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Horton v. Systems Automotive Interiors

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

October 4, 2017




         This matter comes before the Court on Defendants Systems Automotive Interiors, (“SAI”), Systems Electro Coating, LLC (“SEC”), Mike McGuffie, William Cooley, Lillian Cooley, and Joshua Ashaka's Motion to Dismiss [17]. Defendants move that this Court dismiss this case: (1) against SAI for failure to state a claim under Title VII, (2) against SEC for failure to exhaust administrative remedies, or allege facts sufficient to find SEC was Horton's employer; and (3) against the individual defendants Mike McGuffie, William Cooley, Lillian Cooley, and Joshua Ashaka, who cannot be held individually liable under Title VII.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         Trent Antonio Horton, Sr. is an African-American former employee of SAI. He began work at SAI as a production manager on March 26, 2013. Horton alleges that beginning in December of 2014, the Chief Operating Officer, Mike McGuffie, showed him photographs of himself in Civil War reenactment regalia. Horton also claims that McGuffie told him, “You should see people's eyes when we shoot the cannons.” In his Amended Complaint, Horton alleges McGuffie “continuously” created a hostile work environment by: (1) “sharing Civil War relics and horror stories;” (2) sending “videos…about Civil War events” and of “himself in Civil War battles;” and finally, (3) driving Horton out to a “secluded place” and showing him a gun.

         Horton filed an internal complaint at SAI against McGuffie because he “felt threatened by the pictures of McGuffy [sic] in a confederate uniform.” In March of 2015, Horton was terminated for insubordination and failure to participate in an investigation of a complaint filed against him. On May 7, 2015, Horton filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) alleging race and color discrimination, including retaliation for his prior internal complaint. In his Original Complaint, Horton stated the EEOC issued a Notice of Right to Sue on December 20, 2016, and subsequently he filed this suit on March 2, 2017.[1]

         On June 2, 2017, previous Defendants Toyota Boshuku Mississippi LLC, Toshiyuki Kawaski, Todd Sousa, Hirohide Ogawa, and Shigetoshi Myoshi filed a Motion to Dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The Court entered an Order granting that Motion on August 29, 2017. On July 3, the remaining Defendants filed this pending Motion to Dismiss.

         In their Motion to Dismiss, Defendants argue Horton's claims lack merit for three reasons. First, Horton has failed to raise any plausible allegations of retaliatory discharge against SAI, because Horton cannot assert that he participated in an activity protected under Title VII, nor that his employer had any knowledge of an allegedly protected activity, because Horton never identified the substance of his internal complaint, nor the person to whom he complained. Second, that Horton was required to exhaust administrative remedies as to all potential defendants prior to filing his Complaint, and that he failed to do so regarding Defendant SEC. And finally, that Title VII precludes liability against individual defendants in either their individual or official capacities.

         On July 17, 2017, Horton filed his Response to the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. The Defendants' filed a Reply to Horton's Response on July 28, 2017.

         FRCP Rule 12(b)(6) Standard

         Before the Court can grant a motion to dismiss, the Defendants must show that Plaintiff has not met the relevant pleading standard to state a claim. Defendants must show that Plaintiff's complaint fails to contain “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 697, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). Plaintiff's complaint must set forth “more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action” will not suffice. Colony Ins. Co. v. Peachtree Constr., Ltd., 647 F.3d 248, 252 (5th Cir. 2011) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (2007)).

         This Court has previously recognized that “the purpose of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion [is] to test the formal sufficiency of the statement for relief; it is not a procedure to be invoked to resolve a contest about the facts or the merits of a case.” Edwards v. Coldwell Banker Real Estate Corp., 2006 WL 2404718, *1 (N.D. Miss. Aug. 18, 2006) (citing Murray v. Amoco Oil Co., 539 F.2d 1385 (5th Cir. 1976)). “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.” Gatheright v. Barbour, 2017 WL 507603, *3 (N.D. Miss. Feb. 6, 2017) (citing Walker v. Webco Indus., Inc., 562 F. App'x 215, 216-17 (5th Cir. 2014) (per curiam)) (additional citation omitted). It is the responsibility of the Court to now determine “whether the plaintiff has stated a legally cognizable claim that is plausible, not to evaluate the plaintiff's likelihood of success.” In re McCoy, 666 F.3d 924, 926 (5th Cir. 2012) (additional citations omitted).[2]


         A. Unlawful Retaliation

         Returning to the motion at hand, the Defendants have moved for dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) under the theory that Horton has failed to state a claim of retaliation for which relief can be granted. “To state a Title VII retaliation claim, the Plaintiff must allege facts sufficient to establish: (1) [he] engaged in an activity protected by Title VII; (2) an adverse employment action occurred; and (3) a causal link existed between the protected activity and the adverse action.” Richards v. JRK Property Holdings, 405 Fed.Appx. 829, 831 (5th Cir. 2010). A “protected activity is defined as opposition to any practice rendered unlawful by Title VII, including making a charge, testifying, assisting, or participating in any investigation, proceeding, or hearing under Title VII.” Ackel v. Nat'l Commc'ns, Inc., 339 F.3d 376, 385 (5th Cir. 2003). The McDonnell-Douglas[3]burden-shifting test applies to Title VII unlawful ...

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