Lewis v. The City of Wadley et al

Filing 37

ORDER granting in part 13 Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. This case is Remanded to the Superior Court of Jefferson County. Signed by Chief Judge J. Randal Hall on 6/9/17. (cmr)

Download PDF
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF GEORGIA AUGUSTA DIVISION WESLEY L. LEWIS, * * Plaintiff, * v, * * * THE CITY OF WADLEY, a municipal corporation organized under the laws of the State of Georgia; HAROLD MOORE, individually and as Mayor, City of Wadley; IZELL MACK, individually and as Councilman, City of Wadley; JOHN MAYE, individually and as Councilman, City of Wadley; KENDRICK MCBRIDE, individually and as Councilman, City of Wadley; ELIZABETH MOORE, individually and as Councilwoman, City of Wadley; and JERRY THOMAS, individually and as Councilman, City of Wadley, CIVIL ACTION CV NO, 116-106 Defendants. ORDER Presently before the judgment on the pleadings. Court Defendants' motion for The matter has been fully briefed and is ripe for consideration. below, is For the reasons set forth Defendants' motion is GRANTED IN PART. I. LEGAL STANDARD The legal standards applicable to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) motions for judgment on the pleadings and Rule 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss are the same. Roma v. Outdoor Creations, Inc. v. City of Cumminq, Ga. , 558 F. Supp. 2d 1283, 1284 (N.D. Ga. 2008) ("A motion for judgment on the pleadings is subject to the same standard as is a Rule 12(b) (6) motion to dismiss.") A motion for judgment on the pleadings, like a motion to dismiss, does not test whether the plaintiff will ultimately prevail on the merits tests the Rhodes, legal 416 U.S. sufficiency 232, 236 of of the (1974). the case. Rather, complaint. Therefore, it Scheur v. the court must accept as true all facts alleged in the complaint and construe all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Hoffman-Puah v. Ramsey, 312 F.3d 1222, 1225 (11th Cir. 2002) . complaint's facts. The court, legal however, conclusions Ashcroft v. Iqbal, as true, 556 U.S. 662, need not accept the only its well-pled 677-79 (2009). A complaint also must "contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, *to plausible on its face.'" v. Twomblv, 550 U.S. state a claim to relief that is Id^ at 678 (citing Bell Atl. Corp. 544, 570 (2007)). The plaintiff is required to plead "factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." probability requirement beyond . . mere 550 U.S. . Twombly, Broudo, 544 U.S. Id. at the pleading possibility at 336, 556-57 347 Although . . (citing there stage, . must be is "something alleged." basis of a dispositive issue of law, Durma Pharm. , Inc. When, (2005)). no however, on v. the no construction of the factual allegations of the complaint will support the cause of action, dismissal of the complaint Executive 100, Inc. v. Martin Cntv., Cir. is appropriate. See 922 F.2d 1536, 1539 (11th 1991) . II. This case arises BACKGROUND out of against Plaintiff Wesley L. an employment purposes taken Lewis, who was employed as the Chief of Police of the City of Wadley, Georgia, 1, 2009 to March 9, 2016. action from January (Compl., Doc. 1, Ex. 1, 1 4. ) of the present motion, the parties For agree to the following facts, which are drawn from Plaintiff's complaint: On March 9, 2016, the Mayor of Wadley, Defendant Harold Moore, terminated Plaintiff. Plaintiff exercised his appeal right to Wadley's City Council. Upon conducting a hearing on March 18, 2016, the City Council overturned the Mayor's termination decision and voted to reinstate Plaintiff. Subsequently, the Mayor vetoed that determination and refused to allow Plaintiff to return to his post. Plaintiff sued the City of Wadley, City Council members, individually capacities as council members. the Mayor, and in their and the official Plaintiff's claims include a claim for deprivation of due process under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, breach of an employment contract, and a petition for mandamus relief.1 III. LEGAL ANALYSIS Section 1983 creates a federal remedy for the deprivation of federal rights. Inc., 826 F.2d 1030, 1983 claim Wideman v. Shallowford Community Hosp., requires 1032 (11th Cir. proof of a 1987). An actionable § deprivation of rights, privileges or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States and that the deprivation was by a person or persons acting under color of law.2 Id. Here, Plaintiff claims that his termination, more specifically, the Mayor's refusal to recognize the City Council's reinstatement of his position, denied him due process "in clear violation of the 1 Plaintiff filed the complaint in the Superior Court of Jefferson County, but in reliance upon Plaintiff's § 1983 claim, Defendants removed to this Court. Plaintiff filed a motion to remand, stating that he planned to drop the § 1983 claim. On September 30, 2016, this Court denied Plaintiff's motion to remand as premature. (Doc. 12.) Plaintiff, however, has never amended his complaint, and the § 1983 claim remains. 2 There is no dispute that Defendants acted under color of state law. laws of Georgia and the Charter and Ordinances of the City of Wadley and in violation of the clear Personnel Policies of the (Compl. 