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Daniel v. Huntsville City Board of Education

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

April 6, 2017

BRENDA L. DANIEL, Plaintiff,


         Plaintiff, Brenda Daniel, is a former employee of the Huntsville City Board of Education ("the Board").[1] She asserts that she was subjected to unlawful race discrimination, retaliation, and a racially hostile work environment, and she seeks redress for those alleged wrongs pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and 42 U.S.C. § 1983.[2]The defendants to her claims are the Board; Elisa Ferrell, the President of the Board, who is sued in her official capacity; Beth Wilder, Pam Hill, Walker McGinnis, and Michelle Watkins, all of whom are members of the Board, and each of whom is sued in her or his official capacity; B.T. "Tom" Drake, the Interim Superintendent of Education, who is sued in his official capacity; Eugene C. "Casey" Wardynski, the former Superintendent, who is sued in his individual capacity; and Presonia Lynette Alexander, the former Principal of Woodlawn Middle School, who is sued in her individual capacity.[3] Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages, back pay, and placement in the position(s) she would have occupied absent defendants' allegedly discriminatory and retaliatory treatment.[4]

         This case currently is before the court on the motion to dismiss filed by defendants Ferrell, Wilder, Hill, McGinnis, Watkins, and Drake.[5] Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b) permits a party to move to dismiss a complaint for, among other reasons, "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). This rule must be read together with Rule 8(a), which requires that a pleading contain only a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). While that pleading standard does not require "detailed factual allegations, " Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 550 (2007), it does demand "more than an unadorned, the-defendant- unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citations omitted). As the Supreme Court stated in Iqbal:

A pleading that offers "labels and conclusions" or "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." [Twombly, 550 U.S., at 555]. Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders "naked assertion[s]" devoid of "further factual enhancement." Id., at 557.
To survive a motion to dismiss founded upon Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), [for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted], a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to "state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face." Id., at 570. A claim has facial plausibility 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., at 556. The plausibility standard is not akin to a "probability requirement, " but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully. Ibid. 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., at 557 (brackets omitted).
Two working principles underlie our decision in Twombly. First, the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice. Id., at 555 (Although for the purposes of a motion to dismiss we must take all of the factual allegations in the complaint as true, we "are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation" (internal quotation marks omitted)). 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. Second, only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss. Id., at 556. Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will, as the Court of Appeals observed, be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense. 490 F.3d, at 157-158. But where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged - but it has not "show[n]" - "that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 8(a)(2).
In keeping with these principles a court considering a motion to dismiss can choose to begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth. While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations. When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.

Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79 (emphasis supplied, second and fourth alterations in original, other alterations supplied).

         Defendants assert that plaintiff s claims against them in their respective official capacities (which are the only claims that plaintiff asserted against them) should be dismissed as redundant of plaintiff s claims against the Board. Indeed, defendants are correct that official-capacity claims

"generally represent only another way of pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is an agent." Monell v. New York CityDept. of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 690, n. 55, 98 S .Ct. 2018, 2035, n. 55, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978). As long as the government entity receives notice and an opportunity to respond, an official-capacity suit is, in all respects other than name, to be treated as a suit against the entity. Brandon[ v. Holt], 469 U.S. [464], 471-472 [(1985)].

Kentucky v. Graham, 3 U.S. 159');">473 U.S. 159, 165-66 (1985) (alterations supplied). Other district courts within this circuit have routinely applied those principles to hold that official capacity claims against school superintendents and school board members should be dismissed when the board itself also is named as a defendant. See, e.g., Barnettv. Baldwin County Board of Education, 60 F.Supp.3d 1216, 1235-36 (S.D. Ala. 2014); Murray v. Birmingham Board of Education, No. 2:13-CV-822-KOB, 2013 WL 5923725, at *l-2 (N.D. Ala. Oct. 31, 2013); M.R. v. Board of School Commissioners of Mobile County, No. CIV.A. 11-0245-WS-C, 2012 WL 2931263, at *2 (S.D. Ala. July 18, 2012); May v. Mobile County' Public School Sy'stem, , No. CIV.A. 09-00625-WS-C, 2010 WL 3039181, at *2 n.5 (S.D. Ala. July 13, 2010), report and recommendation adopted, No. CIV.A. 09-00625-WS-C, 2010 WL 3039627 (S.D. Ala. Aug. 4, 2010); Bean v. Fulton County School System, No. CIV.A. L07-CV-0484JE, 2008 WL 515007, at *2 (N.D.Ga. Feb. 22, 2008); Walton v. Montgomery County Board of Education, 371 F.Supp.2d 1318, 1324 (M.D. Ala. 2005); Nixon v. Autauga County Board of Education, 273 F.Supp.2d 1292, 1296-97 (M.D. Ala. 2003).

         Plaintiff does not dispute those well-established principles. Instead, she argues that, because the Board has asserted the affirmative defense of Eleventh Amendment immunity, [6] she

may look to the lone exception to Eleventh Amendment immunity found in the Ex parte Young[, 209 U.S. 123 (1908)] exception. Under Ex parte Young, individual defendants can be named in their official capacity provided that there is an ongoing violation of federal law which can be corrected by injunctive relief. Here, there is an ongoing violation of race discrimination and retaliation which remains unremedied and which can be corrected by injunctive relief, i.e., reinstatement.

Doc. no. 14 (Plaintiffs Response in Opposition to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss), at 3 (alteration supplied).

         There are two flaws in plaintiffs argument. First, the doctrine of Eleventh Amendment immunity and its exceptions are irrelevant, because the Eleventh Circuit has recently held that "local school boards in Alabama are not arms of the state with respect to" employment-related decisions, and they consequently are not entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity from ...

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