Riles v. Augusta-Richmond County Commission et al

Filing 24

ORDER granting 9 Motion to Dismiss; granting in part and denying in part 10 Motion to Dismiss and 11 Motion to Dismiss. Signed by Chief Judge J. Randal Hall on 08/21/2017. (thb)

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IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF COURT FOR THE GEORGIA AUGUSTA DIVISION JAMES D. RILES, * • Plaintiff, * * * vs. CIVIL ACTION NO. CV 116-214 • AUGUSTA-RICHMOND COMMISSION, COUNTY * ROBERT LEVINE, JOANIE SMITH, * and RONALD * HOUCK, * * Defendants. * ORDER Before separate the Court motions to in the dismiss captioned filed by matter Defendants are three Augusta- Richmond County Commission,1 Joanie Smith, and Ronald Houck. While the motions Plaintiff's to dismiss purport to entire complaint, the seek dismissal of arguments address certain of Plaintiff's claims. therein only The motions have been fully briefed and are ripe for consideration. 1 Through its motion to dismiss, Defendant Augusta-Richmond County Commission states that it has been misidentified, contending that "Augusta, Georgia" is the proper party defendant. It appears from the complaint that Plaintiff is suing his employer, the body politic - Augusta-Richmond County. The Court will not change the caption or direct the substitution of a party name except upon motion. For purposes of the instant motion, however, the Court will refer to this Defendant as "the County." I. On December 27, counsel, BACKGROUND 2016, Plaintiff James D. Riles, through filed the instant employment discrimination case. The complaint alleges that Plaintiff has been an employee of the County for 11 years Facilities Department. with the Recreation, (Compl., H 10.) Parks, and Plaintiff applied for but was denied the position of Facilities Supervisor on or about February 6, 2014. (IcL 111 11-12.) Plaintiff, a black male, claims he was qualified for the position but was denied because of his race. (Id. UK 13-16, 19.) On February 19, 2014, Plaintiff filed a complaint with the Augusta-Richmond (Id. % 29.) County Equal Employment Opportunity Office. Plaintiff further alleges that thereafter, he was denied other positions within the Recreation, Parks, and Facilities Department because of his race and in retaliation for filing the first EEO complaint. (Id. UK 20-27, 34.) Plaintiff further claims he was denied other positions in retaliation for filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in June 2014. (Id. UK 38-40.) Upon these allegations, Plaintiff alleges a violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Equal Protection Clause of Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. § 44.) Nevertheless, the (Id. in the introductory paragraph of the complaint, Plaintiff cites not only to § 1983 and the Equal Protection Clause but also "Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq." and "Title I of the Civil Rights Act of 1991 - 42 U.S.C. § 1981." at 1.) (Compl. Through their motions to dismiss, Defendants seek to dismiss any claims under Title I of the Civil Rights Act of 1991, which is codified at 42 U.S.C. Moreover, the dismissal of individual the Defendants, official § 1981a, Smith and Houck, capacity claims against duplicative of the claims against the County, dismissal of capacities. any claims against and § 1981.2 them in seek them as and they seek their individual The Court will now resolve these issues. II. LEGAL STANDARD A motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) does not test whether the plaintiff will ultimately 2 Title I of the Civil Rights Act of 1991 is codified at 42 U.S.C. § 1981a. It is unclear from the complaint whether Plaintiff was referring to § 1981a when he listed "Title I of the Civil Rights Act of 1991 - 42 U.S.C. § 1981" or whether he was referring to both § 1981a and § 1981. See Olmstead v. Taco Bell Corp., 141 F.3d 1457, 1462 (11th Cir. 1998) (acknowledging the potential for confusion in differentiating between the amendments to Title VII embodied in § 1981a and the cause of action created in § 1981). Because Defendants have interpreted the language to state claims under § 1981a and § 1981, the Court will address both herein as well. Of note, Plaintiff all but concedes that he does not have an independent claim under either statute, stating that his complaint is "based primarily upon Defendants' collective violations of Title VII and the Fourteenth Amendment." Resp. in Opp'n to Mots, to Dismiss, Doc. 16, at 2.) (PL's prevail on the merits of the case. sufficiency of the complaint. 