1 21.) City of Wadley." Notably, plead a violation of federal law.3 Plaintiff does not Nevertheless, for purposes of this motion, the Court will liberally construe Plaintiff's allegations to assert a claim for violation of the Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution. "A § 1983 action may procedural due process." (1990). be brought for a violation of Zinermon v. Burch, 494 U.S. 113, 125 "The protections of the Due Process Clause apply to government deprivation of those employment in which the employee protected 'property' interest." [benefits] has a of government constitutionally Gilbert v. Homar, 520 U.S. 924, 928 (1997) . The parties in this case do not dispute that Plaintiff had a protected property interest in his position as Chief of Police.4 3 Defendants raise this point in their motion for judgment on the pleadings, and Plaintiff does not address it in response. 4 "The City Charter and General Ordinances adopted by the City of Wadley, Georgia, state that the Mayor and City Council shall elect a Chief of Police, who shall hold his office for one (1) year, unless sooner removed by the Council." (Compl. 5 5.) Further, Section 11 of the City of Wadley's Personnel Policies and Procedures provides that the Chief of Police can only be removed for just cause. (Id. SI 7.) Plaintiff was elected on January 1, 2016, and therefore, he could only be removed for just cause in the ensuing year. Thus, he had a protected property interest in continued employment under Georgia law. S.E.2d 889, 891 n.l See Jones v. Chatham Ctv., 477 (Ga. Ct. App. 1996). Through their motion for judgment on the pleadings, Defendants point out that a procedural due process claim is not actionable under § 1983 "unless and until the State fails to provide due process." Zinermon, 494 U.S. at 126. That is, there is a procedural due process violation only if the State fails to provide a means to remedy any alleged deprivation. Foxy Lady, Inc. v. (11th Cir. 2003) City of Atlanta, Ga., 347 F.3d 1232, 1238 ("[E]ven if a procedural deprivation exists during an administrative hearing, such a claim will not be cognizable under § 1983 if the state provides a means by which to remedy the alleged deprivation."); Cotton v. Jackson, 216 F.3d 1328, to 1331 provide (11th Cir. 2000) adequate ("It is the state's failure procedures to remedy the otherwise procedurally flawed deprivation of a protected interest that gives rise to a federal procedural due process claim."); McKinnev v. Pate, 20 F.3d 1550, 1563 (11th Cir. 1994) (vx[E]ven if [the plaintiff] suffered a procedural deprivation ... at his termination hearing, he has not suffered a violation of his procedural due process rights unless and until the State refuses deprivation.'7 adequate state to make (emphasis available in a means original)). to remedy Moreover, the "[i]f remedies were available but the plaintiff failed to take advantage of them, the plaintiff cannot rely on that failure to claim that the state deprived him of procedural due process." In this available case, remedy Cotton, Defendants to Plaintiff 216 F.3d at 1331. contend under that there Georgia was law, an citing O.C.G.A. § 5-4-1 (a), which gives public employees the right to petition the state superior employment decisions. court for review of certain The statute provides that a "writ of certiorari shall lie for the correction of errors committed by any inferior powers." judicatory or any Id. person exercising judicial Because Plaintiff could have filed a petition for a writ of certiorari in state court, so the argument goes, he cannot state a procedural due process claim under § 1983. The crux of Defendants' argument rests upon a determination of whether Defendants' actions were they were administrative. In Georgia, administrative judges is "the and that a quasi-judicial or whether See Cotton, 216 F.3d at 1332. basic a judicial distinction act by quasi-judicial officers action, between other contrary an than to an administrative function, is one in which all parties are as a matter of right entitled to notice and to a hearing, with the opportunity afforded to present evidence under judicial forms of procedure; and that no one deprived of such rights is bound by the action taken." South View Cemetarv Ass'n v. Hailev, 34 S.E.2d 863, 866 1945), quoted (Ga. in Cotton, 216 F.3d at 1332; and Mack II v. Citv of Atlanta, 489 S.E.2d 357, 359 (Ga. Ct. App. 1997). Thus, the distinction generally turns on whether the parties were granted notice and an opportunity to be heard. Laskar v. Bd. 740 S.E.2d 179, 181 of Regents of Univ. (Ga. Ct. App. System of Ga., 2013). Upon consideration of the process at issue in this case, the Court concludes that the function of the City Council (and subsequent veto of the Mayor) was quasi-judicial in nature. Plaintiff was afforded notice and an opportunity to be heard. More specifically, upon receiving notice of his termination on March 9, 2016, Plaintiff appealed to the City Council in compliance with the City of Wadley's Personnel Policies and (Compl. 