Beckley v. McDonald's, Inc.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER: Dft's 40 Motion to Dismiss McDonald's USA, LLC from this action is GRANTED, and the claim against McDonald's USA, LLC is DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE to being repled; Plf is given until 2/21/2017 to file a new Amended Complaint complete unto itself as required by Local Rule 15.1 and in accordance with Rule 11 FRPC, as further set out in order. Signed by Honorable Judge W. Harold Albritton, III on 2/7/2017. (Attachments: # 1 Civil Appeals Checklist) (wcl, ) Modified on 2/7/2017 to reflect that Dft McDonald's should is not to be terminated until after 2/21/2017 pursuant to chambers directive (wcl, ).
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
MCDONALD’S USA, LLC; EMERALD
MANAGEMENT CORPORATION d/b/a
MCDONALD’S, a corporation; Fictitious
Defendants A-Z, as more set forth herein
whose names are discovered;
Civil Action No.: 2:16-cv-00054-WHA
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
This cause is before the court on Defendant McDonald’s USA, LLC’s Motion to Dismiss
Plaintiff’s Second Amended Complaint, or Alternatively, Motion for a More Definite Statement.
(Doc. # 40). Plaintiff, Betty Beckley (“Beckley”), filed a Second Amended Complaint
(“Complaint”) in this case on October 14, 2016. 1 In her Complaint, Beckley alleges that
Defendants Emerald Management Corporation (“Emerald”) and McDonald’s USA, LLC refused
to hire her because of her race and age in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
(“Title VII”) and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), (Counts 1 and 2,
respectively). (Doc. # 30). Beckley also asserts three (3) state law claims, including “Negligent
Hiring Training & Supervision” (Count 3), the “Tort of Outrage” (Count 4), and “Fraud,
Plaintiff originally filed this action on January 26, 2016. (Doc. # 1). Since filing her original
Complaint, Plaintiff has filed an Amended Complaint, (Doc. # 4), adding an additional Defendant,
Emerald Management Corporation d/b/a McDonald’s a corporation and Fictitious Defendants
A-Z, whose identities will be identified as their full names are discovered, and a Second Amended
Complaint, (Doc. # 30), correctly identifying Defendant, McDonald’s USA, LLC.
Misrepresentation and Deceit” (Count 5). See id. For reasons to be discussed, McDonald’s USA,
LLC’s Motions to Dismiss and for More Definite Statement are due to be granted.
The court accepts the plaintiff’s factual allegations as true, Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467
U.S. 69, 73 (1984), and construes the complaint in the plaintiff’s favor, Duke v. Cleland, 5 F.3d
1399, 1402 (11th Cir. 1993). In analyzing the sufficiency of pleading, the court is guided by a
two-prong approach: one, the court is not bound to accept conclusory statements of the elements of
a cause of action and, two, where there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume
their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to entitlement to relief. See
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009). “[A] plaintiff’s obligation to provide the ‘grounds’
of his ‘entitle[ment] to relief’ requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation
of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555
(2007). To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint need not contain “detailed factual allegations,”
but instead the complaint must contain “only enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible
on its face.” Id. at 570. The factual allegations “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the
speculative level.” Id. at 555.
Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(e), a party may move for a more definite
statement when a pleading is “so vague or ambiguous that the party cannot reasonably prepare a
The allegations of the Beckley’s Complaint are as follows:
Beckley is a seventy (70) year-old Caucasian female who sought employment from a
McDonald’s2 in Montgomery, Alabama. Before applying, Beckley allegedly spoke with Nicole
Daniel, the owner of the McDonald’s store, about the prospect of working there. Ms. Daniel
allegedly told Beckley that she would be happy to help her get a job.
On March 19, 2015, Beckley visited the McDonald’s store and met with the manager,
Clarissa, an African American woman.3 Clarissa told Beckley that they were hiring and stated that
she “need[ed] a pleasant and friendly face on the front.” (Doc. # 30, p. 3, ¶ 8). She told Beckley to
“[c]ome back around 4:30 p.m. tomorrow and you can complete an application.” Id.
Beckley returned the following afternoon, as instructed, and completed an application for
employment. Clarissa informed Beckley that she would call her sometime during the next week to
set up a time for new employee orientation.
