Finley et al v. The Town of Camp Hill, Alabama (CONSENT)
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER directing as follows: (1) that the defs 12 motion to dismiss the plfs claim for punitive damages contained in Count II of the amended complaint be and is hereby GRANTED ; In all other respects, the defendants motion to dismiss Count II of the amended complaint be and is hereby DENIED ; (2) That the defs 12 motion to dismiss the pls Fifth Amendment claim contained in Count III of the amended complaint be and is hereby GRANTED; In all other respects, the 12 motion to dismiss Count III of the amended complaint be and is herebyDENIED. Signed by Honorable Judge Charles S. Coody on 4/30/15. (djy, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
ROOSEVELT FINLEY, NATHAN
WHITE, MORRIS GREATHOUSE,
and DAVID GALLEW,
THE TOWN OF CAMP HILL,
ALABAMA, a municipal corporation,
CIVIL ACT. NO. 3:15cv195-CSC
MEMORANDUM OPINION and ORDER
In this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action, the plaintiffs, Roosevelt Finley (“Finley”), Nathan
White (“White”), Morris Greathouse (“Greathouse”), and David Gallew (“Gallew”),
complain that defendant Town of Camp Hill (“Camp Hill”), wrongfully terminated them in
violation of state law and their rights to due process pursuant to the Fourteenth Amendment
to the United States Constitution. The court has jurisdiction of the plaintiffs’ federal claims
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and supplemental jurisdiction over their state law claims
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1) and M.D. Ala. LR 73.1, the
parties have consented to a United States Magistrate Judge conducting all proceedings in this
case and ordering the entry of final judgment.
On April 3, 2015, the defendant filed a partial motion to dismiss pursuant to
FED.R.CIV.P. 12(b)(6) asserting that counts II and III of the amended complaint should be
dismissed because these counts fail to state claims upon which relief may be granted. (Doc.
# 12 & 13). Specifically, Camp Hill argues that the plaintiffs’ state law wrongful termination
claims are due to be dismissed because there is no state law tort of wrongful termination
under Alabama law, and ALA CODE § 11-43-230 does not provide a private right of action
for damages. Camp Hill further argues that the plaintiffs’ federal procedural due process
claims are due to be dismissed because the plaintiffs had an adequate post-deprivation
On April 20, 2015, the plaintiffs filed a response to the defendant’s motion to dismiss.
See Doc. # 18. The defendant has filed a reply to the plaintiffs’ response. See Doc. # 21.
After careful review of the defendant’s motion to dismiss, the plaintiffs’ response to the
motion and the defendant’s reply, the court concludes that the motion to dismiss is due to be
GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.
II. THE STANDARD OF REVIEW
In ruling on a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be
granted, the court must accept well-pled facts as true, but the court is not required to accept
the plaintiffs’ legal conclusions. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 664 (2009) (“[T]he tenet
that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable
to legal conclusions”). In evaluating the sufficiency of the plaintiffs’ pleadings, the court
The plaintiffs also asserted a Fifth Amendment claim in the amended complaint, and a claim
for punitive damages. In their response to the motion to dismiss, they concede that their Fifth
Amendment claim and their claim for punitive damages are due to be dismissed. (Doc. # 18 at 11 & 13).
must indulge reasonable inferences in the plaintiffs’ favor, “but we are not required to draw
plaintiff’s inference.” Aldana v. Del Monte Fresh Produce, N.A., Inc., 416 F.3d 1242, 1248
(11th Cir. 2005). Similarly, “unwarranted deductions of fact” in a complaint are not admitted
as true for the purpose of testing the sufficiency of the plaintiffs’ allegations. Id.. See also
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 681 (stating conclusory allegations are “not entitled to be assumed true”).
A complaint may be dismissed if the facts as pled do not state a claim for relief that
is plausible on its face. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (explaining “only a complaint that states
a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss”); Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550
U.S. 544, 561-62, 570 (2007) (retiring the prior “unless it appears beyond doubt that the
plaintiff can prove no set of facts” standard). In Twombly, the Supreme Court emphasized
that a complaint “requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the
elements of a cause of action will not do.” 550 U.S. at 555. Factual allegations in a
complaint need not be detailed but “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the
speculative level on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if
doubtful in fact).” Id. (internal citations and emphasis omitted).
More recently, in Iqbal, the Supreme Court reiterated that although FED.R.CIV.P. 8
does not require detailed factual allegations, it does demand “more than an unadorned,
the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” 556 U.S. at 678. A complaint must state
a plausible claim for relief, and “[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. The mere possibility the defendant acted unlawfully
is insufficient to survive a motion to dismiss. Id. at 679. The well-pled allegations must
nudge the claim “across the line from conceivable to plausible.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570.
