Lightfoot v. Richmond Public Schools et al

Filing 34

MEMORANDUM OPINION. See for complete details. Signed by District Judge Robert E. Payne on 08/11/2017. (nbrow)

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IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF VIRGINIA Richmond Division ~ ~, ~ rrv1 ~ Ir-·-------11111 AUG I I ~lllf J:V ; l _ ______ _J FERNANDO LIGHTFOOT, CLERK, U.S. DISTRICT COURT RICHMOND, VA Plaintiff, v. Civil Action No. 3:16cv910 RICHMOND PUBLIC SCHOOLS, et al., Defendants. MEMORANDUM OPINION This matter is before HUDSONS'S MOTION TO DISMISS the Court (ECF No. on 27). DEFENDANT DAVID For the reasons set forth below, the motion will be granted. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND Fernando Lightfoot No. 1) on November 14, against several ("Lightfoot") 2016. filed the COMPLAINT (ECF Lightfoot alleged several claims individuals affiliated with Linwood Holton Elementary School. The parties in this case pretrial conference on April review of the COMPLAINT MOTION TO DISMISS previously 19, (ECF No. (ECF No. 7), 2017. 2), attended an initial Based on the Court's DEFENDANT DAVID HUDSON'S the MOTION TO DISMISS 1 (ECF No. The Motion to Dismiss was filed on behalf of the School Board for the City of Richmond ("RPS"), Kimberly Gray ("Gray"), 1 12), and the supporting and opposing memoranda, the Court determined that the Complaint did not adequately set forth which claims were presented against which defendants nor did the Complaint set forth plausible claims within the meaning of Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 U.S. 662 dismiss, (2009). and Therefore, dismissed the (2007); Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 550 the Court granted the motions to Complaint in its entirety without prejudice. Lightfoot filed an AMENDED COMPLAINT 10, 2017. (ECF No. 23) on May The Amended Complaint names the following individuals as defendants 2 : Richmond Public Schools ("RPS") 3, Dana T. Bedden individually and in her official capacity as a member of the RPS Board, Kristen Larson ("Larson"), individually and in her official capacity as a member of the RPS Board, Donald Coleman ("Coleman"), individually and in his official capacity as a member of the RPS Board, Jeffrey Bourne ("Bourne"), individually and in his official capacity as a member of the RPS Board, Derik Jones ("Jones"), individually and in his official capacity as a member of the RPS Board, Glen Sturtevant ("Sturtevant"), individually and in his official capacity as a member of the RPS Board, Dana T. Bedden ("Bedden), individually and in his official capacity as Superintended at Richmond Public Schools, and Anthony Leonard ("Leonard"), individually and in his official capacity as Executive Director of Elementary Schools at Richmond Public Schools. 2 The Plaintiff did not include several individuals whom he had previously included as Defendants in the original complaint. In the original Complaint, Lightfoot incorrectly identified one of the Defendants as Richmond Public Schools ("RPS") . The Defendant corrected the Plaintiff's error in the original motion to dismiss, highlighting that the proper name for the Defendant is the School Board of the City of Richmond. Plaintiff Lightfoot has continued to identify the Defendant with the 3 2 ("Bedden"), Amended individually, Complaint violation of sets Title and David Hudson, forth VII, six and, individually. claims. COUNT although it 1 is The asserts described a as "Hudson's Sexual Harassment of Lightfoot," the count is alleged only against RPS. (AC, Title although VII, and, Retaliation Against <][ COUNT 2 asserts a violation of 23) • it Lightfoot is described Because He Rejected described as Lightfoot' s Assistant against RPS. Hudson for Employment "Retaliation (AC, Hudson's Contract. Hudson Principal <][ 36). COUNT 5, 4 it Interference Nonrenewal is asserts <][ 31) . al though it is Recommends Position," Tortious COUNT and, Hudson's (AC, Sexual Overtures," it is alleged only against RPS. COUNT 3 asserts a violation of Title VII, "Hudson's as a only of alleged claim against with Lightfoot's RPS and Bedden, alleged against challenges Bedden's Decision to Nonrenew Lightfoot's Contract as a violation of Lightfoot' s Due Process Rights. COUNT 6, also alleged against RPS and Bedden, asserts Bedden's Failure to Give Lightfoot an Opportunity to Respond as a denial of Lightfoot' s Procedural Due Process Rights. The general language in Hudson's motion to dismiss reads as if the Amended Complaint Hudson. However, asserts more than one claim against Hudson's brief only seeks dismissal of COUNT improper name and the acronym RPS. For purposes of this Opinion, the Court will continue to refer to the Defendant as "RPS". 