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Robinson v. Alexander City

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Eastern Division

March 13, 2019

WILLIE ROBINSON, Plaintiff,
v.
ALEXANDER CITY, et al. Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          EMILY C. MARKS CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Willie Robinson is the former Chief of Police of Alexander City, Alabama.

         In March 2018, the Plaintiff filed a complaint against Defendants Alexander City, Mayor Jim Nabors, and city council members Bobby Tapley, John Eric Brown, Tomas J. Spraggins, and Timothy Byron Funderbunk related to his termination as Chief of Police.

         This mater is before the court on the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. (Doc. 7.) This motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for review. For the reasons stated herein, the Defendants' Motion is due to be denied.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         Plaintiff Willie Robinson is an African American male who began employment with Defendant Alexander City in or around 1991. During his over twenty-five-year employment history, he was promoted in rank to Sergeant, Lieutenant, and Deputy Chief.

         In July 2013, the city council unanimously voted to promote the Plaintiff to Chief of Police. He received positive reviews and did not receive any performance-related discipline.

         During his tenure as Chief of Police, the Plaintiff tried to hire more qualified African American employees. He also asserts that he discussed the need to hire more African American employees in the fire and police departments with Fire Chief Kem Jones. The Plaintiff was the only African American employee in a department head position and there were only a handful of African American employees working for the city.

         In November 2016, the city elected a new Caucasian Mayor, Jim Nabors, and four new Caucasian city council members: Bobby Tapley, John Eric Brown, Tomas J. Spraggins, and Timothy Byron Funderbunk. The new administration planned to review five positions, including the Plaintiff's. During evaluations, the Plaintiff was informed that there were no issues with his performance. According to the Plaintiff, despite his positive evaluation, the new council members and mayor began privately communicating about his position in violation of the Open Meeting Act. Then, in January 2017, the city council voted the Plaintiff out of his position as Police Chief, pursuant to its statutory authority. Alexander City ALA. Code § 2-41 (“The city council, at the first regular meeting, shall elect a city clerk, chief of police . . . and other officers necessary. The duties of whom shall be regulated by ordinance.”). The Plaintiff was terminated without being provided a reason and was replaced with a Caucasian male who the Plaintiff describes as less qualified. Kem Jones, the Fire Chief with whom the Plaintiff discussed increasing diversity hiring, was also terminated and replaced with a Caucasian male. The Plaintiff further alleges that he was not provided the opportunity to remain employed as a police officer after the decision to replace him as Police Chief.

         Based on these allegations, the Plaintiff brings several claims: (1) race discrimination claims under Title VII and 42 U.S.C. § 1981[2] (presumably through 42 U.S.C. § 1983) against Defendant Alexander City; (2) a § 1983 Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection claim against Defendant Alexander City[3]; and (3) § 1983 Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection claims against Defendants Nabor, Tapley, Brown, Spraggins, and Funderbunk in their individual and official capacities.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss tests the sufficiency of the complaint against the legal standard set forth in Rule 8: “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). “To 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.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief [is] . . . a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Id. at 679.

         The plausibility standard requires “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Conclusory allegations that are merely “conceivable” and fail to rise “above the speculative level” are insufficient to meet the plausibility standard. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 570. This pleading standard “does not require ‘detailed factual allegations,' but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Indeed, “[a] pleading that offers ‘labels and conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'” Id.

         III. ...


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