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Jones v. Tyson Foods, Inc.

United States District Court, Fifth Circuit

September 11, 2013

MARVIN JONES, Plaintiff,
v.
TYSON FOODS, INC.; HALEY BARBOUR, in His Official Capacity of Governor of the State of Mississippi; CHRISTOPHER EPPS, in His Individual and Official Capacities as Commissioner of the Mississippi Department of Corrections; LEE McTEER, in His Official Capacity as Community Correctional Director for Region I and in His Individual Capacity; JONATHAN BRADLEY, in His Official Capacity as Correctional Supervisor of Leflore County Restitution Center and in His Individual Capacities, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANT TYSON FOODS, INC.'S MOTION TO DISMISS

JANE M. VIRDEN, District Judge.

Presently before the Court is Defendant Tyson Foods, Inc.'s motion to dismiss [18] filed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Upon due consideration, the Court finds that the motion should be granted in part and denied in part.[1]

A. Factual and Procedural Background

Plaintiff Marvin Jones ("Plaintiff"), a former resident of Leflore County Restitution Center, brings this suit for monetary and declaratory relief, alleging that his constitutional rights were violated when he was subjected to dangerous conditions and contracted mycobacterium tuberculosis ("TB") while fulfilling the terms of his restitution at a chicken-processing plant, Tyson Foods, Inc., in Carthage, Mississippi ("Tyson"). Plaintiff sues Tyson; Haley Barbour, in his official capacity as the then-Governor of Mississippi ("Barbour"); Christopher Epps, in his individual capacity and official capacity as the Commissioner of the Mississippi Department of Corrections ("Epps"); Lee McTeer, in his individual capacity and official capacity as the Community Correctional Director for Region I ("McTeer"); and Jonathon Bradley, [2] in his individual capacity and official capacity as the Correctional Supervisor of Leflore County Restitution Center ("Bradley").

Plaintiff alleges the following facts: After serving a three-month term at the Clay County J ail for embezzling money from a Dollar General store, Plaintiff was assigned to Leflore County Restitution Center. Bradley immediately assigned Plaintiff to work at the Tyson Foods chicken plant in Carthage, Mississippi, as a chicken hanger, a position which required Plaintiff to "hang[ ] live chickens on a moving wire by their feet in an environment filled with dust, feathers, and chicken feces." Pl.'s Am. Compl. [12] ¶ 20. Despite knowledge of the physical danger of exposure to TB, Defendants failed to test Plaintiff monthly for TB. ld. ¶ 39. Plaintiff began to suffer swelling in his face, neck, and hands. ld. ¶ 32. Plaintiff asked his work supervisor if he could see the company's nurse, but the supervisor would not allow him to do so. ld. After two weeks at Tyson, Plaintiff could no longer fulfill his work obligations due to his medical ailments; thus, Plaintiff returned to Leflore County Restitution Center, where he awaited his next assignment. ld. ¶ 33. Bradley became angry towards Plaintiff "because [Plaintiff] could not fulfill his duties" at Tyson, and Bradley did not assign Plaintiff to work at any other facility for two months, during which time Plaintiff was "essentially left in limbo." ld. ¶ 34. Bradley then assigned Plaintiff to work at Tyson again, "contrary to [Plaintiff's] best interest and despite the fact [that] he had a medical condition hampering his productivity at [Tyson]." ld. ¶ 37. "Despite earning the money to satisfy his restitution and any other legitimate outstanding debt, [Plaintiff], against his will, was forced to remain at [Leflore County Restitution Center] while at [Tyson]." Id. ¶ 40. Plaintiff was then released from Leflore County Restitution Center and allowed to return home. Id. ¶ 41. After his release, Plaintiff received a letter from the Mississippi State Department of Health informing him that he may have been exposed to TB during his assignment at Tyson. Id. ¶¶ 42, 65. After undergoing a tuberculin skin test, Plaintiff learned that he did, in fact, have TB. Id. ¶ 42. As a result of the disease, Plaintiff suffers from "muscle spasms, acute fever, night sweats, loss of appetite, weight loss, and a host of side effects from medications he must take" and is "unable to work." Id. ¶ 43.

Plaintiff assert the following causes of action against Tyson: (1) under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Plaintiff's Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights to be free from cruel and unusual punishment were violated by Tyson and other Defendants; (2) under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Defendants failed to provide adequate training and/or supervise their administration, staff, and/or faculty not to violate Plaintiff's and other residents' Eighth, Thirteenth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights; (3) "Defendants conspired to deprive, by force, intimidation, or threat, [Plaintiff] from receiving his freedom after he satisfied the terms of his sentencing" in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1985, id. ¶ 2; (4) Defendants were negligent and/or grossly negligent in providing an unsanitary work environment for Plaintiff, thus causing him harm that was foreseeable; (5) Tyson committed the tort of battery against Plaintiff under Mississippi law; and (6) Plaintiff suffered the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress under Mississippi law due to Tyson's actions.

In lieu of answering the amended complaint [12], Tyson filed this motion to dismiss [18] asserting the defenses that Plaintiff's claims are barred by the exclusive remedy provision of the Mississippi Workers' Compensation Law (the "MWCL"), Mississippi Code § 71-3-1 et seq. ; the state law claims for battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress are barred by the applicable statutes of limitations; and otherwise asserting that Plaintiff's claims must be dismissed due to failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6).

