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Bradford v. Jackson Parish Policy Jury

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

April 17, 2019

CORA L. BRADFORD
v.
JACKSON PARISH POLICY JURY d/b/a JACKSON PARISH HOSPITAL, ET AL.

          TERRY A. DOUGHTY MAG. JUDGE

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          KAREN L. HAYES UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Before the undersigned Magistrate Judge, on reference from the District Court, are the following motions: 1) a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted [doc. # 13] filed by defendant, Jackson Parish Hospital Service District No. 1 d/b/a Jackson Parish Hospital (“JPHSD”); 2) a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted [doc. # 14] filed by defendant, Inquiseek, L.L.C. (“Inquiseek”); and 3) a motion for leave to amend complaint [doc. # 28] filed by plaintiff Cora Bradford. For reasons explained below, it is recommended that Inquiseek's motion be GRANTED, and that the JPHSD's motion be GRANTED-IN-PART and DENIED-IN-PART. It is further ordered that plaintiff's motion for leave to amend is GRANTED.

         Background

         On October 23, 2018, Cora Bradford filed the instant complaint against her former employer, the Jackson Parish Police Jury d/b/a Jackson Parish Hospital, as well as Inquiseek - a consulting firm hired by Bradford's former employer to evaluate the hospital's accounting functions. (Compl.). Bradford asserted race-based claims for wrongful termination, disparate treatment, and wage disparity under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq.; 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983; the Equal Pay Act, 29 U.S.C. 201, et seq.; and the Louisiana Employment Discrimination Law (“LEDL”), La. R.S. § 23:332. Id. She also asserted state tort law claims against Inquiseek stemming from its agent's, Jeff Harper's verbal abuse and threats that purportedly caused Bradford to lose her job. Id. Bradford seeks lost wage and benefits, plus liquidated, exemplary, and punitive damages, attorney's fees, interest, and costs. Id. She also prays for a judgment enjoining defendants from engaging in the alleged discriminatory activities, as well as requiring them to take affirmative steps to redress their discriminatory practices.

         On November 12, 2018, the Jackson Parish Police Jury and the JPHSD filed an answer to the complaint in which they clarified that they had been improperly named in the complaint as a single entity (the “Jackson Parish Police Jury d/b/a Jackson Parish Hospital”). (Answer [doc. # 5]). In so doing, they effectively substituted themselves as defendants in lieu of Jackson Parish Police Jury d/b/a Jackson Parish Hospital. On November 13, 2018, Inquiseek filed its answer. [doc. # 6].

         On January 15, 2019, each of the three defendants filed a dispositive motion. The Police Jury filed a motion for summary judgment seeking dismissal on the grounds that it neither was Bradford's employer, nor involved in the challenged conduct that formed the basis for this suit. [doc. # 11]. Plaintiff filed a statement(s) stating that she did not oppose the motion. [doc. #s 22 & 23]. Accordingly, the Court granted the Police Jury's motion and dismissed it from the case. [doc. # 24].

         Inquiseek filed the instant Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss plaintiff's claims for tortious interference with contract, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and for punitive damages. [doc. # 14]. Plaintiff filed her opposition on February 1, 2019. [doc. # 25]. Inquiseek filed its reply on February 7, 2019. [doc. # 30].

         The JPHSD filed the instant Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss plaintiff's claims under 29 U.S.C. §§ 201 & 206 (the Equal Pay Act), 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983, and for punitive damages. Plaintiff did not file an opposition to the motion, and the time to do so has lapsed. (Notice of Motion Setting [doc. # 17]). Thus, the motion is unopposed. Id.

         On February 6, 2019, however, plaintiff filed the instant motion for leave to amend complaint to add claims for gender-based discrimination and wage disparity. On February 12, 2019, the JPHSD filed an opposition to the motion, wherein it argued that, aside from a potential claim of gender discrimination under the Equal Pay Act, the proposed amendment was futile because the new claims were time-barred. Plaintiff did not file a reply brief, and the time to do so has lapsed. (Notice of Motion Setting; [doc. # 29]). Thus, the matter is ripe.

         Discussion

         I. Leave to Amend

         Leave to amend shall be “freely”granted “when justice so requires.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). “‘Whether leave to amend should be granted is entrusted to the sound discretion of the district court . . .'” Quintanilla v. Texas Television, Inc., 139 F.3d 494, 499 (5th Cir.1998) (quoted source omitted). Yet, “[i]n the context of motions to amend pleadings, ‘discretion' may be misleading, because Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a) ‘evinces a bias in favor of granting leave to amend.'” Martin's Herend Imports v. Diamond & Gem Trading United States of America Co., 195 F.3d 765, 770 (5th Cir. 1999) (quoting Dussouy v. Gulf Coast Inv. Corp., 660 F.2d 594, 597 (5th Cir. Nov. 1981)). A district court must have a “substantial reason” to deny a request for leave to amend. Lyn-Lea Travel Corp. v. American Airlines, Inc., 283 F.3d 282, 286 (5th Cir. 2002) (citation omitted).

