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Hebert v. Parish

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Lafayette Division

November 30, 2017

CHRIS HEBERT
v.
ST. MARTIN PARISH, LOUISIANA and GUY CORMIER, individually and in his capacity as Parish President of St. Martin Parish, Louisiana

          JAMES JUDGE.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          PATRICK J. HANNA UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Currently pending is the motion to dismiss, under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), which was filed by the defendants, St. Martin Parish and Guy Cormier. (Rec. Doc. 8). The motion is opposed. The motion was referred to the undersigned for review, report, and recommendation in accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636 and the standing orders of this Court. Considering the evidence, the law, and the arguments of the parties, and for the reasons fully explained below, it is recommended that the motion be granted in part, that the motion be denied in part, that the plaintiff be afforded an opportunity to amend his complaint, and that the defendants be permitted to reurge their motion following review of the plaintiff's amended complaint, if necessary or appropriate.

         Factual Background

         In his complaint, plaintiff Chris Hebert alleged that his constitutional rights were violated when he was terminated from his employment with defendant St. Martin Parish. More particularly, he alleged that he advised his contact in the parish's human resources department, Michelle Brignac, that road supervisor Ronnie Angelle was using racial epithets to describe men under his supervision and that one of the plaintiff's coworkers was stealing granite from parish jobs and using it for personal projects. The plaintiff alleged that he attempted to contact both defendant Guy Cormier, who was the parish president, and his friend and parish councilman Chris Tauzin with regard to these matters, but was fired, allegedly because he was raising concerns about the use of racial epithets and the theft of parish property.

         The plaintiff articulated his claim as arising under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and alleged that the defendants violated his property interest in maintaining employment and deprived him of protections guaranteed by the Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. The plaintiff also contended that the conduct complained of violated Louisiana's Whistleblower Statute, La. R. S. 23:967.

         The Contentions of the Parties

         In support of their motion to dismiss, the defendants argued that the official capacity claims against Mr. Cormier are redundant of the claims against the parish, that the plaintiff has not identified a specific policy or custom giving rise to his alleged injuries, that the plaintiff has not adequately alleged the violation of a constitutional right, and that the plaintiff has not alleged facts sufficient to sustain a claim under Louisiana's whistleblower statute. The plaintiff responded to the motion with a request that he be permitted to amend his complaint.

         Law and Analysis

         I. The Standard for Evaluating a Rule 12(b)(6) Motion

         A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is properly granted when a defendant attacks the complaint because it fails to state a legally cognizable claim.[1] When considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6), a district court must limit itself to the contents of the pleadings, including any attachments thereto.[2] The court must accept all well-pleaded facts as true, and it must view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.[3] However, conclusory allegations and unwarranted deductions of fact are not accepted as true, [4] and courts “are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.”[5]

         To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the plaintiff must plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.”[6] The allegations must be sufficient “to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, ”[7] and “the pleading must contain something more . . . than . . . a statement of facts that merely creates a suspicion [of] a legally cognizable right of action.”[8] “While a complaint . . . does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.”[9] If the plaintiff fails to allege facts sufficient to “nudge[ ][his] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible, [his] complaint must be dismissed.”[10]

         A claim meets the test for facial plausibility “when the plaintiff pleads the factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.”[11] “[D]etermining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief . . . [is] a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.”[12]Therefore, “[t]he complaint (1) on its face (2) must contain enough factual matter (taken as true) (3) to raise a reasonable hope or expectation (4) that discovery will reveal relevant evidence of each element of a claim.”[13]

         II. The Standard for Evaluating a Section 1983 Claim

         In his complaint, the plaintiff articulated state-law claims and claims brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Section 1983 provides a cause of action against anyone who “under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State” violates another person's constitutional rights. Section 1983 is not itself a source of substantive rights; it merely provides a method for vindicating federal rights conferred elsewhere.[14] To state a Section 1983 claim, a plaintiff must: (1) allege a violation of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States, and (2) demonstrate that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law.[15]

         In this case, the plaintiff's complaint expressly stated that the plaintiff's claims are premised on alleged violations of his Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The defendants argue, however, that the plaintiff did not set forth enough factual information in his complaint to establish that a constitutional violation occurred; however, the plaintiff has requested an opportunity to amend his complaint. It is undisputed that the second criterion is satisfied in this case, as the plaintiff contends that St. Martin Parish and St. Martin Parish President Guy Cormier caused his alleged damages.

         III. The Individual-Capacity Claim Against Mr. Cormier

         The plaintiff's complaint states that Mr. Cormier is being sued in both his individual capacity and also in his official capacity as the president of St. Martin Parish. It is unclear from the face of the complaint whether the plaintiff is alleging that Mr. Cormier personally fired him. The plaintiff alleged that Mr. Cormier and the parish had customs, policies, practices, and procedures of negligently and inadequately hiring, training, supervising, and retaining employees that gave rise to the constitutional violations and statutory violations complained of. But no specific custom or policy was identified. The plaintiff also alleged that the Parish is responsible for Mr. Cormier's conduct under the principle of respondeat superior.

         A Section 1983 claimant must establish that the defendant was either personally involved in a constitutional deprivation or that his wrongful actions were causally connected to the constitutional deprivation.[16] Supervisory officers such as Mr. Cormier cannot be held liable under Section 1983 for the actions of their subordinates on any theory of vicarious liability; instead, only the direct acts or omissions of government officials, not the acts of subordinates, will give rise to individual liability under Section 1983.[17] A state actor may be liable under Section 1983 only if the plaintiff establishes that the defendant supervisory official was personally involved in the acts causing the deprivation of the plaintiff's constitutional rights or that a causal connection exists between an act of the official and the alleged constitutional violation.[18] In this case, it is unclear whether the plaintiff is alleging that his employment was terminated by Mr. Cormier. Alternatively, a supervisory official may be liable under Section 1983 if ...


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