Southfield Education Association v. Southfield Board of Education
Opinion and Order Granting Defendant's 8 Motion for Summary Judgement and Cancelling April 22, 2013 Hearing. Signed by District Judge Gershwin A. Drain. (Bankston, T)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
SOUTHFIELD EDUCATION ASSOCIATION,
HON. GERSHWIN A. DRAIN
SOUTHFIELD BOARD OF EDUCATION,
OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING
DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [#8] AND CANCELLING
APRIL 22, 2013 HEARING
This lawsuit arises out of Defendant not recalling 23 previously tenured teachers that
are represented by Plaintiff. Plaintiff contends that the teachers had a property interest in
their positions and that this interest was deprived without due process. This claim is
currently before the Court on Defendant’s FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss, and/or
for Summary Judgment pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). Upon review of the Complaint,
Motion to Dismiss, and Response in Opposition, the Court concludes that oral argument
will not aid in the resolution of this matter. Accordingly, the Court will resolve the pending
motion on the briefs and cancels the hearing scheduled for April 22, 2013. See E.D. Mich.
L.R. 7.1(f)(2). Although Plaintiff’s response to the Motion to Dismiss was dilatory, for the
reasons stated below, the Court will allow it. Furthermore, the Defendant’s Motion to
Dismiss is GRANTED. This Opinion and Order sets forth the Court’s ruling.
II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND
Plaintiff Southfield Education Association is the sole and exclusive collective
bargaining representative for all teaching personnel employed by Defendant Southfield
Board of Education. In this capacity Plaintiff represents 23 teachers who were laid off
during the 2010-2011 academic school year. The teachers were available for recall during
the Summer and Fall of 2010. Defendant posted open teaching positions in the Summer
and Fall of 2011. The teachers applied for these positions, but Defendant hired new
applicants instead of recalling the teachers.
On January 31, 2012, Plaintiff filed a Complaint in Oakland County Circuit Court on
behalf of the teachers that alleged Defendant violated its own recall standards by hiring
new applicants instead of recalling the teachers. The Complaint contained two counts.
Count I alleged that Defendant violated the Public Employees Relations Act. Count II
alleged that Defendant violated Article 1, Section 17 (“the due process clause”) of the
Michigan Constitution. The basis of Count II was that the teachers had a property right in
their previous positions and Defendant deprived them of their property right without due
process by failing to recall the teachers. On April 5, 2012, Plaintiff filed their First Amended
Complaint, which changed Count I to a breach of contract claim, added the names of the
23 individual Plaintiffs, and added to Count II that the conduct of Defendant resulted in
separation of employment entirely for some of the teachers.
Defendant filed for Summary Disposition in the state court action. Judge James
Alexander of the Oakland County Circuit Court issued an “Opinion and Order Re: Motion
for Summary Disposition” in the state court action on June 6, 2012 granting Defendant’s
Motion for Summary Disposition for Failure to State a Claim as to Plaintiffs’ First
Amendment Complaint. This order stated that Defendant was, “entitled to summary
disposition of Plaintiffs’ breach of contract and due process claims as a matter of law.”
(Def.’s Ex. 4, at 3). Rather than dismiss the claim entirely, Judge Alexander allowed
Plaintiffs to amend their Complaint. On June 13, 2012, Plaintiffs filed a Second Amended
Complaint that deleted references to the due process rights of the tenured teachers and
the Michigan Constitution.
On March 7, 2012, Plaintiff filed a Complaint Claim of Unconstitutionality in this Court
alleging that Defendant violated Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment (“the due process
clause”) of the United States Constitution. The underlying conduct complained of by
Plaintiff is the same as that in Count II of the First Amended Complaint filed in the state
court action. The only difference between the two claims is that the claim before the state
court was based on the Michigan Constitution whereas the claim before this Court is based
on the United States Constitution. On December 18, 2012, Defendant moved to dismiss
the case under FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6), or, in the alternative, under FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c).
For the reasons stated below, Defendant’s Motion is GRANTED.