B. Rule 12(b)(6) Standard

Motions to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) "are viewed with disfavor and are rarely granted." Kocurek v. Cuna Mut. Ins. Soc'y, 459 F.Appx. 371, 373 (5th Cir. 2012) (citing Gregson v. Zurich Am. Ins. Co., 322 F.3d 883, 885 (5th Cir. 2003)). "The ultimate question in a Rule 12(b)(6) motion is whether the complaint states a valid claim when all well-pleaded facts are assumed true and are viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Lone Star Fund V (U.S.), L.P. v. Barclays Bank PLC, 594 F.3d 383, 387 (5th Cir. 2010) (citing In re Katrina Canal Breaches Litig., 495 F.3d 191, 205 (5th Cir. 2007)).

The complaint must allege "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). A claim is facially plausible when the pleaded factual content "allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556, 127 S.Ct. 1955). "Under the Rule 12(b)(6) standard, all well-pleaded facts are viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, but plaintiffs must allege facts that support the elements of the cause of action in order to make out a valid claim." Webb v. Morella, No. 12-30617, 2013 WL 1490654, *2 (5th Cir. Apr. 12, 2013) (per curiam) (quoting City of Clinton v. Pilgrim's Pride Corp., 632 F.3d 148, 152-53 (5th Cir. 2010)). "[C]onclusory allegations or legal conclusions masquerading as factual conclusions will not suffice to prevent a motion to dismiss." Id. (quoting Fernandez-Montes v. Allied Pilots Ass'n, 987 F.2d 278, 284 (5th Cir. 1993)). "[A] complaint need not pin plaintiff's claim for relief to a precise legal theory. However, "[t]hreadbare recitals of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937. In a Rule 12(b)(6) determination, the court must not evaluate the likelihood of the claim's success, but instead ascertain whether the plaintiff has stated a legally cognizable claim that is plausible. Lone Star Fund, 594 F.3d at 387 (citing Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S.Ct. 1937).

C. Analysis and Discussion

Tyson maintains that Plaintiff's amended complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted and argues in support of its position that (1) the exclusive remedy provision of the MWCL, Mississippi Code § 71-3-9, bars Plaintiff's claims against Tyson; (2) Plaintiff fails to plead a claim for negligence or gross negligence that would satisfy the Rule 12(b)(6) pleading standard; (3) Plaintiff fails to plead claims for battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress that would satisfy the Rule 12(b)(6) pleading standard, and/or that fall within the applicable statutes of limitations; (4) Plaintiff fails to satisfy the heightened pleading standard necessary to bring a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; and (5) Plaintiff fails to satisfy the heightened pleading standard necessary to bring a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3). The Court addresses the grounds for dismissal as follows:

(1) Mississippi Workers' Compensation Law

First, Tyson argues that Plaintiff's claims are precluded by the exclusive remedy provision of the MWCL, Mississippi Code § 71-3-9, because Plaintiff was an employee of Tyson for purposes of the MWCL. Plaintiff contends that none of his claims are precluded by the MWCL, because he was not an employee of Tyson for purposes of the MWCL.

Under the MWCL, "[c]ompensation shall be payable for disability... of an employee from injury or occupational disease arising out of and in the course of employment, without regard to fault as to the cause of the injury or occupational disease." MISS. CODE ANN. § 71-3-7(1). The MWCL further provides that

[t]he liability of an employer to pay compensation shall be exclusive and in place of all other liability of such employer to the employee... on account of such injury..., except that if an employer fails to secure payment of compensation as required by this chapter, an injured employee... may elect to claim compensation under this chapter, or to maintain an action at law for damages on account of such injury....

MISS. CODE ANN. § 71-3-9. The Mississippi Supreme Court has held that in order to avoid the exclusivity of the MWCL, two elements must be met:

(1) the injury must be caused by the willful act of the employer or another employee acting in the course of employment and in the furtherance of the employer's business, and
(2) the injury must be one that is not compensable under the [MWCL].

Griffin v. Futorian Corp., 533 So.2d 461, 463 (Miss. 1988) (citing Miller v. McRae's Inc., 444 So.2d 368, 371-72 (Miss. 1984)). The MWCL bars claims that an employer's conduct was "reckless, negligent, or grossly negligent, " Peaster v. David New Drilling Co., 642 So.2d 344, 349 (Miss. 1994), and that "the employer's conduct leading to the injury... included such elements as knowingly permitting hazardous conditions to exist or willfully failing to furnish a safe place to work or knowingly ordering the employee to perform a dangerous job, " id. at 347-48 (citing DUNN, MISSISSIPPI WORKMEN'S COMPENSATION, (3d ed. 1982 & Supp. 1984). "[P]roof of an intentional tort is required to circumvent exclusive remedies available under workers' compensation law[.]" Winters v. Cooper Lighting, Inc., No. 5:00-CV-(BR)(S), 2001 WL 1334197, *1 (S.D.Miss. July 6, 2001); see Disney v. Horton, No. CIV. A. 2:99-CV-0138, 2000 WL 490848, *8 (N.D. Miss. Apr. 14, 2000) ("Mississippi cases which have considered the viability of a negligence claim in the employer/employee context refused to allow such an action."); Allen v. NPC Int'l, Inc., No. 1:95CV20-B-D, 1996 WL 407564, *5 (N.D. Miss., June 10, 1996) ("[A]ny state tort claim grounded in negligence asserted by the plaintiff would ...


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