Nine days later, after having not received a phone call from Clarissa, Beckley returned to
the McDonald’s store and asked to speak to Clarissa. Clarissa allegedly told Beckley, “I do not
believe that you could move fast enough nor work the front order computer.” (Doc. # 30, p. 4–5, ¶
11). Beckley claims that Clarissa was suggesting that Beckley “was simply too old for the
position.” Id. However, after Beckley asked Clarissa for a chance to prove herself, Clarissa
apparently had a change of heart and, again, offered Beckley the job. Clarissa told Beckley to come
back in two weeks to begin new employee orientation.
On April 26, 2015, Beckley returned to the McDonald’s store for new employee
Plaintiff’s Complaint refers to Defendants, Emerald and McDonald’s USA, LLC, collectively, as
“McDonald’s.” (Doc. # 30, p. 2, ¶ 5). Where this opinion references “McDonald’s”—and not
“McDonald’s USA, LLC”—the court is doing so out of deference to the Plaintiff’s factual
allegations. Later, however, the court will differentiate between Defendants Emerald and
McDonald’s USA, LLC for purposes of discussing employer liability.
Plaintiff does not provide Clarissa’s full name, so the court will only refer to the McDonald’s
store manager as Clarissa.
orientation and asked to speak with Clarissa. One of the employees told her that “Clarissa is not in
at the moment. [Beckley] then asked to speak to the assistant manager.” (Doc. # 30, p. 4, ¶ 13).
Beckley told the assistant manager that she was there to begin new employee orientation and asked
the assistant manager if she thought she could “handle” the job. Id. The assistant manager replied,
“Of course you can.”
Beckley then asked the assistant manager to contact Clarissa to confirm her orientation.
However, after speaking with Clarissa, the assistant manager told Beckley that she would not be
Subsequently, Beckley filed this Complaint, alleging race discrimination in violation of
Title VII and age discrimination in violation of the ADEA. In support of her claims, Beckley
alleges that while she was still seeking employment, McDonald’s hired other individuals who
were much younger and African American. Beckley claims that she is more qualified than these
individuals. In conclusion, Beckley alleges that she was discriminated against because she was
intentionally not hired “because of her age and race.” (Doc. # 30, p. 4–5, ¶ 15).
On January 17, 2017, Defendant McDonald’s USA, LLC filed a Motion to Dismiss
Beckley’s Complaint, or alternatively, for a More Definite Statement. (Doc. # 40).
In its Motion, Defendant McDonald’s USA, LLC presents two arguments for dismissal.
First, McDonald’s USA, LLC argues that dismissal is warranted because Beckley’s pleadings fail
to tie specific factual allegations to the enumerated causes of action or to the individual defendants.
Second, McDonald’s USA, LLC argues that Beckley failed to state a plausible claim for relief
under Title VII or the ADEA because it is not Beckley’s employer. The court is persuaded by these
arguments, and they will be discussed further below.
1. Shotgun Pleading
First, McDonald’s USA, LLC argues that Beckley’s Complaint is deficient because it fails
to ascribe actionable conduct to particular causes of action and to individual defendants.
McDonald’s USA, LLC contends that Beckley’s Complaint is representative of “shotgun
pleading” because it “imposes an onerous duty on this Court and McDonald’s to sift through
Plaintiff’s pleading to match claims to facts.” (Doc. # 40, p. 8). Accordingly, McDonald’s USA,
LLC requests this court to dismiss Beckley’s Complaint or, alternatively, to order the pleading of a
more definite statement. The court agrees and finds a more definite statement is warranted.
Beckley’s Complaint fails to satisfy the pleading standards of Rule 8(a) of the Federal
Rules of Civil Procedure because it lacks the details necessary to discern the factual support for
Beckley’s claims as to each of the Defendants. While the Plaintiff sets out the facts as to what
happened to her, she fails to allege in each count what facts state a plausible claim to relief against
each separate Defendant. The Complaint refers to the two separate Defendants together as
“McDonald’s” throughout. This is characteristic shotgun pleading. See Anderson v. District Bd. of
Trs. Of Cent. Fla. Cmty. Coll., 77 F.3d 364, 366 (11th Cir. 1996) (noting that in a shotgun
pleading, “it is virtually impossible to know which allegations of fact are intended to support
which claim(s) for relief”). It requires the defendant to “divine the nature of and the facts
supporting” each of Beckley’s claims. Eatman v. Jefferson Cty. Dep’t of Health, No.
2:14-CV-00472-KOB, 2014 WL 5293679, at *4 (N.D. Ala. Oct. 15, 2014). Accordingly,
McDonald’s USA, LLC’s motion for more definite statement is due to be granted.
