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Harris v. Drax Biomass Inc.

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

August 20, 2018


          TERRY A. DOUGHTY Judge


          Karen L. Hayes United States Magistrate Judge

         Before the undersigned Magistrate Judge, on reference from the District Court, is a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted [doc. # 7] filed by defendant, Bobby Cooper. For reasons explained below, it is recommended that the motion be GRANTED.


         On May 29, 2018, Lacharmon Harris filed the instant complaint under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. (“Title VII”) against his former employer, Drax Biomass Incorporated (“Drax”) and his former supervisor, Bobby Cooper. See Complaint, doc. # 1. Plaintiff alleges that he was subject to racial discrimination, including verbal harassment, unfair treatment, and, ultimately, firing, by Drax and its employees, including Cooper. See id.

         On June 27, 2018, Cooper filed the instant motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Cooper contends that “there is no individual liability under Title VII.” Memorandum, doc. # 7-12, p. 1. Plaintiff filed his opposition memorandum on July 18, 2018 [doc. # 9]; Cooper filed his reply on July 23, 2018 [doc. # 12]. Thus, the matter is ripe.


         I. 12(b)(6) Standard of Review

         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure sanction dismissal where the plaintiff fails “to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). To withstand 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.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955 (2007)); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). A claim is facially plausible when it contains sufficient factual content for the court “to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. Plausibility does not equate to possibility or probability; it lies somewhere in between. See Iqbal, supra. Plausibility simply calls for enough factual allegations to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence to support the elements of the claim. See Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556, 127 S.Ct. at 1965. Although the court must accept as true all factual allegations set forth in the complaint, the same presumption does not extend to legal conclusions. Iqbal, supra. A pleading comprised of “labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action” does not satisfy Rule 8. Id. “[P]laintiffs must allege facts that support the elements of the cause of action in order to make out a valid claim.” City of Clinton, Ark. v. Pilgrim's Pride Corp., 632 F.3d 148, 155 (5th Cir. 2010). A court is compelled to dismiss an otherwise well-pleaded claim if it is premised upon an invalid legal theory. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 109 S.Ct. 1827 (1989).

         Assessing 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.” Iqbal, supra (citation omitted). A well-pleaded complaint may proceed even if it strikes the court that actual proof of the asserted facts is improbable, and that recovery is unlikely. Twombly, supra. Furthermore, “[t]he notice pleading requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8 and case law do not require an inordinate amount of detail or precision.” Gilbert v. Outback Steakhouse of Florida Inc., 295 Fed.Appx. 710, 713 (5th Cir. Oct. 10, 2008) (unpubl.) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). “Specific facts are not necessary; the statement need only ‘give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'” Erickson v. Pardus, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 2200 (2007) (quoting Bell Atl., 127 S.Ct. at 1958). The complaint need not even “correctly specify the legal theory” giving rise to the claim for relief. Gilbert, supra.[1] Even if a plaintiff fails to oppose a 12(b)(6) motion, the court still is obliged to assess the legal sufficiency of the complaint. Servicios Azucareros de Venezuela, C.A. v. John Deere Thibodeaux, Inc., 702 F.3d 794, 806 (5th Cir. 2012) (citations omitted).

         When considering a motion to dismiss, courts generally are limited to the complaint and its proper attachments. Dorsey v. Portfolio Equities, Inc., 540 F.3d 333, 338 (5th Cir. 2008) (citation omitted). However, courts may rely upon “documents incorporated into the complaint by reference, and matters of which a court may take judicial notice” - including public records. Dorsey, supra; Norris v. Hearst Trust, 500 F.3d 454, 461 n9 (5th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted) (proper to take judicial notice of matters of public record). Furthermore, as here, “[d]ocuments that a defendant attaches to a motion to dismiss are considered part of the pleadings if they are referred to in the plaintiff's complaint and are central to her claim.” Collins v. Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, 224 F.3d 496, 498-499 (5th Cir. 2000) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).

         II. Cooper Is Not Subject To Personal Liability Under Title VII

         Cooper contends that Plaintiff fails to state a claim against him because he is not subject to individual liability under Title VII. See Memorandum, doc. # 7-1, p. 1. Liability under Title VII is limited to “employers.” Muthukumar v. Kiel, 478 Fed.Appx. 156, 158 (5th Cir. 2012). Title VII defines an “employer” as “a person engaged in an industry affecting commerce who has fifteen or more employees . . ., and any agent of such a person . . .” Id. (citing 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(b)) (emphasis added).[2] “[A]ny agent, ” is interpreted liberally, [3] but not literally; rather, the phrase conveys Congress's intent to “import respondeat superior liability into Title VII.” Smith v. Amedisys, Inc., 298 F.3d 434, 449 (5th Cir. 2002) (citations omitted).

         Fifth Circuit precedent is clear that individual employees are not subject to personal liability under Title VII. Muthukumar v. Kiel, 478 Fed.Appx. 156, 158 (5th Cir. 2012) (“[T]here is no individual liability for employees under Title VII.” (quoting Smith v. Amedisys Inc., 298 F.3d 434, 448 (5th Cir.2002)); Payne v. Univ. of S. Mississippi, 681 Fed.Appx. 384, 389 (5th Cir. 2017) (Upholding an award of attorneys' fees based on frivolous Title VII claims because “individuals are not liable under Title VII unless they are employers.”). Although, under certain circumstances, [4] an immediate supervisor may be considered an “agent” and therefore an “employer” under Title VII, the supervisor faces liability solely in her official, not individual, capacity. Harvey, supra; Grant v. Lone Star Co., 21 F.3d 649, 652-53 (5th Cir. 1994). Thus, a Title VII suit against a supervisor, who is not an “employer”in her own right - is actually a suit against the employing corporation. Indest v. Freeman Decorating, Inc., 164, F.3d 258, 262 (5thCir. 1999). A plaintiff, ...

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