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Williams v. Town of Morris

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

October 30, 2018

TERRY WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
TOWN OF MORRIS, ALABAMA and MAYOR JOE PYLANT, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          ABDUL K. KALLON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Terry Williams filed this action in the Circuit Court of Jefferson County, Alabama against the Town of Morris, Alabama and its mayor, Joe Pylant, alleging the defendants violated his due process rights by terminating his employment without notice or a hearing. Doc. 1-1. The defendants removed the action to this court under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1343, 1441, and 1443, doc. 1, and have moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim, doc. 2. For the reasons explained below, the motion is due to be granted solely as to the claims against Mayor Pylant.

         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) (citing 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. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) permits dismissal when a complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. “To 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 (citations omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted). 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. (citation omitted). When considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court accepts “the allegations in the complaint as true and construe[s] them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Hunt v. Aimco Props., L.P. 814 F.3d 1213, 1221 (11th Cir. 2016).

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Taking Williams' allegations as true, Williams worked as a police officer for the Town of Morris for approximately four years and “attained permanent status” during his tenure. Doc. 1-1 at ¶ 4. This lawsuit stems from his discharge. The town initially placed Williams on administrative leave without pay. Id. at ¶ 5. The Chief of Police, Mike Nazarchyk, did not tell Williams the reasons for the decision, and the town never gave Williams written notice of the charges against him. Id. Additionally, the town did not hold a pre-disciplinary hearing before placing Williams on leave. Id. Three days after placing Williams on leave, Chief Nazarchyk sent Williams a one-sentence letter stating, “[t]he Governing body of the Town of Morris has decided that as of this date your services as [a] Police Officer for the Town of Morris are no longer required.” Id. at ¶ 7. The defendants did not inform Williams of his right to appeal or to a hearing. Id.

         After his termination, Williams asked Chief Nazarchyk, Mayor Pylant, and the town's attorney for a copy of the applicable personnel rules regarding termination of a police officer. Id. at ¶¶ 8 and 9. Instead of providing Williams the requested rules, Chief Nazarchyk informed Williams that he had fifteen days to appeal his termination. Id. However, the Chief did not give Williams any information about the procedure. Id. Moreover, although Williams sent a notice of appeal to Mayor Pylant, no one responded. Id. at ¶ 10.

         III. ANALYSIS

         Williams asserts claims against the Town of Morris and Mayor Pylant in his official capacity for alleged violations of Williams' due process rights. However, Williams concedes that his claims against Mayor Pylant are duplicative of his claims against the town. See doc. 4 at 8; McMillian v. Monroe County, 520 U.S. 781, 785 n.2 (1997); Morrow v. Caldwell, 153 So.3d 764, 771 (Ala. 2014). Therefore, the claims against Mayor Pylant are due to be dismissed.

         A. Section 1983 Claim-Count Two

         Williams asserts a claim against the town under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged violations of his right to due process. Doc. 1-1 at ¶¶ 17-18. In his opposition to the motion to dismiss, Williams clarifies that his claim is based on violations of his procedural due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. Doc. 4 at 1.[1]Such a claim requires that Williams allege “(1) a deprivation of a constitutionally-protected liberty or property interest; (2) state action; and (3) constitutionally-inadequate process.” Grayden v. Rhodes, 345 F.3d 1225, 1232 (11th Cir. 2003) (citation omitted). The first two requirements are not in dispute, as Williams alleged a deprivation of a constitutionally-protected property interest by state action through his contention that he had permanent employment status and that the town summarily discharged him without notice or a hearing. See doc. 1-1 at ¶¶ 4, 7, and 17; see also McKinney, 20 F.3d at 1560 (noting that an employee with tenure, or permanent status, “had a property right in continued employment and therefore was entitled to the protection of procedural due process”) (citation and emphasis in original omitted). Thus, the only issue of contention is whether the failure to provide notice or a hearing is sufficient to show a constitutionally-inadequate process.

         “An essential principle of due process is that a deprivation of life, liberty, or property ‘be preceded by notice and opportunity for hearing appropriate to the nature of the case.'” Cleveland Bd. of Educ. v. Loudermill, 470 U.S. 532, 542 and 546 (1985) (quoting Mullane v. Central Hanover Bank & Trust Co., 339 U.S. 306, 313 (1950)). In light of that principle, “the Supreme Court has explained that a ‘tenured employee is entitled to oral or written notice of the charges against him, an explanation of the employer's evidence, and an opportunity to present his side of the story' before a state or state agency may terminate an employee. [] In other words, the employee is entitled to ‘some kind' of pre-termination hearing.” McKinney 20 F.3d at 1561 (quoting Loudermill, 470 U.S. at 542 and 546).

         In this case, the town failed to give Williams notice of the charges against him and deprived him of his right to respond. Doc. 1-1 at ¶¶ 5, 13. Despite this fact, the town, citing Cotton v. Jackson, 216 F.3d 1328 (11th Cir. 2000), argues that Williams has not alleged a violation of his procedural due process rights because he failed to first pursue state remedies. This case is distinguishable from Cotton, however, because the plaintiff in Cotton received notice of the charges against him and a chance to respond before his termination. See ...


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