Williams v. Alabama Department of Industrial Relations et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION Signed by Chief Judge Karon O Bowdre on 5/12/14. (SAC )
2014 May-12 PM 02:47
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
ORLANDO V. WILLIAMS,
ALABAMA DEPARTMENT OF
INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS, ET AL.,
This matter comes before the court on Defendants’ motions to dismiss. (Doc. 33). Pro se
Plaintiff Orlando Williams brings this action against Defendants Alabama Department of
Industrial Relations, Thomas Surtees and Stephen McCormick, claiming disability discrimination
and retaliation under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as well as "deprivation of
Plaintiff's federal statutory rights" under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. 29). Defendants move for the
court to dismiss the action in its entirety with prejudice, arguing that the complaint fails to state a
claim upon which relief can be granted and that Mr. Williams failed to exhaust his administrative
remedies, along with other defenses. (Doc. 33). Although the Defendants do not specifically
reference the Rule under which they bring their motion, the court interprets it as being pursuant
to Rule 12(b)(1) and Rule 12(b)(6) because they address issues of jurisdiction and whether Mr.
Williams adequately stated his claim.
For the following reasons, the court will GRANT IN PART and DENY IN PART
Defendants’ motion, DISMISS Count I of this action WITHOUT PREJUDICE and DISMISS
Count III WITH PREJUDICE except for the specific portion alleging retaliation in violation of
According to Mr. Williams’s Third Amended Complaint, Plaintiff Orlando Williams is a
disabled individual who is also perceived to be disabled by Defendant Alabama Department of
Industrial Relations (“ADIR”). (Doc. 29, ¶¶ 12-13). Defendant Thomas Surtees is the director of
ADIR. (Doc. 29, ¶ 8). Defendant Stephen McCormick is an officer of the board of appeals for
ADIR. (Doc. 29, ¶ 9).
On October 25, 2011, presumably in the context of an unemployment compensation
claim appeal, ADIR interviewed Mr. Williams via the telephone and recorded his testimony in
accordance with state law. (Doc. 29, ¶ 15). On October 27, 2011, Walter S. Trawick, one of
ADIR’s Administrative Hearing Officers, mailed ADIR’s decision to Mr. Williams, affirming the
Examiner's determination that Mr. Williams was disqualified from collecting benefits. (Doc. 29,
¶ 16; Doc. 1, Exhibit H). In the “findings” portion, the letter stated: “Although the claimant
states that he was advised by his doctor to quit the job, he did not provide any medical
verification to the employer or to the Agency that he was advised by his doctor to do so.” (Doc.
29, ¶ 17; Doc. 1, Exhibit H). In the “conclusions” portion, the letter stated: “However, no
evidence was presented in the hearing to show that the claimant was advised by a physician to
quit his job.” (Doc. 29, ¶ 17; Doc. 1, Exhibit H). The letter also included a section explaining to
Mr. Williams how to appeal the decision. (Doc. 1, Exhibit H).
Subsequent to ADIR’s decision, Mr. Williams filed a complaint with the U.S.
Department of Labor’s Civil Rights Center (“CRC”). (Doc. 29, ¶ 20). On November 9, 2011,
upon review of Mr. Williams’s complaint, the CRC determined that he had not established an
inference of discrimination based on disability or political affiliation—his claims in the CRC
complaint—and that he had not availed himself of the full appeal process all the way to the
courts, as was required before filing a CRC complaint; therefore, the CRC closed Mr. Williams’s
complaint without prejudice to refile. (Doc. 29, ¶¶ 20-21; Doc. 1, Exhibit A).
On November 1, 2011, Mr. Williams filed a timely appeal of ADIR’s decision to the
State Board of Appeals, Department of Industrial Relations. (Doc. 29, ¶ 19; Doc. 1, Exhibit I).
On November 18, 2011, the Board of Appeals denied Mr. Williams’s application for leave to
appeal and informed him of his right to appeal its decision in the circuit court of his county of
residence. (Doc. 1, Exhibit I). The notification that the Board of Appeals mailed to Mr. Williams
did not include any explanation of the Board’s findings or any reasons for denying the
application for appeal. (Doc. 1, Exhibit I).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Rule 12(b)(1) attacks claiming lack of subject matter jurisdiction come in two forms:
facial attacks and factual attacks. Lawrence v. Dunbar, 919 F.2d 1525, 1528-29 (11th Cir. 1990).
