Washington, et al v. Utility Trailer Manufacturing Company
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER directing that Utility Trailer's motion to dismiss the state-law claims in Plaintiffs' second amended complaint (Doc. # 29 ) is DENIED, as further set out. Signed by Chief Judge William Keith Watkins on 12/15/14. (scn, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
HENNIS WASHINGTON, et al.,
) CASE NO. 1:13-CV-610-WKW
(WO–Do Not Publish)
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Before the court is Defendant Utility Trailer Manufacturing Company’s
motion to dismiss the state-law claims in Plaintiffs’ second amended complaint.
(Doc. # 29.) The parties have fully briefed the motion. (Docs. # 29, 33 & 35.)
After careful consideration of the arguments of counsel, the appropriate law, and
the allegations set forth in the operative complaint, the court finds that the motion
is due to be denied.
I. JURISDICTION AND VENUE
The court has subject-matter jurisdiction over this action pursuant to 28
U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1343(a), and 1367.
Personal jurisdiction and venue are
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). When
evaluating a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the court must take “the
factual allegations in the complaint as true and construe them in the light most
favorable to the plaintiff.” Pielage v. McConnell, 516 F.3d 1282, 1284 (11th Cir.
2008). However, “the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations
contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal,
556 U.S. 662, 663 (2009).
“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.”’
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (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). “[F]acial plausibility” exists “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. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). The standard
also “calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will
reveal evidence” of the claim. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556. While the complaint
need not set out “detailed factual allegations,” it must provide sufficient factual
amplification “to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Id. at 555.
Because the court must accept the allegations of the complaint as true at this
stage of the litigation, the following facts may not be the “actual facts.” Williams
v. Mohawk Indus., Inc., 465 F.3d 1277, 1281 n.1 (11th Cir. 2006).
Plaintiffs,1 twelve black employees of Utility Trailer, allege that they are the
subject of prolonged and ongoing racial harassment at the hands of their coworkers and supervisors. Each Plaintiff has worked at Utility Trailer for at least
one year, while nine Plaintiffs have been Utility Trailer employees for more than
Plaintiffs hold jobs in a variety of Utility Trailer departments,
including, but not limited to, welding, flooring, maintenance, and assembly.
Throughout the course of their employment, Plaintiffs have each endured
repeated instances of racial discrimination and harassment. While each Plaintiff
provides individualized facts to support his claim that he experienced a racially
hostile work environment while on the job at Utility Trailer, there are many
instances of overlap. For example, each Plaintiff has heard or is aware of an
Plaintiff-employees are Hennis Washington, Frederick Green, Todd Hooks, Keleen
Farrier, Lawrence Silar, Daryl Lindsey, Robert Edwards, Johnny Baldwin, Bobby Terry,
Timothy Caldwell, Nick Whitfield, and Jimmy Curry.
instance when a co-worker or supervisor called a fellow black employee a “n-----.”
(Doc. # 26.) Similarly, and no less troubling, each Plaintiff has heard or is aware of
instances in which a fellow black employee was called another racially derogatory
name, such as “black a--,” “monkey,” “boy,” “dirty a-- n-----,” or “black a-mother-----.” (Doc. # 26.) Additionally, each Plaintiff has seen racially charged
graffiti inscribed on the walls, beams, or bathroom stalls of Utility Trailer. The
most disconcerting occurrences of graffiti include the letters “KKK,” drawings of a
noose, the word
“n-----,” and references to the “Brotherhood.” (Doc. # 26.)
In addition to Plaintiffs’ exposure to the aforementioned instances of verbal
and pictorial degradation, each Plaintiff notes instances of discriminatory and
disparate treatment. Throughout the complaint, Plaintiffs routinely note being (1)
overlooked for promotions; (2) unfairly and disproportionately disciplined; and (3)
closely monitored and their work disproportionately scrutinized.
reported the disparate treatment and occurrences of racial harassment to various
supervisors and members of Utility Trailer’s management at different points in
their employment, but contend that the racial hostility in the workplace continues
unabated without Utility Trailer taking prompt and effective remedial action.
As a result, in August 2013, Plaintiffs filed a five-count complaint2 against
Utility Trailer. (Doc. # 1.) Utility Trailer moved to dismiss the complaint in its
entirety or, alternatively, for a more definite statement. (Doc. # 12.) Because the
court agreed that Plaintiffs’ complaint was poorly pleaded, it granted Utility
Trailer’s motion for a more definite statement without ordering briefing on the
motion to dismiss. (Doc. # 14.) On October 18, 2013, Plaintiffs filed their first
amended complaint (Doc. # 16), and Utility Trailer again moved to dismiss the
complaint in its entirety pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) (Doc. # 18).3 Oral argument
was held on the motion to dismiss on April 19, 2014. On June 23, 2014, the court
issued a memorandum opinion and order (Doc. # 25), in which it denied Utility
Trailer’s motion to dismiss with leave to refile.
In denying the motion to dismiss, however, the court noted that Utility
Trailer’s arguments were not without merit and noted that Plaintiffs’ first amended
complaint “still suffer[ed] from the same lack of specificity as the original
complaint and continue[d] to treat all twelve plaintiffs identically.” (Doc. # 25, at
7.) Specifically, Plaintiffs failed to allege sufficient facts specific to each Plaintiff,
Plaintiffs brought a claim for racial harassment pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (Count I)
as well as state-law claims for outrage (Count II) and negligent/wanton supervision, training, and
retention (Counts III–V).
