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Pittman v. Swan River, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

April 9, 2019

DEANDRA PITTMAN
v.
SWAN RIVER, LLC

         SECTION: “J” (3)

          ORDER AND REASONS

          CARL J. BARBIER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is a Motion to Dismiss (Rec. Doc. 18) filed by Defendant, Swan River, LLC (“Defendant”) and an opposition thereto (Rec. Doc. 19) filed by Plaintiff, Deandra Pittman (“Plaintiff”). Having considered the motion and legal memoranda, the record, and the applicable law, the Court finds that the motion should be GRANTED.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         This litigation derives from Plaintiff's allegation that Defendant lessor engaged in unlawful discrimination resulting in the termination of Plaintiff's lease. Defendant operates yoga facilities at various locations in New Orleans. Defendant leased to Plaintiff space at its 2940 Canal Street studio for the operation of a massage business called the Peppermint Room. Defendant alleges that the lease terminated according to its terms. Plaintiff, however, asserts that she was forced to vacate the leased premises after Defendant informed her that the lease would not be renewed unless she fired her African American male employee.

         Plaintiff originally filed this lawsuit against Defendant in the First City Court for the City of New Orleans. Defendant timely removed the action to federal court. Defendant subsequently filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). (Rec. Doc. 6). Determining that the defect in Plaintiff's complaint could be cured, this Court ordered Plaintiff to file an amended complaint in lieu of dismissal. (Rec. Doc. 15). This Court also directed Plaintiff to state, with specificity, the federal causes of action she wishes to pursue.[1] (Rec. Doc. 15). Thereafter, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint into the record. (Rec. Doc. 17). Defendant filed the instant motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), which Plaintiff opposes.

         PARTIES' ARGUMENTS

         The movant asserts that the action must be dismissed because Plaintiff's amended complaint fails to set forth a cause of action upon which relief may be granted and is otherwise legally insufficient because it fails to set forth any facts upon which the allegations asserted could be true. (Rec. Doc. 18 at 1). Defendant first argues that dismissal is appropriate because Plaintiff's amended complaint fails to cure the defect in the original pleading in that it does not state any new facts that would support Defendant's liability for Plaintiff's claims. (Rec. Doc. 18-2 at 2). Specifically, Defendant alleges that the paragraphs in the amended complaint asserting that “[t]he defendant intentionally refused to renew a lease agreement with [Plaintiff] because [Plaintiff] employed an [A]frican [A]merican male” and that “Defendant never previously objected to [Plaintiff] hiring additional employees who were of other races and genders” do not constitute material facts. (See Rec. Doc. 18-2 at 2). Defendant next argues that Plaintiff's “bare and conclusory allegations … do[ ] not contain enough factual detail upon which to establish more than a sheer possibility that the Plaintiff can prevail in this action.” (Rec. Doc. 18-2 at 3). Accordingly, Defendant asserts that the action should be dismissed given that the amended complaint fails to raise Plaintiff's right to relief above the speculative level. (Rec. Doc. 18-2 at 4).

         In opposition, Plaintiff argues that dismissal is improper because the amended complaint cures the deficiencies in Plaintiff's original pleading. (Rec. Doc. 19 at 2). Plaintiff points specifically to paragraphs six and seven of the original pleading, which assert that Defendant advised Plaintiff that her African American male employee would not be permitted to freely enter and exit the premises, renewal of the lease was contingent upon Plaintiff's dismissal of her African American male employee, and the African American male employee had not caused any problems for Defendant or its customers. (See Rec. Doc. 7-1). Plaintiff also argues that the inclusion of paragraph two in the amended complaint constitutes compliance with this Court's directive in its August 10, 2018 Order to state with specificity the federal causes of action she wishes to pursue. (Rec. Doc. 19 at 2). Specifically, Plaintiff's amended complaint asserts that “[i]n addition to the state court claims asserted in the original petition, plaintiff asserts claim[s] against the defendant under 42 USC 1981, the 14thAmendment to the United States Constitution and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.” (Rec. Doc. 19 at 2).

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). The complaint must “give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Dura Pharm., Inc. v. Broudo, 544 U.S. 336, 346 (2005). The allegations “must be simple, concise, and direct.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(d)(1).

         “Under Rule 12(b)(6), a claim may be dismissed when a plaintiff fails to allege any set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief.” Taylor v. Books A Million, Inc., 296 F.3d 376, 378 (5th Cir. 2002) (citing McConathy v. Dr. Pepper/Seven Up Corp., 131 F.3d 558, 561 (5th Cir. 1998)). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the plaintiff must plead enough facts to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is facially plausible when the plaintiff pleads facts that allow the court to “draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. A court must accept all well-pleaded facts as true and must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Lormand v. U.S. Unwired, Inc., 565 F.3d 228, 232 (5th Cir. 2009); Baker v. Putnal, 75 F.3d 190, 196 (5th Cir. 1996). However, the court is not bound to accept as true legal conclusions couched as factual allegations. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. “[C]onclusory allegations or legal conclusions masquerading as factual conclusions will not suffice to prevent a motion to dismiss.” Taylor, 296 F.3d at 378.

         DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff's amended complaint asserts federal causes of action pursuant to the Fourteenth Amendment, [2] 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and Title VII. Title VII prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2. An “employer” is “a person engaged in an industry affecting commerce who has fifteen or more employees for each working day in each of twenty or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding calendar year….” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e. The term “employee” refers to an individual employed by an employer, subject to certain exceptions. Id. The plain language of Title VII makes clear that it does not provide Plaintiff with grounds for relief against Defendant in this case because Title VII provides a cause of action only against employers. Labranche v. Dep't of Def., No. 15-2280, 2016 WL 614682, at *3 (E.D. La. Feb. 16, 2016); 42 U.S.C. ยงยง 2000e-2, 2000e-16. Here, Plaintiff ...


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