Amended Complaint. The discussion proceeds in two parts. Part A addresses the federal-law claims. Because the federal-law claims are due to be dismissed, Part B explains why, in the court's discretion, the ...


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