3 4, the Tortious Interference by Hudson with Lightfoot' s Employment Contract which is the only claim against Hudson. deciding the motion to dismiss, the facts, as alleged, 4 In must be taken as true. FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS The Amended Complaint alleges that, Lightfoot worked as a School ("RPS") . in the summer of 2014, school counselor for the Richmond Public (AC, <][ 12). Hudson was, and Principal of Linwood Holton Elementary School. the summer Lightfoot of and "Lightfoot 2014, during stated that told Hudson a track Lightfoot that he Id. at <][ 11. meet, Hudson looked was remains, In approached familiar. currently the Id. seeking an administrative position and Hudson responded that he was seeking to appoint an assistant principal at Holton Elementary and that Lightfoot should send him his resume." Id. at <][ 14. "Hudson told Lightfoot that his lack of experience and training did not matter to him because he would mentor and teach him everything that he needed to know and that he would develop Lightfoot into a principal in two to three years." Hudson ("Leonard"), 4 subsequently the Assistant Id. at <][ 17. recommended Superintendent to of Anthony Leonard RPS, Dana and T. Hudson's motion and briefs are about as difficult to fathom as is Lightfoot's Amended Complaint, but, given a reasonable construction, Hudson's briefs attack only COUNT 4 of the Amended Complaint. 4 Bedden ("Bedden"), considered for Elementary. with the Id. Hudson's lacked the Superintendent of RPS, position at 19. <j[ request classroom of assistant principal at Holton "Leonard and Bedden did not agree pointing and that Lightfoot be out to supervisory Hudson that experience Lightfoot during his employment with RPS." Id. insistent Bedden and Leonard reluctantly approved [and] the appointment." Id. at at <j[<j[ 20. <j[ "Hudson was resolute and 21-22. "During the first week of September 2014, which was at the start of the 2014-2015 school year", was intently gazing at his crotch." Lightfoot noticed "Hudson Id. at <j[ 24. Hudson said to Lightfoot, "I have expensive taste -[sic] you need to take me to the Ritz-Carlton in Washington, DC." Id. at <j[ 25. Lightfoot decided not to respond to Hudson's sexually suggestive comment, for fear position." that "any Id. at response 27. <j[ would have jeopardized his Lightfoot alleges that Hudson made at least ten or more sexually suggestive comments to him after the first incident, dinner?'" "When "such as, Id. at it <j[ 'when are to Hudson became Lightfoot's going to take me to 29. clear interested in his sexual overtures, punish you rejection of that Lightfoot was not Hudson began a campaign to his sexual overtures created for Lightfoot a hostile work environment." Id. at which <j[ 33. "In the last week of August, 2014, Hudson gave Lightfoot a list 5 of i terns to complete but did not specify the time in which he expected the Lightfoot list did not to be completed." finish responded that he felt the tasks Id. at by the c:II 36 (a). next week, When "Hudson that a week was ample time to complete the list. When Lightfoot explained that he needed more time and help to complete the list, Hudson replied, "I can't evaluate you if I don't know what you can do." of 2014, Lightfoot museum field asked trip but Hudson Id. at for help c:II 36(c). In November regarding a "Hudson refused and told Lightfoot he, Hudson, needed to see what he, Lightfoot, could do." c:II 36(e). the that Id. at On another occasions, Hudson told Lightfoot "to revise cafeteria schedule and adjust the lunch times." tenure science in his position, rearrange Id. at c:II the 36(f). Lightfoot did not cafeteria tables and Because of his short know the details to complete this task and "Hudson offered Lightfoot no assistance with regard to this task." On February Lightfoot, 9, Id. 2015, Hudson delivered a regarding an "IEP" meeting on February 4, letter to 2015 "which Lightfoot inadvertently failed to attend because he was at the University of Richmond attending a Leadership Academy meeting." (AC, c:II 37). The letter indicated that Hudson was about Lightfoot's performance as assistant principal. In response to the letter, Lightfoot concerned Id. requested a meeting with Leonard in order to "advise him of Hudson's treatment and 6 to seek his advice." Id. at ! 38. Lightwood did not reveal to Leonard the alleged harassment by Hudson but instead described the "other" treatment by Hudson. Id. at ! 41. Leonard advised Lightfoot that Hudson had already spoken with him prior to the meeting and Hudson told Leonard about Lightfoot missing the IEP meeting. Id. at ! 40. Leonard subsequently called Hudson and explained that "Hudson had fought to get Lightfoot hired" and therefore "Hudson now had to mentor and train Lightfoot . . " Id. ! 42. The next day, "Oh, Hudson made a comment to Lightfoot stating, you went to Dr. did not respond. Leonard to tell on me" to which Lightfoot Id. at ! The following day, 43. Lightfoot he was going to "non-renew" him, "Trust me, I will get you." In March 2015, Hudson told and told Lightfoot Id. at ! ! 43-44. Hudson recommended to Bedden that, because of "alleged performance problems" Lightfoot be non-renewed as an assistant principal for the 2015-2016 Id. year. at ! 46. "Hudson turned over to HR several letters which he claimed he Id. at ! gave to Lightfoot at the time they were written." One of the letters, dated September 9, 2014, 47. reflect Hudson's concerns that "Lightfoot was not meeting his timelines and that his productivity Lightfoot was "concedes in that need he of evaluation." received" Id. the letter; at! however, alleges that "Hudson falsely claimed Lightfoot signed it." 7 48. he Id. Hudson also turned over two other letters, one from November 24, 2014 and one from February 9, 2015. never received either letter. These letters were also critical of Lightfoot's performance. Lightfoot alleges that he at~~ Id. 52-55. ANALYSIS AND APPLICATION OF LAW A motion challenges to the dismiss legal under sufficiency Alternative Resources Corp., Fed. of R. a Civ. P. complaint. 