Crutch v. Lawrence County Board of Education et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER re 8 REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION. This case is HEREBY REFERRED back to the Magistrate Judge for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion. Signed by Judge Virginia Emerson Hopkins on 7/23/2012. (JLC)
2012 Jul-23 PM 03:36
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
) Case No.: 3:12-CV-827-PWG
LAWRENCE COUNTY BOARD OF )
EDUCATION; HEATH GRIMES;
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff Beryl Crutch (“Ms. Crutch”) initiated this job discrimination action
arising under federal law against Defendants Lawrence County Board of Education
(the “BOE”), Heath Grimes (“Mr. Grimes”), and Jean Howard (“Ms. Howard”) on
March 15, 2012. (Doc. 1). Pending before this court are the objections (Doc. 9) filed
by Defendants, on May 31, 2012, to the report and recommendation (the “R & R”)
(Doc. 8) entered on May 17, 2012, which recommends that Defendants’ Motion To
Dismiss (Doc. 4) (the “Motion”) filed on April 9, 2012, be granted in part and denied
in part.1 More specifically, the R & R proposes that the Motion should be denied
“against all Defendants for racially discriminatory discharge in violation of the Equal
Protection Clause” and granted as to all other claims. (Doc. 8 at 25).
On June 5, 2012, this case was reassigned to the undersigned to review the
suggested rulings in the R & R. (Doc. 44). Ms. Crutch filed a response (Doc. 12) to
Defendants’ objections on June 20, 2012. The matter is now under submission, and,
for the reasons explained below, the R & R is due to be accepted in part and rejected
A Rule 12(b)(6) motion attacks the legal sufficiency of the complaint. See Fed.
R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require only that the
complaint provide “‘a short and plain statement of the claim’ that will give the
defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff’s claim is and the grounds upon which it
rests.” Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957), abrogated by Bell Atlantic Corp.
v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 545 (2007); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a).
While a plaintiff must provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief, Rule 8
The parties have not consented to the jurisdiction of the magistrate judge. Therefore, in
accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b), the magistrate judge entered a report and recommendation.
does not mandate the inclusion of “detailed factual allegations” within a complaint.
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 545 (quoting Conley, 355 U.S. at 47). However, at the same
time, “it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me
accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). “[O]nce a claim has
been stated adequately, it may be supported by showing any set of facts consistent
with the allegations in the complaint.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 563.
“[A] court considering a motion to dismiss can choose to begin by identifying
pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the
assumption of truth.” Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1950. “While legal conclusions can
provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations.”
Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1950. “When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court
should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to
an entitlement to relief.” Id. (emphasis added). “Under Twombly’s construction of
Rule 8 . . . [a plaintiff’s] complaint [must] ‘nudge [any] claims’ . . . ‘across the line
from conceivable to plausible.’ Ibid.” Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1950-51.
A claim is plausible on its face “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that
allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the
misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949. “The plausibility standard is not akin
to a ‘probability requirement,’ but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a
defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).
Review of Reports and Recommendations
After conducting a “careful and complete” review of the findings and
recommendations, a district judge may accept, reject, or modify the magistrate judge’s
report and recommendation. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Williams v. Wainwright, 681
F.2d 732 (11th Cir. 1982) (quoting Nettles v. Wainwright, 677 F.2d 404, 408 (5th Cir.
1982)).2 The district judge may also receive further evidence or recommit the matter
to the magistrate judge with instructions. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C).
A district judge “shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the
report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is
made.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). This requires that the district judge “give fresh
consideration to those issues to which specific objection has been made by a party.”
Jeffrey S. v. State Bd. of Educ., 896 F.2d 507, 512 (11th Cir. 1990) (citation omitted).
In contrast, those portions of the R & R to which no objection is made need only be
reviewed for clear error. Macort v. Prem, Inc., 208 Fed. App’x. 781, 784 (11th Cir.
The Eleventh Circuit has adopted as binding precedent all Fifth Circuit decisions issued
before October 1, 1981, as well as all decisions issued after that date by a Unit B panel of the former
Fifth Circuit. Stein v. Reynolds Sec., Inc., 667 F.2d 33, 34 (11th Cir.1982); see also United States
v. Schultz, 565 F.3d 1353, 1361 n. 4 (11th Cir.2009) (discussing the continuing validity of Nettles).
“Neither the Constitution nor the statute requires a district judge to review, de
novo, findings and recommendations that the parties themselves accept as correct.”
United States v. Woodard, 387 F.3d 1329, 1334 (11th Cir. 2004) (citation omitted).
It is incumbent upon the parties to timely raise any objections that they may have
regarding a magistrate judge’s findings contained in a report and recommendation,
as the failure to do so subsequently waives or abandons the issue, even if such matter
was presented at the magistrate judge level. See, e.g., United States v. Pilati, 627
F.3d 1360, 1365 (11th Cir. 2010) (“While Pilati raised the issue of not being
convicted of a qualifying offense before the magistrate judge, he did not raise this
issue in his appeal to the district court. Thus, this argument has been waived or
abandoned by his failure to raise it on appeal to the district court.”). However, the
district judge has discretion to consider or to decline to consider arguments that were
not raised before the magistrate judge. Stephens v. Tolbert, 471 F.3d 1173, 1176
Macort dealt only with the standard of review to be applied to a magistrate's factual
findings, but the Supreme Court has held that there is no reason for the district court to apply a
different standard to a magistrate's legal conclusions. Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 150, 106 S. Ct.