A. State Law Wrongful Termination Claims
Camp Hill argues that the plaintiffs’ claims for wrongful termination are due to be
dismissed because there is no state law tort of wrongful termination.2 The defendant argues
that “Alabama’s courts have consistently refused to recognize any variation of a wrongful
termination tort, whether rooted in the Alabama Constitution, common law, or public policy
concerns.” (Doc. # 13 at 6). However, Camp Hill ignores the fact that the plaintiffs are law
enforcement officers which distinguishes this case from the run-of-the-mill employment case.
Alabama law specifically grants the plaintiffs the right to a pre-termination hearing. ALA
CODE § 11-43-230(a).3 ALA CODE § 11-43-230(c) also requires that the hearing “be
conducted by an impartial officer or body.” The plaintiffs allege in their amended complaint
that they were terminated without affording them a pre-termination hearing, and that the post2
In Morrow v. Town of Littleville, 576 So. 2d 210, 211 n.2 (Ala. 1991), the court noted that “[a]
tort claim for wrongful termination of an employment contract has not been recognized in Alabama.”
576 So. 2d at 211, n. 2. However, the court held that the plaintiff’s complaint was “sufficient to state a
claim for breach of an employment contract.” Id. at 213.
ALA CODE § 11-43-230(a) provides in pertinent part as follows.
Every municipality shall provide a predisciplinary hearing prior to the suspension or
termination of its law enforcement officers, provided nothing herein shall preclude a
municipality from placing a law enforcement officer on leave with pay until the person
or body holding the hearing has made its decision in the matter.
termination hearing was before a biased deliberative body. (Amended Compl. at 2, ¶ 4).
In Hardric v. City of Stevenson, 843 So. 2d 206, 210 (Ala. Civ. App. 2002), the court
concluded that the plaintiff police officer’s wrongful termination claim against the City
survived the City’s motion to dismiss.
As to Hardic’s claim of wrongful termination, we view this court’s decision
in City of Gadsden v. Harbin, 398 So. 2d 707 (Ala. Civ. App. 1981), as
controlling. That decision held that a municipal employee may bring a
wrongful-termination action. This court determined that “[t]he dismissal of a
public employee who is entitled to a pretermination hearing, without such a
hearing, is a wrongful act constituting a tort under Alabama law.” Harbin, 398
So. 2d at 708. We conclude, therefore, that Hardric stated a valid claim of
wrongful termination in his original complaint.
Id. (alteration in original).
Camp Hill also argues that the plaintiffs’ damages claims are due to be dismissed
because ALA CODE § 11-43-230(a) does not provide “a private right of action for money
damages.” (Doc. # 13 at 7). The plaintiffs concede that they are not entitled to punitive
damages, but they seek equitable relief in the form of reinstatement and back pay which is
permissible under Alabama law. See City of Gadsden v. Harbin, 398 So. 2d 707, 708 (Ala.
Civ. App. 1981) (“The dismissal of a public employee who is entitled to a pre-termination
hearing, without such a hearing, is a wrongful act constituting a tort under Alabama law and
the dismissed employee’s claim for reinstatement and back pay are tort claims subject to the
one year statute of limitations set forth in [ALA. CODE] § 6-2-39.”) If the plaintiffs are
successful on their wrongful termination claims, equitable relief in the form of reinstatement
and back pay until they receive adequate due process would be available to them. See Fowler
v. Johnson, 961 So. 2d 122, 134 (Ala. 2006) (“it could be argued that Fowler was entitled to
back pay from the period between . . . the day after his employment was terminated . . . and
. . . the date of the trial de novo in the circuit court.”)
Because the plaintiffs allege that they were terminated without a pre-deprivation
hearing, the court concludes that they have stated “a plausible claim for relief,” and their state
law claims of wrongful termination should not be dismissed. The defendant’s motion to
dismiss count II of the amended complaint is due to be denied.4
B. Due Process Claims
Camp Hill also asserts that the plaintiffs’ Fourteenth Amendment due process claims
are due to be dismissed because the plaintiffs have failed to state a claim upon which relief
can be granted. Specifically, Camp Hill argues that because the plaintiffs have an adequate
post-deprivation remedy, they cannot pursue due process claims in federal court.5
In their first amended complaint, the plaintiffs assert that they were terminated without
a pre-deprivation hearing; Camp Hill conducted a post-deprivation hearing without giving
them any notice of the charges against them; and the post-deprivation hearing was deficit and
biased because the Mayor participated in the proceeding both as the complainant and as a
Although Camp Hill argues that plaintiffs Greathouse and Gallew are not covered under ALA
CODE § 11-43-230(a) because they are part-time officers, it is disputed whether ALA CODE § 11-43230(a) applies to them. Thus, this question is not properly resolved on a motion to dismiss.
