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Vanlandingham v. Helms

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

November 7, 2019

NOEL VANLANDINGHAM, Plaintiff,
v.
BILLY HELMS, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          EMILY C. MARKS CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Now pending before the Court is a motion to dismiss (doc. 4) filed by Defendants Billy Helms, Terry Allums, Brendt Murphy, Dorothy Baker, Rena' Cosby, Harold Robinson Jr., and the City of Abbeville, Alabama on July 15, 2019.

         The Plaintiff, Noel Vanlandingham, originally filed a complaint in the Circuit Court of Henry County, Alabama. The case was removed to federal court on the basis of federal question subject-matter jurisdiction. The complaint brings claims for breach of employment rights (count one), violation of the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution (count two), and wanton termination (count three).

         In response to the motion to dismiss, Vanlandingham concedes that his claim against Mayor Billy Helms (“Helms”) in his official capacity; his federal claims against City Council Defendants Terry Allums, Brendt Murphy, Dorothy Baker, Rena' Cosby, Harold Robinson Jr.; his punitive damages request; his Fifth Amendment claim; his wantonness claim; and his state law retaliation claim are due to be dismissed. (Doc. 14 at 1 n.1). Upon consideration of the motion to dismiss as to the remaining claims, for reasons to be discussed, the motion to dismiss is due to be GRANTED, but the claims will be dismissed without prejudice with an opportunity to be re-pleaded.

         I. FACTS

         The facts as alleged in the complaint are as follows:

         At the times material to the complaint, Vanlandingham was the Chief of the City of Abbeville municipal police department. On May 13, 2019, Vanlandingham was called to Helms' office. He was asked about a complaint which had been presented to the City Council. Vanlandingham was told that the complaint had been presented during executive session and so the nature of it could not be disclosed. Vanlandingham alleges, therefore, that he was unable to respond to the complaint.

         On May 15, 2019, Helms advised Vanlandingham in a letter that a complaint against him regarding an audio recording was being placed on the agenda of the City Council. On May 20, 2019, Helms and Defendant City Commissioners Terry Allums, Brendt Murphy, Dorothy Baker, Rena' Cosby, and Harold Robinson met in executive session and discussed the complaint about Vanlandingham outside of his presence and the presence of Vanlandingham's legal counsel. The City Council approved a punishment of suspension without pay for ten work days. Vanlandingham's counsel wrote a letter objecting to the manner in which the matter was handled, and Helms scheduled a disciplinary meeting. At the hearing, Helms announced that the hearing was to address Vanlandingham's conduct unbecoming an employee and using a city vehicle while on leave of absence.

         Counsel for Vanlandingham objected that the first matter was different from the allegation presented to the City Council and that the second matter was interjected without proper notice in accordance with City policy.

         By letter dated May 23, 2019, Helms advised Vanlandingham that he was suspending him for ten days and that Vanlandingham had five days to appeal to the City Council. An appeal hearing was held on June 3, 2019. In response to Vanlandingham's request that the initial complainant be identified, Brendt Murphy said that the Council was the accuser.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         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 663 (alteration in original) (citation omitted). 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.” Id. 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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