466, 88 L. Ed. 2d 435 (1985). Thus, district courts in this circuit have routinely applied a clear-error
standard to both. See Tauber v. Barnhart, 438 F. Supp. 2d 1366, 1373–74 (N.D. Ga. 2006)
(collecting cases). This is to be contrasted with the standard of review on appeal, which distinguishes
between the two. See Monroe v. Thigpen, 932 F.2d 1437, 1440 (11th Cir. 1991) (when a magistrate's
findings of fact are adopted by the district court without objection, they are reviewed on appeal under
a plain-error standard, but questions of law remain subject to de novo review).
(11th Cir. 2006); see also Williams v. McNeil, 557 F. 3d 1287, 1292 (11th Cir. 2009)
“Parties filing objections must specifically identify those findings objected to.
Frivolous, conclusive or general objections need not be considered by the district
court.” Nettles, 677 F.2d at 410 n.8. “This rule facilitates the opportunity for district
judges to spend more time on matters actually contested and produces a result
compatible with the purposes of the Magistrates Act.” Id. at 410. Indeed, a contrary
rule “would effectively nullify the magistrate judge's consideration of the matter and
would not help to relieve the workload of the district court.” Id. (quoting United
States v. Howell, 231 F.3d 615, 622 (9th Cir. 2000)).
Ms. Crutch’s complaint contains six separate counts. (See generally Doc. 1).
Based upon her response to Defendants’ objections, Ms. Crutch consents to the
dismissal of the five following claims: count I for harassment; count II for due
process; count III for disparate treatment under Title VII; count IV for retaliation;
count V for age discrimination; and count VI for intentional infliction of emotional
Moreover, the court agrees with the magistrate judge’s analysis concerning
these claims’ lack of merit. Accordingly, that portion of the R & R is HEREBY
ADOPTED by the court.
The only claim in dispute by the parties is that of racially discriminatory
discharge in violation of the Equal Protection Clause pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
Defendants have objected to the R & R which would allow Ms. Crutch to proceed
under such a theory on the grounds that Ms. Crutch has not adequately pleaded a
viable equal protection claim against any of them.4
While the court is in agreement with Defendants about Ms. Crutch’s
deficiently-pled equal protection theory,5 it, due to the “closely related”6 nature of
disparate treatment under Title VII and equal protection claims brought pursuant to
Defendants also contend that neither Ms. Howard, the school principal, nor Mr. Grimes,
the superintendent, can be subject to an equal protection claim because they lack the requisite
decision-making authority with respect to Ms. Crutch’s discharge. The court rejects these arguments
as underdeveloped, unpersuasive, and premature, at this pleadings stage. In particular, the court
points out that the primary case upon which Defendants rely to support these contentions, i.e.,
Kamensky v. Hillsborough County, 148 Fed. App’x 878 (11th Cir. 2005), is an unpublished opinion
decided by the Eleventh Circuit on a summary judgment record involving a claim of free speech
retaliation by a non-teacher public employee.
See, e.g., Quinn v. Monroe County, 330 F.3d 1320, 1325 (11th Cir. 2003) (“Municipal
liability may arise with regards to an employment decision, such as a termination, provided that the
decisionmaker ‘possesses final authority to establish municipal policy with respect to the action
ordered.’” (quoting Pembaur v. City of Cincinnati, 475 U.S. 469, 481, 106 S. Ct. 1292, 89 L. Ed.2d
Bass v. Board of County Com'rs, 256 F.3d 1095, 1103 (11th Cir. 2001).
§ 1983 and Ms. Crutch’s general reliance upon § 1983 in her complaint (Doc. 1 § 2),
nevertheless concludes that Ms. Crutch should be permitted one opportunity to
replead her complaint limited to a discriminatory discharge/equal protection case
against Defendants. Accordingly, the court REJECTS the R & R to the extent that
it denies the Motion on equal protection and, instead, dismisses the complaint as
currently pled, but allows Ms. Crutch the right to replead her case consistent with
Twombly’s plausibility standard and Rule 8’s pleading requirements, in a non-shotgun
format, i.e., separately as to each defendant under equal protection pursuant to § 1983
no later than August 20, 2012. Further, in repleading her case, if Ms. Crutch elects
to pursue an equal protection claim against either Mr. Grimes or Ms. Howard, then
she must also clarify within each separate count whether she is suing such person in
his or her individual capacity, official capacity, or both.
Therefore, the R & R is HEREBY REJECTED as it pertains to the magistrate
judge’s recommendation to deny the Motion on Ms. Crutch’s equal protection claim.
Instead, that claim is HEREBY DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE to Ms.
Crutch’s right to plead it against each defendant in a separate count in a new pleading
consistent with Twombly’s plausibility standard, Rule 8’s pleading requirements, and
the court’s instructions in this order no later than August 20, 2012. Otherwise, the
R &R is HEREBY ADOPTED, and all other claims included in the Motion are
HEREBY DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE. Finally, this case is HEREBY
REFERRED back to the magistrate judge for further proceedings consistent with this
DONE and ORDERED this the 23rd day of July, 2012.
VIRGINIA EMERSON HOPKINS
United States District Judge
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