2. Employer Liability
Second, McDonald’s USA, LLC argues that Beckley fails to state a claim upon which
relief can be granted because Beckley has not plausibly alleged that McDonald’s USA, LLC is her
“employer” as that term is defined in Title VII or the ADEA. (Doc. # 40, pp. 10–12). Beckley
responds that she is entitled to discovery on the issue of “Who” is her employer. (Doc. # 42, p. 9).
However, before handing Beckley the keys to the proverbial “doors of discovery,” the court has an
independent obligation to ensure that Beckley’s Complaint satisfies the requisite plausibility
standard with respect to employer liability. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678–79.
To state a plausible claim for relief under Title VII or the ADEA, a plaintiff must allege
that she was discriminated against by her “employer.” See Llampallas v. Mini-Circuits, Lab, Inc.,
163 F.3d 1236, 1244 (11th Cir. 1998). While the Complaint alleges the conclusion that the two
Defendants “(hereinafter ‘McDonald’s’) are considered an employer within the meaning of Title
VII,” it then alleges that the actions took place at the McDonald’s store in Montgomery owned by
Nicole Daniel with no allegations as to a theory of liability against McDonald’s USA, LLC, the
franchisor and an entirely separate entity from Emerald Management Corporation d/b/a
McDonald’s. Although Title VII and the ADEA define who qualifies as an employer with respect
to an entity’s direct employees, an entity may also qualify as an “employer” of another entity’s
employee, if the relationship between the entities results in the entity having “control over
fundamental aspects of the employment relationship” of the other entity’s employees. Lyes v. City
of Riviera Beach, 166 F.3d 1332, 1345 (11th Cir. 1999) (en banc).
In this case, McDonald’s USA, LLC argues that Beckley has not alleged sufficient facts to
support a claim that McDonald’s USA, LLC was her employer. See Lyes, 166 F.3d at 1345.
Specifically, McDonald’s USA, LLC contends that Beckley has alleged that Emerald was her
direct employer, but that Beckley has not alleged any facts supporting a claim that McDonald’s
USA, LLC, as Emerald’s franchisor, could also be considered to be Beckley’s employer. In other
words, Beckley has not alleged sufficient facts supporting a claim that McDonald’s USA, LLC is
an employer of Emerald’s employees.
McDonald’s USA, LLC cites to the Northern District of Georgia’s opinion in Nasrallah v.
Chick-fil-A to support its claim. See 2016 WL 2753941. 4 In Nasrallah, plaintiff asked his
supervisor for time off from work to raise money for Syrian refugees. His supervisor, Joe Dinardo,
at first, merely denied his leave requests, and then, ultimately, fired the plaintiff allegedly because
of the plaintiff’s Syrian national origin. The plaintiff sued Chick-fil-A under Title VII for
employment discrimination. Chick-fil-A moved to dismiss the plaintiff’s claim, arguing that as a
franchisor, Chick-fil-A was not involved in Dinardo’s decision to fire the plaintiff. The court
agreed, reasoning “[t]here are no allegations in the complaint that Defendant Chick-fil-A was
involved in supervising Plaintiff or delegating responsibilities to him,” or “allegations that
Chick-fil-A was involved in denying Plaintiff’s leave requests or in the decision to terminate his
employment.” Id. at *3. Nevertheless, the court went on to afford the plaintiff an opportunity to
re-file an amended complaint to name the proper entity as a defendant. See id. at *4.
McDonald’s USA, LLC notes that, like the Nasrallah complaint, Beckley’s “Complaint
does not contain a single factual allegation indicating that McDonald’s [USA, LLC] was either
involved in, had authority over, or even controlled her purported employment with Emerald.”
(Doc. # 40, p. 11). Accordingly, McDonald’s USA, LLC concludes that it “cannot be held liable
for claims arising out of Plaintiff’s employment with Defendant Emerald, a McDonald’s [USA,
LLC] franchisee.” (Doc. # 40, p. 3). See also Chen v. Domino’s Pizza, Inc., No. 09-107 (JAP),
2009 WL 3379946 (D. N.J. Oct. 19, 2009); Abdelkhaleq v. Precision Door of Akron, No.
5:07CV03585, 2008 WL 3980339, at *1 (N.D. Ohio Aug. 21, 2008).
The cited opinion is a non-final recommendation of a magistrate judge. It was adopted by the
district judge at 2016 WL 2757397.
