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Hopson v. Clark

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

December 4, 2017

DEBRA HOPSON, Plaintiff,
TYRONE CLARK SR., former Sheriff of Sumter County; SHERIFF BRIAN HARRIS, in his individual and official capacity; SUMTER COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT; SUMTER COUNTY COMMISSION, Defendants.



         On April 10, 2017, Plaintiff Debra Hopson (“Hopson”) initiated this action against Defendants Tyrone Clark, Sr., Sheriff Brian Harris, Sumter County Sheriff's Department, and Sumter County Commission alleging claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, specifically violations of her rights afforded by the Equal Protection Clause and the First Amendment, as well as claims pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended. (Doc. 1). Defendants move to dismiss, arguing Hopson failed to plead sufficient facts, failed to recognize the Sumter County Commission and Sumter County Sheriff's Department were not Hopson's employers and are not the proper defendants for her Title VII claim, and that Eleventh Amendment immunity shields liability for some of Hopson's claims. (Doc. 9). In response, Hopson filed a proposed amended complaint and requested permission to amend her complaint. (Docs. 15, 15-2). Defendants reply, stating they do not oppose Hopson amending her complaint, but argue because the amendment is futile, even after amendment the complaint is due to be dismissed. (Doc. 19).

         The undersigned construes Hopson's response, (doc. 15), as a motion to amend. As such, the motion to dismiss, (doc. 9), is DENIED as MOOT. For the reasons stated below, the motion to amend, (doc. 15), is GRANTED to the extent described below.

         I. Background [2]

         In her proposed First Amended Complaint, Hopson asserts that former Sheriff Clark, her former employer, violated the Equal Protection Clause by sexually harassing her and discriminating against her during her employment at the Sumter County Jail. (Doc.15-2, ¶¶ 12, 33). Hopson alleges former Sheriff Clark called her into his office and asked her if she was “ready to pay her debt” for being hired. (Id. at ¶ 14). When Hopson asked what “debt” he was referring to, former Sheriff Clark attempted to solicit sexual favors from her and stated she could use a private bath in his office. (Id. at ¶¶ 16, 17, 34). Hopson asserts her job depended on her response to former Sheriff Clark's sexual requests. (Id. at ¶ 33) (“The Equal Protection claim against Former Sheriff Clark is [sic] are brought in his individual capacity for sexually propositioning Hopson and tying her job to his request for sexual favors.”).

         Hopson states she was placed on administrative leave in February 2016, and told not to report to work. (Doc. 15-2, ¶ 18). Hopson spoke with investigators about the sexual harassment she experienced and mismanagement of the jail. (Id. at ¶20). After giving her statement to investigators, no one called Hopson back. (Id.). Sometime after being placed on administrative leave, Hopson testified before a grand jury at the District Attorney's office, and later before the Alabama Supreme Court, about Sheriff Clark's sexual propositions and operation of the jail. (Doc. 15-2, ¶¶ 22, 25). After her grand jury testimony, but before she testified before the Alabama Supreme Court, investigators at the District Attorney's office informed Hopson her employment had been terminated. (Doc. 15-2 ¶ 24).

         After Sheriff Clark was removed from office by the Alabama Supreme Court, Hopson re-applied for her previous position and was informed the new Sheriff would decide whether or not to hire her. (Doc. 15-2, ¶¶ 26, 27). The new sheriff, Sheriff Harris, has not rehired Hopson. (Id. at ¶ 28).

         I. Standard of Review

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), a pleading must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing the pleader is entitled to relief.” “[T]he pleading standard Rule 8 announces does not require 'detailed factual allegations, ” but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). Mere “labels and conclusions” or A a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action” are insufficient. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). “Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders 'naked assertion[s]” devoid of 'further factual enhancement.” Id. (citing Bell Atl. Corp., 550 U.S. at 557).

         Rule 12(b)(6), Fed. R. Civ. P., permits dismissal when a complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). A complaint states a facially plausible claim for relief “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. (citation omitted). The complaint must establish “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id.; see also Bell Atl. Corp., 550 U.S. at 555 (“Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.”). Ultimately, this inquiry is a “context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.

         The court will “freely grant” a motion to amend “when justice so requires.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). The court's discretion in deciding whether to grant or deny a motion to amend, however, is not unlimited. Grayson v. K Mart Corp., 79 F.3d 1086, 1110 (11th Cir. 1996) (citing Espey v. Wainwright, 734 F.2d 748 (11th Cir. 1984); Dussouy v. Gulf Coast Investment Corp., 6660 F.2d 594 (5th Cir. 1981)). A district court should allow a plaintiff to amend unless there is a “substantial countervailing reason.” Id. Such “substantial countervailing reasons” include: undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, undue prejudice to the opposing party, and the futility of the amendment. Id. (citing Nolin v. Douglas Cnty., 903 F.2d 1546, 1550 (11th Cir. 1990)).

         “The futility threshold is akin to that for a motion to dismiss; thus, if the amended complaint could not survive Rule 12(b)(6) scrutiny, then the amendment is futile and leave to amend is properly denied.” B.D. Stephenson Trucking LLC v. Riverbrooke Capital Partners, LLC, No. 06-0343-WS-M, 2006 WL 2772673, at *6 (S.D. Ala. Sept. 26, 2006) (citing Burger King Corp. v. Weaver, 169 F.3d 1310, 85 F.3d 1514, 1520 (11th Cir. 1996). Accordingly, Plaintiff will only be permitted to amend the First Amended Complaint if the proposed claims withstand Rule 12(b)(6) scrutiny.

         II. Analysis

         In her proposed amended complaint, Hopson asserts claims for Equal Protection and First Amendment Retaliation against Sheriff Clark and claims for First Amendment Retaliation against Sheriff Harris, and Title VII claims for discrimination and retaliation against Sumter County Sheriff's Department and Sumter County Commission. (Doc. 9).

         A. Claims against former Sheriff Clark

         Hopson's Equal Protection and First Amendment Retaliation claims against former Sheriff Clark are brought ...

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