“Facial attacks on the complaint require the court merely to look and see if the plaintiff has
sufficiently alleged a basis of subject matter jurisdiction, and the allegations in this complaint are
taken as true for the purposes of the motion.” Id. at 1529 (internal quotations omitted). Factual
attacks, however, “challenge the existence of subject matter jurisdiction in fact, irrespective of
the pleadings, and matters outside the pleadings, such as testimony and affidavits, are
A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss attacks the legal sufficiency of the complaint.
Generally, 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)
(quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)). A plaintiff must provide the grounds of his entitlement, but Rule
8 generally does not require “detailed factual allegations.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S.
544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley, 355 U.S. at 47). It does, however, “demand[ ] more than an
unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662,
678 (2009). Pleadings that contain nothing more than “a formulaic recitation of the elements of
a cause of action” do not meet Rule 8 standards nor do pleadings suffice that are based merely
upon “labels or conclusions” or “naked assertions” without supporting factual allegations.
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557.
The Supreme Court explained that “[t]o 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 and explaining its decision in Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).
To be plausible on its face, the claim must contain enough facts that “allow[ ] the court to draw
the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S.
at 678. Although “[t]he plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement,’” the
complaint must demonstrate “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted
unlawfully.” Id. “Where a complaint pleads facts that are merely consistent with a defendant’s
liability, it ‘stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.’”
Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).
The Supreme Court has identified “two working principles” for the district court to use in
applying the facial plausibility standard. The first principle is that, in evaluating motions to
dismiss, the court must assume the veracity of well-pleaded factual allegations; however, the
court does not have to accept as true legal conclusions even when “couched as  factual
allegation[s]” or “threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere
conclusory statements.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. The second principle is that “only a complaint
that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss.” Id. at 679.
Thus, under the first prong, the court determines the factual allegations that are well-pled
and assumes their veracity, and then proceeds, under principle two, to determine the claim’s
plausibility given the well-pled facts. That task is “context-specific” and, to survive the motion,
the allegations must permit the court based on its “judicial experience and common sense. . . to
infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct.” Id. If the court determines that well-pleaded
facts, accepted as true, do not state a claim that is plausible, the claim must be dismissed. Id.
As a preliminary matter, the court notes that Mr. Williams’s Third Amended Complaint
attempts to adopt and reallege his “original, first reinstated amended Complaint, and second
amended Complaint” in several different paragraphs of his Third Amended Complaint. (Doc. 29
¶¶ 1, 11, 18, 23, 32, 38). To the extent that these paragraphs attempt to incorporate the exhibits
to the original complaint—which Mr. Williams refers to throughout his Third Amended
Complaint—the court will allow that incorporation by reference and consider those exhibits for
the purposes of this motion in light of Mr. Williams’s pro se status. To the extent, however, that
these paragraphs attempt to incorporate the claims and factual statements of the previous
complaints, some of which this court explicitly disallowed (docs. 4 & 6), the court will STRIKE
all of these incorporation paragraphs from the Third Amended Complaint. Going forward, the
only counts that will be considered a part of this case are those that are actually spelled out in the
Third Amended Complaint. (Doc. 29). Should Mr. Williams file another amended complaint
subsequent to this ruling, he should not attempt to incorporate anything from his past complaints,
but should include all relevant facts, claims and exhibits in the amended complaint itself.
In considering Defendants’ motion to dismiss, the court must note that Defendants are
guilty of the very crime with which they charge the Mr. Williams: alleging conclusory legal
jargon. Defendants’ motion asserts no less than eleven reasons why the complaint should be
dismissed, but cites only eight cases, including Iqbal and Twombly, to support these arguments.
(Doc. 33). Furthermore, most of the cases they do cite are sprinkled into their arguments,
accompanied by little to no actual legal analysis. This court is not responsible for developing
Defendants’ legal arguments where the Defendants themselves have failed to do so, any more
than it should develop Plaintiff’s claims.
