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Mitchell v. State, Department of Labor

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division

August 29, 2018

MICHAL RUTH MITCHELL, Plaintiff,
v.
STATE OF ALABAMA DEPARTMENT OF LABOR, Defendant.

          ORDER AND RECOMMENDATION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          SUSAN RUSS WALKER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

          By order entered on August 18, 2016, the District Judge referred this case to the undersigned for action or recommendation on all pretrial matters. See Doc. 4. Plaintiff Michal Ruth Mitchell (“Mitchell”), proceeding pro se, [1] filed this action against her employer, the State of Alabama Department of Labor (“ADOL”), and Charles Timothy Delamar (“Delamar”), the Workers' Compensation Division Director at the Alabama Department of Labor, alleging violations of her federal statutory rights. She brings claims of sex discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. See Doc. 1; Doc. 17. This matter is before the court on a motion to dismiss Counts One and Three of plaintiff's Amended Complaint or, in the alternative, to consider plaintiff's original complaint as the operative pleading.[2] See Doc. 19; Doc. 17 (Amended Complaint). The motion to dismiss has been fully briefed. For the reasons discussed below, the motion to dismiss is due to be denied.

         I. Standard of Review

         A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss tests the sufficiency of the complaint against the legal standard set forth in Rule 8: “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). “When considering a motion to dismiss, all facts set forth in the plaintiff's complaint are to be accepted as true and the court limits its consideration to the pleadings and exhibits attached thereto.” Grossman v. Nationsbank, N.A., 225 F.3d 1228, 1231 (11th Cir. 2000) (internal marks omitted)).

         In evaluating a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the court must take “the factual allegations in the complaint as true and construe them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Pielage v. McConnell, 516 F.3d 1282, 1284 (11th Cir. 2008). However, “the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 663 (2009). “[A] plaintiff's obligation to provide the ‘grounds' of his ‘entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007).

         “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). “Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief [is] ... a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Id. at 663 (alteration in original) (citation omitted). “[F]acial plausibility” exists “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. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). The standard also “calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence” of the claim. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556. While the complaint need not set out “detailed factual allegations, ” it must provide sufficient factual amplification “to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Id. at 555.

         “So, when the allegations in a complaint, however true, could not raise a claim of entitlement to relief, ‘this basic deficiency should ... be exposed at the point of minimum expenditure of time and money by the parties and the court.'” Id. at 558 (quoting 5 Wight & Miller § 1216, at 233-34 (quoting, in turn, Daves v. Hawaiian Dredging Co., 114 F.Supp. 643, 645 (D. Haw. 1953)). “[O]nly a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

In keeping with these principles a court considering a motion to dismiss can choose to begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth. While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations. When 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.

         II. Background and Procedural History

          In her original complaint, the plaintiff brought claims against ADOL and Delamar for sex discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. See Doc. 1. Plaintiff alleged, inter alia, that, in July and October of 2015, ADOL and Delamar promoted a less qualified male candidate to a job posting for which the plaintiff is qualified and, after plaintiff filed an EEOC charge, ADOL and Delamar retaliated against the plaintiff by reducing her performance scores. See id.

         On September 9, 2016, Delamar filed a motion to dismiss the complaint.[3] See Doc. 7. Plaintiff filed a brief in opposition to Delamar's motion. See Doc. 9. On June 14, 2017, the undersigned Magistrate Judge entered a Recommendation finding that Delamar's motion to dismiss was due to be granted and that all Title VII claims against Delamar were due to be dismissed because Delamar is not the plaintiff's employer and the Title VII claims against him are duplicative of those asserted against the plaintiff's employer, ADOL. See Doc. 10. Objections to the undersigned's Recommendation were due on June 28, 2017.

         The plaintiff filed objections on June 26, 2017. See Doc. 12. Also, prior to filing her objections, the plaintiff filed a motion for leave to file an amended complaint to add an “additional retaliation claim, occurring on March 31, 2017” against ADOL and Delamar because Delamar, acting in his official capacity, allegedly denied approval for the plaintiff's “overnight stay and per diem travel in excess of 100 (one hundred) miles or more one way, as is allowed by AL Dept. of Finance Regulations and State law.” Doc. 11 at 1; see also Doc. 11 (motion for leave to file amended complaint). Thereafter, Chief Judge Watkins overruled the plaintiff's objections and adopted the Recommendation, held that the plaintiff cannot bring Title VII discrimination or retaliation claims against Delamar as a matter of law, and dismissed with prejudice plaintiff's Title VII claims against Delamar. See Doc. 15. The plaintiff sued Delamar exclusively under Title VII; accordingly, Chief Judge Watkins dismissed Delamar as a party to this case.

         On January 22, 2018, the court held that the plaintiff could not assert claims against Delamar in the amended complaint, but granted plaintiff's motion for leave to file an amended complaint against ADOL to assert a retaliation claim based on denial of overnight travel in March 2017. That claim is now set out in Count Three of the Amended Complaint. See Doc. 17. ADOL did not object to the plaintiff's motion for leave to file an amended complaint for the purpose of asserting Count Three - which ADOL now seeks to have dismissed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). See Doc. 16 at 6; Doc. 19. Also, the court held that the plaintiff's proposed amended complaint - which was attached as an exhibit to plaintiff's motion for leave to file an amended complaint - was a “shotgun” pleading and directed plaintiff to file “an amended complaint which complies with [the January 22] order and Rules 8, 10, and 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.” Id. at 5-7. Plaintiff's amended complaint is her second attempt at drafting an amended pleading that comports with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

         III. Discussion

         ADOL did not move to dismiss Count Two of the Amended Complaint; thus, this case has always been on track to proceed to discovery. In the instant motion to dismiss Counts One and Three, ADOL argues that Count One should be dismissed because it does not comply with the January 22, 2018 order, and Count Three fails because plaintiff did not exhaust her administrative remedies. Prior to addressing the merits of ...


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