United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana
KATHERINE P. COSTANZA
JEFFERSON PARISH, ET AL.
ORDER AND REASONS
S. VANCE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
the Court are defendants' motions to dismiss
plaintiff's claims in part,  and defendants' motion
to stay. For the following reasons, the Court
grants defendants' motions to dismiss and denies
defendants' motion to stay.
Katherine Costanza has been employed as a civil servant by
Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, for over 24 years. According to her
complaint, she was promoted from her position as
Environmental Quality Supervisor to Assistant Director for
Environmental Affairs on July 31, 2006. On December 26,
2015, Costanza was demoted from her position as Assistant
Director to Administrative Management Specialist with the
Division of Public Works Administration. Plaintiff alleges
that she was demoted to allow Margaret Winter to return to
the position of Assistant Director.Plaintiff further alleges
that Winter was the Assistant Director 25 years ago, but she
took a leave of absence to become the Director of
Environmental Affairs. When a recent change in the Jefferson
Parish Administration resulted in Winter's losing her
position as Director, she was allowed to return to the
Assistant Director position, ousting Costanza. According to
Costanza, Winter made the decision to demote Costanza with
Jefferson Parish employees John Dumas, Kazem Alikhani, and
alleges that a “devastating” decrease in pay
accompanied her demotion, as her pay grade was reduced from
40 to 28, resulting in a decrease in salary of approximately
$15, 000 annually. Her new salary is also capped at a
number significantly lower than the cap for the Assistant
Director position. Plaintiff further alleges that this
annual reduction will lead to a corresponding reduction in
her pension and benefits.
January 25, 2016, plaintiff filed an administrative appeal of
her demotion with the Jefferson Parish Personnel
Board. While that challenge was pending, on
December 21, 2016, plaintiff filed this action against
Jefferson Parish, the Jefferson Parish Personnel Department,
the Jefferson Parish Department of Environmental Affairs, the
Jefferson Parish Department of Public Works, Dumas (in his
individual and official capacities), Winter (in her
individual and official capacities), Alikhani (in his
individual and official capacities), and Call (in her
individual and official capacities). Plaintiff asserts claims
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that her demotion
violates her substantive and procedural due process rights,
as well as her rights under the Equal Protection
Clause. She also asserts that she was wrongfully
demoted under Louisiana law. Plaintiff seeks declaratory
and injunctive relief (in the form of reinstatement and
backpay), as well as damages.
now move to dismiss with prejudice the claims against
Jefferson Parish Personnel Department, Jefferson Parish
Department of Environmental Affairs, and the Jefferson Parish
Department of Public Works,  as well as the official
capacity claims against Dumas, Winter, Alikhani, and
Call. Defendants have also moved to stay this
case pending the resolution of plaintiff's state
administrative proceeding. Plaintiff has no opposition to
both motions to dismiss but opposes defendants' motion to
survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the plaintiff must
plead “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to
‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its
face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662,
678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly,
550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is facially plausible when
the plaintiff pleads facts that allow the court to
“draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is
liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. A
court must accept all well-pleaded facts as true, viewing
them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Gines
v. D.R. Horton, Inc., 699 F.3d 812, 816 (5th Cir. 2012)
(quoting In re Katrina Canal Breaches Litig., 495
F.3d 191, 205 (5th Cir. 2007)). But a court is not bound to
accept as true legal conclusions couched as factual
allegations. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.
legally sufficient complaint must establish more than a
“sheer possibility” that the plaintiff's
claim is true. Id. It need not contain detailed
factual allegations, but it must go beyond labels, legal
conclusions, or formulaic recitations of the elements of a
cause of action. Id. (citing Twombly, 550
U.S. at 555). In other words, the face of the complaint must
contain enough factual matter to raise a reasonable
expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of each
element of the plaintiff's claim. Lormand v. U.S.
Unwired, Inc., 565 F.3d 228, 257 (5th Cir. 2009). If
there are insufficient factual allegations to raise a right
to relief above the speculative level, Twombly, 550
U.S. at 555, or if it is apparent from the face of the
complaint that there is an insuperable bar to relief, see
Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 215 (2007); Carbe v.
