Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Fick v. Alabama State Department of Education

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

September 28, 2018

DANIEL HASSAN FICK, Plaintiff,
v.
ALABAMA STATE DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION[1] and BOARD OF SCHOOL COMMISSIONERS OF MOBILE COUNTY, Defendants.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          P. BRADLEY MURRAY, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This cause is before the Magistrate Judge for issuance of a report and recommendation, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and S.D. Ala. GenLR 72(a)(2)(S), on the Defendants' motions to dismiss (Docs. 39 & 41), Plaintiff's responses in opposition (Docs. 45 & 46), [2] and Plaintiff's motion for equitable tolling (Doc. 50). Based on the contents of these pleadings and all other relevant pleadings in this matter, the Magistrate Judge RECOMMENDS that the Defendants' motions to dismiss (Docs. 39 & 41) be GRANTED and that Plaintiff's action be DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE, given that it is indisputably time-barred.

         PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Fick's August 9, 2018 amended complaint (Doc. 35) is the operative pleading in this case, see, e.g., Rosa v. Florida Dep't of Corrections, 522 Fed.Appx. 710, 714 (11th Cir. June 26, 2013) (“Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, ‘an amended complaint supersedes the initial complaint and becomes the operative pleading in the case.'” (quoting Krinsk v. SunTrust Banks, Inc., 654 F.3d 1194, 1202 (11th Cir. 2011)). In that amended complaint, Plaintiff briefly sets forth six instances of bullying, harassment or abuse he allegedly suffered at the hands of other students while attending various public schools in Mobile County from 1997 through 2001, as well as the manner in which various teachers or the administrative staff at the schools responded (or failed to respond) to the conduct described (Doc. 35, at 2-3).[3] Plaintiff avers that the conduct described in his complaint contravenes the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause (Doc. 35, at 2) and, as a result, he seeks “psychological and physical” damages in the amount of $3, 000, 000 (id. at 4).[4]

         The Alabama State Department of Education (“ALDOE”) filed its motion to dismiss on August 24, 2018, therein claiming it is entitled to the dismissal of the amended complaint for the following reasons: (1) it is absolutely immune from suit and entitled to dismissal of Plaintiff's complaint for want of subject-matter jurisdiction in accordance with Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1); (2) Plaintiff's § 1983 claims are time-barred; and (3) to the extent necessary, Plaintiff's amended complaint fails to set forth sufficient facts to state any claims against it and, therefore, is due to be dismissed, in accordance with Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). (See Doc. 39, at 1-5.). Defendant Board of School Commissioners of Mobile County filed its motion to dismiss on August 28, 2018, contending that it too is entitled to dismissal of the amended complaint because Plaintiff's claims are barred by the applicable statute of limitations and because the amended complaint otherwise fails to set forth sufficient facts to state any claims against it and, therefore, is due to be dismissed, in accordance with Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). (See Doc. 41, at 1; Doc. 42, at 1-4.)

         The undersigned reads Fick's opposition in response to the motion to dismiss filed by ALDOE as urging this Court to disregard the movant's reliance on its proffered statute-of-limitations and sovereign immunity defenses because his mother trusted that the Defendants would provide him with an education in a safe environment each time she registered him for school in Mobile County and, instead, because of corruption at the highest levels of the state school system, [5] he was made to suffer through the conduct described in his controlling complaint-due, perhaps, in no small measure to his “family finances, family education, and living status”-and, as a result, should be able to recover money damages because he was not allowed to obtain the same level of education as, for example, “school officials[.]” (See Doc. 45, at 1-3). Plaintiff also seems to be suggesting that the Defendant's argument that he has stated no claims or facts against it is an exercise in “avoidan[ce] in an attempt to prevent justice for the Plaintiff.” (Id. at 4.) Finally, the undersigned reads Fick's two references to Lovens v. Pleasant Hill (see Id. at 2 & 3 (no pinpoint citation given)) as his suggestion that his claims also arise under Title IX (see id.).

         In responding to the motion to dismiss filed by the Board of School Commissioners of Mobile County, Fick makes reference to and attaches various school records-primarily, report cards-as support for the “toll” caused him by the harassment and bullying he suffered at the hands of mostly unidentified fellow students (see Doc. 46 & Exhibits A-D), specifically, that he was “forced to quit or it very well could have cost me my life[]” (Doc. 46, at 3) because Defendants did not provide him with a safe classroom environment despite their responsibility to do so (see Id. at 1-2). Fick concludes this response with the observation that “one side is telling the truth, and the other side is focused on what is available to avoid it.” (Id. at 4.) This last comment is no doubt directed in large measure to the movant's statute-of-limitations defense, which Fick references will be the subject of a separate motion. (See Id. at ¶ 2 (“In response to the heightened concern of my claim being barred by a statute of limitations: [Motion to be filed]”)).[6]

         CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

         A. Pleading Standard.

The sufficiency of Plaintiff's claims to proceed beyond the pleading stage, and into discovery, is governed by the plausibility standard articulated by the United States Supreme Court in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007), and further detailed in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009). In Twombly, the United States Supreme Court expressly abrogated the Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41 (1957) “no set of facts” pleading standard, holding that test “has earned its retirement” and “is best forgotten.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 563, 127 S.Ct. at 1969; Simpson v. Sanderson Farms, Inc., 744 F.3d 702, 714 (11th Cir. 2014) (“[T]he Supreme Court categorically retired [the no set of facts test] in Twombly.”).

