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Conner v. Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

September 13, 2019

CHRISTINE CONNER
v.
ORLEANS PARISH SHERIFF'S OFFICE, ET AL.

         SECTION: “J” (4)

          ORDER & REASONS

          CARL J. BARBIER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is a Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim (Rec. Doc. 6) filed by Defendants Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office, Clemont Griffin, and Sheriff Marlin Gusman, and an opposition thereto (Rec. Doc. 7) filed by Plaintiff Christine Conner. Having considered the motion and memoranda, the record, and the applicable law, the Court finds that the motion should be GRANTED as explained more fully herein.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff is a former employee of the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office. While an employee, she began a sexual relationship with Griffin, also an employee of the Sheriff's Office, and became pregnant from that relationship. She attempted to end the relationship during her pregnancy after the relationship “became caustic.”[1]Griffin then began making threatening telephone calls to Plaintiff.

         At work, Plaintiff and Griffin had been assigned to the same shift. Plaintiff alleges that one morning at work, Griffin “committed an assault and battery upon [her].”[2] Plaintiff then asked her supervisor to assign her to a different shift and “complained several times to her supervisors about the sexual harassment.”[3] Her supervisors informed Griffin about the complaints but otherwise did not take any action; instead, he was promoted to sergeant. However, Plaintiff's supervisors refused to assign her to a different shift and “ma[de] excuses for Griffin's sexual harassment, ”[4] and Plaintiff was demoted and had her pay reduced. She also alleges she “was subjected to unwelcomed sexual advances, verbal and physical harassment and offensive remarks.”[5] Plaintiff then quit and filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. She received a right to sue letter dated October 30, 2018.

         After Plaintiff quit, Griffin continued to make threatening telephone calls to her and to “post[] harassing messages on social media.”[6] Plaintiff eventually obtained a restraining order against Griffin.

         Plaintiff filed her original complaint on January 25, 2019, raising claims under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983, and 1985, and a state law tort claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED) against Griffin and the Sheriff's Office. She later filed an amended complaint, which added Sheriff Gusman as a defendant and raised additional claims under the Equal Protection Clause and for “stalking, cyberstalking, sexual harassment, assault, battery and unwanted touching.”[7] All three Defendants then filed the instant motion to dismiss, arguing that the claims against the Sheriff's Office must be dismissed because a Louisiana parish sheriff's office is not a legal entity capable of being sued, and that Plaintiff has failed to state a plausible claim for relief against Griffin or Gusman.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Pursuant to 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 provide the defendant with ‘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) (citation omitted). The factual allegations in the complaint “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). “[D]etailed factual allegations” are not required, but the pleading must present “more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

         To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the plaintiff must plead sufficient facts to “‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). 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. The 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). The court is not, however, 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 v. Books A Million, Inc., 296 F.3d 376, 378 (5th Cir. 2002) (citation omitted).

         DISCUSSION

         Before addressing the sufficiency of the allegations in Plaintiff's pleadings, the Court will address some of Plaintiff's assertions regarding the appropriate legal standard. Plaintiff, through counsel, contends her complaint is entitled to liberal construction and that it may not be dismissed “‘unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of [her] claim which would entitle [her] to relief, '” quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957).[8]

         The “no set of facts” standard set forth in Conley has, at this point, long been “retire[d].” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 563. “The phrase is best forgotten as an incomplete, negative gloss on an accepted pleading standard: once a claim has been stated adequately, it may be supported by showing any set of facts consistent with the allegations in the complaint.” Id. In order to first adequately state a claim, a plaintiff must plead enough facts to “nudge[] [her] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible.” Id. at 570. This standard requires “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. “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.'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). In assessing whether a complaint should be dismissed, a court may exclude from consideration all legal conclusions not entitled to an assumption of truth, and then consider whether the remaining well-pleaded factual allegations plausibly, not just possibly, state a right to relief. See Id. at 679.

         Additionally, the Court will only “liberally construe briefs of pro se litigants and [will] apply less stringent standards to parties proceeding pro se than to parties represented by counsel.” Grant v. Cuellar, 59 F.3d 523, 524 (5th Cir. 1995) (citing Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972)). Plaintiff, represented by counsel, is not entitled to this less stringent pleading standard.

         I. Claims Against the Sheriff's Office

         It is well established that “a sheriff's office is not a legal entity capable of being sued.” Cozzo v. Tangipahoa Par. Council-President Gov't, 279 F.3d 273, 283 (5th Cir. 2002). Nevertheless, the Court treats claims against a sheriff's office as one against the sheriff in his official capacity. See Hudson v. City of New Orleans, 174 F.3d 677, 680 (5th Cir. 1999). Because Plaintiff added Sheriff Gusman as a named defendant in her amended complaint, the Court finds dismissal of the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office proper.

         II. Title VII and Louisiana Employment Discrimination Claims

         Plaintiff raises claims of hostile work environment, retaliation, and constructive discharge under Title VII. Defendants first assert that these claims against Griffin should be dismissed because he was her coworker, not her employer.

         Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it “an unlawful employment practice for an employer . . . to discriminate against any individual with respect to [her] compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's . . . sex.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1) (emphasis added). It goes on to define “employer” to include “any agent” of the employer. Id. § 2000e(b). The Fifth Circuit has held that Title VII does not impose individual liability; thus, “a Title VII suit against an employee is actually a suit against the corporation, ” and “a party may not maintain a suit against both an employer and its agent under Title VII.” Indest v. Freeman Decorating, Inc., 164 F.3d 258, 262 (5th Cir. 1999). Accordingly, the Title VII claims against Griffin must be dismissed. The fact that Griffin was promoted to a supervisory position at some point during the alleged events does not alter this conclusion, as he was still merely an agent of the Sheriff and not Plaintiff's employer.

         Defendants also argue that Plaintiff's claims against Griffin under the Louisiana Employment Discrimination Law (“LEDL”) should also be dismissed for essentially the same reason. See La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 23:332. However, other than the jurisdictional statement, Plaintiff's Complaint and Amended Complaint do not contain a single reference to the LEDL.[9] Because Plaintiff has not raised a claim under the LEDL, there is no claim for the Court to dismiss.

         A. Hostile ...


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