A. Standard of Review
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure12(b)(6) allows the court to make an assessment as
to whether the plaintiff has stated a claim upon which relief may be granted. See FED. R.
CIV. P. 12(b)(6). “Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires only ‘a short and plain
statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,’ in order to ‘give the
defendant fair notice of what the ... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.’” Bell
Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (citing Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41,
47 (1957). Even though the complaint need not contain “detailed” factual allegations, its
“factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level on
the assumption that all of the allegations in the complaint are true.” Ass’n of Cleveland Fire
Fighters v. City of Cleveland, 502 F.3d 545, 548 (6th Cir. 2007) (quoting Bell Atlantic, 550
U.S. at 555).
The court must construe the complaint in favor of the plaintiff, accept the allegations
of the complaint as true, and determine whether plaintiff’s factual allegations present
plausible claims. To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, plaintiff’s pleading for relief
must provide “more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements
of a cause of action will not do.” Id. (citations and quotations omitted). “[T]he tenet that
a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable
to legal conclusions.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 668 (2009). “Nor does a complaint
suffice if it tenders ‘naked assertion[s]’ devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.’” Id. “[A]
complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief
that is plausible on its face.’” Id. The plausibility standard requires “more than a sheer
possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. “[W]here 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.’” Id.
B. Plaintiff’s Motion to Enlarge Time to File Response
Plaintiff has demonstrated good cause to extend the time to respond to
Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiff’s Motion is therefore GRANTED.
C. Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss
Defendant asserts that the state court judgment bars Plaintiff’s Complaint in this
Court through either collateral estoppel or res judicata. Since these are two distinct legal
theories, they will be analyzed separately. There are some relevant principles that are
applicable to both legal theories. “A state court judgment must be given the same
preclusive effect in federal court that it would be given in the courts of the rendering state.”
Vinson v. Campbell County Fiscal Court, 820 F.2d 194, 197 (6th Cir. 1987) (citing Migra
v. Warren City Sch. Dist. Bd. of Educ., 465 U.S. 75, 81 (1984)). Further, “[w]hen deciding
whether to afford preclusive effect to a state court judgment, the Full Faith and Credit Act,
28 U.S.C. § 1738, requires the federal court to give the prior adjudication the same
preclusive effect it would have under the law of the state whose court issued the judgment.”
Stemler v. Florence, 350 F.3d 578, 586 (6th Cir. 2003) (citing Migra, 465 U.S. at 81). Thus,
Michigan law determines the preclusive effect of the state court action.
Collateral estoppel, “bars relitigation of an issue in a new action arising between the
same parties or their privies when the earlier proceeding resulted in a valid final judgment
and the issue in question was actually and necessarily determined in that prior proceeding.”
Leahy v. Orion Twp., 269 Mich. App. 527, 530 (2006). In Michigan, collateral estoppel
arises when: “(1) the subject matter of the second action [is] the same; (2) the parties or
their privies [are] the same; and (3) the prior judgment [was] on the merits.” RADS, P.C.
v. Mercy Mem'l Hosp., 3 F. Supp. 2d 772, 774 (E.D. Mich. 1998) aff'd sub nom. Rads v.
Mercy Mem'l Hosp., 187 F.3d 637 (6th Cir. 1999).
The subject matter of this claim is the same as that in the state court action. In the
state court action Plaintiff claimed that Defendant violated the due process clause of the
Michigan Constitution by depriving the teachers of their property interest in their former
positions without due process. The alleged deprivation occurred when Defendant hired
outside applicants for teaching positions as opposed to recalling the teachers.
Plaintiff’s claim before this Court is based on the same underlying facts of the state
court action. The only difference is that the present action is based on the United States
Constitution as opposed to the Michigan Constitution. This difference is immaterial as they
are essentially the same claims. The language of the Michigan and federal due process
clauses are identical. See U.S. CONST. amend. XIV, § 1; MICH. CONST. art. I, § 17. “The
due process protections afforded by the Michigan Constitution are co-extensive with those
afforded under the United States Constitution.” Wilson v. City of Kalamazoo, 127 F. Supp.
