United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana
ORDER AND REASONS
L. C. FELDMAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
the Court is the Housing Authority of Jefferson Parish's
motion to dismiss Elizabeth Gartman's complaint for
failure to state a claim. The plaintiff alleges federal and
state law claims, but the motion is only directed to the
federal law claims. The defendant also moves to dismiss the
remaining state law claims for lack of subject matter
jurisdiction if the Court grants the defendant's motion
to dismiss the plaintiff's federal claims. For the
following reasons, the defendant's motion to dismiss for
failure to state a claim is GRANTED in part, as to the
federal due process claim, and DENIED in part, as to the
retaliation claim under the False Claims Act. The
defendant's motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter
jurisdiction is DENIED.
due process and False Claims Act retaliation claims arise out
of the termination of an employee of a public agency, and the
lawsuit that followed.
Housing Authority of Jefferson Parish is a public body that
provides housing assistance to low income residents in
Jefferson Parish, Louisiana through the administration of
various programs. Participation in these programs is
determined by eligibility guidelines set by the U.S.
Department of Housing and Urban Development. HUD supplies
HAJP with most of its funding, and therefore, oversees
HAJP's activities and spending, and works closely with
hired Elizabeth Gartman on June 2, 2009 as an office manager.
On June 12, 2012, Gartman and HAJP entered into an employment
agreement setting forth the terms of Gartman's
employment. The agreement provided that Gartman was an
at-will employee, and could be terminated with or without
cause and with or without notice by the Executive Director.
In early 2016, HAJP did not renew its employment contract
with the Executive Director. Gartman was appointed Acting
Executive Director by a board resolution on April 12, 2016.
Her appointment was intended to last for ninety days, but was
extended indefinitely until a permanent Executive Director
end of the year, Gartman's relationship with her
co-workers had deteriorated. In November 2016, Gartman
contacted the HUD fraud hotline within the Office of the
Inspector General. She reported that she suspected
mismanagement and “apparent collusion” between
the director of the New Orleans HUD Office, Cheryl Williams,
and members of the HAJP Board. Although reports to the
hotline are expected to be kept confidential, Williams was
informed of Gartman's call and confronted Gartman.
Shortly thereafter, according to the complaint, Gartman was
forced to complete unnecessary and burdensome tasks by the
HUD and the HAJP board and experienced delays from both
bodies in critical moments relating to HAJP's funds.
Additionally, HUD required Gartman to submit a Corrective
Action Plan that addressed HAJP's failure to comply with
HUD rules and regulations pertaining to funding. From
November 2016 until February 2017, Gartman alleges that she
complied with HUD's request, but that prompted criticism
and harassment from HAJP board members. She was terminated by
the HAJP Board of Commissioners on February 21, 2017,
allegedly as a result of her cooperation with HUD and
alerting OIG to her suspicions regarding the relationship
between certain HAJP board members and certain HUD employees.
brought this lawsuit against HAJP, alleging that she was
retaliated against in violation of the False Claims Act, 31
U.S.C. § 3730(h), and in violation of her federal due
process rights. She also made several claims under state law.
On January 18, 2018, HAJP moved to dismiss the complaint for
failure to state a claim, pursuant to Fed. Rule of Civ. Proc.
12(b)(6). The motion to dismiss was directed solely at
Gartman's federal law claims. HAJP also moved to dismiss
for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, pursuant to Fed.
Rule of Civ. Proc. 12(b)(1), in the case the Court granted
the motion to dismiss and only the state law claims remained.
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)).
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
accusation." Id. at 678 (citing Bell Atl.
Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)).
considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court
“accept[s] all well-pleaded facts as true and view[s]
all facts in the light most favorable to the
plaintiff.” See Thompson v. City of Waco,
Texas, 764 F.3d 500, 502 (5th Cir. 2014) (citing Doe
ex rel. Magee v. Covington Cnty. Sch. Dist. ex rel.
Keys, 675 F.3d 849, 854 (5th Cir. 2012)(en banc)). But,
in deciding whether dismissal is warranted, the Court will
not accept as true legal conclusions. Id. at 502-03
(citing Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678).
survive dismissal, “‘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).”
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (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.”). The Court's task “is to
determine whether the plaintiff stated a legally cognizable
claim that is plausible, not to evaluate the plaintiff's
likelihood of success.” Thompson v. City of Waco,
Texas, 764 F.3d 500, 503 (5th Cir. 2014)(citation
omitted). This is a “context-specific task that
requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial
experience and common sense.” Iqbal, 556 U.S.
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.” I ...