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Wesley v. Ascension Parish

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

January 13, 2020

TALETA WESLEY
v.
ASCENSION PARISH, ET AL.

          ORDER

          RICHARD L. BOURGEOIS, JR. UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Before the Court are two motions. First, Defendants filed their first Motion to Dismiss (R. Doc. 12) on July 6, 2019. Plaintiff filed her Opposition (R. Doc. 18) on August 5, 2019. Defendants filed their Second Motion to Dismiss (R. Doc. 17) on August 5, 2019. Plaintiff filed her Opposition (R. Doc. 24)[1] on August 26, 2019.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff initiated this action with the filing of her Complaint (R. Doc. 3) on May 6, 2019. Plaintiff is an African American woman who was hired as the Director of Human Resources for the Parish of Ascension. (R. Doc. 3 at 4). Plaintiff alleges that she reported several illegalities to her supervisor, including contract fraud, ethics violations, missing or incomplete tax documents, improper employee benefits payments, use of unapproved programs to send private information, and improper hiring practices. She alleges that she was wrongfully terminated for insubordination, but that termination was “a direct result of her complaints.” (R. Doc. 3 at 7). She also alleges that she suffered retaliation as a result of her complaints in the form of exclusion from meetings, being ignored, taking away her parish-issued vehicle, taking away her satellite office, and forcing her to “work in an office with respiratory infecting mold, electrical problems, roofing leaks, and other hazards.” (R. Doc. 3at 5).

         Plaintiff's Complaint seeks recovery under seven theories, including (1) Retaliation in Violation of Louisiana Whistleblower Statute; (2) Retaliation in Violation of Internal Policies; (3) Retaliation in Violation of Louisiana Board of Ethics Rules; (4) Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress; (5) Louisiana Anti-Discrimination Employment Law; (6) 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the 14th Amendment; and (7) Libel and Slander under La. C.C. art. 2315. (R. Doc. 3). Defendants filed their first Motion to Dismiss (R. Doc. 12) on July 6, 2019, seeking to dismiss the following causes of action for failure to state a claim under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6): (1) against the individual defendants in their individual or official capacities under the Louisiana Whistleblower statute; (2) against all Defendants for intentional infliction of emotional distress; (3) against Defendant Matassa in his personal capacity for defamation; (4) against Defendants Dawson and Hysell for defamation; (5) against all Defendants under the Board of Ethics Whistleblower statute; (6) against Defendants Matassa, Dawson, or Hysell in their individual or official capacities under the Board of Ethics Whistleblower statute; (7) against all Defendants under the Louisiana Employment Discrimination Law; (8) against Defendants Matassa, Dawson, and Hysell in their individual and official capacities under the Louisiana Employment Discrimination Law; and (9) against Defendants Matassa, Dawson, and Hysell in their individual and official capacities under Title VII. Defendants also filed a Second Motion to Dismiss (R. Doc. 17) on August 5, 2019, alleging that Plaintiff has failed to state a claim pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) regarding the following causes of action: (1) against Defendants Matassa, Dawson, or Hysell in their individual or official capacities under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (2) against Defendants Matassa and Dawson under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 pursuant to a respondeat superior theory; and (3) against Defendant Hysell in any capacity under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

         II. Law and Analysis

         A. Legal Standard

         A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss tests the sufficiency of the complaint against the legal standard set forth in Rule 8, which requires “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). In order to survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a pleading's language, on its face, must demonstrate that there exists plausibility for entitlement to relief. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 557 (2007). “Determining 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.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009). In determining whether it is plausible that a pleader is entitled to relief, a court does not assume the truth of conclusory statements, but rather looks for facts which support the elements of the pleader's claim. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557. Factual assertions are presumed to be true, but “labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action” alone are not enough to withstand a 12(b)(6) motion. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         In Johnson v. City of Shelby, Miss., 574 U.S. 10 (2014), the Supreme Court explained that “[f]ederal pleading rules call for a ‘short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,' Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2); they do not countenance dismissal of a complaint for imperfect statement of the legal theory supporting the claim asserted.” (citation omitted).

Interpreting Rule 8(a), the Fifth Circuit has explained:
The complaint (1) on its face (2) must contain enough factual matter (taken as true) (3) to raise a reasonable hope or expectation (4) that discovery will reveal relevant evidence of each element of a claim. “Asking for [such] plausible grounds to infer [the element of a claim] does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage; it simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal [that the elements of the claim existed].”

Lormand v. U.S. Unwired, Inc., 565 F.3d 228, 257 (5th Cir. 2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v.Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007) (emphasis in Lormand)).

Applying the above case law, one district court has stated:
Therefore, while the court is not to give the “assumption of truth” to conclusions, factual allegations remain so entitled. Once those factual allegations are identified, drawing on the court's judicial experience and common sense, the analysis is whether those facts, which need not be detailed or specific, allow “the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” [Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)]; Twombly, [550] U.S. at 556, 127 S.Ct. at 1965. This analysis is not substantively different from that set forth in Lormand, supra, nor does this jurisprudence foreclose the option that discovery must be undertaken in order to raise relevant information to support an element of the claim. The standard, under the specific language of Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), remains that the defendant be given adequate notice of the claim and the grounds upon which it is based. The standard is met by the “reasonable inference” the court must make that, with or without discovery, the facts set forth a plausible claim for relief under a particular theory of law provided that there is a “reasonable expectation” that “discovery will reveal relevant evidence of each element of the claim.” Lormand, 565 F.3d at 257; Twombly, [550] U.S. at 556, 127 S.Ct. at 1965.

Diamond Servs. Corp. v. Oceanografia, S.A. De C.V., 2011 WL 938785, at *3 (W.D. La. Feb. 9, 2011) (citation omitted).

         More recently, in Thompson v. City of Waco, Tex., 764 F.3d 500 (5th Cir. 2014), the Fifth Circuit summarized the standard for a Rule 12(b)(6) motion:

We accept all well-pleaded facts as true and view all facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff . . . To survive dismissal, a plaintiff must plead enough facts to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face. A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. Our task, then, is to determine whether the plaintiff state a legally cognizable claim that is plausible, not to evaluate the plaintiff's likelihood of success.

Id. at 502-03 (citations and internal quotations omitted). Lastly, the Court notes that “generally, a court should not dismiss an action for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) without giving plaintiff ‘at least one chance to amend.'” O'Neal v. Cargill, Inc., 178 F.Supp.3d 408, 413 (E.D. La. Apr. 12, 2016) (citing Hernan ...


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