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Brown v. City of Saltillo

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Oxford Division

May 7, 2015

CITY OF SALTILLO, MISSISSIPPI and BILL WILLIAMS in his official and individual capacity, Defendants.


GLEN H. DAVIDSON, Senior District Judge.

Presently before the Court is a partial motion to dismiss [11] filed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure by Defendants, the City of Saltillo, Mississippi and Bill Williams. Upon due consideration, the Court finds that the motion is well taken and should be granted. The Court further finds that Plaintiff's request for oral argument on the motion is not well taken, as the same is not necessary to a ruling on the motion.

A. Factual and Procedural Background

On September 23, 2014, Plaintiff Prentice Brown ("Plaintiff"), former assistant chief of police of the City of Saltillo, Mississippi, filed this action against Defendants, the City of Saltillo, Mississippi ("the City") and Bill Williams in his official and individual capacity ("Williams"). Plaintiff asserts causes of action for First Amendment free speech retaliation under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and malicious interference with employment/contract under state law.[1] Plaintiff alleges the following facts in support of his claims.

Plaintiff alleges that the City hired him in approximately 2003 as a police officer and that he was serving as assistant chief of police when he was "unconstitutionally fir[ed]" from his position on or about July 10, 2013. PI.'sAm. Compl. [8] ¶ 11. Plaintiff further alleges that "[p]rior to his unlawful termination, Plaintiff had performed his job duties without incident" and that "[h]is record was pristine and there were no registered complaints lodged against him, nor were there any suspensions or reprimands." Id. ¶ 13. However, Plaintiff avers that "[t]his changed when Plaintiff made statements and/or engaged in activity protected by the United States Constitution Amendment One, " specifically by openly supporting the then-chief ofpolice, Steven Brooks, a Democrat contender, in the 2013 Saltillo mayoral election. Id. ¶¶ 14-15. Brooks did not win the mayoral race; instead, Saltillo elected Rex Smith, a Republican contender, as mayor. Plaintiff avers that "[i]t was well-known throughout the community that the out-going Mayor of Saltillo, [Williams], was a political adversary of [Brooks], " id. ¶ 17, and that "Williams had also disliked Plaintiff because Plaintiff was an outspoken critic" of Williams, id. ¶ 18. Plaintiff cites to a particular incident wherein "Plaintiff was present during a Saltillo City Council Meeting in which [Williams] summoned Sergeant Grant Bailey... and[] after [Bailey] was sworn in under oath by the city clerk, [Williams] started to question [Bailey] about his work hours pertaining to a Driving Under the Influence Grant." Id. ¶ 18. Plaintiff alleges that he "objected to [Williams'] questioning [Bailey] without [Bailey] having the benefit of a lawyer at this meeting." Id.

Subsequently, Plaintiff avers, he received a telephone call from Williams, who was then still current mayor of the City, during which conversation, "[Williams] stated that Plaintiff was being suspended from his position as [a]ssistant [c]hief of [p]olice." Id. ¶ 20. Plaintiff alleges that when he asked Williams why he was being suspended Williams "refused to give Plaintiff a reason" and "told Plaintiff that Plaintiff did not need to know the reason." Id. ¶ 22. Plaintiff further alleges that Brooks, who was still acting chief of police and Plaintiff's supervisor, expressed surprise at the suspension decision, as he had not received notice of the same.

Plaintiff maintains that although Williams never expressed a reason to him for the suspension, Williams gave a reason to two local newspapers. ld. ¶¶ 28-30. The referenced newspaper articles, which are attached to Plaintiffs amended complaint, state that Williams' reason for the suspension decision was that Plaintiff and other members of the police department were intimidating those connected to the police department who were not loyal to Brooks' mayoral campaign. See Newspaper Articles [8-1] at 1, [8-2] at 1. Furthermore, Plaintiff alleges that on June 27, 2013, the City notified Plaintiff that he was suspended because he intimidated the wife of Officer Randy Box concerning the mayoral election. PL's Am. Compl. [8] ¶ 33.

Subsequently, on or about July 10, 2013-after Williams had left the office ofmayor and Rex Smith had become mayor-the City held a due process hearing; as a result, Plaintiff maintains he was terminated from his position as assistant chiefof police. Plaintiff avers that the City used the media to harass Plaintiff and inflict injury to Plaintiffs character, reputation, and future job prospects, particularly in their comments to a local television station. Plaintiff further avers that Williams' comments to the media and throughout the due process hearing were "the impetus for Plaintiff's termination, " and that his termination was in retaliation for his support of Brooks in the Saltillo mayoral election. ld. ¶ 45.

On December 22, 2014, Defendants filed both the present partial motion to dismiss [11] pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) and an answer [15] to Plaintiffs amended complaint [8]. Plaintiffhas filed a response, and Defendants have filed a reply.

B. Federal Rule o/Civil Procedure 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». When deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court is limited to the allegations set forth in the complaint and any documents attached to the complaint. Walker v. Webco Indus., Inc., 562 F.Appx. 215, 216-17 (5th Cir. 2014) (per curiam) (citing Kennedy v. Chase Manhattan Bank USA, NA, 369 F.3d 833, 839 (5th Cir. 2004».

"[A plaintiffs] complaint therefore must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.", " Phillips v. City 0/Dallas, Tex., 781 F.3d 772, 775-76 (5th Cir. 2015) (quoting Ashcrofl v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting 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." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556, 127 S.Ct. 1955). "[P]laintiffs must allege facts that support the elements of the cause of action in order to make out a valid claim." Webb v. Morella, 522 F.Appx. 238, 241 (5th Cir. 2013) (per curiam) (quoting City o/Clinton, Ark. v. Pilgrim's Pride Corp., 632 F.3d 148, 152-53 (5th Cir. 2010) (internal quotation marks omitted». "[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) (internal quotation marks omitted». "Dismissal is appropriate when the plaintiff has not alleged enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face' and has failed to raise a right to relief above the speculative leveL'" Emesowum v. Hous. Police Dep't, 561 F.Appx. 372, 372 (5th Cir. 2014) (per curiam) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955).

C. Analysis and Discussion

Defendants present several arguments in support of dismissal of certain claims by Plaintiff: (1) that Plaintiff's First Amendment free speech retaliation claim based on Plaintiffs suspension with pay is not tenable; (2) that Plaintiffs First Amendment free speech retaliation claim based on Williams' alleged statements to the media is not tenable; (3) that Williams is qualifiedly immune from suit on these theories, as the same are not clearly established law; and (4) that the malicious interference with employment/contract claim (asserted solely against Williams) must be dismissed because Plaintiff ...

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