1 9.) Procedures. of the Personnel Pursuant to Section 12(B) (3)-(4) Policies and Procedures, the City Council conducted a hearing on Plaintiff's appeal on March 18, 2016, and determined that the decision to terminate him should be reversed. (Id. II 10-11, 13.) to reinstate" Plaintiff The Mayor, however, "refused (id^ 1 15), an act that Defendants refer to as a valid veto under the City Charter of Wadley.5 In a similar case, the Georgia Court of Appeals determined that the County Board of Commissioners exercised quasi-judicial power in upholding its decision to terminate its County Administrator after affording the Administrator a 5 Plaintiff alleges that the Mayor's veto was illegal and wrongful. (Compl. ! 15.) be addressed infra. This point of contention will right to appeal the decision pursuant to its personnel policy. Bd. of Comm'rs of Effingham Cty. (Ga. Ct. App. 1997). entertaining the Commissioners "clearly service board. The v. Farmer, Farmer Administrator's court 493 S.E.2d 21, 26 explained appeal, ^performed the the function Board of v. 1991)). and City of Likewise, appealed hearing, a in of civil It has been generally held that the rulings of such tribunals are quasijudicial in nature.'"6 Id. Salter that the Thomaston, 409 S.E.2d 88 (Ga. (quoting Ct. App. in Salter, a city employee was terminated decision to the City Manager. After a the City Manager upheld the termination decision. The Salter court held that the City Manager's function was quasi-judicial and his decision was subject to review by petition for a writ of certiorari under O.C.G.A. § 5-4-1 (a) . Salter, that 409 S.E.2d at 89. a local governing These analogous cases demonstrate body, such as a city council, entertaining appeals of employment decisions like a tribunal or civil service board exercises quasi-judicial power. In response, Plaintiff conclusorily argues that the City Council was simply carrying out an administrative duty to determine whether it agreed with the termination decision. 6 "The right to petition the Superior Court concerning employment decisions made by county and municipal civil service boards has been explicitly upheld." 810 F.2d 1030, 1031 n.3 (11th Cir. 1987) omitted). Lee v. Hutson, (cited sources Plaintiff states that the City Council's action was not an appeal but an "integral part" of the administrative decision as a condition precedent to termination. also id. at 5 ("Because the (Doc. 26, at 4; see Council's decision was an administrative component of the termination process, it is not a judicial O.C.G.A. determination § 5-4-1.").) subject This to the appeal distinction is process without of an articulated difference; it is also without foundation in that Plaintiff himself alleges that the Wadley City Council acted in an authoritative ("[T]he City appellate capacity. Council has authority and 1 10 responsibility to (See Compl. conduct a hearing on the appeal and make a determination as to whether disciplinary action against upheld or reversed.") .) an employee should be In any event, the Court's focus is on the process that was afforded to the terminated employee, and notwithstanding Plaintiff's conclusory label that the City Council's role was "administrative," due process (i.e., notice and an opportunity to be heard) was afforded to Plaintiff by the City Council. This same focus on the process resulted in a contrary finding in a case cited by Plaintiff in his responsive brief - Laskar v. Bd. of Regents of Univ. System of Ga. , 740 S.E.2d 179. determined that the There, review the Georgia Court of Appeals of the discharge of professor by a Faculty Hearing Committee was 10 a not tenured quasi- judicial but administrative because the committee only submitted a "recommendation" to the university president, who was free to accept or reject the recommendation. 83. Thus, Id. at 182- the Hearing Committee acted merely in an advisory capacity to the president. decision was made, Id. at 184. Once the termination the employee had no right to any further hearing on the matter. Id. On this point, the Laskar court distinguished the case from Farmer, discussed above, where the terminated county opportunity to employee was granted present evidence to the a hearing and county board of commissioners for review of the final termination decision.7 Id. In the case at bar, the process shows that Plaintiff was discharged and then granted a hearing and opportunity to be heard by the City Council, much like the plaintiffs in Farmer 7 Plaintiff also cites a 1935 decision involving a certified question to the Georgia Supreme Court of whether the Public Service Commission acts in a quasi-judicial or administrative role in revoking a certificate of public convenience and necessity for a motor carrier that abandoned passenger service along a certain route - Southeastern Greyhound Lines v. Ga. Public Serv. Comm'n, 181 S.E. 834 (Ga. 1935) . In the case, the Georgia Supreme Court determined that the hearing before the Public Service Commission was administrative in nature because it did not involve a disinterested application of law to facts. Id. at 837-38. Yet, Plaintiff cannot distinguish the more recent similar cases of Farmer and Salter that application of law to facts, also did not involve an but rather involved^ local governing bodies sitting in review of a termination decision. Further, Plaintiff argues that the Wadley City Council was not acting as an independent appellate body. (Doc. 26, at 4.) Yet, the governing bodies in Farmer and Salter that were found to be quasi-judicial in nature were not independent either. 