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Madison v. City of Patterson

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

September 26, 2018

KIRBY V. MADISON, SR.
v.
CITY OF PATTERSON, ET AL.

          WHITEHURST MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          MEMORANDUM RULING

          S. MAURICE HICKS, JR., CHIEF JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         Before the Court is a Motion To Dismiss For Failure To State A Claim Upon Which Relief Can Be Granted, filed by the Defendants, the City of Patterson and Rodney Grogan, in his official and individual capacities (hereinafter collectively referred to as “the Defendants”). See Record Document 19. For the reasons which follow, the Motion To Dismiss is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

         BACKGROUND

         The factual allegations contained in the complaint are accepted as true and are as follows.[1] The plaintiff, Kirby Madison (“Madison”), was hired as an officer with the Patterson Police Department on February 1, 1998. See Record Document 16 at 2 ¶ 2. He alleges that throughout his employment, he had a “spotless employment record, free from disciplinary actions.” Id. at ¶ 3. On January 1, 2010, defendant Rodney Grogan (“Mayor Grogan”) was elected Mayor of the City of Patterson. In April of 2014, Samantha Mincey (“Mincey”), a cousin of Mayor Grogan, was hired as an employee of the Patterson Police Department and became a dispatcher. See id. at ¶ 5. On November 4, 2016, Mincey had completed her shift and was standing outside getting ready to go home when she saw Madison exit the bathroom. She shouted out to Madison, in the presence of several witnesses, “Look at black mother f****er.”[2] Id. at 3 ¶ 6. In response to Mincey's statement, Madison grabbed the front of his pants in his crotch area and motioned, stating “suck this” and “if you can't say nothing nice, don't say nothing at all.” See id.

         Thereafter, Mincey filed a written complaint against Madison. As a result of her complaint, both Mincey and Madison were disciplined. Mincey received one day suspension and Madison received three days.[3] See id. at ¶ 7.

         According to Madison, on March 1, 2016, Mayor Grogan began “openly mocking and referred to [Madison] as a ‘black monkey.'” Id. at ¶ 8. Madison further alleges that “this behavior was not in isolation in [his] working environment.” Id. He complains that the defendants conducted no investigation into “the repeated discrimination/harassment [he] suffered based on his race” and that while he “repeatedly complained and/or opposed the unlawful race discrimination/harassment to Defendants, no action was taken.” Id. at 3-4 ¶ 8.

         On February 3, 2017, Mincey was terminated for poor performance and continuing use of inappropriate language in the workplace. Madison alleges that “[f]ollowing her termination, defendant Grogan again referred to [him] as a ‘black monkey'” and that he “again complained and/or opposed defendant Grogan's comment to Defendants, yet, nothing was done.” Id. at 4 ¶ 9.

         Madison alleges that following Mincey's termination, she filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on or about March 21, 2017, wherein she complained about the November 4, 2016, incident and about what she perceived to be retaliation by others. See id. at ¶ 10. Madison contends that “over the objection of then Assistant Patterson Police Chief Gary Stevenson and Petitioner [Madison], defendants agreed to pay Mincey and her attorney $85, 000.00 - without Mincey ever having to file a lawsuit - in May, 2017.” Id. at ¶¶ 10-11.

         Thereafter, according to Madison's allegations, a dispute began between Mayor Grogan and then Patterson Police Department Chief LaSalle regarding Mayor Grogan's “attempts to micro manage the police department in violation of state law.” Id. at ¶ 12. He asserts that Mayor Grogan “began disciplining and/or terminating Patterson Police Department Officers without the authority of law.” Id.

