Staten v. Morgan County Sheriff's Department
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER: The 17 MOTION to Dismiss is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART; plaintiff's claim under the Rehabilitation Act is DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE; Plaintiff is ORDERED to file an amended complaint to the two remaining claims by 9/29/2020. Signed by Judge C Lynwood Smith, Jr on 9/15/2020. (AHI )
2020 Sep-15 PM 02:14
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
RON W. PUCKETT, in his official
capacity as Sheriff of Morgan
Civil Action No. 5:20-CV-00768-CLS
Plaintiff Tammy Staten commenced this action on June 2, 2020, by filing a pro
se complaint against her former employer Ron W. Puckett, in his official capacity as
Sheriff of Morgan County, Alabama, and alleging disability discrimination under the
Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. (“ADA”), § 504
of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794, and racial discrimination under
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et
seq. (“Title VII”). See doc. no. 1 (Complaint).
Plaintiff subsequently filed two amended pro se complaints that attempted to
comply with the order of Magistrate Judge Herman N. Johnson to include
documentation of the charge of discrimination she filed with the Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). See doc. no. 4 (Order to file EEOC charge and
response with amended complaint); doc. no. 5 (First Amended Complaint); doc. no.
6 (Order to file amended complaint with EEOC charge); doc. no. 7 (Second Amended
Plaintiff ultimately secured attorney representation by Temple Trueblood of the
Birmingham, Alabama Bar, and filed her third amended complaint, which now is the
operative pleading. See doc. no. 11 (Third Amended Complaint).
This case now is before the court on defendant’s motion to dismiss filed
pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). See doc. no. 17; see also doc.
no. 18 (Brief in Support of Motion to Dismiss).
Defendant amended his motion to a motion to dismiss without prejudice in his
reply. See doc. no. 23 (Reply in Support of Motion to Dismiss), at 2; see also doc.
no. 28 (Supplemental Brief in Support of Motion to Dismiss), at 1-2. Plaintiff’s
attorney now asks this court to
enter an Order denying the Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss with regards
to her Title VII and ADA claims as set out herein. In the alternative,
Plaintiff would seek leave to amend the pleadings should the Court
deem such necessary, with proper safeguards in place to preserve
HIPAA [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act] concerns
Doc. no. 29 (Plaintiff’s Reply to Defendant’s Supplemental Brief), at 12 (emphasis
Plaintiff concedes that the claim brought under the Rehabilitation Act (Count
II) is outside of the statute of limitations and, thus, is due to be dismissed. See doc.
no. 22 (Response in Opposition to Motion to Dismiss), at 1 n.1. Accordingly, the
remainder of the order addresses the questions of whether Counts I and III, alleging
violations of the ADA and Title VII, respectively, are also due to be dismissed, but
I. STANDARDS OF REVIEW
The relevant portion of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12 permits a party to
move to dismiss a complaint for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be
granted.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). That 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, thedefendant-unlawfully-harmed-me 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.
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
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 157-58. 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. R. Civ. P.
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 of relief.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79 (emphasis supplied, second and fourth alterations in
original, other alterations supplied).
II. PLAINTIFF’S ALLEGATIONS
Plaintiff, Tammy Staten, began working as a Correctional Officer at the
Morgan County Jail in or around July of 2015.1 Approximately eleven months later,
in June of 2016, plaintiff suffered from an unidentified “disability/medical condition”
that required her to be hospitalized.2 The court is not told how long plaintiff was in
the hospital, but is informed that she was absent from work for approximately two
weeks, during which time she received medical treatment for her condition.3
Plaintiff ultimately was released to return to work, but with a note from her
physician requesting that she be moved to a “light duty” position for six months.4
Plaintiff returned to work on or about June 29, 2016, and was placed in a light duty
See doc. no. 11 (Third Amended Complaint), ¶ 10.
See id. ¶ 11.
See id. ¶ 12.
See id. ¶¶ 13-14. As noted in defendant’s motion to dismiss, the doctor’s note also included
a restriction on plaintiff’s proximity to inmates for the same six-month time period. See doc. no. 18
(Brief in Support of Motion to Dismiss), at 4.
position in the Master Control area of the Morgan County Jail.5
Within two hours of returning to that workplace, however, plaintiff was called
to meet with Captain Larry Berzett,6 during which Captain Berzett informed plaintiff
that he would not honor the physician’s request to place her in a light duty position,
and that she would be terminated.7 Plaintiff alleges she begged to remain employed
by the jail, but Captain Berzett refused to discuss any possible accommodations.8
Plaintiff alleges that there were several available light duty positions at the
time, including the one in which she worked for two hours on June 29, 2016, other
Master Control light duty positions, and Tower Command light duty positions.9
Plaintiff also alleges that several white employees were granted the accommodation
of a light duty position due to medical issues, and none were terminated due to
making such a request.10 Accordingly, plaintiff alleges she was discriminated against
due to her disability and her race (African American), because similarly situated
white officers were not terminated for requesting an accommodation.11
See doc. no. 11 (Third Amended Complaint), ¶ 15.
