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Cottrell v. Chickasaw City Schools Board of Education

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

January 23, 2017

RONALD COTRELL, et al., Plaintiff,
v.
CHICKASAW CITY SCHOOLS BOARD OF EDUCATION, et al., Defendants.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION.

          KATHERINE P. NELSON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Currently before this Court is Defendant, Chickasaw City Schools Board of Education's, (“the Board” or “Defendant”) Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 7) and Defendant, Kathy Odom's (“Odom”) Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 8) pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) which were referred to the undersigned pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rule 72.2(c)(4). Plaintiffs have filed responses to both motions (Docs. 12, 13) to which Defendants, separately, have replied (Doc. 14, 16). For purposes of judicial economy, these motions will be addressed jointly herein. After careful consideration of the record, it is recommended that both the Board's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 7) and Odom's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 8) be granted.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs, Ronald Cottrell, James Rigdon, and Stacey Rigdon (“Cottrell”, “Rigdon”, “S. Rigdon”, or collectively “Plaintiffs”) filed this action against Defendants, the Board and Odom, in her individual and official capacity as Superintendent of Chickasaw City Schools, on September 29, 2016, alleging three causes of action pursuant to Ala. Code § 36-26A-3, the State Employees Protection Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and 42 U.S.C § 1985, respectively. (Doc. 1). According to the Complaint, Plaintiffs were each hired by the Board prior to the start of the 2014-15 school year. (Id. at 2). Cottrell was hired as a teacher and to serve as head coach of the varsity football team; Rigdon was hired as a teacher and to serve as the head coach for the varsity baseball team; and S. Rigdon was hired as a paraprofessional. (Id.) Rigdon and S. Rigdon are husband and wife and their son, Chandler Rigdon (“Chandler”), was also a student at Chickasaw School during the 2014-15 school year and is at the center of the incident which resulted in this litigation. (Id.)

         According to Plaintiffs, on or about September 21, 2014, Chandler was hit in the head by Principal Brent Ward (“Ward”) while standing in the hallway talking with his teacher, Stephanie Serra. (Id. at 3). Ward allegedly struck Chandler a total of three times, with the third strike hitting Chandler's face. (Id.) Ricky Ruffin (“Ruffin”), the school's athletic director, and Cottrell both witnessed the incident. Approximately fifteen minutes later Chandler reported the incident to Ivey Williams (“Williams”), a teacher, and Williams, in turn, confronted Ruffin. (Id.) Ruffin, in turn, took Chandler outside of the school and instructed him not to tell his father, Rigdon, about the incident. Ruffin then informed Rigdon of the incident himself indicating that he had taken care of the situation. (Id.)

         Later the same day, Serra met with the Rigdons, informed them of the incident, and apologized that it had occurred. (Id.) After school was dismissed, the assistant principal, Willie Lewis (“Lewis”) approached Cottrell and told him that he should calm Rigdon down and that the Rigdons did not need to press charges, to which Cottrell replied that Ward should not have hit a student. At football practice the same afternoon, Lewis approached Rigdon and stated “[w]ord for the wise, if you want to stay, you need to let it go.” (Id. at 4). The day after the incident, Cottrell approached Ward and suggested that Ward apologize, to which Ward refused. (Id.)

         A few days after the incident occurred, Rigdon requested the video surveillance of the incident and Rigdon, Ward, and Ruffin watched the video in Ward's office. (Id.) Both Rigdon and Cottrell reported the incident to Robert McFall, president of the Board. (Id.) Rigdon also notified the superintendent at the time, Kyle Kallhoff (“Kalloff”) and received a response that Rigdon should follow the chain of command by reporting the incident to Ward. (Id.). Kalloff then contacted Cottrell to confirm the veracity of the incident and was informed that it had, in fact, occurred to which Kalloff replied that Ward was doing a good job and that he (Kalloff) was not going to investigate the incident with Chandler. (Id.) In turn, S. Rigdon reported the incident to the state superintendent and a week later Kalloff requested a meeting with the Rigdons. Present at the meeting were the Rigdons, Kalloff, and the attorneys for the Board and the Chickasaw School System, Bob and Nash Campbell. (Id.)

         Following the meeting, no investigation of the incident was initiated and Ward was not disciplined. (Id. at 5). However, weeks after the incident, Ward was accused of sexual harassment by a female employee and later resigned. (Id.) Lewis became interim principle until the end of the 2014-15 school year. (Id.) On November 3, 2014, the Rigdons and Chandler filed a complaint against Ward with the Chickasaw Police Department. Ward was charged with harassment and prosecuted in Chickasaw Municipal Court. The Rigdons and Cottrell participated in the municipal trial and the trial in the Circuit Court of Mobile, Alabama.[1] (Id.)

         According to Plaintiffs, following the incident they were harassed, treated disparately, and received random and unnecessary classroom visits by Lewis and Ward and were disciplined for minor events. (Id.) Rigdon reported the harassment to Kalloff and was again told to go through the proper chain of command. (Id.) According to Plaintiffs, their negative treatment escalated following the instigation of charges with the police department and Chandler was additionally harassed. (Id. at 5-6). In December 2014, S. Rigdon sent an email to Lewis requesting that the harassment end, but according to Plaintiffs, it continued throughout the school year. On May 6, 2015, the Rigdons were told by Kalloff that they were being placed on administrative leave without being given a reason. (Id. at 6). On June 11, 2015, Kalloff recommended to the Board that each of the Plaintiffs be terminated in the form of a non-renewal of their contract and the Board approved the terminations. (Id.) The instant litigation followed.

         On December 5, 2016, Defendant, the Board, filed a Motion to Dismiss Count Three of Plaintiffs' Complaint “under Rule 12(B)(6) insofar as [Plaintiffs'] claims fail to meet the legal standard of preventing a witness from testifying in a Federal Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1985(2)”. (Doc. 7 at 5). The same day, Odom filed a Motion to Dismiss this action against her both in her individual and official capacities. (Doc. 8). On December 27, 2016, Plaintiffs filed responses to both motions urging that dismissal was not warranted. (Docs. 12, 13). Defendants replied separately on December 29, 2016 and January 3, 2017, respectively. (Docs. 14, 16).

         Legal Standard

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, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (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). That is, “[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level” and must be a “‘plain statement' possess[ing] enough heft to ‘sho[w] that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557, 127 S.Ct. at 1965, 1966 (second brackets in original). But “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, 129 S.Ct. at 1949.

         DISCUSSION

         A. Count Three: 42 U.S.C ยง 1985(2) Conspiracy to Injure ...


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