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Doughty v. Natchez-Adams School District

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

September 27, 2017




         This matter is before the Court on the Motion to Dismiss [13] filed by Defendant Natchez-Adams School District. After reviewing the submissions of the parties, the record, and the applicable law, the Court finds that the Motion to Dismiss [13] is well taken and should be granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On April 10, 2017, Plaintiff Shannon Barlow Doughty (“Plaintiff”) filed this action against Defendants Frederick Hill, the Natchez-Adams School District (the “District”), and the Mississippi Department of Education.[1] The claims in this action center around the non-renewal of Plaintiff's contract of employment with the District.

         Plaintiff served as an assistant principal with the District for the 2013-2014 school year. In April 2014, she was notified that her contract of employment would not be renewed for the following year. Though advised of her right to do so, Plaintiff did not seek a hearing regarding this decision. Instead, Plaintiff brought suit in this Court for various claims under federal and state law, as discussed more fully herein.


         A. Standard of Review

         To survive a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co. LLC v. La. State, 624 F.3d 201, 210 (5th Cir. 2010) (punctuation omitted). “To be plausible, the complaint's factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Id. (punctuation omitted). The Court must “accept all well-pleaded facts as true and construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Id. But the Court will not accept as true “conclusory allegations, unwarranted factual inferences, or legal conclusions.” Id. Likewise, “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” PSKS, Inc. v. Leegin Creative Leather Prods., Inc., 615 F.3d 412, 417 (5th Cir. 2010) (punctuation omitted). “While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1950, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009).

         B. Constitutional Violations

         In Count I of her Complaint [1], Plaintiff brings claims for violations of her constitutional rights under the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments. Specifically, she alleges that the District violated “her rights to substantive and procedural due process of the law, her right to not have her property taken without just compensation, her right to freedom of association and her right to counsel.” (Complaint [1] at p. 3.)

         1. Due Process

         Plaintiff claims that the District deprived her of due process of law when it refused to renew her contract. Though the Fourteenth Amendment does not by itself “create a protectable interest in continued public employment, ” such an interest may exist “by operation of employment contract or state law.” Dearman v. Stone Cnty. Sch. Dist., 832 F.3d 577, 583 (5th Cir. 2016). “Where such an interest in continued employment exists, a public employer may not deprive an employee of continued employment.” Id. The Fifth Circuit has indicated that Miss. Code Ann. § 37-9-109, which provides notice requirements for contract non-renewals for school employees, as interpreted by Mississippi state courts, creates a protected property right subject to due process protection. Id. at 583 n.6. However, the court went on to state that, “[i]n the pre-deprivation context, all that federal due process requires is ‘notice and an opportunity to respond.'” Id. (quoting McDonald v. City of Corinth, Tex., 102 F.3d 152, 155 (5th Cir. 1996)). Plaintiff admits that she had both.

         Plaintiff states that she received notice of the non-renewal of her contract on April 11, 2014. Section 37-9-105 requires notice be given to “a teacher, administrator or other professional educator” by “April 15, or within ten (10) calendar days after the date the Governor approves the appropriation bill(s) comprising the state's education budget for funding K-12, whichever date is later.” Miss. Code Ann. § 37-9-105(b). Plaintiff argues that the March 1 deadline from § 37-9-105(a) should apply, but Plaintiff served as an assistant principal and that subsection applies only to principals. Plaintiff has not provided the Court with any precedent under Mississippi law which equates the two. In fact, the only precedent of which the Court is aware treats the two positions as not equivalent. See McKnight v. Mound Bayou Public Sch. Dist., 879 So.2d 493, 499 (Miss. Ct. App. 2004) (stating that the position of “assistant principal” was not referenced by a statute that listed “superintendents, assistant superintendents or principals”). Furthermore, even if the earlier deadline applied, it does not matter, for the purposes of a federal due process analysis, that the District may have failed to comply with Mississippi state law. Dearman, 832 F.3d at 584. It is sufficient that Plaintiff did, in fact, receive notice.

         Plaintiff further admits that the notice of non-renewal stated the reason for the decision as the prediction of an “F” on an upcoming accountability test, based on a practice test given earlier in the year. Though she states that this was a pretextual reason given to conceal racial animus, [2]Plaintiff had sufficient notice of both the decision of the District and the ...

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