United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
K. KALLON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Gaines brings this civil rights action via 42 U.S.C. §
1983, against his supervisors in the Alabama Department of
Transportation (ALDOT), John Cooper and Gary Smith
(collectively the Defendants). Gaines seeks declaratory and
injunctive relief as well as money damages against the
Defendants in their official and individual capacities on the
basis of unlawful racial discrimination and retaliation in
violation of 42 U.S.C. §1981 and the Fourteenth
Amendment. The Defendants have now moved to dismiss under
Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure. Doc. 10. That motion is now adequately briefed,
docs. 10; and 16, and ripe for decision. After carefully
reviewing the complaint and the parties' respective
briefs, the court concludes the Defendants' motion is due
to be denied in part and granted in part.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
immunity issues are construed as challenges to the
subject-matter jurisdiction of a federal court properly
raised under Rule 12(b)(1), at least where, as here, the
motion does not implicate the underlying merits of the case.
See Garrett v. Talladega Cty. Drug & Violent Crime
Task Force, 983 F.Supp.2d 1369, 1373 (N.D. Ala. 2013);
Harris v. Bd. of Trs. Univ. of Ala., 846 F.Supp.2d
1223, 1231 (N.D. Ala. 2012). A 12(b)(1) challenge may take
the form of a facial or factual attack on the complaint.
See McElmurray v. Consol. Gov't of Augusta-Richmond
Cty., 501 F.3d 1244, 1251 (11th Cir. 2007). A facial
attack “‘require[s] the court merely to look and
see if [the] plaintiff has sufficiently alleged a basis of
subject matter jurisdiction, and the allegations in [her]
complaint are taken as true for the purposes of the
motion.'” Id. (quoting Lawrence v.
Dunbar, 919 F.2d 1525, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990)).
On the other hand, a factual attack challenges
“‘the existence of subject matter jurisdiction in
fact, irrespective of the pleadings, and matters outside the
pleadings . . . are considered.'” Id.
(quoting Lawrence, 919 F.2d at 1529. In such an
instance, the court may hear conflicting evidence and decide
the factual issues bearing on jurisdiction. Colonial
Pipeline Co. v. Collins, 921 F.2d 1237, 1243 (11th Cir.
1991). Here, the Defendants do not present any evidence
beyond the pleadings for review, and the court construes
their jurisdictional challenge as facial.
addition to meeting this court's jurisdictional
requirements, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2)
requires a pleading to contain “a short and plain
statement of the claim showing that 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,
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting
Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555
(2007)). Mere “‘labels and
conclusions'” or “‘a formulaic
recitation of the elements of a cause of action'”
are insufficient. Id. (quoting Twombly, 550
U.S. at 555). “Nor does a complaint suffice if it
tenders ‘naked assertion[s]' devoid of
‘further factual enhancement.'” Id.
(quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).
Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) permits dismissal when a
complaint fails to comply with Rule 8(a)(2) or does not
otherwise state a claim upon which relief can be granted.
When evaluating a motion under Rule 12(b)(6), the court
accepts “the allegations in the complaint as true and
construe[s] them in the light most favorable to the
plaintiff.” Hunt v. Aimco Props., L.P., 814
F.3d 1213, 1221 (11th Cir. 2016). However, “[t]o
survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must . . .
‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its
face.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). 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. The complaint must
establish “more than a sheer possibility that a
defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id.; see
also Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (emphasizing that
“[f]actual allegations [included in the complaint] must
be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative
level”). Ultimately, the line between possibility and
plausibility is a thin one making this determination a
“context-specific task that requires the reviewing
court to draw on its judicial experience and common
sense.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.
worked for ALDOT as a rest area attendant under the
supervision of Gary Smith, the Director of ALDOT's
Oneonta Division, at the Interstate 59 rest area in Ashville,
Alabama for a little over four years. Doc. 1 at 2-3. During
that time, Gaines was never disciplined or notified of any
unsatisfactory conduct. Id. at 3. In May 2014,
Gaines wrote a letter to Smith's supervisor in which
Gaines complained about his work hours and, more generally,
about the treatment of African-American employees in the
workplace. Id. Approximately a month later, Smith
questioned Gaines, who is an African-American, regarding the
letter, purportedly informing Gaines that “he should
not have [complained].” Id. at 2, 3.
a few weeks of this conversation, Smith denied Gaines'
request for a transfer to an open permanent rest area
attendant position. Id. at 3. Gaines also requested
shift changes during this time period which Smith uniformly
denied. Id. at 3-4. Within three months of
Smith's warning, ALDOT terminated Gaines, purportedly
because Gaines failed to obtain his commercial driver's
license (CDL) in a timely manner. Id. at 3-4.
However, the time ALDOT had previously given Gaines to obtain
his CDL had not expired when he was terminated. Id.
at 4-5. Moreover, Gaines claims that ALDOT transferred three
similarly situated white employees who also failed to obtain
their CDL licenses instead of discharging them. Id.
Defendants' motion relies on two arguments: (1) that, as
state officials sued in their official capacity, the
Defendants are immune from suit pursuant to the Eleventh
Amendment; and alternatively, (2) that the Defendants are
entitled to qualified immunity because the complaint fails to
adequately allege that they violated any of Gaines'
clearly established rights. The court will address each
argument in turn.
Eleventh Amendment Immunity
well-settled that “state officials sued for damages in
their official capacity are immune from suit in federal
court.” Jackson v. Ga. Dep't of Transp.,
16 F.3d 1573, 1575 (11th Cir. 1994). It is equally
well-settled, however, that “the Eleventh Amendment
does not protect state employees sued in their individual
capacity for employment-related acts.” Id.
Moreover, the Supreme Court in Ex parte Young, 209
U.S. 123 (1908), declared that “suit[s] alleging a
violation of the federal constitution against a state
official in his official capacity for injunctive relief on a
prospective basis . . . [do] not violate the Eleventh
Amendment.” Grizzle v. Kemp, 634 F.3d 1314,
1319 (11th Cir. 2011). To determine whether a suit falls
within the Ex parte Young exception for prospective
relief, “a court need only conduct a
‘straightforward inquiry into whether [the] complaint
alleges an ongoing violation of federal law and seeks relief
properly characterized as prospective.'”
Verizon Md. Inc. v. Pub. Serv. Comm'n of Md.,
535 U.S. 635, 645 (2002) (quoting Idaho v. Coeur
d'Alene Tribe of Idaho, 521 U.S. 261, 296 (1997)
(O'Connor, J., concurring)).
although Gaines' complaint is far from clear, the caption
of the document indicates that he is suing the Defendants in
both their official and individual capacities. Doc. 1 at 1.
Thus, as Gaines concedes, to the extent his complaint can be
construed as seeking an award of money damages from the
Defendants in their official capacities, those claims are due
to be dismissed. Doc. 16 at 5. However, Gaines' claim for
damages against the Defendants in their individual capacities
does not violate the Eleventh Amendment. See Cross v.
Ala. Dep't of Mental Health & Mental
Retardation, 49 F.3d 1490, 1503 (11th Cir. 1995). The
other remedies Gaines seeks including reinstatement, a
permanent injunction against the Defendants' alleged
continuing violation of federal law, and a declaration that
the Defendants' employment policies and practices violate
federal law all easily qualify as prospective. See
Doc. 1 at 6. Accordingly, Gaines' requests for injunctive
and declaratory relief fall within the Ex parte
Young exception and also avoid the immunity bar imposed
by the Eleventh Amendment. See Verizon Md., 535 U.S.
at 645 (suit to enjoin enforcement of a state official's
order in contravention of federal law qualified as
prospective relief for purposes of Ex parte Young);