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Howard v. Rue 21 Corp.

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

March 22, 2017

MARKISTA S. HOWARD, PLAINTIFF
v.
RUE 21 CORPORATION; VICTORIA ROBERTS, Store Manager; ANGELA HANCOCK, District Manager; CHAD SHAW, Regional Director; and STEPHANIE MERRITT, Human Resources Manager, DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS OR, IN THE ALTERNATIVE. MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR LEAVE TO FILE AMENDED COMPLAINT

         Presently before the Court is a motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment [14] filed by Defendants rue21 Corporation; Victoria Roberts, Store Manager; and Angela Hancock, District Manager. Also before the Court is a motion for leave to file an amended complaint [30] filed by Plaintiff Markista S. Howard. Upon due consideration, the Court finds that the motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment [14] should be granted, and the motion for leave to file an amended complaint [30] should be denied.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         Plaintiff Markista S. Howard ("Plaintiff) was employed by Defendant rue21 Corporation as a full-time assistant manager at the Starkville, Mississippi store location from to her termination on November 21, 2015.[1] Following her termination, Plaintiff filed an EEOC charge for race discrimination based on her termination, wherein she alleged she was hired by Defendant rue21 Corporation as a full-time assistant manager, but was "treated differently than other assistant managers, " who "are Caucasian and African[-] American." EEOC Charge [1] at 7. Plaintiff further alleged in her EEOC charge that although "Management said [she] was discharged for unprofessional conduct which resulted in a customer complaint, " she believed she was discharged because of her color in violation of Title VII. Id.[2] The EEOC denied Plaintiffs charge of discrimination and issued a right-to-sue letter. See EEOC Dismissal & Notice of Rights [1] at 6.

         On April 19, 2016, Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, timely filed a form complaint alleging race discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 against her former employer, Defendant rue21 Corporation, a retail company with a store in Starkville, Mississippi, as well as Victoria Roberts, Store Manager, and Angela Hancock, District Manager (collectively, "Defendants"). She alleges she was terminated from her employment due to her color and that she was treated differently than other employees, such as other managers, who were "favored due to favoritism in regards to requests etc[.] being granted during [her] employment that associates received." Pl's Compl. [1] ¶ III. Plaintiff seeks back-pay and punitive damages "for stress, lack of financial support for my family, humiliation, embarrassment, and the financial resources" required in seeking other employment. Id. ¶¶ IV-V.

         The Magistrate Judge granted Plaintiffs motion to proceed in forma pauperis [2], see Ct.'s Order [4], and Plaintiff submitted the addresses of Defendants, but also submitted addresses for two additional individuals: Chad Shaw, Regional Director, and Stephanie Merritt, Human Resources Manager, see Pl's Resp. to Ct's Order [6]. These two individuals were not named Defendants in Plaintiffs complaint. The Clerk of Court issued summonses to the two individuals, and the two were served with process, along with the other Defendants in the case.

         On July 8, 2016, Defendants filed an answer [12] to the complaint; on August 4, 2016, Defendants filed the present motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment [14]. Plaintiff has not filed a response to the motion, and the time for doing so has now passed. Accordingly, the Defendants' motion is ripe for review.

         On October 20, 2016, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint [20], identical to the original complaint with the addition of Shaw and Merritt. The Defendants filed a motion to strike [21] the amended complaint; the Magistrate Judge granted the motion to strike [20], finding that the amended complaint was untimely filed without leave of Court or the parties' agreement to do so. See Ct.'s Order [23] at 1. Plaintiff then filed a motion to amend her complaint [25] to add Shaw and Merritt. The Magistrate Judge denied this motion as procedurally deficient, because Plaintiff did not attach her proposed amended complaint as an exhibit to her motion to amend as required by Rule 15 of the Local Uniform Rules of Civil Procedure; the Magistrate Judge further denied Plaintiffs motion to amend as futile, because Plaintiffs sole claim is employment discrimination based on Title VII and cannot be urged against individuals. See Ct.'s Order [28] at 1 (citing Grant v. Lone Star Co., 21 F.3d 649, 653 (5th Cir. 1994)).

         On February 21, 2017-while the Defendants' motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment [14] was pending-Plaintiff filed a second motion to amend her complaint [30], wherein she requests leave to file an additional EEOC charge to change the basis of her complaint to harassment and retaliation and hostile work environment but "not . . . racial discrimination."

         II. Legal Standards

         As stated, before the Court are the following: Defendants' motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment [14] and Plaintiffs motion for leave to file an amended complaint [30]. The following standards apply.

         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.App'x 215, 216-17 (5th Cir. 2014) (per curiam) (citing Kennedy v. Chase Manhattan Bank USA, NA, 369 F.3d 833, 839 (5th Cir. 2004)). "If, on a motion under Rule 12(b)(6) . . ., matters outside the pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the court, the motion must be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d).

         In the case sub judice, Defendants attach to their motion a sworn affidavit, which, if considered, would render the motion one for summary judgment. However, at this early juncture of the case, before the parties have engaged in any discovery, the Court finds that entertaining a motion for summary judgment would be premature. Accordingly, the Court excludes from consideration the attached affidavit, considers only the matters presented in the pleadings and documentation attached to the complaint, and applies the standard set forth in Rule 12(b)(6).

         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.App'x 371, 373 (5th Cir. 2012) (citing Gregson v. Zurich Am. Ins. Co., 322 F.3d 883, 885 (5th Cir. 2003)). "[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 of Dallas, Tex., 781 F.3d 772, 775-76 (5th Cir. 2015) (quoting Ashcroft 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.App'x 238, 241 (5th Cir. 2013) (per curiam) (quoting City of Clinton, Ark. v. Pilgrim's Pride Corp., 632 F.3d 148, 152-53 (5th Cir. 2010) (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.App'x 372, 372 (5th Cir. 2014) (per curiam) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955).

         When deciding a motion for leave to file an amended complaint, the Court "should freely give leave when justice so requires." See Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a). To determine whether to grant the motion for leave to amend, the Court should examine five considerations: "1) undue delay, 2) bad faith or dilatory motive, 3) repeated failure to cure deficiencies by previous amendments, 4) undue prejudice to the opposing party, and 5) futility of the amendment." SGIC Strategic Glob. Inv. Capital, Inc. v. Burger King Europe GmbH,839 F.3d 422, 428 (5th Cir. 2016). " '[A] party seeking to amend its pleadings after a deadline has passed must demonstrate good cause for needing an extension.' " Hull v. City of New ...


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