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Dukes v. City of Lumberton

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi.

April 3, 2018

TOMMY DUKES, et al., PLAINTIFFS
v.
CITY OF LUMBERTON DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND

          KEITH STARRETT UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         For the reasons below, the Court grants in part and denies in part Defendant's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment [19] and denies Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [47].

         I. Background

         The Court discussed the background of this case in a previous opinion. See Dukes v. Lumberton, No. 2:17-CV-150-KS-MTP, 2017 WL 6373982 (S.D.Miss. Dec. 13, 2017). Plaintiffs are former elected officials of the City of Lumberton, Mississippi. They allege that the City refused to pay them back wages, and that the City failed to make payments into Mississippi's Public Employees' Retirement System (“PERS”) on their behalf. Plaintiffs contend that “it was understood” that Defendant would fully compensate them once funds became available, but once funds became available, Defendant refused to pay them, while paying other employees. They filed this suit, asserting claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), as well as a breach of contract claim.

         Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss [13], which the Court granted in part and denied in part. Id. Specifically, the Court held that any Section 1983 claims accruing from 2010 to 2013 are barred by the applicable statute of limitations, but that any Section 1983 claims arising from the City's alleged breach of an agreement to pay them back wages and the City's failure to make PERS payments are not barred. Id. at *2. The Court also held that Plaintiffs pleaded sufficient facts to support the application of equitable estoppel with respect to the statute of limitations on their FLSA claims. Id. Finally, the Court held that Plaintiffs had pleaded sufficient facts to support the application of equitable estoppel with respect to the statute of limitations on their breach of contract claims. Id. at *3.

         Defendant filed a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment [19] as to Counts I and II of the Amended Complaint - Plaintiffs' due process and equal protection claims. It also filed a Motion for Summary Judgment [47] as to Counts III and IV of the Amended complaint - Plaintiffs' FLSA and breach of contract claims - on the basis of sovereign immunity.

         II. Standard of Review

         Rule 56 provides that “[t]he court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Sierra Club, Inc. v. Sandy Creek Energy Assocs., L.P., 627 F.3d 134, 138 (5th Cir. 2010). “An issue is material if its resolution could affect the outcome of the action.” Sierra Club, Inc., 627 F.3d at 138. “An issue is ‘genuine' if the evidence is sufficient for a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Cuadra v. Houston Indep. Sch. Dist., 626 F.3d 808, 812 (5th Cir. 2010).

         The Court is not permitted to make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence. Deville v. Marcantel, 567 F.3d 156, 164 (5th Cir. 2009). When deciding whether a genuine fact issue exists, “the court must view the facts and the inference to be drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Sierra Club, Inc., 627 F.3d at 138. However, “[c]onclusional allegations and denials, speculation, improbable inferences, unsubstantiated assertions, and legalistic argumentation do not adequately substitute for specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial.” Oliver v. Scott, 276 F.3d 736, 744 (5th Cir. 2002).

         III. Motion for Partial Summary Judgment [19]

         In its first motion, Defendant provided no evidence. Instead, it made purely legal arguments. First, in Count I of the Amended Complaint, Plaintiffs allege that Defendant violated rights secured by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by refusing to pay their back wages without due process. Plaintiffs contend that the refusal to pay back wages constitutes a deprivation of property.

         The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment provides that no State shall “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law . . . .” U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1. There can be no deprivation of due process[1] in the absence of a protected property right or liberty interest. See, e.g. Johnson v. Rodriguez, 110 F.3d 299, 308 (5th Cir. 1997); DePree v. Saunders, No. 2:07-CV-185-KS-MTP, 2008 WL 4457796, at *7 (S.D.Miss. Sept. 30, 2008), aff'd, 588 F.3d 282 (5th Cir. 2009). “Constitutionally protected property interests are created and defined by understandings that stem from an independent source such as state law . . . .” DePree, 588 F.3d at 289.

         Defendant argues that “claims for wages are provided by contract law and legislation, ” rather than the Constitution. In Count I, Plaintiffs have not asserted a FLSA claim for back wages. Rather, Plaintiffs allege that they had an agreement with Defendant to defer payment of wages until the funds were available, and that Defendant breached the agreement by refusing to pay their back wages once the funds became available. The parties have not addressed in briefing whether this alleged agreement created a property interest under state law. Therefore, the briefing is insufficient, and the Court declines to address this aspect of Defendant's motion.

         Next, Defendant argues that Plaintiffs failed to allege a policy or custom that caused the alleged injury. For a municipality to be liable under Section 1983, a plaintiff must prove three elements: “(1) a policymaker; (2) an official policy; and (3) a violation of constitutional rights whose moving force is the policy or ...


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