236 (1974) . Therefore, Rather, it tests the legal Scheur v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 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-Pugh v. Ramsey, 312 F.3d 1222, 1225 (11th Cir. 2002). The court, however, need not conclusions as true, Iqbal, 556 U.S. accept the complaint's only its well-pled facts. legal Ashcroft v. 662, 677-79 (2009). A complaint also must "contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, xto state plausible on its face.'" v. Twomblv, 550 U.S. a claim Id. at 678 544, 570 to relief that (citing Bell Atl. (2007)). The is Corp. 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." Id. Although probability requirement at the pleading beyond Twombly, Broudo, . . . mere 550 U.S. 544 U.S. possibility at 336, 556-57 347 . . there stage, . must be When, no "something alleged." (citing Durma Pharm., (2005)). is Inc. however, v. on the basis of a dispositive issue of law, no construction of the factual allegations of the complaint will support the cause of action, dismissal of the complaint is appropriate. See Executive 100, Inc. v. Martin Cntv. , 922 F.2d 1536, 1539 (11th Cir. 1991). III. A. 42 U.S.C. § LEGAL ANALYSIS 1981 Section 1981 provides that u [a]11 persons . . . shall have the same right in every State and Territory to make and enforce contracts . . . as is enjoyed by white citizens." However, § 1981 does not provide action against state actors. F.3d 891, 894 (11th Cir. an independent cause Butts v. Cnty. of Volusia, 2000). Rather, 42 U.S.C. of 222 § 1983 is the exclusive federal remedy for violations by state actors of the rights guaranteed by § 1981. Bryant v. Jones, 575 F.3d 1281, 1288 n.l (11th Cir. 2009) (citing Butts, 222 F.3d at 89495) . Plaintiff's complaint sets forth a § 1983 claim wherein he claims that Defendants have violated his equal protection rights as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. to bring merges Defendants' Any § 1981 claim Plaintiff has attempted into his § 1983 claim. Accordingly, motions to dismiss any § 1981 claim are hereby GRANTED. B. 42 U.S.C. Section § § 1981a 1981a broadened the remedies available to successful Title VII litigants. See 42 U.S.C. § 1981a, 2000e- 5(g). It does not provide an independent cause of action. Satterfield 6916828 v. (N.D. Bd. Ala. of Feb. Trustees 26, of 2016); Univ. of King v. Ala., 2016 WL Fulton Cnty. of Ga., 2009 WL 1322341 Defendants' (N.D. Ga. May 11, 2009). Accordingly, motions to dismiss any § 1981a claim are hereby GRANTED. C. Individual Capacity Claims In this case, Plaintiff has it is unclear from the complaint whether asserted a claim against the individual Defendants, Smith and Houck, in their individual capacities. The word However, "individual" Plaintiff does seeks not appear punitive in the damages, complaint. which are only recoverable against government officials in their individual capacities. U.S. 247, See City of Newport v. Fact Concerts, 268-70 (1981); see also Scott v. 2d 1260, 1274 (M.D. Ala. 1999) liable for punitive Accordingly, damages Estes, Inc., 453 60 F. Supp. (holding that county cannot be under Title VII or § 1983) . the Court will presume that Plaintiff is suing Smith and Houck in their official and individual capacities under Title VII and § With respect 1983. to Plaintiff's claims under Title VII, individual capacity suits are inappropriate because the relief granted under individual Title employees violation of Title VII. & Mental Retardation, VII is whose against actions the employer, would not constitute a Cross v. Ala. Dep't of Mental Health 49 F.3d 1490, 1504 (11th Cir. 1995) (holding liability under Title VII is limited to official capacity claims); Busby v. City of Orlando, 931 F.2d 764, 772 (11th Cir. 1991) . Contrary to Title VII, individual employees can be held liable for discrimination under § 1983. And at this point, Defendants have presented no legal argument or authority to dismiss Plaintiff's individual capacity claims under § 1983 for violation of his equal protection rights. Upon the foregoing, Defendants Smith and Houck's motions to dismiss the individual capacity claims against them are GRANTED with respect to Plaintiff's Title VII claims. The individual capacity claims against Defendants Smith and Houck under § 1983 remain. D. Official Capacity Claims Defendants Smith and Houck also move to dismiss Plaintiff's Title