United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
K. KALLON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Hamner initiated this action against her former employer, the
Tuscaloosa County School System (“TCSS”), and
three of its employees, Walter Davie (Superintendent),
Allison Mays (Human Resources Director), and Clifton Henson
(a middle school principal). Hamner asserts claims under
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C.
§§ 2000e et seq., Section 1981 of the Civil Rights
Act of 1866 as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and Alabama
state law, for alleged sexual harassment. Doc. 1. Before the
court are the Defendants' motions to dismiss, docs. 5,
and 8, which Chief Magistrate Judge John E. Ott converted to
motions for summary judgment, doc. 10. The motions are fully
briefed and ripe for review, docs. 6, 8, 14, 15, 18, and 19,
and are due to be granted in part.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
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,
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. Id. (quoting Twombly, 550
U.S. at 555). “Nor does a complaint suffice if it
tenders ‘naked assertion[s]' devoid of
‘further factual enhancement.'” Id.
(quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).
Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) permits dismissal when a
complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be
granted. When evaluating a motion brought 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). However,
“[t]o 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 (quoting
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). 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. In other words, the
complaint must establish “more than a sheer possibility
that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. See
also Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.
Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary
judgment is proper “if the movant shows that there is
no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” The moving
party bears the initial burden of proving the absence of a
genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The burden then
shifts to the non-moving party, who is required to “go
beyond the pleadings” to establish that there is a
“genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 324
(citation and internal quotation marks omitted). A dispute
about a material fact is genuine “if the evidence is
such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the
nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).
court must construe the evidence and all reasonable
inferences arising from it in the light most favorable to the
non-moving party. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co.,
398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970); see also Anderson, 477
U.S. at 255 (all justifiable inferences must be drawn in the
non-moving party's favor). However, “mere
conclusions and unsupported factual allegations are legally
insufficient to defeat a summary judgment motion.”
Ellis v. England, 432 F.3d 1321, 1326 (11th Cir.
2005) (per curiam) (citing Bald Mountain Park, Ltd. v.
Oliver, 863 F.2d 1560, 1563 (11th Cir. 1989)). Moreover,
“[a] mere ‘scintilla' of evidence supporting
the opposing party's position will not suffice; there
must be enough of a showing that the jury could reasonably
find for that party.” Walker v. Darby, 911
F.2d 1573, 1577 (11th Cir. 1990) (citing Anderson,
477 U.S. at 252).
RELEVANT FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
worked for TCSS from 1988 until her discharge in 2017. Docs.
1 at 4; 1-1. This is Hamner's second lawsuit against TCSS
for alleged sexual harassment. Doc. 1 at 5-6. Hamner contends
that TCSS began retaliating against her during her first
lawsuit, Hamner I, and that the retaliation
continued thereafter. Id. at 6-7. After resolving
Hamner I, Hamner transferred to a different school,
and she alleges that Henson, the school's principal,
sexually harassed her by stalking her, engaging in sexually
inappropriate conduct, denigrating women, and
“put[ting] his hand on her without her consent and with
a suggestive look on his face.” Id. at 9-12.
After Hamner reported the conduct to Mays, the Defendants
launched a purported pretextual investigation, placed Hamner
on administrative leave, and then discharged her in
retaliation. Id. at 17-21.
her discharge, Hamner filed an EEOC charge, alleging sex
discrimination and retaliation. Doc. 1-1. The EEOC dismissed
the charge and issued a right-to-sue letter dated August 1,
2018, informing Hamner that she had ninety days to file a
lawsuit. Doc. 1-2. In pre-litigation correspondence with
counsel for TCSS, Hamner's counsel represented that the
ninety-day limitation period expired on November 2, 2018, and
asked that TCSS agree to toll the statute to allow Hamner
thirty additional days to file suit. Doc. 5 at 19-20. When
TCSS declined to do so, Hamner's counsel stated that he
had mistakenly calculated the date, that the deadline to file
was actually three days later, and filed this lawsuit
accordingly. Id. at 22-24; doc. 1.
after filing her lawsuit, Hamner waited until three days
before the expiration of the time limit for service set forth
in Rule 4(m) to serve TCSS, Davie, and Mays. That day, Ronald
White, a process server for Hamner, visited TCSS's
central office to deliver the summons and complaint to these
three defendants. Doc. 15-3 at 2. Allegedly, after White
explained to the receptionist, Billie Davidson, that he
needed to see Davie and Mays, Davidson referred White to
Davie and Mays' assistant, Dana Fisher. Id. For
her part, Davidson attests that White approached her
initially about becoming a teacher, and then explained that
he actually had a subpoena to deliver. Doc. 5 at 10. Davidson
adds that White informed her that he did not know the
individuals to whom he needed to deliver the subpoenas, and
that she directed White to Fisher in the Human Resources
office after White informed her that the subpoenas were for
employee records. Id. at 10-11. Davidson claims that
White never mentioned Davie or Mays specifically.
Id. at 11.
when White arrived at Fisher's office, White asked to see
Davie and Mays, and Fisher explained that White could not see
Davie and Mays and then offered to take the documents to
them. Doc. 15-3 at 2. White gave the documents to Fisher, who
was purportedly in a position to see and read the summons
addressed to TCSS via Davie and to both Davie and Mays
individually. Id. For her part, Fisher claims that
White entered her office and asked her to help him become a
teacher. Doc. 5 at 14. When she explained that her office did
not do academic advising, White explained he was joking and
handed her a stack of papers, saying that they were for Davie
and Mays. Id. Allegedly, White never asked to see
Davie and Mays or inquired about their availability.
Id. In any event, later that afternoon, Fisher gave
Davie the papers from White, and informed Mays, who was out
of the office, by email about the summons. Id. at 8,
17. Mays received the summons when she returned to the office
a day after the expiration of the ninety-day period to
perfect service. Id. at 17.
Defendants have moved to dismiss, arguing that (1) the Title
VII claim is time-barred,  (2) this Court lacks jurisdiction over
TCSS, Davie, and Mays due to improper service of process, (3)
Hamner cannot state a claim under § 1981, (4)
Hamner's battery claim is barred by sovereign immunity,
and (5) venue is not proper in this division. Docs. 6 and 8.
The court addresses each contention in turn.
Title VII ...