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Warren v. Coosa County Board of Education

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

November 15, 2018

DOUGLAS KEITH WARREN, Plaintiff,
v.
COOSA COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          ANNEMARIE CARNEY AXON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         In this employment discrimination case, plaintiff Douglas Keith Warren asserts various claims against the defendants arising out of his termination as a Special Education teacher and coach at Central High School in Coosa County, Alabama. Mr. Warren alleges that the defendants discriminated against him because of his gender and race, violated his Fourteenth Amendment due process rights, and defamed him.

         The court previously dismissed certain claims from the initial complaint and granted plaintiff leave to amend others. (Doc. 14, Coogler, J.). Defendants deny all allegations and move to dismiss part of Mr. Warren's claims. The parties have fully briefed the motion. (Doc. 18; Doc. 28; Doc. 29). For the reasons explained below, the court DENIES in part and GRANTS in part the motion.

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) authorizes a motion to dismiss a complaint when the complaint's allegations fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. On such a motion, the “‘issue is not whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims.'” Little v. City of North Miami, 805 F.2d 962, 965 (11th Cir. 1986) (quoting Scheur v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)). To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). But it need not contain detailed factual allegations. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

         Regarding plaintiff's procedural due process claim, the standard for this court's review is decided. “For nearly a quarter century, the law of this circuit has been that ‘the presence of a satisfactory state remedy mandates that we find that no procedural due process violation occurred.'” McKinney, 20 F.3d at 1564. Thus, “[i]t is well-settled that a constitutional violation is actionable under § 1983 only when the state refuses to provide a process sufficient to remedy the procedural deprivation.” Ingalls v. U.S. Space and Rocket Center, 679 Fed.Appx. 935, 943 (11th Cir. 2017) (citing Reams v. Irvin, 561 F.3d 1258, 1266 (11th Cir. 2009)).

         II. BACKGROUND

         At this stage, the court must accept the complaint's factual allegations as true and construe them favorably to the plaintiff. Butler v. Sheriff of Palm Beach Cty., 685 F.3d 1261, 1265 (11th Cir. 2012). Taken in a favorable light, Mr. Warren, a white male, alleges that the Coosa County Board of Education (“Board”) hired him as a special education teacher at Central High School on August 22, 2015. (Doc. 16 at ¶¶ 8-9). In addition to teaching, Mr. Warren coached the girls' junior varsity softball team and was the assistant coach for the varsity girls' softball team during the 2015-2016 school year. (Id. at ¶12). Rebecca Stallworth, Central's African-American female assistant principal, head-coached the varsity girls' softball team, but Mr. Warren performed most of the varsity coaching responsibilities. (Doc. 16 at ¶ 12).

         On April 20, 2016, Mr. Warren learned that the Board was not going to renew his contract at the end of the school year. The non-renewal was “without cause, ” but the Board's Special Education Coordinator confirmed that the decision “was not a performance-based decision.” (Doc. 16 at ¶ 13). Then, in early May 2016, Central High School Principal, defendant Bradley Delynn Bouldin, relieved Mr. Warren of his softball coaching duties. (Id. at ¶12).

         On May 4, 2016, Principal Bouldin and former Superintendent Dennis Sanford, met with Mr. Warren. (Doc. 16 at ¶ 15). They discussed a March 2016 conversation between Mr. Warren and Principal Bouldin. (Id.). During that prior conversation, Principal Bouldin shared that his son was having difficulties taking standardized tests. (Doc. 16 at ¶ 16). To empathize, Mr. Warren told Principal Bouldin that, in the past, he too had trouble with standardized tests. (Id.). He recalled that he once considered, but did not do so, taking the Praxis exam out of the testing room.[1] (Id. at ¶ 15). When later asked about the March 2016 conversation, Mr. Warren explained the context of the discussion and reiterated that he never took any test out of the room. (Doc. 16 at ¶ 16). Mr. Sanford “indicated that he believed” Mr. Warren's explanation. (Id.). But eight days later, Mr. Warren was placed on administrative leave until the end of the school year and escorted off the school property by a police officer. (Doc. 16 at ¶¶ 16-17).

         After he was placed on leave, a “notice of misconduct” appeared on Mr. Warren's Teacher Certification and Education Portal (“TCERT”). (Doc. 16 at ¶ 18). Mr. Warren alleges that principal Bouldin and superintendant Sanford made the misconduct report “knowing that the circumstances pertaining to the purported misconduct (the Praxis exam) had occurred more than seven years earlier” and that Mr. Warren had “specifically denied” the misconduct (taking the test outside the room). (Id. at ¶ 19). Mr. Warren also alleges false allegations were published about him in State Department of Education certification files. (Id. at ¶ 23).

         Because of the “notice of misconduct, ” Mr. Warren was not hired for other positions for which he applied. (Doc. 16 at ¶ 20). And because he was a probationary, non-tenured employee, Mr. Warren alleges that he had no right or opportunity for a hearing regarding his termination. (Id. at ¶ 24).

         Based on these facts, Mr. Warren filed his amended complaint asserting the following claims: (1) 42 U.S.C. § 1981 via 42 U.S.C. § 1983 race discrimination against the Board and Messrs. Bouldin and Sanford in their individual capacities; (2) Title VII gender discrimination against the Board; (3) 42 U.S.C. § 1983 due process liberty interest against the Board; and (4) state law defamation against Mr. Bouldin and Mr. Sanford in their individual capacities. The defendants move to dismiss Mr. Warren's claim for lost wages as to future coaching supplements and his § 1983 due process claim against the Board.[2] (Doc. 18; Doc. 29).

         III. ...


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