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Phillips v. Patterson

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

May 29, 2018

CRAIG PATTERSON, et al., Defendants.



         Before this Court is a Motion to Dismiss (doc. 3) filed by Defendants Town of Gordo (“Gordo”) and Mayor Craig Patterson (“Mayor Patterson”) (collectively “Defendants”). In their Motion, Defendants argue that Plaintiff Michael Phillips' Complaint is subject to dismissal on multiple grounds, chiefly that Plaintiff has released his claims against Defendants, res judicata, that those claims are brought past their statute of limitations, qualified and absolute immunity, and that Plaintiff' Complaint fails to state a claim. The Court agrees that this action appears to be subject to dismissal on multiple grounds including pursuant to a valid release and settlement of claims, because the applicable statute of limitations has run on all claims, and because Plaintiff's Complaint fails to state a claim.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff was employed by the Town of Gordo, Alabama for a number of years prior to his suffering an on-the-job injury on or about June 6, 2013. Other than this initial information, the Complaint[1] is largely devoid of specific factual assertions against the Defendants, although it is replete with legal conclusions and generalized statements. For example, Plaintiff alleges that following his injury “Plaintiff has suffered one problem after the other[, ] all of which appear to be controlled by or originating from [Defendant Patterson] the Mayor of [Defendant Gordo] wrongfully continuing to this date.” (Doc. 1-1 ¶ 6.) Plaintiff claims he was punished excessively and unfairly for exercising his First Amendment Rights and by filing “on the job injury forms” with Defendant Gordo. (Id. at ¶ 7.) He additionally states that Defendants failed to give him notice for disciplinary actions, but does not include in any detail what those disciplinary actions were. He states that he was “penalized unfairly for not following Departmental procedures” but does not give any concrete examples of such occurrences (Id. at ¶ 9.) He avers that the personnel actions relating to Plaintiff were based strictly on an “untrue” paper record, but does not detail what personnel actions or untrue statements occurred. At one point in the Complaint, Plaintiff alleges the Defendants wrongfully terminated him, but does not specify when this occurred except that it was after his job-related injury in June 2013. Plaintiff asserts two counts under (1) “Federal Law (Title VII and U.S. Constitutional) Violations-Worker's Compensation Discrimination & Retaliation” and (2) “State Court Torts.” (Doc. 1-1 at 8-9.) In each Count, Plaintiff recites a laundry list of claims against Defendants without indicating any facts to support those claims.

         Plaintiff originally filed this action in the Circuit Court of Pickens County, Alabama on October 11, 2017. (See Doc. 1-1.) Defendants properly removed the action to this Court on November 22, 2017. Jurisdiction appears proper under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1343 & 1367 as Plaintiff has asserted numerous claims against Defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and other state-law claims arising from the same conduct. (See Doc. 1.) Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss on November 29, 2017, arguing that all of Plaintiffs' claims were due to be dismissed, because Plaintiff has released his claims, and because the claims were barred by the statute of limitations, qualified immunity, and state-agent immunity.

         Defendants' Motion to Dismiss also filled in some of the backstory to what happened between Plaintiff's injury in 2013 and the instigation of this action in 2017. Specifically attached to Defendants' Motion was a Complaint filed by Plaintiff against Defendant Gordo in the Circuit Court of Pickens County, Alabama in August 2013 (the “First Complaint”). (See Doc. 3-2.) The First Complaint asked for the payment of benefits due under the Workmen's Compensation laws of Alabama from Defendant Gordo to Plaintiff, arising out of the same June 6, 2013 injury mentioned in Plaintiff's current Complaint.

         Additionally attached to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss was the conclusion to Plaintiff's first action: a Workers Compensation Settlement Agreement (doc. 3-4)[2] and Court Order Approving that Agreement (doc. 3-3). The Settlement Agreement included the following release:

In consideration of this payment by Gordo, [Plaintiff], for himself, his heirs, next of kin, executors, administrators, personal representatives or assigns, releases Gordo, its elected and appointed officials, employees, representatives, agents, insurance carriers, third party administrators, predecessors, successors and assigns, and other every person, corporation, association or partnership chargeable therewith (“Gordo Releasees”), of and from any and all claims which [Plaintiff] may have against Gordo Releasees, whether known or unknown or hereafter discovered, under any federal or State law including, but not limited to, all claims under the Workers' Compensation Act of Alabama . . . .

(Doc. 3-4 at 5.) The Settlement Agreement was signed by Plaintiff and notarized on April 26, 2017-approximately seven months before Plaintiff commenced the current action.

         II. Standard of Review

         To survive a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a plaintiff must generally satisfy the pleading requirements in Fed.R.Civ.P. 8. Rule 8 requires a pleading to contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). “Rule 8 marks a notable and generous departure from the hyper-technical, code-pleading regime of a prior era, but it does not unlock the doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-679 (2009). Instead, “[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. at 678 (internal quotations omitted). Iqbal establishes a two-step process for evaluating a complaint. First, the Court must “begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.” Id. at 679. Second, “[w]hen there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Id. Factual allegations in a complaint need not be detailed, but they “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007).

         A party need not specifically plead each element in his or her cause of action, but the pleading must contain “enough information regarding the material elements of a cause of action to support recovery under some viable legal theory.” Am. Fed'n of Labor & Cong. of Indus. Orgs. v. City of Miami, 637 F.3d 1178, 1186 (11th Cir. 2011). Ultimately, the Court must be able to draw a reasonable inference from the facts that the other party is liable. Reese v. Ellis, Painter, Ratterree & Adams, LLP, 678 F.3d 1211, 1215 (11th Cir. 2012). The Court must construe pleadings broadly and resolve inferences in the non-moving party's favor. Levine v. World Fin. Network Nat'l Bank, 437 F.3d 1118, 1120 (11th Cir. 2006).

         III. Discussion

         Plaintiffs' Complaint is due to be dismissed because it fails to state a claim, is barred by the Statute of Limitations, and because Plaintiff agreed to a Settlement Agreement whereby he released all of his claims against Defendants.

         a. ...

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