Lappin, 492 F.3d 325, 328 n.9 (5th Cir. 2007), the claim
must be dismissed.
Motions to Dismiss
defendants argue that the claims against Jefferson Parish
Personnel Department, Jefferson Parish Department of
Environmental Affairs, and Jefferson Parish Department of
Public Works must be dismissed because they are not juridical
entities capable of suing or being sued. Rule 17(b) of the
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that the capacity
to sue or be sued is determined by “the law of the
state where the court is located.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 17(b).
Under Louisiana law, “a government body may not be sued
if it is merely a dependent sub-body of a larger government
agency.” Jefferson v. Delgado Cmty. Coll., No.
13-2626, 2013 WL 5530337, at *1 (E.D. La. Oct. 7, 2013)
(citing Dejoie v. Medley, 945 So.2d 968, 972
(La.App. 2 Cir. 2006)). The Louisiana Supreme Court has
adopted a functional approach to determining whether a
governmental body is a separate and distinct juridical
person, asking if the body has “the legal capacity to
function independently and not just as the agency or division
of another governmental entity.” Roberts v.
Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans, 634 So.2d 341,
347 (La. 1994) (citations omitted).
Jefferson Parish is organized pursuant to a home rule
charter, as authorized by Article VI, Section 4 of the
Louisiana Constitution. See La. Const. art. VI,
§ 4. Article 1 of the Home Rule Charter of Jefferson
Parish provides the parish with “all the powers,
rights, privileges, and authority” to which it is
entitled under the Louisiana Constitution. Jefferson
Parish Home Rule Charter, Art. 1, § 1.01. In
addition, the charter designates the Parish President as the
chief administrative officer of the parish, responsible for
the “administration and supervision of all parish
departments, offices, agencies, and special districts.”
Id. § 3.03. The Parish President also has the
authority to appoint and remove all administrative officers
and employees. Id.
under the Jefferson Parish Home Charter, these departmental
defendants do not function independently of the Jefferson
Parish President. As such, these departmental defendants lack
the capacity to sue or be sued, and the claims against them
must be dismissed with prejudice. See, e.g.,
Causey v. Par. of Tangipahoa, 167 F.Supp.2d 898, 909
(E.D. La. 2001) (finding that “City of Hammond Police
Department is merely a department within the City of Hammond,
and not a proper party defendant”); Manley v. State
of Louisiana, No. 00-1939, 2001 WL 506175, at *2 (E.D.
La. May 11, 2001) (“The Court dismisses plaintiff's
claims against the New Orleans Police Department because it
is simply a department of the City government and is not
amenable to suit.”) (citations omitted).
defendants argue that the official capacity claims against
the individual defendants must be dismissed because they are
duplicative of Costanza's claims against Jefferson
Parish. As defendants correctly state, in section 1983
actions, claims against individuals in their official
capacity are treated as claims against the municipality.
See, e.g., Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 25 (1991)
(citing Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165
(1985)). Plaintiff's complaint alleges the same claims
against all defendants, and makes no distinction between the
acts of Jefferson Parish and the acts of the individual
defendants, in either their individual or official
capacities. Therefore, the official capacity claims against
the individual defendants are duplicative of the claims
against Jefferson Parish. Plaintiff cannot maintain an action
both against the individual defendants in their official
capacities and Jefferson Parish, as this would allow the
municipal defendant to be liable twice for the same alleged
conduct. LaMartina-Howell v. St. Tammany Par. Sch.
Bd., No. 07-1168, 2009 WL 3837323, at *4 (E.D. La. Nov.
12, 2009) (citing Castro Romero v. Becken, 256 F.3d
349, 355 (5th Cir. 2001)). Accordingly, plaintiffs'
official capacity claims against Dumas, Winter, Alikhani, and
Call are dismissed with prejudice.