In Chen and Abdelkhaleq, plaintiffs brought claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act
(“FLSA”) against their employers and their employers’ franchisors. In both cases, the court
dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims, because in Chen, the court stated, “Plaintiffs’ complaint does not
contain a single factual allegation indicating that [the franchisor] had any authority or control over
their employment conditions.” 2009 WL 3379946, at *4. Likewise, the Abdelkhaleq court
dismissed the plaintiff’s complaint because the plaintiff did “not allege, in the slightest, that [his
employer] and [the franchisor] jointly conduct business operations, share officers or management,
or that [the franchisor] exercises any control, in any way, over the employees of [his employer].”
2008 WL 3980339, at *5. While these are FLSA cases in which the definition of “employer” is
different from Title VII, the reasoning is analogous.
In response, Beckley argues that the question of whether McDonald’s USA, LLC actively
participated in the alleged conduct giving rise to this action is not ripe for adjudication. Beckley
claims to be “entitled to conduct discovery . . . on the issue of the relationship between the two
Defendants.”5 At best, though not in so many words, Beckley is arguing that she has set forth a
plausible claim that McDonald’s USA, LLC is her “employer” under Title VII and the ADEA,
and, therefore, that she is entitled to relief. The court disagrees.
Beckley’s Complaint falls short of stating a plausible claim for relief against McDonald’s
USA, LLC, as Plaintiff’s employer under Title VII or the ADEA. Paragraph 5 of Beckley’s
Complaint is the only paragraph that refers to McDonald’s USA, LLC as an employer. It states:
Defendant McDonald’s USA, LLC and Defendant Emerald
Management Corporation d/b/a McDonald’s (hereinafter
collectively “McDonald’s”) are considered an employer within the
meaning of Title VII of the Act of Congress known as the “Civil
Rights Act of 1964”, as amended, the “Civil Rights Act of 1991”, 42
Notably, however, Plaintiff does not cite any authority to support her argument.
U.S.C. §2000(e) et seq and 1983.
(Doc. # 30, p. 2, ¶ 5). This threadbare allegation is a legal conclusion. Without more, Beckley’s
Complaint fails to state a claim. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (“A pleading that offers labels and
conclusions or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” (internal
quotations and citations omitted)).
Beckley has not supported her contention that McDonald’s USA, LLC is her employer
with any factual enhancement to nudge her claims across the line from possible to plausible. See
id. As McDonald’s USA, LLC rightly points out, “Plaintiff’s single conclusory sentence
referencing McDonald’s makes no allegations that McDonald’s was Plaintiff’s employer,
controlled the terms or conditions of Plaintiff’s employment with Emerald or that the individuals
who purportedly discriminated against Plaintiff (e.g., ‘Nicole Daniel,’ ‘Clarissa’ or the ‘assistant
manager’) were employees of McDonald’s, rather than Emerald.” (Doc. # 40, p. 3). For that
matter, Beckley has not alleged any facts showing that McDonald’s USA, LLC exercised “control
over fundamental aspects of the employment relationship” over Emerald’s employee. See Lyes v.
City of Riviera Beach, 166 F.3d 1332, 1345 (11th Cir. 1999) (en banc); See generally Merrick v.
Radisson Hotels Intern., Inc., No. 8:06-cv-01591-T-24TGW, 2007 WL 1576361 (M.D. Fla. May
30, 2007); Cortes v. McDonald’s Corp., 955 F. Supp. 531 (E.D.N.C. 1996). Accordingly,
Beckley’s conclusory allegation does not set forth a plausible claim for relief under Title VII or the
ADEA against McDonald’s USA, LLC.
Because Beckley has not plausibly alleged facts to support that McDonald’s USA, LLC, as
a franchisor of Emerald, was an “employer” of Beckley under Title VII or the ADEA, Defendant’s
Motion to Dismiss (Doc. # 40) McDonald’s USA, LLC from the underlying action is due to be
granted, and McDonald’s USA, LLC is due to be dismissed without prejudice, with an opportunity
For the reasons stated herein, Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss McDonald’s USA, LLC
from this action is GRANTED, and the claim against McDonald’s USA, LLC is DISMISSED
WITHOUT PREJUDICE to being repled. Plaintiff is given until February 21, 2017 to file a new
Amended Complaint complete unto itself as required by Local Rule 15.1 and in accordance with
Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The Third Amended Complaint must contain
separate counts as to each Defendant with allegations of “enough facts to state a claim that is
plausible on its face” as to that claim against that Defendant.
Done this 7th day of February, 2017.
/s/ W. Harold Albritton
W. HAROLD ALBRITTON
SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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