VII and § 1983 claims against them in their official capacities. With respect to Defendants Smith and Defendants contend against the County. Plaintiff's Houck that in § their they are 1983 official redundant The Court agrees. claims of against capacities, his claims See Busby, 931 F.2d at 776 (holding that § 1983 suits against a municipal officer in his official capacity are functionally equivalent to suits against the municipality); Owens v. Fulton Cnty., 877 F.2d 947, 951 n.5 (11th Cir. 1989) ("For liability purposes, a suit against a considered public official a against suit in the his official local capacity government entity is he represents."); M.R. v. Bd. of School Comm'rs of Mobile Cnty., 2012 WL 2931263, *2 (S.D. Ala. July 18, 2012) ("Plainly, then, extensive authorities illustrate the well-entrenched principle that suits against both an official in his or her official capacity and the entity that official represents are redundant and unnecessary.") Plaintiff (cited sources omitted). points out that he is seeking prospective relief in the form of reinstatement and front pay, claims against Defendants Smith and Houck may stand. thus, his While it is true that official capacity claims for prospective relief are not treated as actions against the state for purposes of Eleventh Amendment immunity, see Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 167 n.14 (1985), there is no rule that a court make a distinction between the types of damages sought in assessing whether a claim for relief is duplicative under Busby. Alabama existed, district court observed: "If such a As the distinction one would expect courts applying Busby to dismiss only the money-damages claims against the government officials in their official capacities, while allowing the injunctive and declaratory claims to proceed to trial." 2931263, at *3 . This is not the case however. M.R., 2012 WL Simply put, Plaintiff's official capacity claims against Defendants Smith and Houck are redundant of his claims against the County no matter the damages sought.3 For this reason, Defendants Smith and Houck's motions to dismiss Plaintiff's official capacity claims against them under § 1983 are GRANTED. Further, as stated previously, the relief granted under Title VII is against the employer, not individual employees whose actions Busby, would constitute 931 F.2d at 772. i.e., the County. Here, a violation Title VII. Plaintiff named the employer, Thus, official capacity claims against his supervisors are unnecessary and duplicative. v. United Techs. of Corp., 916 F. Supp. 1217, See, e.g., Lynn 1219 (M.D. Ala. 1996). Accordingly, Defendants Smith and Houck's motions to dismiss Plaintiff's Title VII claims against them in their official capacities are also GRANTED, IV• CONCLUSION Upon the foregoing, Defendant County's motion to dismiss (doc. 9) 3 is GRANTED. Plaintiff More specifically, cites Welch v. Lanev, 57 Plaintiff's claims F.3d 1004 (11th Cir. 1995), for the proposition that his official capacity claims for injunctive relief should stand. However, in Welch, the entity that the individual defendants represented was not a party to the lawsuit. That is, the Welch plaintiff was able to maintain his official capacity claims against the Sheriff and the Chief Deputy Sheriff for injunctive relief because the entity they represented was not a party. Welch is inapposite as the County has defendant in the instant action. For this reason, been named as a under § 1981a discrimination remain. 10 & and and § 1981 are retaliation dismissed; under § his 1983 and claims Title of VII Defendants Smith and Houck's motions to dismiss (doc. 11) are GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART. More specifically, Plaintiff's claims under § 1981a and § 1981 are dismissed. Houck in dismissed, under § Plaintiff's claims against Defendants Smith and their individual but his 1983 will capacities under Title VII are individual capacity claims against them stand. Plaintiff's claims against Defendants Smith and Houck in their official capacities under Title VII and § 1983 are dismissed. Finally, the Court exercises its discretion to not award attorney's fees and costs associated with filing the motions to dismiss to Defendants as requested. ORDER ENTERED at Augusta, August, Georgia, this C>< ** day of 2 017. J.^RM^fKL HALL, CHIEF JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF GEORGIA 10

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