Statement of the Claim
The argument that Defendants give the most lengthy analysis in their brief is the
argument that Mr. Williams has failed to state a claim on which relief can be granted. The court
will analyze this argument for each of Mr. Williams’s three counts.
Count I: Disability Discrimination under Section 504 of the
Rehabilitation Act of 1973
Mr. Williams alleges that Defendant ADIR discriminated against him because of his
disability in violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. “The Rehabilitation Act
prohibits recipients of federal financial assistance from discriminating against individuals with
disabilities.” Garrett v. Univ. of Ala. at Birmingham Bd of Trs., 507 F.3d 1306, 1310 (11th Cir.
2007). To state a claim of disability discrimination under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act
of 1973, codified in 29 U.S.C. § 794, a plaintiff must plead that “(1) the plaintiff is an individual
with a disability under the Rehabilitation Act; (2) the plaintiff is otherwise qualified for
participation in the program; (3) the plaintiff is being excluded from participation in, being
denied the benefits of, or being subjected to discrimination under the program solely by reason of
his or her disability; and (4) the relevant program or activity is receiving federal financial
assistance.” H. v. Montgomery County Bd. of Educ., 784 F. Supp. 2d 1247, 1261 (M.D. Ala
2011) (citing L.M.P. ex rel. E.P. v. Sch. Bd. of Broward Cnty., Fla., 516 F. Supp. 2d 1294, 1301
(S.D. Fla. 2007)). Defendant argues that Mr. Williams fails to state a claim under Section 504
because “he never mentions or describes the disability that he claims exists,” because he does not
“state precisely how he was discriminated . . . against,” and because he alleges that the
discrimination was also due to his political affiliation, and not solely due to his disability.
The court agrees that Mr. Williams’s failure to identify or describe his disability—or fact
supporting his allegation that he is regarded as disabled—is a deficiency in his complaint.
Pleadings that contain nothing more than “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of
action” without supporting factual allegations do not meet Rule 8 standards. Twombly, 550 U.S.
at 555, 557.
As to Defendants’ argument that Mr. Williams did not state precisely how Defendants
discriminated against him, the court finds that Mr. Williams’s complaint alleges facts to satisfy
the third element of the prima facie case, but does not plead facts for the second element. The
complaint essentially alleges that ADIR falsified its findings, accusing Mr. Williams of making
statements he never made, to deny him benefits because of his disability. These allegations meet
the requirement that he plead that “the plaintiff is being excluded from participation in, being
denied the benefits of, or being subjected to discrimination under the program solely by reason of
his or her disability.” H., 784 F. Supp. 2d at 1261. Mr. Williams does not allege, however, that
he was otherwise qualified for participation in the program; i.e., that he was otherwise eligible to
receive unemployment compensation benefits.
Defendants’ final argument—that Mr. Williams does not allege that the discrimination
was solely due to his disability—may have been applicable to an earlier iteration of his
complaint, but the current version makes no claim of discrimination based on political affiliation.
Therefore, the court considers this argument moot.
Because Mr. Williams failed to allege sufficient factual allegations to support the first and
second elements of his prima facie case for disability discrimination under Section 504 of the
Rehabilitation Act, the court will DISMISS Count I of Mr. Williams’s complaint WITHOUT
PREJUDICE for Mr. Williams to refile.
Count II: Retaliation under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of
Mr. Williams next alleges that ADIR retaliated against him because of his disability in
violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. In the Eleventh Circuit, “the prima
facie case for retaliation under the Rehabilitation Act is the same as that under the [Americans
with Disabilities Act].” Albra v. City of Fort Lauderdale, 232 Fed. Appx. 885, 891 (11th Cir.
2007) (citing Holbrook v. City of Alpharetta, Georgia, 112 F.3d 1522, 1526 n.2 (11th Cir.
1997)). The plaintiff must show that “(1) he participated in a statutorily protected activity or
expression; (2) he suffered an adverse action; and (3) the adverse action was related to the
protected activity.” Id. Defendants argue that Mr. Williams fails to state precisely how
Defendants retaliated against him.
According to the complaint, Mr. Williams engaged in statutorily protected activity by
filing his complaint of discrimination with the CRC on November 11, 2011. (Doc. 29, ¶ 35).