         Madison alleges that after his complaints of race discrimination and harassment, Mayor Grogan “reopened the ‘investigation' into the written complaint against [him], which had already closed and for which he had already served his suspension.” Id. at 5 ¶ 12a. He contends that he was “not informed of the nature of Grogan's ‘investigation,' and received no notice as to defendant Grogan's identity as the ‘investigator' and/or his authority to do so” and that, at no time, was he “afforded the right to counsel and/or another representative.” Id. He asserts that no communication was made to him about the reopened investigation by Mayor Grogan. Specifically, he alleges:

As a result of his complaints of race discrimination/ harassment, and over sixty (60) days after defendant Grogan reopened the “investigation” into [Madison], on November 4, 2017, defendant Grogan unilaterally terminated [Madison's] employment for “sexual harassment” - the same incident for which [he] had been suspended a year prior and without any adherence to, much less consideration of, the Peace Officer's Bill of Rights, La. R.S. 40:2531, et seq., and the law.

Id. at ¶ 13. Following his termination, Madison “immediately requested an appeal and review by defendant City's Board of Alderman as provided by law.” Id. at 7 ¶ 16. He asserts that on “November 13, 2017, Petitioner requested that Defendants give him an opportunity to rebut the false allegation/reason for his termination, specifically, that he committed sexual harassment.” Id. His request was denied. Instead, Madison contends that “on November 22, 2017, defendants ignored Petitioner's lawful request and defendant Grogan responded that he, alone, was making the decision to terminate, that his decision is final, and that Petitioner has no right to appeal or review - all in violation of clearly established law.” Id.

         Madison filed suit on January 26, 2018, in state court, alleging, inter alia, that he was wrongfully or improperly terminated by the City of Patterson. See Record Document 1. The Defendants removed Madison's suit to this court and, thereafter filed a motion to dismiss.[4] See Record Documents 1 and 4. Thereafter, Madison filed an unopposed motion for leave to file an amended complaint, which was granted. See Record Documents 12 and 15. In his amended complaint, Madison alleges that “Defendant Grogan does not possess the lawful authority to unilaterally terminate any police officer . . [because] pursuant to La. R.S. 33:423.7, the Mayor is vested only with authority to recommend termination to the Board and he does not possess authority to unilaterally terminate.” Record Document 16 at 6-8 ¶¶ 15-17. He also asserts that because “defendant Grogan unilaterally terminated Petitioner without advising him of his rights under the law and greater than 60 days after the incident[, ]” the termination was in violation of Louisiana Revised Statute 40:2531 and is absolutely null. Id. at 6 ¶ 14. Madison further contends, inter alia, that the Defendants violated his First Amendment right to “report, protest, and oppose unlawful race discrimination, ” his Fourteenth Amendment right to “liberty, good name, and reputation, ” his Fourteenth Amendment right “to be free from racial discrimination, ” and his Fourteenth Amendment right to “a property interest in his employment.” Record Document 12 at 8-9 ¶¶ 18-18a. The Defendants have now re-urged their motion to dismiss, seeking dismissal of all of Madison's claims against them. See Record Document 19. Madison filed an opposition and the Defendants thereafter filed a reply. See Record Documents 21 and 26.

         LAW AND ANALYSIS

         I. Pleading Standards And The Rule 12(b)(6) Standard.

         Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires that a pleading contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” The standard for the adequacy of complaints under Rule 8(a)(2) is now a “plausibility” standard found in Bell Atlantic Corporation v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955 (2007), and its progeny. Under this standard, “[f]actual 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).” Id. at 555-56, 127 S.Ct. at 1965 (citations omitted). If a pleading only contains “labels and conclusions” and “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action, ” the pleading does not meet the standards of Rule 8(a)(2). Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (citation omitted).

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) allows parties to seek dismissal of a pleading for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a court generally “may not go outside the pleadings.” Colle v. Brazos Cnty., Tex., 981 F.2d 237, 243 (5th Cir. 1993) (citation omitted). However, a court may rely upon “documents incorporated into the complaint by reference [] and matters of which a court may take judicial notice” in deciding a motion to dismiss. Dorsey v. Portfolio Equities, Inc., 540 F.3d 333, 338 (5th Cir. 2008) (citation omitted); see Fed.R.Evid. 201. Additionally, courts must accept all allegations in a complaint as true. See Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 127 S.Ct. at 1965.

