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Hunter v. Jefferson Parish Public School System

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

July 7, 2017

SHARON HUNTER
v.
JEFFERSON PARISH PUBLIC SCHOOL SYSTEM

          ORDER AND REASONS ON MOTIONS

          JOSEPH C. WILKINSON, JR. UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This is an employment discrimination action brought by plaintiff Sharon Hunter against her former employer(s), the Jefferson Parish Public School System (the “School System”); the Jefferson Parish School Board (the “Board”); the Board's individual members, Cedric Floyd, Marion Bonura, Ricky Johnson, Raymond St. Pierre and Melinda Doucet; and the School System's Superintendent, Isaac Joseph. Hunter asserts claims of sex discrimination, hostile work environment, constructive discharge and retaliation in violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.; and reprisal in violation of the Louisiana Whistleblower Statute, La. Rev. Stat. § 23:967, and the Code of Governmental Ethics, La. Rev. Stat. § 42:1169. She seeks compensatory and punitive damages. Complaint, Record Doc. No. 1; First Supplemental and Amending Complaint, Record Doc. No. 19.

         This matter was referred to a United States Magistrate Judge for all proceedings and entry of judgment in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) upon written consent of all parties. Record Doc. No. 25.

         Defendants filed a Rule 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss all of plaintiff's claims. Record Doc. No. 5. Hunter filed a timely opposition memorandum, Record Doc. No. 12, and defendants received leave to file a reply memorandum. Record Doc. Nos. 21, 23, 24.

         After defendants filed their motion to dismiss, plaintiff received leave to amend her complaint without opposition, Record Doc. Nos. 11, 15, 18, 19, to assert a jury demand and to attach three documents: (1) her purported “charge with the EEOC [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] against all defendants on February 13, 2016, ” which is a letter from Hunter to the EEOC dated February 13, 2016; (2) the EEOC's purported “Charge of Discrimination to the defendants based on the Plaintiff's Charge filed with the EEOC, ” which is an unsigned, undated copy of Hunter's formal charge that she signed and filed on May 2, 2016 (see Defendant's Exh. A, Record Doc. No. 5-2, for the signed and dated charge); and (3) the right to sue letter sent by the EEOC to Hunter on January 17, 2017. Record Doc. No. 19.

         Plaintiff then filed a Motion for Leave to File a Second Supplemental and Amending Complaint, which she states is opposed by defendants. Record Doc. No. 27. Defendants' opposition to this motion is not yet due. During a telephone conference with counsel for the parties on July 6, 2017, plaintiff's attorney advised the court that this motion and the proposed second amendment address only some of the pleading deficiencies in the complaint on which defendants' motion to dismiss is based. Hunter also filed a Motion for Leave to File a Supplemental Memorandum in opposition to defendants' motion to dismiss. Record Doc. No. 28.

         Having considered the complaint as amended, the record, the arguments of the parties and the applicable law, and for the following reasons, IT IS ORDERED that defendants' motion to dismiss is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART as follows.

         IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that plaintiff's Motion for Leave to File a Second Supplemental and Amending Complaint, Record Doc. No. 27, is DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE, subject to the order contained herein permitting plaintiff one final opportunity to amend to cure pleading defects, as required by Fifth Circuit precedent. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that her Motion for Leave to File a Supplemental Memorandum is DENIED.

         IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that, no later than July 25, 2017, plaintiff must file and notice for submission a new motion to amend the complaint that both addresses all pleading deficiencies identified below and incorporates any other amendments sought by her dismissed Motion for Leave to File a Second Supplemental and Amending Complaint.

         I. STANDARDS OF REVIEW

         Defendants move to dismiss some of plaintiff's claims under Fed. R. Civ. P.12(b)(1), which requires dismissal if the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the claim. Motions brought under Rule 12(b)(1)

allow a party to challenge the subject matter jurisdiction of the district court to hear a case. Lack of subject matter jurisdiction may be found in any one of three instances: (1) the complaint alone; (2) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts evidenced in the record; or (3) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts plus the court's resolution of disputed facts.
The burden of proof for a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss is on the party asserting jurisdiction. Accordingly, the plaintiff constantly bears the burden of proof that jurisdiction does in fact exist.

Ramming v. United States, 281 F.3d 158, 161 (5th Cir. 2001) (citations omitted); accord Crane v. Johnson, 783 F.3d 244, 250-51 (5th Cir. 2015) (citations omitted).

         A Rule 12(b)(1) motion should be granted only if it appears certain that plaintiff cannot prove a plausible set of facts that establish subject-matter jurisdiction. Venable v. La. Workers' Comp. Corp., 740 F.3d 937, 941 (5th Cir. 2013); Davis v. United States, 597 F.3d 646, 649 (5th Cir. 2009). A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) is analyzed under the same standard as a motion under Rule 12(b)(6). In re Mirant Corp., 675 F.3d 530, 533 (5th Cir. 2012); Lane v. Halliburton, 529 F.3d 548, 557 (5th Cir. 2008).

         Defendants move to dismiss most of plaintiff's claims pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Under this rule, as clarified by the Supreme Court,

“a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” A claim for relief is plausible on its face “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” A claim for relief is implausible on its face when “the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct.”

Harold H. Huggins Realty, Inc. v. FNC, Inc., 634 F.3d 787, 796 (5th Cir. 2011) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007))).

