Howard v. Highlands Medical Center et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER that the motion to dismiss is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part; The motion is GRANTED as to plaintiff's Title VII, GINA, AADEA, breach of contract, and negligence claims, as well as all claims asserted against def endant Brad Hinton and fictitious defendants, and all of such claims are DISMISSED; The motion to dismiss is DENIED as to plaintiff's ADEA claim; The motion to remand is DENIED. Plaintiff is ORDERED to amend her complaint to name Jackson County Health Care Authority as the proper defendant within seven days of this order as more fully set out in order. Signed by Judge C Lynwood Smith, Jr on 8/10/2015. (AHI)
2015 Aug-10 PM 04:01
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
LINDA J. HOWARD,
HEALTH AND REHAB, and
Civil Action No. 5:15–cv–00393-CLS
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDERS
Plaintiff, Linda Howard, commenced this action in the Circuit Court of Jackson
County, Alabama, against Highlands Medical Center, Cumberland Health and Rehab, and
Brad Hinton. Her state-court complaint alleged violations of
TITLE VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment
Act, the Genetic [Information] Nondiscrimination Act, the Older Workers
Benefit Protection Act of 1990, the Equal Pay Act, Alabama Code § 25-121 [Alabama Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1997], and/or the
Americans with Disabilities Act.
Doc. no. 1-1 (State Court Complaint) ¶ 5 (alterations supplied).
removed the action to this court on March 5, 2015.1
The action presently is before the
court on defendants’ motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6),
Doc. no. 1 (Notice of Removal).
and plaintiff’s motion to remand.2
I. MOTION TO REMAND
Plaintiff contends that this court should remand this properly-removed action,
because state courts enjoy concurrent jurisdiction over the claims asserted herein.3
Upon consideration, the motion is denied.
II. LEGAL STANDARDS GOVERNING MOTIONS TO DISMISS
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b) permits a party to move to dismiss a claim
for, among other reasons, “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.”
Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). This rule must be read together with Rule 8(a), which requires
that a pleading contain only a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the
pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). While that pleading standard does
not require “detailed factual allegations,” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544,
550 (2007), it does demand “more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmedme accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citations omitted). As the
Supreme Court stated in Iqbal:
A pleading that offers “labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation
of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” [Twombly, 550 U.S., at
555]. Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders “naked assertion[s]” devoid
of “further factual enhancement.” Id., at 557.
Doc. no. 3 (Motion to Dismiss).
Doc. no. 5 (Plaintiff’s Response Brief), at 6–7.
To survive a motion to dismiss founded upon Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6), [for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be
granted], a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as
true, to “state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.” Id., at 570.
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., at 556. 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. Ibid. 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., at 557 (brackets omitted).
Two working principles underlie our decision in Twombly. First, the
tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a
complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the
elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements,
do not suffice. Id., at 555 (Although for the purposes of a motion to
dismiss we must take all of the factual allegations in the complaint as true,
we “are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual
allegation” (internal quotation marks omitted)). Rule 8 marks a notable and
generous departure from the hyper-technical, code-pleading regime of a
prior era, but it does not unlock the doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed
with nothing more than conclusions. Second, only a complaint that states
a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss. Id., at 556.
Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will, as
the Court of Appeals observed, be a context-specific task that requires the
reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense. 490
F.3d, at 157-158. But where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court
to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has
alleged — but it has not “show[n]” — “that the pleader is entitled to relief.”
Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 8(a)(2).
In keeping with these principles 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.
While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they
must be supported by factual allegations. 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.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678–79 (alterations in citations and emphasis supplied).
Claims Against Non-Juridical Entities
contend that plaintiff has named two non-juridical entities as
defendants: “Highlands Medical Center”; and, “Cumberland Health and Rehab.”4
contend that those two entities are operated by Jackson County Health Care Authority,
a juridical entity that is the proper defendant in this case.5 In her response brief, plaintiff
“la[id] out [her] intentions as to who should be sued, the Jackson County Health Care
Authority and Brad Hinton.”6
Accordingly, plaintiff’s claims against “Highlands Medical
Center” and “Cumberland Health and Rehab” will be dismissed, and plaintiff will be
ordered to amend her complaint.7
Failure to Exhaust Administrative Remedies
Defendants next contend that plaintiff’s claims under the Age Discrimination in
Employment Act (“ADEA”) and Title VII should be dismissed for plaintiff’s failure to
See doc. no. 1-1 (State Court Complaint).