         A motion to dismiss is “viewed with disfavor and is rarely granted.” Turner v. Pleasant, 663 F.3d 770, 775 (5th Cir. 2011), quoting Harrington v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 563 F.3d 141, 147 (5th Cir. 2009). Dismissal is appropriate only if the complaint fails to plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570, 127 S.Ct. at 1974. To satisfy this standard, the complaint must provide more than conclusions, but it “need not contain detailed factual allegations.” Colony Ins. Co. v. Peachtree Constr., Ltd., 647 F.3d 248, 252 (5th Cir. 2011). However, it must allege enough facts to move the claim “across the line from conceivable to plausible.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570, 127 S.Ct. at 1974. Determining whether the plausibility standard has been met 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, 129 S.Ct. at 1950.

         II. Analysis.

         A. Mayor Grogan's Authority To Terminate.

         Madison's first claim is that Mayor Grogan lacked authority to terminate him under state law. See Record Document 16 at 6 ¶ 15. The Defendants contend that Mayor Grogan had authority to terminate Madison by virtue of the City of Patterson's Home Rule Charter.[5] See Record Document 19 at 6. “In 1898, the Lawrason Act was passed setting forth a general legislative charter for all municipalities created after its effective date as well as for those created prior to its effective date which chose to accept its provisions. It was the intent of the Act to provide a uniform type of government for all municipalities in Louisiana.” La. R.S. 33:321, Reporter's Notes-1950. In Louisiana, all municipalities, by default, are governed by the Lawrason Act “except those municipalities governed by a special legislative charter or a home rule charter or plan of government adopted pursuant to Article VI of the Constitution of Louisiana.” La. R.S. 33:321. The City of Patterson is governed by a Home Rule Charter, which became effective on January 1, 1993. The Charter grants the mayor, as chief executive officer of the city government, the power to:

(2) Appoint, suspend, or remove all city government employees, appointive administrative officers, and appointed providers of professional services provided for, by, or under this Charter in accordance with the personnel policies. The mayor may authorize any administrative officer who is subject to the mayor's direction and supervision to exercise these powers with respect to subordinates in the officer's department, office or agency.
(3) Direct and supervise the administration of all departments, offices, and agencies of the city government, except as otherwise provided by this Charter.

         The Defendants take this language and conclude that Mayor Grogan “possessed the full authority to appoint, suspend, and remove any and all employees of the Patterson Police Department, including Madison.” Record Document 19 at 6.

         Madison counters this argument by citing to Louisiana Revised Statute 33:423.7, a part of the Lawrason Act. This section, enacted after the City of Patterson's Home Rule Charter was in effect, provides:

Notwithstanding the provision of R.S. 33:423 or any other provision of law to the contrary, in and for the city of Patterson, the chief of police shall appoint and discharge police personnel subject to the budgetary limitations of the mayor and board of aldermen pertaining to the number of allotted positions for the police department.

La. R.S. 33:423.7. In response to this apparent conflict, the Defendants cite an advisory opinion from the Louisiana Attorney General and a judgment from the 16th Judicial District Court in and for the Parish of St. Mary, both of which concluded that Section 423.7 is unconstitutional. See La. Att'y Gen. Op. No. 95-465 (Nov. 21, 1995) and Grogan v. La., No. 127, 615 (La. 16th J.D.C. 2014) (Record Document 19, Ex. A). Madison counters this response by asserting that the Defendants are requesting that this Court “make some sort of ‘Erie guess' as to the constitutionality of La. R.S. [33]:423.7.” Record Document 21 at 9. Madison also disputes the binding nature, or lack thereof, of the two opinions that concluded that Section 423.7 unconstitutional. See id. However, it is unnecessary for this Court to reach these issues at this juncture of the proceedings.[6]

         The Defendants have chosen to essentially ignore Section 2-8 of the Code of Ordinances of the City of Patterson.[7] Section 2-8 is entitled “Chief of police” and provides in section (d) that

[t]he chief of police shall hire and fire personnel within his department with the advice and consent of the mayor and city council; except that the chief of police department may suspend any officer or other employee of the ...

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