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Kirk v. City of Valley

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

September 4, 2019

CHRIS KIRK, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF VALLEY, ALABAMA, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          W. KEITH WATKINS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         In March 2019, the Magistrate Judge filed a Recommendation (Doc. # 29) that the pending motions to dismiss (Docs. # 19, 24) be granted and that Plaintiff Chris Kirk's claims against Defendants, the City of Valley and Mayor Leonard Riley be dismissed with prejudice. Plaintiff filed timely objections (Doc. # 30) and Defendants filed a response to the objections (Doc. # 31). The court has conducted an independent and de novo review of those portions of the Recommendation to which objection is made. See 28 U.S.C. § 636. After careful review of the law, allegations, and arguments, the court finds that the objections are due to be overruled and the motions to dismiss granted.

         I. JURISDICTION AND VENUE

         Because Plaintiff's claims arise under a federal statute, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the court has federal-question subject-matter jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. § 1331. The parties do not contest personal jurisdiction or venue.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure tests the sufficiency of the complaint. Rule 8 provides that the complaint must include “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). When evaluating a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must take the facts alleged in the complaint as true and construe them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Resnick v. AvMed, Inc., 693 F.3d 1317, 1321-22 (11th Cir. 2012). However, the court need not accept mere legal conclusions as true. Id. at 1325.

         To survive a 12(b)(6) motion, the 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)). “A claim has facial plausibility 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. Dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) is also permitted “when on the basis of a dispositive issue of law, no construction of the factual allegations will support the cause of action.” Marshall Cty. Bd. of Educ. v. Marshall Cty. Gas Dist., 992 F.2d 1171, 1174 (11th Cir. 1993); see also Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 326-27 (1989) (explaining that the rule allows a court “to dismiss a claim on the basis of a dispositive issue of law”).

         III. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff makes no objection to the following facts, which are set out in Part III of the Recommendation. Plaintiff was employed by the City of Valley, Alabama, as a “Human Resources/Accounting Technician” from December 2012, until September 2016. (Doc. # 18, at 2.) Plaintiff's amended complaint does not include a job description. But it can be reasonably inferred from the allegations that Plaintiff dealt with personnel issues involving city employees. (See Doc. # 29, at 3-4.) That inference is based not only on what was included in Plaintiff's job title (“Human Resources”), but also on Plaintiff's August 2016 meeting with Police Chief Weldon and Captain Cox about Cox's upcoming retirement.[1]

         At that meeting, Cox informed Plaintiff that after Cox's retirement, Mayor Riley was going to hire Cox as a part-time employee and that he was going to allow Cox “to keep part of his sick leave.” (Doc. # 18, at 2.) Plaintiff told Cox that he could not work for thirty days following his retirement and that “part-time employees do not receive sick leave.” (Doc. # 18, at 3.)

         When Weldon insisted that Mayor Riley was going to allow Cox to keep some of his sick-leave time, Plaintiff said she would talk to Mayor Riley about it. (Doc. # 18, at 3.) Before meeting with Mayor Riley, Plaintiff met with Kathy Snowden, the “City Clerk/Treasurer, ” who confirmed that part-time employees do not receive sick leave. (Doc. # 18, at 3.)

         Plaintiff then met with Mayor Riley to tell him that part-time employees do not receive sick leave and that “it may be a violation of ERISA rules if the city gave Cox sick leave but did not give sick leave to other part-time employees.” (Doc. # 18, at 3.) Mayor Riley told Plaintiff that “she was wrong” and that he “had the discretion to make this change.” (Doc. # 18, at 3.)

         On September 12, 2016, Plaintiff attended the city council meeting “where the resolution was introduced.”[2] Because Plaintiff believed Mayor Riley's proposal “was a matter of public concern and potentially illegal, she expressed her concerns as a citizen of Valley, Alabama, to City Council Member Jim Jones before the meeting began.” (Doc. # 18, at 3.) Going to a city council meeting and talking to city council members about ordinances or other city business “was not in [Plaintiff's] regular duties as a city employee.” (Doc. # 18, at 4.)

         Plaintiff's lobbying Council Member Jones was apparently successful. Jones was alone in voicing opposition to and voting against the resolution. ...


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