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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 ETAL.

          CAROL WHITEHURST MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          MEMORANDUM RULING

          ROBERT R. SUMMERHAYS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pending before the Court is a Motion to Dismiss [Doc. No. 33] filed by Defendant Lafayette Parish School Board ("LPSB"). Plaintiff Azadeh Yazdi has filed an Opposition [Doc. No. 35], to which Defendant has filed a Reply [Doc. No. 36]. For the following reasons, the motion is GRANTED IN PART, DENIED IN PART, and DEFERRED 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. [Doc. No. 18] The Court denied that motion, [1] but ordered Plaintiff to seek leave to file a consolidated amended and supplemental complaint. [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 clarifying Plaintiffs claims. Plaintiff alleges that, after beginning employment with LPSB, she learned of violations of LPSB policy and/or 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 deny her employment. [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, 555127 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). However, "the court may permissibly refer to matters of public record." Cinel v. Connick, 15 F.3d 1338, 1343 n.6 (5th Cir.1994); see also Test Masters Educational Services, Inc. v. Singh, 428 F.3d 559, 570 n.2 (5th Cir.2005).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Municipal Liability Under 42 U.S.C. § 1983

         LPSB argues that Plaintiffs § 1983 claims should be dismissed because Plaintiff fails to identify a policy, policymaker, or deprivation of federal rights sufficient to plead a claim for municipal liability. [Doc. No. 33-1 at 4-5] In her Opposition, Plaintiff adopts the relevant arguments made in her Opposition to the Individual Defendants' Motion to Dismiss[2] [Doc. No. 35 at 1], and contends that she has identified the proper policymaker(s) and policies. [Doc. No. 35 at 1-3][3] In its reply, LPSB argues that violations of LPSB policy and state law do not create liability under § 1983, that Plaintiff should be deemed to have waived all claims addressed by Defendant in its motion to which Plaintiff does not explicitly respond. [Doc. No. 36 at 2-6]

         Municipalities can only be liable under § 1983 if action taken pursuant to official policy caused the deprivation of a federally protected right. Voile v. City of Houston, 613 F.3d 536, 541 (5th Cir. 2010) (internal quotations and citations omitted). To show municipal liability, a plaintiff must prove (1) an official policy or custom, (2) of which a policymaker can be charged with actual or constructive knowledge, and (3) a constitutional violation whose moving force is that policy or custom. Id. (internal quotations and citations omitted). A custom can create municipal liability when it is a practice sufficiently common and well-settled as to fairly represent municipal policy. Peterson v. City of Fort Worth, Tex., 588 F.3d 838, 847 (5th Cir. 2009) (internal quotations and citations omitted). A policy or custom is official "when it results from the decision or acquiescence of the municipal officer or body with final policymaking authority over the subject matter of the offending policy." Id. While it is possible for a single decision by a policymaker to rise to the level of a policy for purposes of municipal liability, this "single incident exception" is extremely narrow and only applies if the municipal actor is a final policymaker. Valle, 613 F.3d at 542. To be a municipal policymaker, a person or entity must have responsibility for making law or setting policy in any given area of a local government's business. Id. (citing City of St. Louis v. Praprotnik, 485 U.S. 112, 125, 108 S.Ct. 915, 99 L.Ed.2d 107 (1988)). The Court finds that Plaintiff has not carried her burden of proving each of the elements of municipal liability under § 1983, and therefore this claim must be dismissed.

         As to the question of the relevant policymaker, the parties appear to agree that LPSB, rather than Defendant Superintendent Aguillard, was LPSB's final policymaker at all relevant times. [Doc. No. 33-1 at 5-6; Doc. No. 35 at 1-2] Plaintiff suggests that she asserted in both the Original and Amended Complaint that LPSB was the final policymaker and that Defendant Aguillard was tasked with enforcement of LPSB policies. [Doc. No. 35 at 1-2] The Court notes that because the Amended Complaint does not indicate Plaintiffs intent to adopt or incorporate the contents of the Original Complaint, the Original Complaint is of no effect.[4] Furthermore, Plaintiffs Amended Complaint states "[a]t all times referred to in this Complaint, [Defendant] Aguillard was the Superintendent of the Lafayette Parish School System and the final policy maker with regards to the Lafayette Parish School Board." [Doc. No. 26 at ¶ 9 (emphasis added)] However, as stated plainly in Defendant's Motion and Plaintiffs Opposition, there appears to be no dispute at this stage that LPSB is in fact the relevant policymaker, and that Defendant Aguillard was the relevant decisionmaker regarding employment, tasked solely with implementation of LPSB's policies at the relevant times.

         Plaintiff asserts that Defendant Aguillard's actions represent the moving force behind the deprivation of Plaintiffs rights. [Doc. No. 26 at ¶ 42] Plaintiff does not assert that any LPSB policy or custom was the moving force behind any official action, rather that as final decisionmaker regarding employment, Defendant Aguillard's termination action created municipal liability under § 1983. [Doc. No. 26 at ¶¶ 38-43] However, she also alleges that the deprivation of her rights resulted when the Individual Defendants, including AguiWavd, failed to comply with LPSB policies and/or state law. Specifically, her allegations include: Defendant Thibodeaux failed to assist Plaintiff in ensuring that Board policy was enforced [Doc. No. 26 at ¶ 27]; Defendant Aguillard failed to address Plaintiffs complaints against the Individual Defendants [Doc. No. 26 at ¶ 33]; the Superintendent failed to enforce and comply with LPSB policies regarding responses to allegations of misconduct and treatment of personnel files [Doc. No. 35 at 2]; and Defendants Thibodeaux and Samec failed to comply with LPSB policies. Id. Plaintiff does not assert that official policy was the driving force for any of these actions, nor that these actions were part of a widespread practice so common and well-settled as to constitute municipal policy. In total, Plaintiffs allegations are that the Individual Defendants retaliated against her for speaking out about purported violations of policy and/or law, and not that any of their actions were part of an official policy or custom. While Plaintiff does assert that LPSB tacitly approved of the Individual Defendants' actions by not taking steps to modify their conduct [Doc. No. 26 at ¶ 54], she does not allege facts sufficient to support such an allegation, [5] nor would that cure the failure to allege facts supporting a causal connection between an official custom or policy and a deprivation of a federally protected right, which is required for municipal liability under § 1983. The Court therefore finds that Plaintiff has not sufficiently stated a claim against LPSB for municipal liability under § 1983, and therefore Defendant's motion as to those claims is granted. Because the Court finds that Plaintiff has not stated a claim of municipal liability for a constitutional violation under § 1983, it need not discuss the merits of Plaintiff s claim of violation of her First Amendment rights.

         B. Claims ...


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