See id. ¶ 16.
See id. ¶ 17. Defendant disputes that plaintiff was terminated, and claims she instead
elected to resign, but as defendant also notes, the court must accept plaintiff’s allegations as true.
See doc. no. 18 (Brief in Support of Motion to Dismiss), at 2 n.1.
See doc. no. 11 (Third Amended Complaint), ¶ 18.
See id. ¶ 20.
See id. ¶¶ 21-22.
See id. ¶¶ 23-24.
Defendant moved to dismiss plaintiff’s complaint because she cannot plausibly
state a claim for discrimination.12 For support, defendant attached as an exhibit to his
motion to dismiss a copy of the physician’s note he alleges plaintiff referenced in her
complaint.13 That note states that plaintiff “is not permitted to be around inmates [for]
6 months and must remain on light duty for 6 months.”14
Plaintiff does not dispute the content of the physician’s note, but argues that
the evidence cannot be considered at this stage of litigation, and if the court does
consider it, the court is required to convert the motion to dismiss into a motion for
summary judgment.15 Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(d) states that:
If, on a motion under Rule 12(b)(6) or 12(c), matters outside the
pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the court, the motion
must be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56. All parties
must be given a reasonable opportunity to present all the material that
is pertinent to the motion.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(d).
Defendant argues, however, that consideration of the physician’s note is
appropriate at this stage because it was referenced in plaintiff’s complaint, it is central
See doc. no. 18 (Brief in Support of Motion to Dismiss), at 1-7.
See doc. no. 17-1 (Exhibit A).
Id. (alteration supplied).
See doc. no. 22 (Response to Motion to Dismiss), at 3-6.
to her claim, and its contents are undisputed. See Brooks v. Blue Cross & Blue Shield
of Florida, Inc., 116 F.3d 1364, 1369 (11th Cir. 1997) (“However, where the plaintiff
refers to certain documents in the complaint and those documents are central to the
plaintiff’s claim, . . . the defendant’s attaching such documents to the motion to
dismiss will not require conversion of the motion into a motion for summary
judgment.”); see also Day v. Taylor, 400 F.3d 1272, 1276 (11th Cir. 2005) (“[T]he
court may consider a document attached to a motion to dismiss without converting
the motion into one for summary judgment if the attached document is (1) central to
the plaintiff’s claim and (2) undisputed.”).
Plaintiff does not move to convert defendant’s motion to dismiss to one for
summary judgment, but does argue that the exception noted by defendant’s attorney
does not apply for multiple reasons. First, typically, the type of extrinsic document
generally considered central to a plaintiff’s claims are contracts, agreements, and
insurance documents, as is the case in the cases cited by defendant.16 See Brooks, 116
F.3d at 1365 (the court took into consideration the actual insurance plans at issue);
M5 Management Services v. Yanac, 428 F. Supp. 3d 1282, 1288 (N.D. Ala. 2019)
(the court considered the employment agreement at issue). The physician’s note at
issue here, plaintiff argues, is not like an agreement underlying a breach of contract
See id. at 4.
claim. Second, plaintiff disputes that this note is the “paperwork” referred to in her
complaint.17 As previously noted, however, she does not dispute the content of the
Defendant argues in his reply that the note is central to the claim because it is
part of the reason plaintiff believes she was wronged. See Cheatham v. J.P. Morgan
Chase Bank, N.A., No. 2:19-cv-743-ALB, 2020 WL 1015760, at *2 (M.D. Ala. Mar.
2, 2020) (quoting Day, 400 F.3d at 1276) (“The document must be a ‘necessary part
of [the] effort to make out a claim.’”) (alteration in original).
The court agrees with defendant that the physician’s note is central to
plaintiff’s claim, and, its contents are undisputed by plaintiff. Therefore, the
physician’s note is properly considered at this stage. Nevertheless, in the interest of
fairness, the court will give plaintiff an opportunity to amend her complaint to present
her allegations in accordance with this additional information.
Based upon the foregoing discussion, defendant’s motion to dismiss is
GRANTED in part and DENIED in part. It is ORDERED, ADJUDGED, and
DECREED that plaintiff’s claim under the Rehabilitation Act (Count II) is
DISMISSED with prejudice. The motion is DENIED as to plaintiff’s ADA and Title
See id. at 5.
VII claims (Counts I and III), however, and those claims remain pending before the
court. Plaintiff is ORDERED to file an amended complaint for the two remaining
claims on or before September 29, 2020, in order to address the restriction her doctor
placed on her proximity to inmates.
DONE and ORDERED this 15th day of September, 2020.
Senior 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?