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Johnson v. Montgomery County Community Punishment

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

July 31, 2019

REBECCA JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
v.
MONTGOMERY COUNTY COMMUNITY PUNISHMENT AND CORRECTIONS AUTHORITY, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          WALLACE CAPEL, JR. CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Rebecca Johnson filed this action against Defendant Montgomery County Community Punishment and Corrections Authority (“MCCPCA”), Defendant Paul Brown (“Brown”), and former Defendant Montgomery County Commission (“MCC”) on June 8, 2018, alleging liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for race discrimination and for unlawful retaliation, each in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Defendants moved to dismiss Plaintiff's claims on July 18, 2018, and in response Plaintiff amended her complaint effective September 13, 2018, abandoning her claims to the extent alleged against the MCC and abandoning her claim of race discrimination in its entirety.

         By and through her amended complaint, Plaintiff alleges that the MCCPCA is her employer and that Defendant Brown is her immediate supervisor. Plaintiff further alleges that in the course of her employment by the MCCPCA she has been subjected to unlawful race discrimination, and that she has opposed such unlawful discrimination by engaging in protected conduct. Plaintiff additionally alleges that in retaliation for her protected opposition to race discrimination in the workplace, the MCCPCA and Defendant Brown subjected her to discipline and to other adverse employment actions. Arising out of the foregoing, through two separate claims Plaintiff alleges the liability of the MCCPCA and of Defendant Brown in his individual capacity under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for unlawful retaliation in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Plaintiff seeks award of noneconomic money damages for emotional distress in unspecified amounts, of economic damages for lost wages plus prejudgment interest in unspecified amounts, and of her attorney fees and costs, as well as award of punitive damages against Defendant Brown only. This court has federal-question jurisdiction over Plaintiff's claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331(a).

         Now before the court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 36) Plaintiff's Amended Complaint (Doc. 35) for failure to state a claim. The undersigned has considered the Defendants' motion and all of the pleadings on file. For the reasons that follow, the undersigned finds that the Defendants' motion is due to be granted in part as to a portion of Plaintiff's Section 1981 claim against the MCCPCA as set forth below, and otherwise denied.

         I. LEGAL STANDARD

         To survive dismissal for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Civil Procedure Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain more than a “formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action;” specifically, it must contain factual allegations sufficient to “raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). To raise a right to relief above the speculative level, “[t]he pleading must contain something more . . . than . . . a statement of facts that merely creates a suspicion [of] a legally cognizable right of action.” Id., quoting 5 C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1216, pp. 235-36 (3d ed. 2004); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a). Instead, the plaintiff must plead affirmative factual content, as opposed to any merely conclusory recitation that the elements of a claim have been satisfied, 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 (2009). In consequence, for a complaint to survive a motion to dismiss, the non-conclusory factual allegations and reasonable inferences therefrom must be at least plausibly suggestive of a claim entitling the plaintiff to relief. See Simpson v. Sanderson Farms, Inc., 744 F.3d 702, 708 (11th Cir. 2014); Rivell v. Private Health Care Sys., Inc., 520 F.3d 1308, 1310 (11th Cir. 2008).

         In ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court may generally consider only allegations contained in the pleadings, exhibits attached to or incorporated by reference into the complaint, and matters properly subject to judicial notice. See Tellabs, Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights, Ltd., 551 U.S. 308, 322 (2007); Horsley v. Feldt, 304 F.3d 1125, 1134 (11th Cir. 2002). In considering a motion to dismiss, this court accepts all of the allegations in the complaint as true and construes them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Duke v. Cleland, 5 F.3d 1399, 1402 (11th Cir. 1993). Moreover, the court “presume[s] that general allegations embrace those specific facts that are necessary to support the claim.” Nat'l Org. for Women v. Scheidler, 510 U.S. 249, 256 (1994) (quoting Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992)). The court need not, however, presume the truth of legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations. See Tellabs, 551 U.S. at 323.

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         A. The Parties

         Plaintiff Johnson is an African American woman and a resident of Montgomery County, Alabama. Defendant MCCPCA is a public corporation of the State of Alabama and has at all material times been Plaintiff Johnson's employer. Defendant Brown has at all material times served as the MCCPCA's Executive Director and Appointing Authority, and as Plaintiff Johnson's immediate supervisor in that capacity.

         B. Material Allegations of Plaintiff's Amended Complaint[1]

         Plaintiff has been employed by the MCCPCA in an unspecified capacity since May 6, 2003. See Doc. 35, ¶¶ 7, 31. At all material times, Defendant Brown was Plaintiff's immediate supervisor. See id., ¶¶ 9, 33. During the course of Plaintiff's employment by the MCCPCA, Defendant Brown subjected Plaintiff to racially discriminatory conduct, including, among other unspecified acts, placing a banana and a toy monkey in her office in 2011 and refusing to allow her to be certified with or to use her duty weapon in June 2016. See id., ¶¶ 10, 34. In response and opposition to such conduct, Plaintiff filed charges of race discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) in 2011 and again in June 2017. See id., ¶¶ 11, 35. Defendant Brown was aware of both EEOC filings. See id., ¶¶ 12, 36. The EEOC issued a Notice of Right to Sue in connection with Plaintiff's June 2017 filing on August 6, 2017. See id., ¶¶ 13, 37.

         On September 22, 2017, Defendant Brown issued Plaintiff a written reprimand regarding an incident, unidentified in Plaintiff's Amended Complaint, that had occurred more than a year previously. See id., ¶¶ 14, 38. Plaintiff responded by advising Defendant Brown that she believed the reprimand both to be pretextual and to constitute unlawful retaliation in response to her EEOC filings, and that she would continue filing further such charges until the discriminatory and retaliatory conduct ended. See id., ¶¶ 15, 39. On November 7, 2017, Defendant Brown placed Plaintiff on administrative leave and recommended the termination of her employment, specifically citing as grounds for such disciplinary action Plaintiff's conduct in filing EEOC charges and in indicating her intention to file further such charges in the future. See id., ¶¶ 16-17, 40-41.

         Although Plaintiff's Amended Complaint is silent as to this point, it appears that Plaintiff administratively challenged the imposed and recommended discipline of November 2017. On January 4, 2018, an Administrative Law Judge determined that the discipline should be rescinded. See Id. ¶¶ 18, 42. Notwithstanding the foregoing, on January 10, 2018, Defendant Brown suspended Plaintiff's employment without pay for a 28-day period, again expressly citing as grounds for such disciplinary action Plaintiff's conduct in filing EEOC charges and in indicating her intention to file further such charges. See id., ¶¶ 19, 22, 43, 46. Defendant Brown's decision to suspend Plaintiff's employment was not subject to administrative review, see id., ¶¶ 21, 45, and it is Plaintiff's position that, as MCCPCA's Executive Director and Appointing Authority, Defendant Brown was a final policymaker for the MCCPCA, see id., ¶¶ 25, 49.

         As noted, arising out of the foregoing, Plaintiff alleges the liability of the MCCPCA and of Defendant Brown in his individual capacity under Section 1983 for unlawful retaliation in violation of Section 1981, in two separate claims.

         III. ...


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