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Yazdi v. Lafayette Parish School Board

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

September 30, 2019

AZADEH MARIAM YAZDI
v.
LAFAYETTE PARISH SCHOOL BOARD, ET AL.

          CAROL WHITEHURST, MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          MEMORANDUM RULING

          ROBERT R. SUMMERHAYS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pending before the Court is a Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss [Doc. No. 29] filed by Individual Defendants Annette Samec, Barbara Pippin, Dr. Donald Aguillard, Robin Olivier, Tia LeBrun, Suzanne Thibodeaux, and Joseph Craig (collectively "the Individual Defendants").[1] Plaintiff Azadeh Yazdi has filed an Opposition [Doc. No. 31], to which the Individual Defendants have filed a Reply [Doc. No. 32]. For the following reasons, the motion is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

         I.

         BACKGROUND

         On April 14, 2018, Plaintiff Azadeh Yazdi filed this lawsuit alleging that the Lafayette Parish School Board ("LPSB") and Individual Defendants Samec, Pippin, Aguillard, Olivier, and LeBrun are liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violation of Plaintiff s civil rights, as well as for tortious conduct under Louisiana state law. [Doc. No. 1] On September 14, 2018, Plaintiff sought leave to file a supplemental complaint to add Individual Defendants Thibodeaux and Craig. [Doc. No. 18] The Court denied that motion, but ordered Plaintiff to file a consolidated amended and supplemental complaint.[2] [Docs. No. 21, 22] On October 8, 2018, Plaintiff filed a Consolidated Supplemental and Amended Complaint ("Amended Complaint") [Doc. No. 26], adding Individual Defendants Thibodeaux and Craig and attempting to further clarify her claims. Plaintiff alleges that, after beginning employment with LPSB, she learned of violations of LPSB policy and state and federal law by certain of the Individual Defendants. [Doc. No. 26 at ¶¶ 10-16, 19-20] Plaintiff asserts that after she informed Individual Defendants Samec and Pippin of these violations, the Individual Defendants took retaliatory actions against her - including harassing and threatening Plaintiff, tampering with her personnel file, encouraging her to quit, and ultimately terminating her employment. [Doc. No. 26 at ¶¶ 17-33] Plaintiff further alleges that Defendant Aguillard, Superintendent of the Lafayette Parish School System, was made aware of these retaliatory actions but did not intervene. [Doc. No. 26 at ¶ 33] Plaintiff further asserts that after her employment was terminated, certain Individual Defendants disclosed false and negative comments in Plaintiffs personnel file to prospective employers in an effort to damage her employment prospects. [Doc. No. 26 at ¶ 29] In light of these allegations, Plaintiff requests that the Court "declare the employment acts and/or practices. . . to be in violation of Plaintiffs constitutionally-protected rights," and to "purge Plaintiffs personnel file of all discriminatory and retaliatory information." [Doc. No. 26 at 19-20] Plaintiff further seeks compensatory damages and punitive damages against the Individual Defendants, as well as costs and attorneys' fees. [Doc. No. 26 at 20]

         II.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim are appropriate when a defendant attacks the complaint because it fails to state a legally cognizable clam. Ramming v. United States, 281 F.3d 158, 161 (5th Cir.2001). In other words, a motion to dismiss an action for failure to state a claim "admits the facts alleged in the complaint, but challenges plaintiffs rights to relief based upon those facts." Id. at 161-62. When deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, "[t]he court accepts all well-pleaded facts as true, viewing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." In re Katrina Canal Breaches Litig., 495 F.3d 191, 205 (5th Cir. 2007) (internal quotation marks omitted). "While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiffs obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do [.]" Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 5127 S.Ct. 1955');">55127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964-65, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)(citations, quotation marks, and brackets omitted). The tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955). Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice. Id. In considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, a district court generally "must limit itself to the contents of the pleadings, including attachments thereto." Collins v. Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, 224 F.3d 496, 498 (5th Cir.2000).

         III.

         ANALYSIS

         A. Count One: Violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983

         Count One appears to assert a Monell claim of municipal liability for violation of § 1983 against LPSB, and a claim under § 1983 against Defendant Aguillard in his official capacity as Superintendent of the Lafayette Parish School System.[3] [Doc. No. 26 at ¶¶ 36, 38, 43] The Monell claim against LPSB is addressed in this Court's ruling on LPSB's separate Motion to Dismiss.[4]Defendant Aguillard argues that Plaintiffs Monell claim against him should be dismissed because it is duplicative of the Monell claim against LPSB and fails to sufficiently allege any of the elements of a Monell claim against him. [Doc 29-1 at 9]

         Claims against an official in his or her official capacity are "only another way of pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is an agent." Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 112 S.Ct. 358, 362, 116 L.Ed.2d 301(1991); Woodard v. Andrus, 419 ¶ 3d 34S, 352 (5th Cir.2005). Because Plaintiff can sue the governmental entity directly, she would not be prejudiced by dismissal of claims against the Individual Defendants in their official capacities. Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 105 S.Ct. 3099, 3104-06, 87 L.Ed.2d 114(1985). When the governmental entity itself is a defendant, claims against employees of the entity in their official capacity are redundant, and therefore should be dismissed. Castro Romero v. Becken, 256 F.3d 349, 355 (5th Cir. 2001). Because LPSB remains a party to this matter, Plaintiff s Monell claim against Defendant Aguillard in his official capacity must be dismissed. The Individual Defendants' motion is granted in this respect.[5]

         B. Count Two: Retaliation in Violation of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and 42 U.S.C. § 1983

          1. Monell Claims Against the Individual Defendants

         The Individual Defendants argue that Plaintiff has failed to state claims of municipal liability against them under a Monell analysis. [Doc. 29-1 at 9] Plaintiff concedes that if the Court finds her official capacity claims against the Individual Defendants to be redundant, then a discussion of Monell is inapplicable at this stage. [Doc. No. 31-2 at 9-10] As noted above, with respect to Defendant Aguillard, the Court agrees. The Monell analysis sets out the elements that must be proven for a local government to be held liable under § 1983. Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of City of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 694, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 2037, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978). To the extent Plaintiff attempts to assert claims under § 1983 against the Individual Defendants other than Dr. Aguillard in their official capacities, those claims are dismissed as redundant, and the Monell analysis is not applicable to the Individual Defendants. Therefore, the Individual Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiffs municipal liability claims against them is granted.

         2. Claims Against Individual Defendants in their Individual Capacities

         As a threshold matter, the Individual Defendants argue that, while Plaintiff purports to sue them in both their individual and official capacities [Doc. No. 26 at ¶5], she is actually suing them solely in their official capacities. [Doc. No. 29-1 at 7] The Individual Defendants draw this conclusion from Plaintiffs allegation that the Individual Defendants "acted within the course and scope of their employment and authority with the [Lafayette Parish School System] when unlawfully violating Plaintiffs constitutionally protected rights." [Doc. No. 26 at 41] The Individual Defendants assert that if they acted in the course and scope of their employment, "then they were acting on behalf of their employer and not in their own personal capacities." [Doc. No. 29-1 at 7] Accordingly, the Individual Defendants contend that the official capacity claims against them are duplicative of those brought ...


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