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Whatley v. Town of West Blocton

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

October 4, 2018

KEITH WHATLEY, Plaintiff,
v.
TOWN OF WEST BLOCTON, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          R. DAVID PROCTOR, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This case is before the court on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint. (Doc. # 5). The Motion has been fully briefed (see Docs. # 7, 11-12), and is ripe for decision. After careful review, and for the reasons explained below, the court concludes that Plaintiff's Complaint is due to be replead.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff was employed as the Police Chief of the Defendant Town of West Blocton (“the Town”). (Doc. # 1 ¶ 11). When Defendant Daniel Simms (“Simms”) was elected Mayor of the Town, he declined to reappoint Plaintiff and terminated him on November 8, 2016. (Id. at ¶¶ 14-15). Plaintiff asserts that his termination was “without cause” and occurred only because Defendant Simms “wanted to go in another direction.” (Id. at ¶¶ 15-16).

         Plaintiff contends that prior to his termination he did not receive written notice, no city council hearing took place, and he was not removed by a 2/3 vote of the city council. (Id. at ¶¶ 17-20). In fact, he claims he was afforded no opportunity to contest the termination decision. (Id. at ¶ 21). When asked if he would be given a hearing, Defendant Simms replied that Plaintiff was not terminated, but “simply not reappointed and he would not be afforded a hearing.” (Id. at ¶ 24). However, he asserts that the Alabama Peace Officers Standards & Training Commission (APOSTC) “shows Plaintiff was ‘fired' as of November 18, 2016.” (Id. at ¶ 25).

         Additionally, he alleges Defendant Simms spoke to the Centreville Press and made several statements about Plaintiff, which were defamatory. (Id. at ¶ 26). The article ran on November 16, 2017. (Id. at ¶ 27).

         II. Standard of Review

         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require that a complaint provide “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). However, the complaint must include enough facts “to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Pleadings that contain nothing more than “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action” do not meet Rule 8 standards, nor do pleadings suffice that are based merely upon “labels and conclusions” or “naked assertion[s]” without supporting factual allegations. Id. at 555, 557. In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, courts view the allegations in the complaint in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Watts v. Fla. Int'l Univ., 495 F.3d 1289, 1295 (11th Cir. 2007).

         To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. “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.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Although “[t]he plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement, '” the complaint must demonstrate “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. A plausible claim for relief requires “enough fact[s] to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence” to support the claim. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556.

         In considering a motion to dismiss, a court should “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.'” Kivisto v. Miller, Canfield, Paddock & Stone, PLC, 413 Fed.Appx. 136, 138 (11th Cir. 2011) (quoting Am. Dental Ass'n v. Cigna Corp., 605 F.3d 1283, 1290 (11th Cir. 2010)). That task is context specific and, to survive the motion, the allegations must permit the court based on its “judicial experience and common sense . . . to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. If the court determines that all of the well-pleaded facts, accepted as true, do not state a claim that is plausible, the claims are due to be dismissed. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570.

         III. Analysis

         Plaintiff raises three claims against Defendants. In Count One, he alleges that Simms and the Town violated his Fourteenth Amendment right to procedural due process because he was deprived of a property interest in his position as Chief of Police without notice and an opportunity to be heard. (Doc. # 1 ¶¶ 29-39). In Counts Two and Three, he alleges two state claw claims against Defendants, relying upon this court's supplemental jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1367. Specifically, he claims that Simms made defamatory statements about him to the Centreville Press, constituting defamation, libel, slander, and invasion of privacy. (Doc. # 1 ¶¶ 40-50). He also claims the Town is liable under the doctrine of respondeat superior.

         In their Motion to Dismiss, Defendants seek dismissal of Plaintiff's constitutional claim on two grounds. First, Defendants argue that Plaintiff did not suffer a procedural deprivation when he lost his job because he had no protected property interest in his position because that position “expired” upon the election of a new town mayor. (Doc. # 7 at 5-6; Doc. # 12 at 3-5). Alternatively, Defendants assert that even if Plaintiff did have a property interest in his position, he has failed to challenge the adequacy of Alabama's post-deprivation remedies. (Doc. # 12 at 3-4). Finally, Defendants argue that Plaintiff's two state claims are due to be dismissed because they do not enjoy any independent federal jurisdictional basis and the court should decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over these claims. The court addresses each argument, in turn, and finds that Plaintiff's Complaint is due to be replead.

         A. Plaintiff Has Failed to Plausibly Plead a Section 1983 ...


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