Young v. City Of Mobile
ORDER denying 17 Motion to Dismiss. Signed by District Judge William H. Steele on 5/9/2017. (tgw)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
) CIVIL ACTION 17-0024-WS-MU
CITY OF MOBILE,
This matter is before the Court on the motion of defendant City of Mobile
(“the City”) to dismiss Count VII. (Doc. 17). The plaintiff has filed a response,
(Doc. 22), the defendant elected to rest on its principal brief, (Doc. 23), and the
motion is ripe for resolution.
The amended complaint begins with 53 numbered paragraphs spanning
thirteen pages. (Doc. 53 at 1-13). It then sets forth eight claims; Count VII asserts
“breach of contract.” Id. at 19-20). The City’s motion, brought pursuant to Rule
12(b)(6), first argues that the amended complaint does not satisfy the plausibility
standard of Rule 8(a) and Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007).
(Doc. 17 at 3-4). The City also argues that the amended complaint seeks only
damages that are unavailable under Alabama law. (Id. at 4-5). Finally, the City
argues that the plaintiff impermissibly seeks both damages and specific
performance of the contract. (Id. at 5).
After incorporating by reference paragraphs 9-53, Count VII asserts:
Both the employee manual and the Personnel Board Rules and
[R]egulations created a binding contract with respect to the terms
and conditions of employment. The City breach[ed] its contract
with the Plaintiff when it divested him of the emoluments of
employment, without giving him prior notice or an opportunity to
challenge the City’s action.
(Doc. 15 at 20). The City complains that the amended complaint fails to “attach a
copy” of the contract, fails to “set forth the terms of the contract,” and fails to
“cite any contractual provision which he contends was breached.” (Doc. 17 at 34). The City offers no further argument in support of its position.
The City identifies no rule that a plaintiff must attach a copy of any contract
on which he sues, and there is no such rule. Count VII expressly identifies the
contract as the employee manual and Personnel Board rules, and the City does not
purport to be ignorant of these documents or their contents; nor does the City offer
any authority for the proposition that a complaint must set forth all terms of a
contract, even terms not alleged to have been breached.
As noted, Count VII incorporates paragraphs 9-53. Paragraphs 31-37
describe how the City “stripp[ed] the Plaintiff of all of his supervision
responsibilities” by internal, unilateral action, resulting in a “de facto demotion.”
(Doc. 15 at 10).1 Paragraphs 49-51 identify three Personnel Board rules that the
City violated by demoting the plaintiff. (Id. at 12-13). Paragraph 53 notes that the
employee manual provides that the Personnel Board rules were created for certain
specified reasons. (Id. at 13). The amended complaint thereby identifies the
provisions of the employee manual and the Personnel Board rules that the plaintiff
alleges were breached.2 Whether those documents actually constitute a contract
between the plaintiff and the City, and whether action contrary to the cited
provisions did or could constitute a breach of contract, are not issues presented by
the City’s motion.
Count VII alleges that the plaintiff “suffered humiliation[,] embarrassment
and emotional distress” as a result of the breach of contract. (Doc. 15 at 20).
Count VII also asserts the plaintiff is “entitled” to “economic damages.” (Id.).
Paragraphs 38-42 attribute the City’s action to retaliation for the plaintiff’s
pursuit of a race discrimination lawsuit. (Doc. 15 at 11).
The City’s single-sentence dismissal of the amended complaint’s factual
allegations, (Doc. 17 at 3 n.2), is not persuasive.
The ad damnum clause claims compensatory damages for breach of contract in the
form of “emotional pain, suffering, inconvenience, mental anguish, loss of
enjoyment of life.” (Id. at 22). The City argues that emotional distress damages
are non-recoverable for breach of an employment contract as a matter of law.
(Doc. 17 at 4-5).
“[N]o recovery has ever been allowed for mental distress arising from the
wrongful discharge of an employee in breach of an employment contract.”
Southern Medical Health Systems, Inc. v. Vaughn, 669 So. 2d 98, 101 (Ala. 1995)
(internal quotes omitted). That result has remained consistent in the intervening
years. Hobson v. American Cast Iron Pipe Co., 690 So. 2d 341, 344 (Ala. 1997)
(“This Court has not recognized claims for emotional distress in an employment
case. … We conclude that our law would preclude [the plaintiff] from any
recovery for emotional distress on a claim of wrongful termination.”); Wyatt v.
BellSouth, Inc., 757 So. 2d 403, 408 (Ala. 2000) (“Our law also requires that the
plaintiff prove an independent tort in order to recover damages for mental anguish
in an employment setting. … Surely, as an employee at will, [a terminated
employee] cannot recover compensatory damages for mental anguish when
employees whose employment was not at will could not have recovered.”);
Carraway Methodist Health Systems v. Wise, 986 So. 2d 387, 400 (Ala. 2007)
(“Based upon all the facts and circumstances presented here, we do not consider
this to be ‘the case’ in which we should recognize the availability of mentalanguish damages arising out [of] the breach of an employment contract.”).
The plaintiff does not dispute the import of these cases: Alabama law does
not permit him to recover emotional distress damages because he was
constructively demoted without following proper procedures. Instead, he asserts
that, “[p]rior to a final determination of liability, the damages sought hardly seems
a proper subject for a Rule 12(b)(6) pleading stage dismissal.” (Doc. 22 at 3).
Were the plaintiff seeking only emotional distress damages as relief, his legal
inability to recover such damages would defeat an element of his claim and thus
subject Count VII to dismissal for failure to state a claim. But, as noted, the
plaintiff also seeks “economic damages” and damages for “inconvenience” and
“loss of enjoyment of life.” (Doc. 15 at 22). Because the City has not addressed
these elements of alleged damage, it has failed to show that they are all nonrecoverable as a matter of law. It has therefore failed to demonstrate its
entitlement to the only relief it seeks, viz., dismissal of Count VII. (Doc. 17 at 1,
In addition to damages for breach of contract, the plaintiff seeks “an order
compelling specific performance, consistent with the terms of the contract.” (Doc.
15 at 20). The City points out that the plaintiff cannot both recover damages and
receive specific performance. “As … Plaintiff improperly asserts that he is
entitled to both of two mutually exclusive remedies, Plaintiff’s claim for breach of
contract is due to be dismissed.” (Doc. 17 at 5). The City, however, engages in no
discussion of election of remedies, when that election must occur, and what the
consequences are of not making an election. The Court will not undertake such an
effort on the City’s behalf.
For the reasons set forth above, the City’s motion to dismiss is denied.
DONE and ORDERED this 9th day of May, 2017.
s/ WILLIAM H. STEELE
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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