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Tarver v. Lawson State Community College

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

June 7, 2017




         I. Introduction

         This matter is before the court on Defendant Dr. Perry Ward's Motion to Dismiss Count I of Plaintiff s Amended Complain on the Grounds of Qualified Immunity. (Doc. # 16). In his motion, Defendant Ward seeks dismissal of Count One of Plaintiffs Amended Complaint. Defendant's motion is fully briefed. (Docs. # 17, 21, 22). For the reasons stated below, Defendant's motion is due to be granted in part and denied in part.

         II. Factual Background

         Beginning in 2010, Plaintiff was employed with Lawson State Community College ("Lawson State") as an assistant men's basketball coach. (Doc. # 3 at ¶ 12). Plaintiff continued to work for Defendant Lawson State until September 2015, when school officials contacted him regarding the renewal of his yearly contract. (Id. at ¶ 13). However, approximately one week before he was to sign another contract renewing his employment, Lawson State officials informed Plaintiff that he had been accused of making inappropriate remarks to female student athletes. (Id. at ¶ 17). Defendant Lawson State conducted an investigation regarding these accusations, but the school did not interview any of the witnesses Plaintiff offered on his behalf. (Id. at ¶ 18). Ultimately, Defendant Lawson State concluded the allegations made against Plaintiff were substantiated, and terminated Plaintiff without providing him a hearing. (Id.).

         After his termination, Plaintiff attempted to contact Defendant Ward, the President of Lawson State, who has authority to make personnel decisions on behalf of the school. (Id. at ¶¶ 19, 22). Initially, Plaintiff was not given an audience with Defendant Ward. (Id. at ¶ 20). After obtaining an attorney, he was given a "name clearing hearing." (Id.). However, that hearing did not afford him the opportunity to contest the basis of his dismissal. (Id.).

         Also in September 2015, Plaintiff learned that a white female part-time coach had been offered a contract that would pay her significantly more than Plaintiff. (Id. at ¶ 15). Defendant Ward stated that this white female part-time coach was paid more than any of the African-American part-time coaches because the school needed "diversity." (Id.). Plaintiff later learned that several other white part-time coaches and administrators were hired after him and paid more than him at the time of they were hired. (Id.).

         III. Standard of Review

         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require only that the complaint provide "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Still, the complaint must include enough facts "to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). 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 and conclusions" or "naked assertion[s]" without supporting factual allegations. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557. In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, courts view the allegations in the complaint in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Watts v. Fla. Int'l Univ., 495 F.3d 1289, 1295 (11th Cir. 2007).

         To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Twombly, 550 U.S. 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." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). 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. A plausible claim for relief requires "enough fact[s] to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence" to support the claim. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556. The Supreme Court has identified "two working principles" for a district court to use in applying the facial plausibility standard. First, 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 when they are "couched as . . . factual allegation[s]." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Second, "only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss." Id. at 679.

         Application of the facial plausibility standard involves two steps. Under prong one, the court must determine the scope and nature of the factual allegations that are well-pleaded and assume their veracity; and under prong two, the court must proceed 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 claims are due to be dismissed. Id.

         IV. Analysis

         Defendant Ward's motion to dismiss proceeds on two grounds. First, he argues that Plaintiffs Amended Complaint fails to state a due process claim because it does not establish that Plaintiff had a protected property interest in his continued employment.[1] (Doc. # 17 at p. 3).

         Second, he argues that Plaintiffs equal protection claim is due to be dismissed because Plaintiff fails to allege the existence of a similarly situated comparator. (Id. at ...

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