458 F. 3d 332, 338 12(b) (6) Jordan v. (4th Cir. 2006). When deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12 (b) ( 6) , a court must "draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff." Nemet 250, Chevrolet, 253 (4th Cir. pleader's that Ltd., 2009). description can be v. of While what reasonably drawn the happened" therefrom," and the 591 F.3d "will court Inc., accept the "any conclusions court "need not accept conclusory allegations encompassing the legal effects of the pleaded facts." Charles A. Wright Federal Practice and Procedure§ 1357 Old Dominion Sec. Co., *4 (E.D. Va. 2014). L.L.C., No. & Arthur R. Miller, (3d ed.1998); Chamblee v. 3: 13CV820, 2014 WL 1415095, Nor is the Court required to accept as true a legal conclusion unsupported by factual allegations. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009). Hudson alleged challenges tortious several reasons. the legal interference sufficiency with of Lightfoot's Each will be considered in turn. 8 COUNT 4 (the contract) for A. Whether Alleged There Was A Contract And Whether "It is well-settled in Virginia that, A Breach Is to establish a prima facie claim for tortious interference with contract, a plaintiff must plead the following elements: contractual ( 1) relationship or business the existence of a valid expectancy; ( 2) knowledge of that contractual relationship or business expectancy on the part of the interferer; causing a breach expectancy; and relationship or termination resultant ( 4) or ( 3) intentional interference inducing or expectancy Patient First Corp., the damage has 207 F. of been Supp. to relationship the party 447 whose Storey disrupted." 2d 431, or (E.D. Va. v. 2002); Chaves v. Johnson, 230 Va. 112 (1985). Hudson allege first the contract, argues existence of that a the Amended contract and Complaint a fails breach of to that thereby asserting the absence of the first and third elements of a tortious interference with contract claim. Hudson says, "[t]o the extent the Plaintiff is relying on an employment contract with the School Board, of its actual Dismiss") (ECF terms." No. 28). he has not identified a breach ("Memorandum To in determine tortious interference with a contract, Support whether Lightfoot, in making his there was to a it is first necessary to determine whether a contract did in fact exist. that Motion claim for tortious Hudson posits interference with a contract, seems to be relying on the terms of a supposed 9 contract created between because the "singularly Amended Complaint responsible contract. Hence, Lightfoot for it does and the School Board, RPS, that Hudson was asserts creating" appear that the assistant principal the contract with which Hudson is alleged to have tortuously interfered was the contract by which Hudson was employed as Assistant Principal. That pursuant is to a probationary which a teacher cbntract who has under not Virginia achieved law, continuing contract status is entitled to a contract for the ensuing school year, if the teacher has not received the appropriate notice of nonrenewal. Va. Code Ann. § The 22 .1-304. statute provides that "written notice of nonrenewal of the probationary contract must be given by the school board on or before June 15 of each year." Once a teacher has completed the he/she is entitled to a continuing contract. The Amended Complaint alleges that probationary period, Id. Lightfoot was employed as a new assistant principal at Linwood Holton Elementary. as described, Thus, And, Lightfoot was employed as a probationary teacher. upon notification that his probationary contract would not be renewed, the original contract expired at the end of its one year term and was not susceptible of being renewed. assistant principal, Lightfoot' s probationary As a new contract continue if he was notified that it would not be renewed. 10 did not Relying on Pettis v. 158, 160 (4th Cir. Nottoway Cty. a nonrenewal of a education is tantamount to a 30) . 592 F. App'x termination and a nonrenewal contract at least within contract termination." public (ECF No. The unpublished decision by the Fourth Circuit does not support Lightfoot's position. VII Bd., 2014), Lightfoot attempts to show that there is no real distinction between a "because Sch. claim, contract. not a claim The claim in Pettis was a Title for tortious interference with a Throughout the opinion, the Fourth Circuit refers to the decision by the defendant schoolboard as the "nonrenewal of [Pettis' s] contract," concluded that action, contract. The finding not the that not a non-renewal the The termination. was non-renewal "an was Fourth adverse the Circuit employment termination of a Pettis is neither controlling nor persuasive here. Amended that susceptible of Complaint Lightfoot provides had a interference. 5 allege the breach of a contract. no plausible contract Nor does with basis RPS for that a was the Amended Complaint For this reason alone, COUNT 4 will be dismissed. Nor does the Amended Complaint allege the elements of a claim for interference with a business or contract expectancy. 11 5 CONCLUSION For the reasons set forth above, MOTION TO DISMISS (ECF No. 27) DEFENDANT DAVID HUDSONS'S will be granted and COUNT 4 will be dismissed with prejudice. It is so ORDERED. /s/ /2[,f> Robert E. Payne Senior United States District Judge Richmond, Virginia Date: August _lJ_, 2017 12

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