         Post Twombly, “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. . . . Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level[.]” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 127 S.Ct. at 1965. The Court made clear that to satisfy the requirements of Fed.R.Civ.P 8(a) “something beyond the mere possibility [of an entitlement to relief] must be alleged, lest a plaintiff with a largely groundless claim be allowed to take up the time of a number of other people[.]” Id. at 557-58, 127 S.Ct. at 1966 (internal quotation marks omitted; citations omitted). “This necessarily requires that a plaintiff include factual allegations for each essential element of his or her claim.” GeorgiaCarry.Org, Inc. v. Georgia, 687 F.3d 1244, 1254 (11th Cir. 2012) (citations omitted), cert. denied, 568 U.S. 1088, 133 S.Ct. 856, 184 L.Ed.2d 656 (2013).

         The Court directed that “when the allegations in a complaint, however true, could not raise a claim of entitlement to relief, this deficiency should be exposed at the point of minimum expenditure of time and money by the parties and the court.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 558, 127 S.Ct. at 1966 (internal quotations marks and ellipses omitted; citations omitted). “It is no answer to say that a claim just shy of a plausible entitlement to relief can, if groundless, be weeded out early in the discovery process[.]” Id. at 559, 127 S.Ct. at 1967. “[T]he threat of discovery expense will push cost-conscious defendants to settle even anemic cases…[;]it is only by taking care to require allegations that reach the level [of showing a plausible entitlement to relief] that we can hope to avoid the potentially enormous expense of discovery[.]” Id.

         The Eleventh Circuit has likewise emphasized the importance of only allowing plausible claims to proceed beyond the pleading stage: “Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) and 12(b)(6) together establish a notice-pleading standard that is applied, in a context-specific manner, with the recognition that the imposition of litigation costs must be justified at the threshold by the presence of factual allegations making relief under the governing law plausible, not merely speculative.” ABB Turbo Sys. AG v. Turbousa, Inc. 774 F.3d 979, 984 (11th Cir. 2014); see Chudasama v. Mazda Motor Corp., 123 F.3d 1353, 1367 & 1367-68 (11th Cir. 1997) (recognizing that “[d]iscovery imposes several costs on the litigant from whom discovery is sought[]” and “discovery imposes burdens on the judicial system; scarce judicial resources must be diverted from other cases to resolve discovery disputes.”); Fed.R.Civ.P. 1 (recognizing that the Rules of Civil Procedure “should be construed, administered, and employed by the court and the parties to secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action and proceeding.”).

         In Iqbal, the Supreme Court gave additional definition to the Rule 8(a) analysis framed in Twombly. The Court explained that under Twombly, “[t]o 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.' A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (internal citations omitted). “While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations.” Id. at 679, 129 S.Ct. at 1950. Courts do not “'accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation[.]'” Id. at 678, 129 S.Ct. at 1950 (citation omitted); see also Id. at 678, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (“[T]he tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions[.]”).

         The Iqbal Court made clear that “[t]he pleading standard Rule 8 announces…demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation. A pleading that offers ‘labels and conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.' Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders ‘naked assertion[s]' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.'” Id. at 678, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (internal citations omitted). Consequently, “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 ‘shown' - ‘that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” Id. at 679, 129 S.Ct. at 1950 (brackets and citation omitted). Therefore, dismissal of a factually insufficient complaint is required because “Rule 8…does not unlock the doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions.” Id. at 678-79, 129 S.Ct. at 1950.

         In American Dental Ass'n v. Cigna Corp., 605 F.3d 1283 (11th Cir. 2010), the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals distilled the Twombly/Iqbal pleading standard into a functional “two-prong approach” for the evaluation of the sufficiency of a plaintiff's pled allegations: “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. at 1290 (citation omitted). The Eleventh Circuit also explained: “Importantly, the Court held in Iqbal, as it had in Twombly, that courts 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. (citation omitted).

         Additionally, it is well-established that dismissal is required when the factual averments in a complaint affirmatively foreclose the existence of a plausible entitlement to relief. See, e.g., Villarreal v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., 839 F.3d 958, 971 (11th Cir. 2016) (“A plaintiff nonetheless can plead himself out of court by alleging facts that foreclose a finding of diligence or extraordinary circumstances, both of which are required for equitable tolling.”), cert. denied, __ U.S. __, 137 S.Ct. 2292, 198 L.Ed.2d 724 (2017); Best Canvas Prods. & Supplies, Inc. v. Ploof Truck Lines, Inc.,713 F.2d 618, 621 (11th Cir. 1983) (“[A] party is bound by the admissions in his pleadings.”). “[A] plaintiff can plead himself out of ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.