Utility Trailer moved to dismiss Count I on the ground that Plaintiffs failed to plead
racial harassment with the specificity required by Twombly and Iqbal. Utility Trailer argued that
Count II was due to be dismissed because Plaintiffs’ allegations of outrage did not rise to the
level of extreme and outrageous conduct required by Alabama law. Finally, Utility Trailer
moved to dismiss the negligent supervision, training, and retention claims because they were
dependent on the existence of the underlying state-law outrage claim. (Doc. # 25, at 5–6.)
and, instead, it appeared that each Plaintiffs’ individualized fact sections merely
contained the same copied and pasted allegations. (Doc. # 25, at 3.) Additionally,
Plaintiffs’ first amended complaint failed to state “(1) who made the [racially
derogatory] statements; (2) whether the statements were made by co-workers or
supervisors; (3) whether the statements were directed at Plaintiffs or were made in
Plaintiffs’ presence; (4) which statements were witnessed by which Plaintiffs and
which statements were statements Plaintiffs were aware of but did not witness; (5)
approximately when the statements were made; or (6) the approximate frequency
with which the statements were made.” (Doc. # 25, at 4.)
Despite these deficiencies, rather than dismiss it the court gave Plaintiffs a
“final opportunity” to replead their racial harassment claim. (Doc. # 25, at 10.)
Additionally, the court denied Utility Trailer’s motion to dismiss Counts II–V,
believing that “it would be premature to rule on whether [Plaintiffs could] state a
claim for outrage [and negligent/wanton training, supervision, and retention] since
the racial harassment provides the factual basis” for the remaining claims. (Doc. #
25, at 12.) On July 28, 2014, Plaintiffs filed their second amended complaint, and
on August 4, 2014, Utility Trailer moved to dismiss Plaintiffs’ state-law claims
(Counts II–V) and answered Plaintiffs’ racial harassment claim (Count I). (Docs. #
29 & 30.)
Plaintiffs’ Outrage Claims
Utility Trailer argues that the tort of outrage does not encompass the conduct
alleged in Plaintiffs’ second amended complaint.
As a result, Utility Trailer
contends that Plaintiffs’ Count II should be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6).
Taking the allegations in the operative complaint as true and in the light most
favorable to Plaintiffs, however, the court disagrees.
To state a claim for the tort of outrage under Alabama law, “a plaintiff must
demonstrate that the defendant’s conduct (1) was intentional or reckless; (2) was
extreme and outrageous; and (3) caused emotional distress so severe that no
reasonable person could be expected to endure it.” Little v. Robinson, 72 So. 3d
1168, 1172 (Ala. 2011) (internal quotation marks omitted).
To be sure, in
Alabama, the tort of “outrage is a very limited cause of action that is available only
in the most egregious circumstances.” Thomas v. BSE Indus. Contractors, Inc.,
624 So. 2d 1041, 1044 (Ala. 1993) (citing nineteen cases in which the Alabama
Supreme Court “has held in a large majority of the outrage cases reviewed that no
jury question was presented”). And only a handful of factual scenarios have been
held to fall within this tort’s purview. See Little, 72 So. 3d at 1172 (discussing the
three limited types of conduct held actionable under the tort of outrage, as set out
in Potts v. Hayes, 771 So. 2d 462, 465 (Ala. 2000)). Notwithstanding the tort’s
narrow application, the Alabama Supreme Court recently observed that the
previously documented limitations “is not to say . . . that the tort of outrage is
viable in only the three circumstances noted in Potts[,]” 771 So. 2d at 462. Id. at
1172–73 (observing that it recently had affirmed a judgment on a tort-of-outrage
claim in a fourth situation).
Plaintiffs no doubt face a high hurdle on their outrage claims, as the tort of
outrage “does not recognize recovery for ‘mere insults, indignities, threats,
annoyances petty oppressions, or other trivialities.’” Am. Road Serv. Co. v. Inmom,
394 So. 2d 361, 364–65 (Ala. 1980). But Plaintiffs have each alleged facts, taken
as true at this juncture, that portray a workplace replete with racial discrimination,
harassment, and hostility. And while the Alabama Supreme Court has yet to have
a case where racial discrimination, harassment, and retaliation provided a sufficient
basis for a claim of outrage, it made clear in Little, that such a finding would not be
off the table as long as the conduct in question was “so outrageous in character and
so extreme in degree as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency, and to be
regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in civilized society.” 72 So. 3d at
1173 (quoting Horne v. TGM, Assoc., L.P., 56 So. 3d 615, 631 (Ala. 2010)).
Accordingly, while it is a close call, applying Twombly’s plausibility
standard, see 550 U.S. at 570, the court is reluctant to dismiss the claims at the
pleading stage when Plaintiffs’ second amended complaint alleges facts that
portray Utility Trailer as a workplace where racial harassment, degradation, and
discrimination were extensive both in frequency and severity.
Plaintiffs’ Negligent/Wanton Supervision, Training, and Retention
Utility Trailer next argues that Plaintiffs’ claims of negligent/wanton
training, supervision, and retention should be dismissed because they are premised
on Plaintiffs’ “doomed” state-law claim of outrage. (Doc. # 29, at 18.) To state a
claim for negligent or wanton supervision, training, or retention, “it is clear that the
[defendant’s] wrongdoing must be based on state, and not federal, law.” Guy v.
Ala. Power Co., No. 2:13cv8-MHT, 2013 WL 3929858, at *2 (M.D. Ala. July 29,
2013). Because Plaintiffs have stated a viable state-law claim of outrage, surviving
Utility Trailer’s motion to dismiss, a proper state-law foundation for Plaintiffs’
claims of negligent/wanton training, supervision, and retention remains.
Based upon the foregoing, it is ORDERED that Utility Trailer’s motion to
dismiss the state-law claims in Plaintiffs’ second amended complaint (Doc. # 29) is
DONE this 15th day of December, 2014.
/s/ W. Keith Watkins
CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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