Motion to Stay
also move to stay this case pending the resolution of
plaintiff's state administrative proceedings. Federal
courts have a “virtual unflagging obligation . . . to
exercise the jurisdiction given them.” Colo. River
Water Conservation Dist. v. United States, 424 U.S. 800,
817 (1976) (citations omitted). “However, in
‘extraordinary and narrow' circumstances, a
district court may abstain from exercising jurisdiction over
a case when there is a concurrent state proceeding . . .
.” Murphy v. Uncle Ben's, Inc., 168 F.3d
734, 737 (5th Cir. 1999) (quoting Colo. River, 424
U.S. at 813). The court's decision whether to abstain
should be based on considerations of “[w]ise judicial
administration, giving regard to conservation of judicial
resources and comprehensive disposition of litigation.”
Id. (quoting Kerotest Mfg. Co. v. C-O-Two Fire
Equip. Co., 342 U.S. 180, 183 (1952)).
court to abstain from exercising jurisdiction under the
Colorado River doctrine, it first must find that the
federal and state court actions are “parallel.”
Hartford Accident & Indem. Co. v. Costa Lines Cargo
Servs., Inc., 903 F.2d 352, 360 (5th Cir. 1990).
Generally, actions are parallel when the same parties are
litigating the same issues. See Republicbank Dallas,
Nat'l Ass'n v. McIntosh, 828 F.2d 1120, 1121
(5th Cir. 1987). But the Fifth Circuit has rejected the
argument that the parties and issues must be completely
identical for the action to be parallel. See Brown v.
Pacific Life Ins. Co., 462 F.3d 384, 395 n.7 (5th Cir.
2006) (noting that “‘there need not be applied in
every instance a mincing insistence on precise identity'
of parties and issues”) (quoting McIntosh, 828
F.2d at 1121); accord Polu Kai Servs., LLC v. Ins. Co. of
State of Pa., No. 06-10708, 2007 WL 716115, at *2 (E.D.
La. Mar. 6, 2007) (finding actions parallel despite the
presence of additional issues in the state court litigation
and despite that the state court plaintiff was not a party in
federal action). Here, both the federal and state proceedings
revolve around Costanza's demotion, and though her state
action named only the Jefferson Parish Department of Public
Works as a defendant, she ultimately seeks to hold the same
body (Jefferson Parish) liable for the same alleged wrongs.
Further, in both cases, she asserts that Jefferson Parish
violated her substantive and procedural due process rights,
and that Section 6.1 of the Jefferson Parish Personnel Rules
is unconstitutionally void for vagueness and
overbreadth. Thus, the Court finds that the two
actions are parallel. See Kenner Acquisitions, LLC v.
BellSouth Telecommunications, Inc., No. 06-3927, 2007 WL
625833, at *2 (E.D. La. Feb. 26, 2007) (finding actions
parallel where the proceedings consisted of
“substantially the same parties litigating
substantially the same issues”) (citation omitted);
Polu Kai, 2007 WL 716115, at *2.
Court next must determine whether exceptional circumstances
exist that would permit the court to decline jurisdiction in
the instant matter. See Murphy, 168 F.3d at 738. The
Supreme Court has set forth six factors to guide this
inquiry: (1) assumption by either court of jurisdiction over
a res; (2) the relative inconvenience of the forums; (3) the
avoidance of piecemeal litigation; (4) the order in which
jurisdiction was obtained by the concurrent forums; (5)
whether and to what extent federal law provides the rules of
decision on the merits; and (6) the adequacy of the state
proceedings to protect the rights of the party invoking
federal jurisdiction. Wilton v. Seven Falls Co., 515
U.S. 277, 285-86 (1995). “No one factor is necessarily
determinative; a carefully considered judgment taking into
account both the obligation to exercise jurisdiction and the
combination of factors counseling against that exercise is
required.” Colo. River, 424 U.S. at 818-19.
The Court must balance the factors carefully, “with the
balance heavily weighted in favor of the exercise of
jurisdiction.” Moses H. Cone Mem'l Hosp. v.
Mercury Constr. Corp., 460 U.S. 1, 16 (1983).
Assumption by Either Court of ...