11 and Salter. Thus, the City Council acted in a quasi-judicial manner. Finally, Plaintiff argues in brief that the supportive cases of Farmer and Salter are distinguishable because they involve an appeal from a terminate an employee. the final decision finalized employment decision to Plaintiff continues that in this case, of the City Council was to reinstate Plaintiff, a decision which the Mayor refuses to recognize and the City Council has failed to implement. Plaintiff's argument is it does not The problem with recognize the Mayor's power to veto the resolution of the City Council to reinstate Plaintiff. The Wadley City Charter8 provides in pertinent part: Within 96 hours after the adjournment of any council meeting, the city clerk shall present to the mayor the record of proceedings of the meeting and all ordinances and resolutions adopted at the meeting. The mayor, within seven days of receipt of an ordinance or resolution, the with shall return it to city clerk with or without his his veto. . . . Ordinances and approval, or resolutions vetoed by the mayor shall be considered at the next regular meeting of the council, and the council may pass the ordinance over the veto by the affirmative vote of four of its members. . . . The mayor's veto shall extend to . . . any ordinance or resolution . (The Charter of the City of Wadley, Doc. 13-1, Ex. to Defs.' 8 "Interpretation of statutes, ordinances, and charters . . . presents a question of law for the court." City of Buchanan v. Pope, 476 S.E.2d 53, 55 12 (Ga. Ct. App. 1996). Br. in Supp. of Mot. for J. on the Pleadings.) the Mayor vetoed the Plaintiff, and the City Council did not pass the matter over the veto. Thus, Plaintiff. City Council's decision In this case, to reinstate the final decision was in fact to terminate Plaintiff's protestations to the contrary, it is well settled in Georgia that when a municipal charter provides for a mayoral veto of any resolution, the veto power extends to the decision of whether to discharge an employee. Wise, 50 S.E.2d 69, 72 (Ga. 1948) Allen v. ("[W]here the veto power is specifically granted[, the] mayor correctly determined that he had the legal right to veto the resolution discharging [the comptroller]."); City of Ludowici v. Brown, 295 S.E.2d 90, 92 (Ga. 1982) (relying upon Allen v. Wise, the court found that a mayor could veto the appointment of a court employee because the city charter provided, without limitation, that the mayor had veto power over "any resolution or ordinance passed by the council"); cL Stephenson v. Brown, 300 S.E.2d 803, 804-05 (Ga. 1983) (recognizing that a city charter may specifically grant a mayoral veto over employment decisions of the city council but concluding that the city charter at issue in the case excluded "elections" from the mayoral veto power, and thus, the mayor could not veto the council's election of a city attorney). Plaintiff argues that the Mayor's veto 13 was not valid because the City Charter also provides that the Mayor's authority to make employment/personnel decisions is subject to (Doc. 16, at 2 (citing Section 3-3 of the council approval. City Charter).) The Wadley City Code also provides: mayor and council shall elect a chief of police, "'The who shall hold his office for one year, unless sooner removed by the council.'" (Id. provisions, (quoting Wadley City Code § 18-1).) however, do not contradict the veto These process whereby the City Council has the authority and power to pass a resolution or ordinance over the Mayor's veto. In essence then, employment the City Council is the last arbiter of decisions in accord with the quoted provisions.9 In conclusion, Plaintiff could have sought review of Defendants' decision to terminate him by filing a petition for writ of certiorari in the Superior Court of Georgia pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 5-4-1. The availability of this state remedy precludes his § 1983 claim for violation of procedural due process. Accordingly, Defendants are entitled to judgment on the pleadings as to Plaintiff's sole federal claim. 9 To the extent the Wadley City Code provision regarding removal of the Chief of Police conflicts with the Wadley City Charter, Georgia law provides that the Charter governs. of Buchanan, 476 S.E.2d at 56. 14 City IV. CONCLUSION Upon the foregoing, the Court concludes that the factual allegations of the complaint will not support deprivation of due process under 42 U.S.C. that federal claim, the Court a claim for § 1983. declines to Without exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's state law claims. See 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(3). Accordingly, Defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings (doc. 13) is GRANTED IN PART. The Clerk is directed to REMAND this case to the Superior Court of Jefferson County.10 ORDER ENTERED at Augusta, Georgia, this V day of June, 2017. ]F JUDGE ^STATES DISTRICT COURT IN 10 "[Fjederal district courts in DISTRICT OF GEORGIA removal cases must remand, rather than dismiss, state claims over which they decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction." McDuffie v. Broward County, Fla. , 654 F. App'x 408, 411 (11th Cir. 2016) (quoted sources omitted). 15

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?