Doc. no. 3 (Motion to Dismiss), at 5–6.
Doc. no. 5 (Plaintiff’s Response), at 2 (alterations supplied).
Plaintiff also has asserted claims against three fictitious defendants. See doc. no. 1-1 (State
Court Complaint). There being no fictitious party pleading in federal court, this court will, sua sponte,
dismiss all fictitious parties.
plead exhaustion of her administrative remedies.8
Before a plaintiff can bring an action under either statute, she must file a timely
charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and
receive a dismissal and notice of rights — or, in the case of the ADEA, allow a statutory
time to lapse after filing the charge. See Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.,
421 F.3d 1169, 1178 (11th Cir. 2005) (Title VII); Bost v. Federal Express Corp., 372
F.3d 1233, 1238 (11th Cir. 2004) (ADEA).
In response to defendants’ motion to dismiss, plaintiff filed a copy of the
“Dismissal and Notice of Rights” she received from the EEOC on December 2, 2014.9
That document provides that plaintiff may bring an action for defendants’ alleged
violations of Title VII and the ADEA, among other statutes.
motion to dismiss for plaintiff’s failure to plead exhaustion of her administrative
remedies is due to be denied.
Failure to State a Claim Under Title VII
Defendants next contend that plaintiff failed to state a claim under Title VII.10
Plaintiff “concedes that the Title VII claim was inappropriate, due to undersigned
counsel’s mistake.”11 Accordingly, plaintiff’s Title VII claim is due to be dismissed.
Doc. no. 3 (Motion to Dismiss), at 6.
Doc. no. 5 (Exhibit A to Plaintiff’s Response), at ECF 9.
Doc. no. 3 (Motion to Dismiss), at 7.
Doc. no. 5 (Plaintiff’s Response), at 3.
Failure to State a Claim Under GINA
Defendants also contend that plaintiff failed to state a claim under the Genetic
Information Nondiscrimination Act (“GINA”).12
“undersigned counsel was also unaware of GINA’s inapplicability, given, in Defendants’
words, the ‘relatively obscure, yet complex statutory and regulatory scheme’ it
contains.”13 Accordingly, plaintiff’s GINA claim is due to be dismissed.
Election of Remedies Under the ADEA and AADEA
Defendants next contend that, because plaintiff has brought a claim under the
federal ADEA, she is precluded from also asserting a claim under the corollary Alabama
Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“AADEA”).
The AADEA provides that a
plaintiff cannot simultaneously pursue an age discrimination claim under both federal and
state statutes, but must, instead, elect her remedies:
Any person aggrieved may elect to pursue their remedies under Title
VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as amended, and the Age Discrimination
in Employment Act[,] 29 U.S.C. Section 621[,] or in the alternative bring
a civil action in the circuit court of the county in which the person was
or is employed for such legal or equitable relief as will effectuate the
purposes of this article. However, if an action is brought in the federal
court, any action pending in the state court shall be simultaneously
dismissed with prejudice. Further, any party bringing action under this
section shall only be entitled to one recovery of damages. Any damages
assessed in one court will offset any entitlement to damages in any other
state or federal court. In any action, a person shall be entitled to a trial by
Doc. no. 3 (Motion to Dismiss), at 8.
Doc. no. 5 (Plaintiff’s Response), at 3.
jury of any issue of fact in any action for recovery of amounts owed as a
result of a violation of this article, regardless of whether equitable relief
is sought by any party in the action. Any employment practice authorized
by the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act shall also be
authorized by this article and the remedies, defenses, and statutes of
limitations, under this article shall be the same as those authorized by the
federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act except that a plaintiff shall
not be required to pursue any administrative action or remedy prior to
filing suit under this article.
Ala. Code § 25-1-29 (1975) (alterations and emphasis supplied).
Indeed, this court
previously has found that claims based upon both the ADEA and the AADEA are
“duplicative.” Collins v. Compass Group, Inc., 965 F. Supp. 2d 1321, 1330 (N.D. Ala.
2013) (Kallon, J.); see also King v. Adtran, No. 5:13-cv–1362-CLS, 2014 WL 6983312
(N.D. Ala. December 10, 2014) (Smith, J.). Accordingly, plaintiff’s AADEA claims are
due to be dismissed.