         In deciding whether to grant a party leave to amend, the court considers the following factors: 1) undue delay, 2) bad faith or dilatory motive, 3) repeated failure to cure deficiencies by previous amendments, 4) undue prejudice to the opposing party, and 5) futility of the amendment. Rosenzweig v. Azurix Corp., 332 F.3d 854, 864 (5th Cir. 2003) (citing Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962)). Absent any of these factors, leave should be granted. Smith v. EMC Corp., 393 F.3d 590, 595 (5th Cir. 2004) (citing, Foman, 371 U.S. at 182).

         The JPHSD opposes the proposed amendment on the basis that it is futile. In the Rule 15 context, an amendment is futile if it “would fail to state a claim for relief upon which relief could be granted.” Stripling v. Jordan Production Co., LLC, 234 F.3d 863, 873 (5th Cir. 2000). However, whether plaintiff's amended pleading succeeds in restating her cause of action is a contested issue that remains inextricably intertwined with the merits of the pending motion(s) to dismiss the original complaint. Moreover, when, as here, plaintiff amends her complaint while a motion to dismiss is pending, and defendant(s) maintains that the defects raised in the original motion are not cured by the new pleading, then the court may consider the motion to dismiss as being addressed to the amended pleading.

         Indeed,

defendants should not be required to file a new motion to dismiss simply because an amended pleading was introduced while their motion was pending. Rather, [i]f some of the defects raised in the original motion remain in the new pleading, the court simply may consider the motion as being addressed to the amended pleading.

Rountree v. Dyson, 892 F.3d 681, 683 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, ___U.S.___, 139 S.Ct. 595 (2018) (citations omitted).

         Furthermore,

[u]nder Rule 12(b)(6), a plaintiff with an arguable claim is ordinarily accorded notice of a pending motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim and an opportunity to amend the complaint before the motion is ruled upon. These procedures alert h[er] to the legal theory underlying the defendant's challenge, and enable h[er] meaningfully to respond by opposing the motion to dismiss on legal grounds or by clarifying h[er] factual allegations so as to conform with the requirements of a valid legal cause of action.

Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 329-30, 109 S.Ct. 1827, 1834 (1989) (emphasis added).

         Here, the JPHSD's motion to dismiss was plaintiff's first specific notice that her complaint failed to state a claim for gender-based discrimination and wage disparity. While JPHSD argues that the proposed amendment is untimely as to the discrimination claims, it does not contend that it is untimely for purposes of asserting a claim under the Equal Pay Act. Accordingly, the court will permit the amendment, and fold the JPHSD's arguments regarding futility into the court's discussion of the already pending motion(s) to dismiss.

         II. Failure to State a Claim Upon Which Relief Can be Granted

         a) 12(b)(6) Principles

         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). A pleading states a claim for relief when, inter alia, it contains a “short and plain statement . . . showing that the pleader is entitled to relief . . .” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2).

         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)). 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. 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, 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. Moreover, courts are compelled to dismiss claims grounded upon invalid legal theories even though they might otherwise be well-pleaded. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 109 S.Ct. 1827 (1989).

         Nevertheless, “[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. 2008) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). Further, “a complaint need not pin plaintiff's claim for relief to a precise legal theory. Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure generally requires only a plausible ‘short and plain' statement of the plaintiff's claim, not an exposition of [her] legal argument.” Skinner v. Switzer, 562 U.S. 521, 131 S.Ct. 1289, 1296 (2011). Indeed, “[c]ourts must focus on the substance of the relief sought and the allegations pleaded, not on the label used.” Gearlds v. Entergy Servs., Inc., 709 F.3d 448, 452 (5th Cir. 2013) (citations 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). In the context of employment discrimination claims, “the ordinary rules for assessing the sufficiency of a complaint apply, ” and a plaintiff need not establish a prima facie case of employment discrimination in her complaint. Swierkiewicz v. Sorema, 534 U.S. 506, 511, 122 S.Ct. 992, 997 (2002).

         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, “[d]ocuments that a defendant attaches to a motion to dismiss are considered part of the pleadings if they are referred to in the ...


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