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Murdock v. Birmingham Jefferson County Transit Authority

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

November 13, 2018

BARBARA MURDOCK, Plaintiff,
v.
BIRMINGHAM JEFFERSON COUNTY TRANSIT AUTHORITY, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          KARON OWEN BOWDRE, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter comes before the court on Defendants Birmingham Jefferson County Transit Authority (BJCTA) and the BJCTA Board of Directors' “Motion to Dismiss or in the Alternative Motion for Summary Judgment.” (Doc. 7). Plaintiff Barbara Murdock alleges that Defendants terminated her employment because of her sex in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and without due process in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Defendants moved to dismiss Ms. Murdock's due process claim against BJCTA and all claims against the Board. According to Defendants, Ms. Murdock has not sufficiently alleged a property interest in her continued employment to state a due process claim, and the Board is not a legal entity subject to suit. As further explained below, the court agrees with both points and WILL GRANT Defendants' motion to dismiss.

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The court must first determine which standard of review applies because Defendants style their motion as a motion to dismiss or a motion for summary judgment in the alternative.

         Defendants request summary judgment in the alternative because they submitted with their motion to dismiss an employment agreement between BJCTA and Ms. Murdock (doc. 9-1); and generally, under Rule 12(d), “[o]nce the court considers matters outside the complaint, the 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss converts into a motion for summary judgment.” Garcia v. Copenhaver, Bell & Assocs., M.D.'s, P.A., 104 F.3d 1256, 1266 n.11 (11th Cir. 1997). But the Rules do not require the court to consider exhibits that a defendant uses to attack a complaint. Harper v. Lawrence Cty., Ala., 592 F.3d 1227, 1232 (11th Cir. 2010). Instead, the court may “exclude[]” matters outside the pleadings and not convert the Rule 12(b)(6) motion to a Rule 56 motion. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d). And not considering exhibits attached to a motion to dismiss “is the functional equivalent of ‘excluding' them” for purposes of Rule 12(d); the court need not take a more formal step. Harper, 592 F.3d at 1232. So, the court exercises its discretion to not consider the exhibit submitted with Defendants' motion and the motion will proceed as a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss.

         Under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a defendant may move to dismiss a complaint for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” To survive a motion to dismiss, “a complaint must allege ‘enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Adinolfe v. United Tech. Corp., 768 F.3d 1161, 1169 (11th Cir. 2014) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). To be plausible on its face, the complaint must contain enough “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). On a motion to dismiss, the court accepts as true the factual allegations in the complaint and construes them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Id.

         But not all allegations can defeat a motion to dismiss. “[L]abels and conclusions . . . will not do, ” and “[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. If the court determines that well-pleaded facts, accepted as true, do not state a plausible claim, the court must dismiss the claim. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         II. BACKGROUND

         Ms. Murdock's complaint presents few specific details concerning her employment with and termination from BJCTA. The court will present those factual allegations in the light most favorable to Ms. Murdock.

         Ms. Murdock worked as the Executive Director for BJCTA. (Doc. 1 at ¶ 20). BJCTA is incorporated under Alabama state law and provides public transportation services in Jefferson County, Alabama.

         In October 2017, five new members joined the nine-member Board. (Doc. 1 at ¶ 21). According to Ms. Murdock, after the Board composition changed, “a plan was conceived to award Ms. Murdock's position to a younger less qualified male employee that she had mentored and promoted through the ranks to the position of Operations Manager.” (Doc. 1 at ¶ 21).

         On April 3, 2018, the Board summoned Ms. Murdock to a “special board meeting without being given an agenda, which was not standard procedure.” (Doc. 1 at ¶ 22). When Ms. Murdock arrived at the meeting, the Board “immediately adjourn[ed] to an executive session at the exclusion of her, which was also outside of standard procedure.” (Id.).

         After the executive session, Defendants suspended Ms. Murdock without pay pending an investigation of her office. (Id. at ¶ 23). Defendants did not give Ms. Murdock any advance notice of any charges against her, an explanation of any evidence justifying her suspension, or an opportunity to be heard and contest the suspension. Ms. Murdock requested a list of the charges against her and an opportunity to respond to them, but Defendants denied her request and informed her that she was not entitled to a hearing. Defendants then terminated her on May 23, 2018 without a hearing.

         Defendants replaced Ms. Murdock with Christopher Ruffin, a male employee whom Ms. Murdock had previously mentored and promoted. According to Ms. Murdock, “Mr. Ruffin's qualifications do not meet the specific needs of the position ...


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