Failure to State a Claim for Breach of Contract
Defendants next contend that plaintiff’s claims for breach of her employment
contract are due to be dismissed.14
In Count Three of plaintiff’s complaint, “Breach of
Contract,” she alleges that defendants failed “to abide by the terms of Plaintiff’s
employment contract by terminating Plaintiff without just cause, failing to properly
supervise other employees, and failing to provide [unemployment] benefits.”15
Under Alabama law, a contract for employment is presumed to be “at will.” Ex
Doc. no. 3 (Motion to Dismiss), at 11.
Doc. no. 1-1 (State Court Complaint) ¶ 15(a) (alteration supplied).
parte Michelin North America, Inc., 795 So. 2d 674, 677 (Ala. 2001).
allegation to the contrary in plaintiff’s complaint, this court must presume that plaintiff’s
employment was “at will.” Accordingly, plaintiff’s claims for breach of contract are due
to be dismissed.
Failure to State a Claim for Negligence
It is axiomatic that, in order to state a cognizable claim for negligence, a plaintiff
must show that the defendant owed plaintiff a duty. See, e.g., Smith v. AmSouth Bank,
Inc., 892 So. 2d 905, 909 (Ala. 2004).
Plaintiff’s complaint alleges that defendants
breached the duties: to investigate allegations of plaintiff’s misconduct; to exercise
reasonable care when conducting such an investigation; to inform plaintiff “of her rights”;
to prevent “potential false allegations”; and, to “maintain . . . video equipment.”16 Plaintiff
cited no authority interpreting Alabama law — nor could this court discover any —
recognizing any of those alleged duties. Accordingly, plaintiff’s negligence claims are
due to be dismissed.
ADEA Claim Against Defendant Brad Hinton
Defendants contend that plaintiff’s ADEA claim against Brad Hinton, her former
supervisor, is due to be dismissed. Defendants correctly contend that Hinton cannot be
It appears that plaintiff also attempts to plead a negligent supervision claim. To state a claim
of negligent supervision, however, a plaintiff must show, among other things, that an employee
committed a tort that is recognized under Alabama law. As stated above, plaintiff has failed to allege
any tort that is recognized under Alabama law. Accordingly, her negligent supervision claim, to the
extent she asserts one, is due to be dismissed.
held liable under the ADEA, because that statute permits relief only against an employer,
not a supervisor or other employee. See, e.g., Smith v. Lomax, 45 F.3d 402, 403 n.4
(11th Cir. 1995) (holding that individuals “cannot be held liable under the ADEA or Title
VII” because relief under those statutes is granted against the employer, not individual
Accordingly, plaintiff’s ADEA claim against Hinton is due to be
Motion for Sanctions
Defendants request “sanctions on the subjects of” its motion to dismiss, pursuant
to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11.18 The Eleventh Circuit has held that “[w]here, as
here, a case is removed from state court, Rule 11 does not apply to pleadings filed before
removal.” Worldwide Primates, Inc. v. McGreal, 26 F.3d 1089, 1091 (11th Cir. 1994)
Even so, a brief filed “in opposition to a motion to dismiss [is]
sanctionable if [it] resulted in the continuation of a baseless lawsuit.”
supplied). Plaintiff’s brief in response to defendants’ motion to dismiss did not continue
a baseless lawsuit.19
To the contrary, plaintiff admitted in her brief that some of her
It appears that plaintiff concedes that her ADEA claim against Hinton is due to be dismissed,
as she contends only that “the negligence and breach of contract claims against Hinton should not be
dismissed.” Doc. no. 5 (Plaintiff’s Response Brief), at 5. This court already has found that all of
plaintiff’s negligence claims are due to be dismissed. See supra Part III.G.
Doc. no. 3 (Motion to Dismiss), at 16–17.
See doc. no. 5 (Plaintiff’s Response Brief).
claims were due to be dismissed as “inappropriate.”20
Accordingly, defendants’ motion
for sanctions is due to be denied.
IV. CONCLUSION AND ORDERS
In accordance with the foregoing, it is ORDERED that the motion to dismiss is
GRANTED in part and DENIED in part. The motion is GRANTED as to plaintiff’s Title
VII, GINA, AADEA, breach of contract, and negligence claims, as well as all claims
asserted against defendant Brad Hinton and fictitious defendants, and all of such claims
are DISMISSED. The motion to dismiss is DENIED as to plaintiff’s ADEA claim. The
motion to remand is DENIED. Plaintiff is ORDERED to amend her complaint to name
“Jackson County Health Care Authority” as the proper defendant within seven days of this
DONE and ORDERED this 10th day of August, 2015.
United States District Judge
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