         “The Supreme Court's decisions in Iqbal and Twombly . . . did not alter the longstanding requirement that when evaluating a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a court must accept[ ] all well-pleaded facts as true and view[ ] those facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Id. at 803 n.44 (quotation omitted); accord Murchison Capital Partners, L.P. v. Nuance Commc'ns, Inc., 625 F. App'x 617, 618 n.1 (5th Cir. 2015) (citing Wood v. Moss, 134 S.Ct. 2056, 2065 n.5 (2014)).

         “With respect to any well-pleaded allegations[, ] ‘a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.'” Jabary v. City of Allen, 547 F. App'x 600, 604 (5th Cir. 2013) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 664). “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).” Maloney Gaming Mgmt., L.L.C. v. St. Tammany Parish, 456 F. App'x 336, 340 (5th Cir. 2011) (quotations omitted) (citing Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1959; Elsensohn v. St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Ofc., 530 F.3d 368, 371 (5th Cir. 2008); In re Katrina Canal Breaches Litig., 495 F.3d 191, 205 n.10 (5th Cir. 2007)).

         Hunter did not attach any documents to her original complaint. Defendants attached to their motion plaintiff's formal Charge of Discrimination, which she signed under penalty of perjury on May 2, 2016, Defendant's Exh. A, Record Doc. No. 5-2; and the EEOC's right to sue letter. Defendant's Exh. B, Record Doc. No. 5-3. Plaintiff then attached to her unopposed, first amended complaint the letter that she sent to the EEOC on February 13, 2016, which she is calling her “charge;” an unsigned, undated copy of her formal Charge of Discrimination; and the EEOC's right to sue letter.

On a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a district court generally must limit itself to the contents of the pleadings, including attachments thereto. The court may also consider documents attached to either a motion to dismiss or an opposition to that motion when the documents are referred to in the pleadings and are central to a plaintiff's claims.

Brand Coupon Network, L.L.C. v. Catalina Mktg. Corp., 748 F.3d 631, 635 (5th Cir. 2014) (quotation and footnotes omitted) (emphasis added).

         Plaintiff's letter to the EEOC, her unsigned charge and the right to sue letter are thus part of the pleadings. In addition, her original complaint referred to the formal Charge of Discrimination, which is central to her Title VII claims. The court can take judicial notice of this EEOC document submitted by defendants with their motion, which is a public record whose authenticity is not disputed. Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 269 n.1 (1986); Cinel v. Connick, 15 F.3d 1338, 1346 n.6 (5th Cir. 1994); Davenport v. HansaWorld USA, Inc., 23 F.Supp.3d 679, 686 n.1 (S.D.Miss. 2014); Thomas v. Lowe's Home Ctrs., Inc., No. 13-0779, 2014 WL 545862, at *2 n.5 (W.D. La. Feb. 10, 2014); Tucker v. Waffle House, Inc., No. 12-2446, 2013 WL 1588067, at *2, *6 (E.D. La. Apr. 11, 2013) (citing Funk v. Stryker Corp., 631 F.3d 777, 783 (5th Cir. 2011)) (additional citations omitted). The court therefore considers the formal Charge of Discrimination without converting defendants' motion to dismiss into one for summary judgment. Carter v. Target Corp., 541 F. App'x 413, 416-17 (5th Cir. 2013).

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. The School System Lacks the Procedural Capacity to Be Sued

         Defendants contend that all claims against the School System must be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted because the School System, which is a parish school district, lacks the procedural capacity to be sued. Hunter responds that the School System was her employer. However, even if that were correct, employer status is not determinative of an entity's capacity to be sued.

         “A juridical person is an entity to which the law attributes personality, such as a corporation or a partnership.” La. Civ. Code art. 24. A few years ago, the much-respected Judge Vance of this court held that the Jefferson Parish School System is not a juridical entity capable of being sued.

[D]efendant contends that the Jefferson Parish School Board, not the Public School System, is the proper defendant. Under Louisiana law, a parish school board may create school districts. La. Rev. Stat. 17:1371. Defendant contends that the School System qualifies as a district, which plaintiff does not dispute. A parish board serves as the governing body of the school districts it creates and “has the power to order, conduct and hold all elections in these districts for purposes of voting special school taxes.” La. Rev. Stat. 17:1373. Further, parish boards constitute bodies corporate with the power to sue and be sued. La. Rev. Stat. 17:51.
The Court finds that, under Louisiana law, the Jefferson Parish School Board is the entity that governs the Jefferson Parish Public School System. Parish school boards “have much discretion to determine the number of schools; location of the schools; number of teachers employed; teachers' salaries; and adopt policies and procedures for the superintendent to uphold.” Hamilton v. City of Natchitoches, 903 So.2d 1247, 1250 (La. Ct. App. 2005), writ denied, 922 So.2d 550 (La. 2006). With such extensive management carried out by the Parish School Board, there is no indication that the School System functions independently or acts as a separate unit. See Williams v. Recovery School Dist., 859 F.Supp.2d 848 (E.D. La. 2012) (school district administered by state Department of Education not a juridical person capable of being sued). . . . [P]arish boards are entities established by the Louisiana Constitution that are distinct from the districts they create and serve. See Hamilton, 903 So.2d at 1250.
. . . . Accordingly, because the [School System] is not a juridical person under Louisiana law that may be subject to suit, ...

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