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Greene v. Greenwood Public School District

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

February 8, 2017

GREENWOOD PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT, DEIDRE MAYES in Her Official and Individual Capacity, RANDY CLARK in His Official and Individual Capacity, and SAMANTHA MILTON in Her Official and Individual Capacity DEFENDANTS


         Presently before the Court is a motion to dismiss [3] pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) and (b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure filed by Defendants Greenwood Public School District, Deidre Mayes, Randy Clark, and Samantha Milton. Upon due consideration and for the reasons stated below, the Court finds that the motion to dismiss [3] should be granted.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         On May 6, 2016, Plaintiff Montrell Greene ("Plaintiff), former superintendent of Greenwood Public School District ("GPSD"), filed this action against Defendants GPSD, as well as the following members of the Greenwood Public School Board: Deidre Mayes, Randy Clark, and Samantha Milton, in both their individual and official capacities.[1]

         Plaintiff asserts the following 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims: deprivation of liberty and property interests in written employment contract with Defendants in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and possibly civil conspiracy. Plaintiff further asserts the following state-law claims: defamation of character; deprivation of property interest in employment contract with Defendants and without due process of law pursuant to Article 3, § 14 of the Mississippi Constitution; breach of contract; bad-faith breach of contract; and possibly civil conspiracy. Plaintiff seeks a wide range of remedies including compensatory damages, punitive damages, and injunctive relief, including immediate reinstatement of his former position as superintendent of GPSD.

         Plaintiff alleges that Defendants violated the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and the Mississippi Constitution by intentionally and maliciously depriving him of his property and liberty interest in his employment contract by not allowing a due process hearing prior to Plaintiffs termination as superintendent of GPSD. Plaintiff further alleges deprivation of his liberty interest due to allegedly terminating him in a manner that defamed his character.

         In lieu of answering the complaint, Defendants have filed a motion to dismiss [3] under Rule 12(b)(1) and (b)(6) challenging the viability of all claims asserted. Plaintiff has filed a response in opposition, and Defendants have filed a reply. The motion is now ripe for review.

         //. Analysis and Discussion

         "When a Rule 12(b)(1) motion is filed in conjunction with a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, . . . courts must consider the jurisdictional challenge first." McCasland v. City of Castroville, Tex., 478 F.App'x 860, 860 (5th Cir. 2012) (per curiam) (citing Wolcott v. Sebelius, 635 F.3d 757, 762 (5th Cir. 2011); Moran v. Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, 27 F.3d 169, 172 (5th Cir. 1994)). This " 'prevents a court without jurisdiction from prematurely dismissing a case with prejudice.' " Id. at 860-61 (quoting Ramming v. United States, 281 F.3d 158, 161 (5th Cir. 2001) (per curiam)); accord Hitt v. City of Pasadena, Tex., 561 F.2d 606, 608 (5th Cir. 1977) (per curiam).

         Accordingly, the Court first addresses the Rule 12(b)(1) issues and then addresses the Rule 12(b)(6) issues.

         A. Rule 12(b)(1)

         A Rule 12(b)(1) motion allows a party to challenge the Court's subject matter jurisdiction. " '[A] factual attack under Rule 12(b)(1) may occur at any stage of the proceedings, and plaintiff bears the burden of proof that jurisdiction does in fact exist' " Arena v. Graybar Elec. Co., 669 F.3d 214, 223 (5th Cir. 2012) (quoting Menchaca v. Chrysler Credit. Corp., 613 F.2d 507, 511 (5th Cir. 1980) (citations omitted)).

         The Fifth Circuit has instructed:

A case is properly dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction when the court lacks the statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate the case. In considering a challenge to subject matter jurisdiction, the district court is free to weigh the evidence and resolve factual disputes in order to satisfy itself that it has the power to hear the case. Thus, under Rule 12(b)(1), the district court can resolve disputed issues of fact to the extent necessary to determine jurisdiction[.]

         Smith v. Reg'I Transit Auth., 756 F.3d 340, 347 (5th Cir. 2014) (quotation marks and citation omitted). In ruling on a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss, the Court can consider: "(1) the complaint alone; (2) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts evidenced in the record; or (3) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts plus the court's resolution of disputed facts." Tsolmon v. United States, 841 F.3d 378, 382 (5th Cir. 2016) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

         Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), Defendants argue that the Court lacks jurisdiction over the case subjudice, because Plaintiff failed to comply with Mississippi Code § 37-9-113 and file a petition for appeal and bond in chancery court within twenty days after receipt of his termination letter.[2]The Court addresses the foregoing arguments in turn.

         1. Mississippi Code § 37-9-113 and Subject-Matter Jurisdiction

         First, Defendants argue under Rule 12(b)(1) that the Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction of the case sub judice due to Plaintiffs failure to comply with Mississippi Code § 37-9-113 and seek judicial review in chancery court.

         Plaintiff argues in response that Defendants are collaterally estopped from raising this argument in this Court, as the issue was fully litigated in the proceeding in the Chancery Court of Leflore County and denied by the Chancellor.

         Defendants argue in reply that the issue of whether a superintendent must appeal the board's decision pursuant to Mississippi Code § 37-9-113 was not decided by the Chancery Court of Leflore County. Specifically, Defendants maintain that Plaintiff cannot show that collateral estoppel applies and bars their motion to dismiss on this ground because the issue was neither determined by that court nor was essential to that court's judgment. Defendants argue that the case before the chancery court was limited to a complaint for discovery seeking to determine reasons for Plaintiffs termination from his employment as superintendent and did not constitute a challenge to the board's decision or an attempt to seek reversal of that decision. Defendants maintain that the Chancery Court of Leflore County intentionally did not determine whether Plaintiff was required to perfect his appeal under Mississippi Code § 37-9-113 but instead granted Plaintiffs complaint for discovery under its equitable powers. This Court finds Defendants' arguments in this respect to be well taken.

         Mississippi Code § 37-9-113 provides in pertinent part:

         (1) Any employee aggrieved by a final decision of the school board is entitled to judicial review thereof, as hereinafter provided.

         (2) An appeal may be taken by such employee to the chancery court of the judicial district in which the school district is located, by filing a petition with the clerk of that court and executing and filing bond payable to the school board with sufficient sureties, in the penalty of not less than Two Hundred Dollars ($200.00), conditioned upon the payment of ...

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