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Hale v. University of Alabama Board of Trustees

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

October 6, 2017

ENATRA HALE, Plaintiff,
v.
UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA BOARD OF TRUSTEES, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          R. DAVID PROCTOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This case is before the court on Defendant Dr. Andries J. Steyn's Corrected Partial Motion to Dismiss. (Doc. # 37). The parties have fully briefed the Motion to Dismiss (Docs. # 41, 44), and it is under submission. After careful review, and for the reasons explained below, the court concludes that the Motion to Dismiss is due to be granted.

         I. Standard of Review

         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require that a 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). However, the complaint must include enough facts “to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atl. 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. Id. 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 non-moving 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.

         In considering a motion to dismiss, a court should “1) eliminate any allegations in the complaint that are merely legal conclusions; and 2) where there are well-pleaded factual allegations, ‘assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.'” Kivisto v. Miller, Canfield, Paddock & Stone, PLC, 413 F. App'x 136, 138 (11th Cir. 2011) (quoting Am. Dental Ass'n v. Cigna Corp., 605 F.3d 1283, 1290 (11th Cir. 2010)). 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.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. 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. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570.

         II. Analysis

         Defendant Steyn seeks partial or full dismissal of all five claims asserted in Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint. The court discusses each of Steyn's arguments below, in turn.

         A. Plaintiff's Title VII Claims Against Defendant Steyn are Due to be Dismissed

         Defendant Steyn argues that Plaintiff's claims against him under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) are due to be dismissed, regardless of whether the claims are brought against him in his individual or official capacity. (Doc. # 37 at 6-7). The court agrees.

         Plaintiff's Title VII claims against Defendant Steyn in his individual capacity fail to state a claim for relief. “The relief granted under Title VII is against the employer, not individual employees whose actions would constitute a violation of the [Civil Rights Act of 1964].” Hinson v. Clinch Cty., Ga. Bd. of Educ., 231 F.3d 821, 827 (11th Cir. 2000) (quoting Busby v. City of Orlando, 931 F.2d 764, 772 (11th Cir. 1991)). Because “[i]ndividual capacity suits under Title VII are [ ] inappropriate, ” Plaintiff's Title VII claims against Steyn in Counts One, Two, and Three of the Second Amended Complaint are due to be dismissed to the extent they raise individual capacity claims against Steyn. Busby, 931 F.2d at 772.

         As to any Title VII claim against Steyn in his official capacity, those Title VII claims are also due to be dismissed because they are duplicative of Plaintiff's claims against Defendant University of Alabama Board of Trustees (“Board of Trustees”). Official capacity claims against an individual defendant are unnecessary when the defendant's employer is a named defendant. See Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 166 (1985) (“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.”); Snow ex rel. Snow v. City of Citronelle, Ala., 420 F.3d 1262, 1270 (11th Cir. 2005) (affirming summary judgment on official capacity claims against police officers when their employer was also a defendant).

         B. Plaintiff's Deceit and Misrepresentation Claim Against Defendant Steyn in His Official Capacity is Due to be Dismissed

         Defendant Steyn argues that he cannot be sued in his official capacity for deceit and misrepresentation because state agencies are officially immune from Alabama state law claims. (Doc. # 37 at 7-8). Plaintiff responds that Steyn is not entitled to immunity for this claim in his official or individual capacity because the Second Amended Complaint alleges that he willfully deceived Plaintiff about the reason for her termination. (Doc. # 41 at 6-7). Steyn replies that the deceit and misrepresentation claim is due ...


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