DAMENE W. WOLDEAB, Plaintiff - Appellant,
DEKALB COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION, Defendant-Appellee.
from the United States District Court for the Northern
District of Georgia D.C. Docket No. 1:16-cv-01030-CAP
WILSON and BLACK, Circuit Judges, and SCHLESINGER, [*] Judge.
WILSON, CIRCUIT JUDGE
Woldeab, an Ethiopian male, appeals the district court's
grant of the DeKalb County Board of Education's (Board)
motion to dismiss his action alleging national origin
discrimination, retaliation, and harassment in violation of
Title VII. In his counseled appellate brief, Woldeab argues
that the district court erred by dismissing his pro se
complaint with prejudice. He contends that his failure to
name the DeKalb County School District (School District) as
the defendant rather than the Board was a curable defect,
that the district court should have given him an opportunity
to amend his complaint to name the proper defendant. The
Board responds that the district court was not required to
give Woldeab an opportunity to amend his complaint sua sponte
because Woldeab disagreed that the complaint should be
amended, and it further argues that any amendment would be
futile. After review, and with the benefit of oral argument,
we vacate the dismissal and remand with instructions to give
Woldeab an opportunity to file an amended complaint.
magistrate judge recommended the Board's motion to
dismiss be granted because the Board is not a legal entity
capable of being sued. See Cook v. Colquitt Cty. Bd. of
Educ., 412 S.E.2d 828, 828 (Ga. 1992). Alternatively,
the report and recommendation (R&R) stated that even if
Woldeab substituted a defendant with the capacity to be sued,
the magistrate judge would still recommend his complaint be
dismissed for failure to state a claim. Woldeab, proceeding
pro se, objected on the basis that he believed the Board
should be held accountable for its actions. He also objected
to, inter alia, the R&R's recommendation his
complaint be dismissed for failure to state a claim.
district court agreed with the magistrate judge's
determination that a county board of education in Georgia
cannot be sued, and therefore the Board could not be sued.
While the district court stated it "adopts the report
and recommendation as the opinion and order of this court,
" it went on to clarify which of the grounds considered
by the magistrate judge it was endorsing, stating
"[b]ecause the magistrate judge properly ruled that the
DeKalb County Board of Education is not an entity capable of
being sued, the court will not address the plaintiffs
remaining objections. The remaining objections are DISMISSED
as MOOT." Woldeab appealed, pro se, to this Court.
Counsel was appointed when this case was set for oral
argument and counsel filed a replacement brief.
review a district court's decision to deny leave to amend
for abuse of discretion. Santiago v. Wood, 904 F.2d
673, 675 (11th Cir. 1990). A district court's discretion
to deny leave to amend a complaint is "severely
restricted" by Fed.R.Civ.P. 15, which stresses that
courts should freely give leave to amend "when justice
so requires." Thomas v. Town of Davie, 847 F.2d
771, 773 (11th Cir. 1988). "Where a more carefully
drafted complaint might state a claim, a plaintiff must be
given at least one chance to amend the complaint before the
district court dismisses the action with prejudice."
Bank v. Pitt, 928 F.2d 1108, 1112 (11th Cir. 1991),
overruled in part by Wagner v. Daewoo Heavy Indus. Am.
Corp., 314 F.3d 541, 542 & n.l (11th Cir. 2002) (en
banc) (overruling Bank as to counseled plaintiffs,
but deciding "nothing about a party proceeding pro
se"). This rule applies even when the plaintiff does not
seek leave to amend the complaint until after final judgment.
Id. But a district court need not grant leave to
amend when either (1) "the district court has a clear
indication that the plaintiff does not want to amend his
complaint, " or (2) "a more carefully drafted
complaint could not state a claim." Id.
the district court abused its discretion in dismissing
Woldeab's case with prejudice because he never
"clearly indicated" he did not want to amend, and
because a more carefully crafted complaint might be able to
state a claim. The Board argues Woldeab indicated his
unwillingness to amend his complaint by failing to respond to
the motion to dismiss and by failing to amend after the
R&R. However, Woldeab was not required to accept the
Board's argument in its motion to dismiss as true.
See Santiago, 904 F.2d at 676 (stating that a
plaintiff is not required to consider an opponent's
arguments as properly stating the law). And although the
R&R found that the Board could not be sued, Woldeab's
objection to the R&R demonstrates his confusion as a pro
se plaintiff "unschooled in the intricacies of Title VII
pleading." Id. at 675. Woldeab construed the
R&R as saying no one is accountable for the actions
alleged, as he argued: "Does it mean [the] Local Board
of Education is not accountable for the action the board
makes which is recommending hiring, firing and intimidating
teachers? Who is accountable . . .? I contest the
Board of Education should be accountable." This is not a
refusal to amend.
the deficiencies in Woldeab's complaint might be curable.
Neither the magistrate judge nor the district court held that
repleading the factual allegations behind the June 2014 Title
VII claims would be futile. While the magistrate judge did
find that amending to include the proper defendant would not
save the complaint, this says nothing of whether Woldeab
might be able to make out a plausible claim if given the
opportunity to replead the factual allegations. And we have
held that where "[m]ore specific allegations . . . would
have remedied the pleading problems found by the district
court, " the court was required to give a pro se
plaintiff the opportunity to amend his complaint.
Thomas, 847 F.2d at 773. Because a more carefully
drafted complaint, which includes more specific allegations
against the correct defendant, might state a Title
VII claim, Woldeab's complaint does not fit into the
futility exception to Bank.
district court should have advised Woldeab, proceeding pro
se, of his complaint's deficiency and given him the
opportunity to amend to name the proper defendant before the
court dismissed with prejudice. Accordingly, we VACATE the
dismissal of Woldeab's complaint and REMAND with
instructions to give Woldeab an opportunity to file an