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Looney v. Simply Aroma Inc.

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

February 21, 2018

KATHY J. LOONEY, Plaintiff,
SIMPLY AROMA LLC d/b/a Purely, et al., Defendants.



         This action is before the Court on the motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) (Doc. 9) filed by the Defendants.[1] By previous order (Doc. 10), pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(d), the parties were given notice that the Court intended to treat part of the motion as a motion for summary judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. The Plaintiff, Kathy J. Looney, has timely filed a response (Doc. 17) in opposition to the motion, and the Defendants have timely filed a reply (Doc. 18) to the response. The motion is now under submission (see Doc. 10) and is ripe for disposition. Upon consideration, the Court finds that the Defendants' motion (Doc. 9) is due to be GRANTED under Rule 12(b)(6). As such, to the extent the Court has partially treated the motion as one for summary judgment under Rule 56, it is due to be DENIED as moot. However, Looney will be given leave to file an amended complaint to address some of the deficiencies identified herein.

         I. Legal Standards

         In deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, ” the Court must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, “accepting all well-pleaded facts that are alleged therein to be true.” E.g., Miyahira v., Inc., 715 F.3d 1257, 1265 (11th Cir. 2013). “Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2) requires that a pleading contain ‘a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief' in order to give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Am. Dental Ass'n v. Cigna Corp., 605 F.3d 1283, 1288 (11th Cir. 2010) (quotation omitted). “ ‘While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.' ” Id. at 1289 (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964-65, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). A complaint's “ ‘[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level ... on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).' ” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). “[T]o survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must now contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.' ” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). While this “plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement' at the pleading stage, … the standard ‘calls for enough fact to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence' of the claim.” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

         Moreover, “ ‘the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions.' ” Id. at 1290 (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). Under the plausibility standard, “ ‘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.” ' ” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2))). Iqbal “suggested that courts considering motions to dismiss adopt a ‘two-pronged approach' in applying these principles: 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.' ” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). “[C]ourts may infer from the factual allegations in the complaint ‘obvious alternative explanation[s], ' which suggest lawful conduct rather than the unlawful conduct the plaintiff would ask the court to infer.” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 567)).

         II. Factual Determinations

         The complaint (Doc. 1) contains the following well-pleaded allegations, which the Court accepts as true for purposes of the present motion: Beginning in March 2015, Looney was employed by Defendant Simply Aroma LLC d/b/a Purely (“Purely”) as an administrative assistant and customer service representative. (Doc. 1 at 2, ¶ 10). Defendant Thai LNU, [2] a Purely warehouse technician, would rub his penis against Looney's buttocks, grab her waist when he walked by her, and commit other unwelcomed advances and touching. (Id., ¶¶ 9, 11). On September 2, 2016, while at an office get-together, Thai LNU grabbed Looney's buttocks with both hand and pulled her to his body. (Id. at 3, ¶ 12). Immediately, Looney pushed him away and said “No!” very loudly; Thai LNU raised his hands, snickered, and said “Sorry.” (Id.). On September 6, 2016, Looney reported the harassment to Defendant Kelly Love, Purely's acting Vice President. (Id. at 2 - 3, ¶¶ 8, 13). On September 9, 2016, Defendant Andrew Khong, Purely's owner, yelled at Looney and told her to leave, in response to her complaints about the harassment. (Id., ¶¶ 7, 14).

         Based on the foregoing allegations, Looney alleges causes of action for sexual harassment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

         III. Analysis

         A. Title VII Claims against the Individual Defendants

         Defendants Andrew Khong, Kelly Love, and Thai LNU (collectively, “the Individual Defendants”) argue that Looney's Title VII claims against them are due to be dismissed because Title VII is “inapplicable to individuals.” (Doc. 9 at 2).

         “Individual capacity suits under Title VII are…inappropriate. The relief granted under Title VII is against the employer, not individual employees whose actions would constitute a violation of the Act.” Busby v. City of Orlando, 931 F.2d 764, 772 (11th Cir. 1991) (per curiam). “The only proper individual defendants in a Title VII action would be supervisory employees in their capacity as agents of the employer.” Hinson v. Clinch Cty., Ga. Bd. of Educ., 231 F.3d 821, 827 (11th Cir. 2000) (citing Busby, 931 F.2d at 772). Accordingly, the Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss is due to be GRANTED as to the individual-capacity Title VII claims against the Individual Defendants.

         Looney has also sued each of the Individual Defendants in his or her “official capacity.” (See Doc. 1 at 1 - 2, Style & ¶¶ 7 - 8). It is doubtful that Thai LNU can be sued in his “official capacity” under Title VII, as the complaint does not indicate that he was a Purely “supervisory employee.” Regardless, as will be explained in the following section, Looney's Title VII sexual harassment claim against Purely is due to be dismissed for failure to plausibly plead an essential element of the claim. Thus, the Title VII claims against the Individual Defendants in their “official capacities” as agents of Purely are due to be dismissed for the same reason.

         B. Title VII ...

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