Mr. Williams alleges that he suffered an adverse action when, on November 18, 2011, the Board
of Appeals denied his application for leave to appeal without providing reasoning or findings to
support the decision. (Doc. 29, ¶ 22, 35, n. 17). Although the wording of the complaint may not
be overly specific or artfully crafted, it provides enough information to support an inference that
the adverse action was causally related to the protected activity and even notes the temporal
proximity between the two events. (Doc. 29, ¶ 35, n. 17). The court finds that the face of the
complaint pleads the elements of a retaliation claim and that, absent any more specific attack
from Defendants, the claim is not due to be dismissed.
Count III: Deprivation of Plaintiff’s Federal Statutory Rights under
42 U.S.C. § 1983
Count III of the complaint seeks injunctive relief against Defendant Thomas Surtees and
Defendant Stephen McCormick, alleging that they deprived Mr. Williams of his federal statutory
rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Section 1983 provides a remedy for “the deprivation of any
rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws,” but a § 1983 claim must
show an underlying violation of the Constitution or of federal law. 42 U.S.C. § 1983; see also
Monroe v. Pape, 365 U.S. 167, 171 (1961). Specifically, Mr. Williams alleges that Defendants
Surtees and McCormick “deprived the Plaintiff of his guaranteed statutory rights to be free from
retaliation,” that they “took no steps to ensure that Plaintiff understood the procedure by which
Plaintiff could secure an appeal,” and that when “they were presented with an opportunity to
correct this deprivation of Plaintiff’s rights and provide the Plaintiff with due process, they
refused.” (Doc. 29, ¶¶ 39, 43, 44).
In response to his allegations that Defendants Surtees and McCormick took “no steps” to
ensure that Mr. Williams understood his appeal procedure and refused to provide him with due
process, Defendants point out that “both the Decision of the Administrative Hearing Officer and
the Disallowance by [ADIR]’s Board of Appeals contain information about how to appeal the
respective decisions.” Defendants are correct. Mr. Williams’s own exhibits, which he attached to
his complaint, include specific instructions on how to appeal, contradicting the allegations made
in the complaint. (Doc. 1, Exhibits H, I). Therefore, the court will DISMISS these portions of
Count III WITH PREJUDICE.
The remaining portion of Count III claims that Defendants Surtees and McCormick
“deprived the Plaintiff of his guaranteed statutory rights to be free from retaliation.” To support
the existence of an underlying right, Mr. Williams cites the First Amendment right to petition the
government for redress of grievances, the Fourteenth Amendment equal protection and due
process rights, and the anti-retaliation provisions of the Rehabilitation Act. (Doc. 29, ¶ 39-40, n.
To the extent Count II relies on an underlying Rehabilitation Act violation, it cannot be
maintained. The Supreme Court has held that federal statutes creating specific enforcement
regimes evidence Congress’s intent to foreclose § 1983 as a general remedy. Middlesex Cnty.
Sewerage Auth. v. Nat’l Sea Clammers Ass’n, 453 U.S. 1, 20 (1981) (“When the remedial
devices provided in a particular Act are sufficiently comprehensive, they may suffice to
demonstrate congressional intent to preclude the remedy of suits under § 1983.”); see also City of
Ranch Palos Verdes, Cal. v. Abrams, 544 U.S. 113 (2005).
Consistent with this reasoning, the Eleventh Circuit has held that “a plaintiff may not
maintain a section 1983 action in lieu of–or in addition to–a Rehabilitation Act or ADA cause of
action if the only alleged deprivation is of the employee’s rights created by the Rehabilitation Act
and the ADA.” Holbrook v. City of Alpharetta, Ga., 112 F.3d 1522, 1531 (1997). The Court
explained that “[t]o permit a plaintiff to sue both under the substantive statutes that set forth
detailed administrative avenues of redress as well as section 1983 would be duplicative at best; in
effect, such a holding would provide the plaintiff with two bites at precisely the same apple.” Id.
As such, Mr. Williams cannot maintain § 1983 claims where the underlying violation of federal
law is based on the Rehabilitation Act.
However, Mr. Williams bases the retaliation portion of Count III on the Equal Protection
Clause and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and on the First Amendment.