To the extent that the defendant argues that the plaintiffs cannot proceed in federal court
because Alabama provides an adequate remedy through its state courts, this argument is disingenuous in
light of the fact that the plaintiffs attempted to avail themselves of the state court remedy only to have the
defendant remove the case to federal court.
deliberative member of the hearing body.
Camp Hill contends that the Eleventh Circuit’s decision in McKinney v. Pate, 20 F.3d
1550, 1553 (11th Cir. 1994) (en banc) mandates dismissal of the plaintiffs’ due process
claims. Camp Hill’s reliance on McKinney is misplaced. In McKinney, the Court decided
the issue of
whether, under the Fourteenth Amendment, a government employee
possessing a state-created property interest in his employment states a
substantive due process claim, rather than a procedural due process claim,
when he alleges that he was deprived of that employment interest by an
arbitrary and capricious non-legislative government action.
Id. at 1553 (emphasis added).
In this case, the plaintiffs are not raising substantive due process claims but assert
only procedural due process claims which may proceed under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.6 Id. at
1555. Consequently, McKinney does not bar the plaintiffs from seeking review of their
claims of their procedural due process claims. The plaintiffs assert that they were deprived
procedural due process because, as law enforcement officers, they were entitled to predeprivations hearings pursuant to ALA CODE § 11-43-230(a).
It is axiomatic that, in general, the Constitution requires that the state provide
fair procedures and an impartial decisionmaker before infringing on a person’s
interest in life, liberty, or property. More specifically, the Supreme Court has
explained that a “tenured employee is entitled to oral or written notice of the
charges against him, an explanation of the employer’s evidence, and an
opportunity to present his side of the story” before a state or state agency may
The court also notes that McKinney was decided on a motion for summary judgment, and the
case at bar is before the court on a motion to dismiss.
terminate an employee. Loudermill, 470 U.S. at 546, 105, S.Ct. at 1495. In
other words, the employee is entitled to “some kind” of pre-termination
hearing. Id. at 542, 105 S.Ct. at 1493.
McKinney, 20 F.3d at 1561. See also Cotton v. Jackson, 216 F.3d 1328, 1331 (11th Cir.
2000) (“It is the state’s failure to provide adequate procedures to remedy the otherwise
procedurally flawed deprivation of a protected interest that gives rise to a federal procedural
due process claim.”).
Because the plaintiffs allege that they were terminated without a pre-deprivation
hearing, the court concludes that they have stated “a plausible claim for relief,” and their due
process claims should not be dismissed. Accordingly, the defendant’s motion to dismiss
Count III is due to be denied.
C. Policy and Practices Claim against Camp Hill
The plaintiffs sue the Town of Camp Hill, for the actions of the Mayor and City
Council, in depriving them of due process “by policy, custom and practice established by the
Defendant which violated constitutional and statutory law.” (Doc. # 1, Ex. 6 at 4).
Specifically, the plaintiffs assert that the Mayor acted as the complainant to terminate the
plaintiffs and then participated in the post-termination hearing deliberations.
While municipalities cannot be held vicariously liable under § 1983, “municipal
liability may be imposed for a single decision by municipal policymakers under appropriate
circumstances.” Pembaur v. City of Cincinnati, 475 U.S. 469, 480 (1986). In Pembaur, the
Court specifically referenced the decision of the City Council to fire the plaintiff without a
pre-termination hearing in Owen v. City of Independence, Mo., 445 U.S. 622 (1980) as an
example of a single decision creating municipal liability. Pembaur, 475 U.S. at 480. If the
plaintiffs are able to establish municipal liability, they would be entitled to recover damages
on this claim. Accordingly, the court concludes that, at this juncture, the plaintiffs have
stated “a plausible claim for relief,” and the defendant’s motion to dismiss this claim and the
claim for damages is due to be denied.
Accordingly, it is ORDERED and ADJUDGED as follows:
That the defendant’s motion to dismiss the plaintiffs’ claim for punitive
damages contained in Count II of the amended complaint be and is hereby GRANTED (doc.
# 12). In all other respects, the defendant’s motion to dismiss Count II of the amended
complaint be and is hereby DENIED.
That the defendant’s motion to dismiss the plaintiffs’ Fifth Amendment claim
contained in Count III of the amended complaint be and is hereby GRANTED. In all other
respects, the motion to dismiss Count III of the amended complaint be and is hereby
DENIED. (Doc. # 12).
Done this 30th day of April, 2015.
/s/Charles S. Coody
CHARLES S. COODY
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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