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Crawford v. State

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

February 26, 2015

TONY CRAWFORD, ET AL
v.
STATE OF LOUISIANA, ET AL., Section:

ORDER AND REASONS

MARTIN L. C. FELDMAN, District Judge.

Before the Court is the defendants' motion to dismiss the plaintiffs' Thirteenth Amendment claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the reasons that follow, the motion is GRANTED.

Background

This litigation arises from the allegedly racially discriminatory administration of the Louisiana Medical Transportation Program.

The State of Louisiana, through its Department of Health and Hospitals, initiated the Louisiana Medical Transportation Program with the goal of creating means of transportation for patients to travel to their doctor's office visits. The program receives 70% of its funding from the Federal government and 30% from the State. The Louisiana Medical Transportation Program consists of four components, but at issue here are the Non-Emergency Ambulance Provider (NEA) and the Non-Emergency Medical Transportation Provider (NEMT). It is alleged that the NEA providers are 100% Caucasian while the NEMT providers are 99% African American.

The plaintiffs[1] are, or were formerly, business owners registered as NEMT providers with the Department of Health and Hospitals. All plaintiffs had been Medicaid certified to transport patients to and from their medical appointments. The defendants include the State of Louisiana, acting through its Department of Health and Hospitals, the Department of Health and Hospitals, Kathy Kiebert, in her official capacity as Secretary of Health and Hospitals, and Ronald W. Johnson, Steffan Rutledge, Randy Davidson, Steve Erwin, and Kimberly Sullivan, all of which are named in their individual and official capacities.

Plaintiffs allege that, as NEMT providers, they were discriminated against, even though they were providing services identical to NEA providers, which were preferred by the State program. For example, should an NEMT provider bring a dialysis patient to and from the doctor's office, they would receive $18.32 total, while an NEA provider would receive $334 for the trip plus mileage reimbursement in the amount of $6.57 per mile. Additionally, plaintiffs claim that NEMT providers are not allowed to contract with other entities to provide medical transportation while NEA may contract with other entities such as nursing homes. Plaintiffs also aver that NEA providers may submit invoices immediately while NEMT providers may only submit invoices at the beginning of the month for services rendered the previous month. This treatment adversely impacts NEMT providers' cash flow, they allege.

The plaintiffs further allege that defendants retaliated against those plaintiffs who questioned, criticized, or complained about the aforementioned discriminatory practices. Specifically, the defendants allegedly brought bogus violation charges against plaintiff, Tony Crawford, singling him out as follows:

(1) he misrepresented the seating capacity of his van, and therefore, his trips would have to be reduced;
(2) he was not properly licensed, and therefore, was faced with imminent termination;
(3) he was not properly insured, and therefore, was faced with suspension or termination; and
(4) he reported his trips improperly, and therefore, could not be paid for the ones which were allegedly improperly documented.

Plaintiffs surmise the purpose of these retaliatory tactics was to harass, threaten suspension or termination, delay plaintiffs' ability to make trips and delay and reduce plaintiffs' ability to get paid.

On May 21, 2014, the plaintiffs sued the defendants, alleging violations of Title VI and VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. They seek $300, 000, 000 in damages. On September 17, 2014, the plaintiffs filed their First Supplemental and Amending Complaint; they added plaintiffs, corrected spelling errors, and clarified plaintiffs' status as either former or current business owners. On October 17, 2014, the plaintiffs filed an ex parte motion to withdraw their claims asserted under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; the Court granted the motion on October 20, 2014.[2] The plaintiffs then filed a Second Supplemental and Amending Complaint in which they added additional plaintiffs, along with an additional claim which reads, in its entirety, as follows:

Complainants hereby further supplement and amend their pleadings by adding to the original complaint at Paragraph 4, the violation of the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, as an additional cause of action.[3]

Finally, on February 23, 2015, this Court granted as unopposed defendants' motion for summary judgment, dismissing the plaintiffs' Title VI claims.

The defendants now seek to dismiss the Thirteenth Amendment claim for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.

I. Legal Standard

Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows a party to move for dismissal of a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Such a motion is rarely granted because it is viewed with disfavor. See Lowrey v. Tex. A & M Univ. Sys., 117 F.3d 242, 247 (5th Cir. 1997) (quoting Kaiser Aluminum & Chem. Sales, Inc. v. Avondale Shipyards, Inc., 677 F.2d 1045, 1050 (5th Cir. 1982)).

Under Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a pleading must contain a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009)(citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 8). "[T]he pleading standard Rule 8 announces does not require detailed factual allegations, ' but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Id. at 678 (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)).

In considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court "accepts all well-pleaded facts as true, viewing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.'" See Martin K. Eby Constr. Co. v. Dall. Area Rapid Transit, 369 F.3d 464 (5th Cir. 2004) (quoting Jones v. Greninger, 188 F.3d 322, 324 (5th Cir. 1999)). But, in deciding whether dismissal is warranted, the Court will not accept conclusory allegations in the complaint as true. Kaiser, 677 F.2d at 1050. Indeed, the Court must first identify allegations that are conclusory and, thus, not entitled to the assumption of truth. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009). A corollary: legal conclusions "must be supported by factual allegations." Id. at 678. Assuming the veracity of the well-pleaded factual allegations, the Court must then determine "whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Id. at 679.

"To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Gonzalez v. Kay, 577 F.3d 600, 603 (5th Cir. 2009)(quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678)(internal quotation marks omitted). "Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact)." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (citations and footnote omitted). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 ("The plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully."). This is a "context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id. at 679. "Where a complaint pleads facts that are merely consistent with a defendant's liability, it stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief." Id. at 678 (internal quotations omitted) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).

Finally, "[w]hen reviewing a motion to dismiss, a district court must consider the complaint in its entirety, as well as other sources ordinarily examined when ruling on Rule 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss, in particular, documents incorporated into the complaint by reference, and matters of which a court may take judicial notice." Funk v. Stryker Corp., 631 F.3d 777, 783 (5th Cir. 2011)(quoting Tellabs, Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights, Ltd., 551 U.S. 308, 322 (2007)).

II. Discussion

Plaintiffs allege that the defendants violated their Thirteenth Amendment rights by discriminating against them and then forcing them to accept such treatment by employing retaliatory tactics.[4] The defendants contend that the plaintiffs fail to state a claim under the Thirteenth Amendment. The Court agrees.

Section One of The Thirteenth Amendment provides that:

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

"The Fifth Circuit defines involuntary servitude as an action by the master causing the servant to have, or to believe he has, no way to avoid continued service or confinement.'" Brooks v. George Cnty., Miss., 84 F.3d 157, 162 (5th Cir. 1996)(quoting Watson v. Graves, 909 F.2d 1549, 1552 (5th Cir. 1990)). "When the employee has a choice, even though it is a painful one, there is no involuntary servitude... A showing of compulsion is thus a prerequisite to proof of involuntary servitude.'" Brooks, 84 F.3d at 162 (quoting Watson, 909 F.2d at 1552). Unless a plaintiff alleges that he does not have the option of leaving his job or was forced to work against his will, a Thirteenth Amendment claim must be dismissed. See Watson, 909 F.2d at 1553; Rogers v. Am. Airlines, Inc., 527 F.Supp. 229, 231 (S.D.N.Y. 1981). Moreover, the Thirteenth Amendment should not be invoked "whenever an employee asserts that his will to quit has been subdued by a threat which seriously affects his future welfare but as to which he still has a choice, however painful." United States v. Shackney, 333 F.2d 475, 487 (2nd Cir. 1964); Burger v. Military Sea Lift Command, 189 F.3d 467 (5th Cir. 1999)(unpublished, per curiam)(holding that crew members given a choice of working for free or being fired under some pretext did not support a claim for involuntary servitude). Further, putting aside such exceptional circumstances, none of which have been alleged to exist here, "precedents clearly define a Thirteenth Amendment prohibition of involuntary servitude enforced by the use or threatened use of physical or legal coercion." United States v. Kozminski, 487 U.S. 931, 944 (1988).[5]

To withstand dismissal of their claim, the plaintiffs focus their arguments on the nature of the relationship between the parties. But regardless of whether plaintiffs have alleged an employment or master-servant relationship, the alleged conduct of the defendants, if proved, patently does not constitute involuntary servitude. The facts alleged fail to demonstrate coercion through use, or threatened use, of law, physical force, or some other tactic that caused the NEMT providers to believe that they had no alternative to performing the transportation service. Even assuming that the plaintiffs are subject to a fee disparity, the facts alleged do not plausibly suggest that they were not free to refuse work from the defendants. Application of the Thirteenth Amendment should be confined to those situations that are truly akin to the slavery that gave rise to it. Steirer by Steirer v. Bethlehem Area Sch. Dist., 987 F.2d 989, 998 (3rd Cir. 1993), abrogated on other grounds recognized by Troster v. Penn. State Dept. of Corr., 65 F.3d 1086 (3rd Cir. 1995). Because the plaintiffs allege no facts from which the Court can infer involuntary servitude or forced labor, they have not stated a plausible claim for relief under § 1983 for a Thirteenth Amendment violation. The case literature would suggest that plaintiffs' attempt to sweep the Thirteenth Amendment into this case borders on the frivolous.[6]

Accordingly, the defendants' motion to dismiss is GRANTED, and the plaintiffs' Thirteenth Amendment claim is hereby dismissed.[7]


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