Defendants do not present any arguments as to why this part of Count III should be dismissed,
and the court will not craft any for them. Therefore, the court will DISMISS WITH PREJUDICE
the portion of Count III that alleges retaliation based on the Rehabilitation Act, but will DENY
the motion to dismiss as to the portions of Count III that allege retaliation based on underlying
The other argument to which Defendants devote any significant time is their argument
that Mr. Williams failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. Defendants attach various state
court filings in an attempt to show that Mr. Williams did not finish appealing his denial of
unemployment benefits through the state court system. The court does not have to decide
whether to consider these exhibits at this point, because Defendants did not lay the necessary
groundwork for an exhaustion argument in the first place.
Although Defendants briefly state that “[i]t is a mainstay of administrative procedure that
a party must exhaust all applicable administrative remedies before seeking relief in the courts,”
their citation for this proposition is a state court case that does not address the federal causes of
action under which the Mr. Williams brings his claims. (Doc. 33, pg. 8) (citing Ex parte Worley,
46 So. 3d 916, 921 (Ala. 2009)). Defendants cite no authority for the proposition that exhaustion
is required for the specific claims that Mr. Williams brings. In fact, the court’s cursory review of
the law on this matter reveals that exhaustion may not be required for claims under Section 504
of the Rehabilitation Act. See Morales v. Ga. Dept. of Human Res., Dept. of Human Res., Div. of
Family & Children Servs., 446 Fed. Appx. 179, 181 (11th Cir. 2011) (“an action against a nonfederal employer under the Rehabilitation Act does not require exhaustion of administrative
remedies”). Therefore, the court will DENY Defendants’ motion on these grounds.
Collateral Estoppel, Res Judicata, and Rooker-Feldman Doctrine
Defendants very briefly argue that Mr. Williams’s claims should be dismissed under the
doctrines of collateral estoppel, res judicata, and the Rooker-Feldman Doctrine. All three of
these arguments rely on the court’s consideration of the state court documents attached as
exhibits to Defendants’ motion. Defendants argue that these exhibits can be considered without
converting the motion to one for summary judgment because they are “(1) central to the
plaintiff’s claim and (2) undisputed.” (Doc. 33, pg. 4, n. 2) (citing Day v. Taylor, 400 F.3d 1272,
1276 (11th Cir. 2005).
Defendants state, without explaining, that these two requirements are met, but the court
disagrees. Defendants even acknowledge that “plaintiff failed to mention several important
elements of his unemployment claim”—namely, these state court decisions. (Doc. 33, pg. 4).
These documents are not central to Mr. Williams’s claim, as he focused on the discrimination
that he alleges occurred within the administrative agency—not during the state court appeal.
Furthermore, Defendants do not make any argument that these documents should be considered
under any other exception or rule. Therefore, the court will DENY Defendants’ motion on these
Defendants list the following defenses without including any explanation of their
application to this case: sovereign immunity, statute of limitations, lack of jurisdiction over the
subject matter, lack of jurisdiction over the person, improper venue, insufficiency of process,
insufficiency of service of process, and failure to join a party under Rule 19. The court is not
required to make arguments for the Defendants that the Defendants fail to make for themselves.
See U.S. v. Gupta, 463 F.3d 1182, 1195 (11th Cir. 2006) (“We may decline to address an
argument where a party fails to provide arguments on the merits of an issue in its initial or reply
brief.”); see also Allen v. Cypress Village, LTD, No. 3:10-CV-994-WKW, 2011 WL 2559614 at
*2 (M.D. Ala. June 27, 2011) (“Defendants’ cursory and unsupported argument is reason enough
to deny the motion to dismiss”).
For these reasons, the court will GRANT IN PART and DENY IN PART Defendants’
motion and DISMISS Count I of this action WITHOUT PREJUDICE and DISMISS Count III in
part WITH PREJUDICE except for the specific portion alleging retaliation in violation of
constitutional provisions. Count II and the discreet portion of Count III remain in the case. Mr.
Williams has until June 2, 2014 to amend Count I of his complaint so as to sufficiently plead his
DONE and ORDERED this 12th day of May, 2014.
KARON OWEN BOWDRE
CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?