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Walker v. Smith

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division

March 8, 2017

GALE N. WALKER PLAINTIFF
v.
ROBERT S. SMITH, ET AL. DEFENDANTS

          ORDER

          DANIEL P. JORDAN III UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This employment dispute is before the Court on Defendant Hinds County, Mississippi's Motion to Dismiss [14] pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). After entry of an Order to Show Cause, Plaintiff Gale N. Walker responded in opposition. In addition, Walker filed a motion to amend her Complaint [29], which Hinds County opposes. The Court, having considered the submissions of the parties along with the relevant authorities, finds that Hinds County's motion to dismiss should be granted because Walker has not stated a facially plausible claim. The same would remain true were Walker given leave to amend her complaint, so her motion to amend is denied.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         Plaintiff Gale N. Walker worked as an Assistant District Attorney under Hinds County District Attorney Robert Schuler Smith from August 2012 to January 2014. Believing her termination was discriminatory, Walker filed suit on November 10, 2015, in the Circuit Court of Hinds County, Mississippi. She advanced race- and sex-discrimination claims under Title VII, as well as claims for discharge in violation of public policy, violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, civil conspiracy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and invasion of privacy.

         As Defendants, Walker named District Attorney Smith in his official and individual capacities and Hinds County, Mississippi. Specifically, Walker described herself as an employee of “the Hinds County District Attorney's Office where Defendant, ROBERT SHULER SMITH, was her supervisor, the final policymaker for the Hinds County District Attorney's Office, and was in charge of supervision, training, and management over all employees in the District Attorney's Office.” First Am. Compl. (“FAC”) [1-1] at 2-3. As for Hinds County, Walker claims it “employed Plaintiff, Gale Nelson Walker, and Defendant[ ], Robert Shuler Smith.” Id. at 3. Defendant Hinds County moved to dismiss all claims. Walker opposes dismissal while seeking leave to amend her complaint to cure its shortcomings.

         II. Applicable Standards

         Hinds County seeks dismissal under Rule 12(c). The standard for addressing a Rule 12(c) motion is the same as that for a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. First, the “court accepts ‘all well-pleaded facts as true, viewing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.'” Martin K. Eby Constr. Co. v. Dall. Area Rapid Transit, 369 F.3d 464, 467 (5th Cir. 2004) (quoting Jones v. Greninger, 188 F.3d 322, 324 (5th Cir. 1999)). But this presumption does not apply to “threadbare recitals” of a claim's elements “supported by mere conclusory statements.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 663 (2009).

         Second, the plaintiff must plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). “Factual 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).” Id. at 555 (citations and footnote omitted). “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.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). It follows that “where the well- pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not ‘show[n]'-'that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” Id. at 679 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)).

         Finally, “a plaintiff's failure to meet the specific pleading requirements should not automatically or inflexib[ly] result in dismissal of the complaint with prejudice to re-filing.” Hart v. Bayer Corp., 199 F.3d 239, 248 n.6 (5th Cir. 2000) (citation omitted). Thus, “[a]lthough a court may dismiss the claim, it should not do so without granting leave to amend, unless the defect is simply incurable or the plaintiff has failed to plead with particularity after being afforded repeated opportunities to do so.” Id.

         III. Analysis

         In this case, Hinds County's motion attacks Walker's FAC. But as noted, Walker seeks leave to amend, primarily to insert new averments regarding Hinds County's duties in what would be her third iteration of the complaint. See Proposed Second Am. Compl. (“SAC”) [29-1] at 19-21. Though most of the paragraphs she seeks leave to add are themselves legal conclusions rather than factual averments, in them she generally says that the Hinds County Board of Supervisors had some oversight with respect to the District Attorney's Office.

         The Court will examine each claim based on the FAC and then determine whether the proposed SAC would cure the defect. As shown below, the Court concludes that neither the FAC nor the proposed SAC state a claim against Hinds County. And because Walker's first and second attempts to amend fall short, the Court finds that she has received a full opportunity to plead her best case. She has done the best she could with the facts she faced, so dismissal will be with prejudice to any additional efforts to amend.[1]

         A. Title VII

         Title VII prohibits an employer from discriminating against an individual on account of his or her race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Hinds County submits that it is not Walker's employer because she worked for the Office of the District Attorney, which is not a county office.

         District Attorney Smith is not a county official; he is an elected State official. Chrissy F. by Medley v. Miss. Dep't of Pub. Welfare, 925 F.2d 844, 849 (5th Cir. 1991); see also Burnett v. Hinds Cnty., Miss. ex rel. Bd. of Sup'rs, No. 3:14-cv-651-CWR-FKB, 2015 WL 5785562, at *2 (S.D.Miss. Sept. 11, 2015) (“A district attorney's office in the State of Mississippi is considered an arm of the State.”). Hinds County therefore argues that it was not Walker's “employer” under Title VII.

         Walker does not present any argument or authority suggesting otherwise, and instead addresses Hinds County's alternative argument that she would fall under the personal-staff exemption of 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(f). But because Hinds County was not Walker's employer, the Court never gets to the exemption. Her Title VII claims against the County are due to be dismissed.

         As for the proposed SAC, Walker offers a few more averments in a section titled “Duties and Failures of Hinds County, Mississippi.” SAC [29-1] at 19-21. Many of those paragraphs merely state general legal conclusions. See, e.g., id. ¶ 98 (stating that Hinds County is “an employer” as defined by Title VII (emphasis added)); id. ¶ 105 (“At all times relevant, Defendant, HINDS COUNTY, MISSISSIPPI was responsible for the implementation of the policies, procedures, practices, and customs, as well as the acts and omissions challenged by this cause of action.”). Other paragraphs offer conclusory statements regarding the County's actions without providing supporting facts. See Id. ¶ 104 (averring that Hinds County “continued to fund the Bad Check Unit with notice and knowledge of mismanagement and improper maintenance and storage of information”).

         Walker does allege that Hinds County has some involvement with the District Attorney's Office and may “set the salary for one employee of the office of the District Attorney.” Id. ¶ 97. But Walker has not pleaded that she was that employee, nor has she argued that this fact would make her a county employee. She likewise fails to offer additional facts or argument that Hinds County was her employer under Title VII. The motion to amend would therefore be futile as to this claim and is denied. The Title VII claims as to Hinds County are dismissed with prejudice.

         B. Conspiracy Claims

         Walker claims that Hinds County engaged in a civil conspiracy with Smith and that their concerted conduct gives rise to liability under common law and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Hinds County initially observes that the FAC is devoid of factual content showing a plausible ...


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