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Nightengale v. Stone County School District

United States District Court, Fifth Circuit

October 18, 2013

JAMES NIGHTENGALE, Plaintiff,
v.
STONE COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT and DR. GWEN MILLER, Individually, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DR. GWEN MILLER'S MOTION TO DISMISS

LOUIS GUIROLA, Jr., Chief District Judge.

BEFORE THE COURT is Dr. Gwen Miller's Motion[1] to Dismiss [15] seeking qualified immunity and immunity pursuant to the Mississippi Tort Claims Act. The plaintiff James Nightengale has filed a response in opposition to the Motion, and Miller has filed a reply. After reviewing the submissions of the parties and the applicable law, the Court finds that the Motion should be denied to the extent that Miller seeks qualified immunity but granted in all other respects.

FACTS

Nightengale began working for the Stone County School District (hereinafter referred to as "the District") as a teacher and coach in August 2009. (Compl. at 2, ECF No. 1). He received emergency certification so that he would be qualified to teach students classified as having "mild to moderate special needs" at the middle school. ( Id. at 2, 3). In 2011, Nightengale ran as a Republican candidate in the election for District Superintendent. ( Id. at 3). In August 2011, he defeated the middle school's Assistant Principal Anita Owens in the Republican primary. ( Id. ) Nightengale claims he experienced "an immediate change in [his] work environment, " after he defeated Owens. ( Id. )

In November 2011, the defendant Miller defeated Nightengale in the superintendent election. ( Id. ). Nightengale was reassigned to a special education class for "severe/profound special needs" students in April 2012 despite his objection that he was not qualified to teach the students. ( Id. at 4-5). On July 19, 2012, he claims he informed the school principal that he might resign his coaching position, and she told him that he would need to resign in writing. ( Id. ) He claims he told the principal that he wanted to talk to his wife first and that he never actually resigned the coaching position. ( Id. )

In July 2012, Nightengale learned that he was being reassigned to work with "severe/profound special needs" students at the high school, and the athletic department canceled his coaching membership. ( Id. at 6). He informed the high school principal that he was not qualified to work with students who have "severe/profound special needs" and that his classroom was not properly equipped. ( Id. ) He claims that his complaints were never addressed. ( Id. ) He also informed the special education director that he was unqualified and uncomfortable working with the "severe/profound special needs" students, but she told him to "learn on the go" and ask other special education teachers for help with individual education plans for his students. ( Id. at 7).

On August 24, 2012, Nightengale was asked to sign an amended contract that provided for a decrease in pay. ( Id. ) Miller claims that an amended contract was necessitated by Nightengale's alleged resignation of his coaching position. Nightengale refused to sign the amended contract, "because he already had a contract in effect at the time." ( Id. )

Miller sent him a letter purporting to recommend termination for failing to sign the amended contract on January 25, 2013. ( Id. at 8; Miller Aff. at 5, ECF No. 15-1). On February 21, 2013, Nightengale received a letter from Miller purporting to recommend his termination for violating a student's confidentiality and allowing a former special education teacher to assist with individual education plans for his students. (Compl. at 8, ECF No. 1; Miller Aff. at 34, ECF No. 15-1). He claims that all teachers who supported him during the election were terminated, forced to resign, or reassigned. (Compl. at 8, ECF No. 1). Miller claims that Nightengale was never formally terminated, but the District chose not to renew his contract at the end of the 2012-2013 school year.

Nightengale sued the District and Miller individually, claiming he was terminated for exercising his First Amendment rights by running for office against Owens and Miller and for voicing his concerns about problems within the District. ( Id. at 9). He claims that the letters Miller sent him regarding termination were "pretextual." ( Id. at 8). He also asserts due process and breach of contract claims against the District. ( Id. at 9).

DISCUSSION

In order to survive a motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), a complaint must plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Turner v. Pleasant, 663 F.3d 770, 775 (5th Cir. 2011) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "This standard simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of' the necessary claims or elements." In re S. Scrap Material Co., LLC, 541 F.3d 584, 587 (5th Cir. 2008) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). In Twombly, the Court held that "heightened fact pleading of specifics" is not required, but "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact)." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 570. "When matters outside the pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the district court, the district court must convert a motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment." Burns v. Harris Cnty. Bail Bond Bd., 139 F.3d 513, 517 (5th Cir. 1998).

Miller's Motion is styled as a Motion to Dismiss, but she provided an affidavit in support of the portion of her Motion pertaining to First Amendment retaliation. She also made arguments relating to summary judgment. Since Nightengale also provided evidence outside the pleadings, the Court finds that the First Amendment retaliation portion of Miller's Motion should be converted to a Motion for Summary Judgment.

A motion for summary judgment may be filed by any party asserting that there is no genuine issue of material fact that the movant is entitled to prevail as a matter of law on any claim. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. The movant bears the initial burden of identifying those portions of the pleadings and discovery on file, together with any affidavits, which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). Once the movant carries its burden, the burden shifts to the non-movant to show that summary judgment should not be granted. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 324-25. The nonmovant may not rest upon mere allegations or ...


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