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Franklin v. City of Athens

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

April 12, 2018

CEDRICK FRANKLIN, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF ATHENS, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          ABDUL K. KALLON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Cedrick Franklin brings this employment discrimination suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claiming that his employer, the City of Athens (the City), violated 42 U.S.C. § 1981. He also alleges a separate, free-standing violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (the ADEA), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq.[1] The City has now moved to dismiss Franklin's § 1983 claim in its entirety, doc. 9, arguing broadly that Franklin has failed to adequately allege that the municipality is liable for purportedly discriminating against him. In response, Franklin sought leave of court to file an amended complaint, doc. 17, which the City opposes on the grounds of futility. Doc. 21. Both motions are now fully briefed, docs. 10; 17; 18; 20; 21; and 24, and ripe for review. Upon careful consideration of the parties' briefs and Franklin's proposed amended complaint, doc. 17-1, the court finds the City's motion is due to be denied and Franklin's motion is due to be granted with certain exceptions delineated herein.

         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 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, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” 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).

         Federal 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 constru[es] 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. While the plausibility standard does not impose a “probability requirement, ” the allegations in a plaintiff's 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 the “[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, and making this determination 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.

         Moreover, the court notes that ordinarily a plaintiff is allowed to amend her complaint “once as a matter of course within . . . 21 days after service of a motion under Rule 12(b).” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(1)(B). Franklin, however, declined to avail himself of this option and instead opted to file “an unnecessary motion to amend, with the proposed amendments attached.” Coventry First, LLC v. McCarty, 605 F.3d 865, 869 (11th Cir. 2010). In doing so, Franklin “waived [his] right to amend as a matter of course and . . . invited [this court] to review [his] proposed amendments.” Id. at 870. In conducting this review, the court bears in mind that “[i]f the underlying facts or circumstances relied upon by a plaintiff may be a proper subject of relief, [she] ought to be afforded an opportunity to test [her] claim on the merits.” Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962). The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure buttress this conclusion and provide that the court “should freely give leave [to amend] when justice so requires.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). However, “a district court may properly deny leave to amend the complaint under Rule 15(a) when such amendment would be futile.” Hall v. United Ins. Co. of Am., 367 F.3d 1255, 1262-63 (11th Cir. 2004). The Eleventh Circuit has explained that an amendment is futile if “‘the complaint as amended is still subject to dismissal.'” Id. at 1263 (quoting Burger King Corp. v. Weaver, 169 F.3d 1310, 1320 (11th Cir. 1999)). Thus, the same standard applies to the City's motion to dismiss and to Franklin's motion to amend. Moreover, because the proposed amended complaint is, in relevant part, substantively identical to Franklin's original pleading, see doc. 21 at 2-3, the court's analysis applies equally to both documents.

         II. FACTS[2]

         Franklin is an African-American man over the age of forty who began working as an equipment operator for the City's Public Works Department in 2015. Doc. 17-1 at 3-5. Less than a year later, Franklin's supervisor, Earl Glaze, without explanation, offered Franklin a choice between resignation or discharge despite his unblemished disciplinary record. Id. at 5, 7. Franklin declined to resign and informed Glaze that he intended to seek legal advice regarding his treatment. Id. at 5-6. Glaze promptly discharged Franklin, but hours thereafter sought to rehire him. Id. Franklin accepted this offer and returned to work several weeks later. Id. at 6, 9.

         During the rehiring process, Glaze asked Franklin to sign a purportedly false report of disciplinary action related to an event that occurred several months prior to Franklin's discharge. Id. When Franklin refused to sign the report, Glaze placed him on probation for thirty days pending a permanent decision regarding his employment status. Id. at 6. At the conclusion of the probationary period, Glaze discharged Franklin for purportedly failing to complete job assignments promptly. Id.at 7. Franklin alleges that other similarly situated white employees also failed to promptly complete their assignments without suffering any repercussions from Glaze, and that Glaze brushed off Franklin's complaints of racial bias. Id. at 7, 10- II. The City subsequently hired a younger white employee to replace Franklin. Id. at 7.

         III. DISCUSSION

         To state a plausible claim under § 1983 the complaint must name a defendant capable of being sued. See Dean v. Barber, 951 F.2d 1210, 1214 (11th Cir. 1992). The requisite “capacity to sue or be sued shall be determined by the law of the state in which the district court is held.” Id. (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 17(b)). Franklin's complaint names both the City and its Public Works Department as defendants. Doc. 17-1 at 3. However, as explained by the Alabama Supreme Court, “[g]enerally, the departments and subordinate entities of municipalities, counties, and towns that are not separate legal entities or bodies do not have the capacity to sue or be sued in the absence of specific statutory authority.” Ex parte Dixon, 55 So.3d 1171, 1172 n.1 (Ala. 2010) (quotation omitted); see also Dean, 951 F.2d at 1215 (concluding that under “Alabama law, a county sheriff's department lacks the capacity to be sued”); Hardin v. City of Troy Pub. Works Dep't, No. 2:10-CV-663-MEF, 2013 WL 5231872, at *7 (M.D. Ala. Sept. 16, 2013) (relying on Alabama law to conclude that a municipality's public works department is “not a separate entity” and lacks the capacity to be sued). Franklin has failed to identify any statutory authority authorizing municipal public works department to sue or be sued, and the court therefore concludes that the Public Works Department lacks the requisite legal capacity to be subject to a § 1983 claim. Accordingly, the Department is due to be dismissed from this action.

         A. Franklin has Plausibly Alleged a § 1983 Claim Against the City of Athens[3]

         Franklin alleges that the City discriminated against him on the basis of race by: (1) initially terminating him, (2) rehiring him and placing him on probation, (3) attempting to force him to sign a purportedly false disciplinary report, and (4) permanently discharging him at the end of his probationary period. Doc. 17-1 at 8-11. Claims of racial discrimination in the employment context predicated on disparate treatment and brought via § 1983 share elements of proof with ordinary employment discrimination suits filed under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. See Crawford v. Carroll, 529 F.3d 961, 970 (11th Cir. 2008) (explaining that the legal elements of claims of disparate treatment under Title VII and sections 1981 and 1983 “are identical”) (quotation omitted). Thus, where direct evidence of discrimination is absent, as here, “a plaintiff establishes a circumstantial, prima facie case of racial discrimination . . . by showing . . . ‘(1) [she] belongs to a racial minority; (2) [she] was subjected to adverse job action; (3) [her] employer treated similarly situated employees outside [her] classification more favorably; and (4) [she] was qualified to do the job.'” Knight v. Baptist Hosp. of Miami, Inc., 330 F.3d 1313, 1316 (11th Cir. 2003) (quoting Holifield v. Reno, 115 F.3d 1555, 1561-62 (11th Cir. 1997)).

         Importantly, however, “[a]lthough, . . . local government may be subject to liability under § 1983, a plaintiff cannot rely upon the doctrine of respondeat superior.” Weiland v. Palm Beach Cty. Sheriff's Office, 792 F.3d 1313, 1328 (11th Cir. 2015). Instead, “a municipality can be found liable under § 1983 only where the municipality itself causes the constitutional violation at issue.” City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 385 (1989) (emphasis in original). Thus, for a plaintiff to prevail on such a claim, it ...


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