2d 855, 864 (W.D. Mich. 2000). Finally, the Sixth Circuit has held that the analysis under
the Michigan due process clause and the United States due process clause are essentially
the same. See Borman's, Inc. v. Michigan Property & Casualty Guaranty Ass'n, 925 F.2d
160, 162 n. 1 (6th Cir. 1991). Thus, there is no meaningful difference between the two
The second factor is satisfied as the parties in this action are the same as in the
state court action. While the individual teachers are not named plaintiffs in this action, the
Association is acting as the teachers’ representative in both actions, which assures that all
the teachers are duly represented. The third requirement, however, has not been met. “A
decision is final when all appeals have been exhausted or when the time available for an
appeal has passed.” Leahy, 269 Mich. App., at 530. As Defendant concedes, Plaintiff may
still appeal the ruling of the state court. The state court action is not yet final for collateral
estoppel purposes, thus it would be premature to grant preclusive effect to the state court
Defendant also argues that Plaintiff’s Complaint is barred by res judicata. A second
action is barred by res judicata when the action is between the same parties and it
concerns identical facts. Dart v. Dart, 460 Mich. 573, 586 (1999). Res judicata is
appropriate, “when (1) the first action was decided on the merits, (2) the matter contested
in the second action was or could have been resolved in the first, and (3) both actions
involve the same parties or their privies.” Id. Some courts have also imposed the further
requirement that a decision be final. See, e.g., Richards v. Tibaldi, 272 Mich. App. 522,
531 (2006). “The burden of establishing the applicability of res judicata is on the party
asserting the doctrine.” Id. Finally, Michigan courts have adopted the broad approach to
res judicata, which means that all claims arising from the same transaction that could have
been raised, but were not, are barred. Dart, 360 Mich. at 586.
The first action was decided on the merits. Judge Alexander entered an order
granting summary disposition in favor of Defendant on Plaintiff’s breach of contract and due
process claims. (Def.’s Ex. 4, at 3). “A grant of summary judgment is considered a
determination on the merits.” Franklin v. City of Pontiac, 887 F. Supp. 978, 983 (E.D. Mich.
1995). Unlike in the collateral estoppel analysis, the state court action is deemed final for
res judicata purposes. “The rule in Michigan is that a judgment pending on appeal is
deemed Res judicata.” City of Troy Bldg. Inspector v. Hershberger, 27 Mich. App. 123, 127
(1970). Thus, even if Plaintiff appealed the state court ruling, the decision is still considered
The present claim clearly could have been resolved in the state court action. The
operative facts of the present claim are identical to the state court action. The United
States due process clause claim is essentially the same as the Michigan claim. Also, the
parties to both actions are the same. Plaintiff clearly had a full opportunity to litigate the
United States due process clause claim in the state court action, but failed to do so. The
only argument advanced by Plaintiff against the charge of res judicata is that the current
action only involves a United States Constitution claim. Plaintiff’s argument suggests that
the state court action was not an appropriate venue to adjudicate its federal claim. This
type of reasoning was rejected in Migra, which ruled that a plaintiff’s section 1983 claim
was precluded by an earlier state court action where plaintiff could have raised their claim
but failed to do so. Migra, 465 U.S. at 84. If state court decisions have preclusive effect
on section 1983 claims that were not raised in a previous state court action, then Plaintiff’s
federal due process claim is likewise precluded by Judge Alexander’s June 6, 2012
decision finding that Defendant was entitled to judgment as a matter of law on Plaintiff’s
due process claim.
The only other argument offered by Plaintiff is that the granting of this Motion is
premature since discovery has not begun. This argument is moot since Plaintiff’s claims
are barred by res judicata.
For the reasons stated above, Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss [#8] is GRANTED.
Dated: April 9, 2013
/s/Gershwin A Drain
GERSHWIN A. DRAIN
United States District Court Judge
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