United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND
DENYING IN PART DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON THE
GUIROLA, JR.UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
THE COURT is the  Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings
Based on Qualified Immunity filed by Defendants Lisa Davis,
Paul Rhodes, and Kenneth Thrasher. The Motion argues that
Plaintiff Latarsha Epps has failed to plead her claims under
42 U.S.C. § 1983 with sufficient particularity to
overcome Defendants qualified immunity. However, it is
unclear what specific relief Defendants' seek. The Motion
interchangeably requests dismissal of the § 1983 claims,
a Court-ordered Schultea reply, and limited
immunity-related discovery. The Motion is fully briefed.
Having reviewed the pleadings, the submissions of the
parties, and relevant law, the Court finds that a
Schultea reply is required.
Latarsha Epps is a former employee of the Hazlehurst City
School District (“the School District”) who held
various different positions from March 2009 through her date
of termination on November 18, 2016. At the time of her
termination, she was employed as a business office assistant
and also as the administrative assistant clerk for the Board
of Trustees of the School District (“the Board”).
She says that her position as the Board's administrative
assistant clerk was pursuant to a contract providing for a
one-year term of employment beginning July 1, 2016.
 Amended Complaint alleges that from July 1, 2016 through
the date of her termination, she informed all of the
defendants - the District, Lisa Davis, Kenneth Thrasher, and
Paul Rhodes - that various actions by Davis - the
superintendent for the District - and the Board violated
state laws regarding nepotism, finances, bids, and Board
meeting record keeping. Epps asserts she told Thrasher and
Rhodes - members of the Board - and Davis that Davis's
decision to hire her son into a position in which Davis was
his supervisor violated the state's nepotism prohibition.
Epps says she informed Thrasher, Rhodes, and Davis that the
Board's use of District money to pay for Mississippi High
School Athletic Association passes for Board members, Davis,
and Davis's family was a misappropriation of public
also maintains that she informed Thrasher, Rhodes, and Davis
that Davis's attempt to coerce Epps to change
already-approved meeting minutes and the Board's decision
to alter those approved minutes were both illegal. Epps says
she spoke to, and emailed, Thrasher, Rhodes, and Davis about
Davis abusing her power as superintendent, failing to follow
travel requirements, backdating documents, changing board
minutes, failing to follow statutory purchasing requirements,
and improper use of money. Finally, Epps says she told
Thrasher and Rhodes that Davis retaliates against employees
for exercising their free speech right. On November 18, 2016,
Epps was fired. She says her termination was retaliation for
speaking publicly about Davis's unlawful conduct.
Amended Complaint alleges causes of action under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983, the Fair Labor Standards Act, Title VII of the
Civil Rights Act of 1964, and Mississippi tort law. Pertinent
to the instant Motion for Judgment Based on Qualified
Immunity on the Pleadings are Epps' § 1983 claims.
She alleges First Amendment retaliation against all
defendants and a related claim, purportedly against the
District, Thrasher, and Rhodes, for their failure to
investigate Epps' charges of wrongdoing and unlawful
Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings Based on Qualified
Immunity seemingly requests three alternative forms of
relief: 1) dismissal of the plaintiff's § 1983
claims against Davis, Thrasher, and Rhodes in their
individual capacities, 2) a Schultea Reply stating
“specific factual and legal allegations tied to each
particular defendant, ” or 3) leave for the parties to
conduct limited immunity-related discovery. (Defs.' Mem.
Supp. Mot. J. Pleadings 8, ECF No. 24.) Epps contends in
response that she has sufficiently pleaded a factual basis
for her claims against Davis, Thrasher, and Rhodes
individually, but alternatively asks for leave to file a
Schultea Reply. In Reply, Defendants argue that
Epps' failure to investigate claim fails to allege a
constitutional violation and that Epps' First Amendment
retaliation claim fails because she does not allege that her
protected speech was made as a citizen.
Standard of Review
Motion for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c) is
subject to the same standard as a motion to dismiss under
Rule 12(b)(6).” Doe v. MySpace, Inc., 528 F.3d
413, 418 (5th Cir. 2008). To avoid dismissal, “a
complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as
true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on
its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S.
662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly,
550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is facially plausible
“when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows
the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant
is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id.
deciding a Rule 12(c) motion, the Court accepts all well
pleaded facts as true and views them in the light most
favorable to Plaintiff. Linicomn v. Hill, 902 F.3d
529, 533 (5th Cir. 2018). But “the complaint must
allege more than labels and conclusions, a formulaic
recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do,
and factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to
relief above the speculative level.” Jabaco, Inc.
v. Harrah's Operating Co., Inc., 587 F.3d 314, 318
(5th Cir. 2009). “While legal conclusions can provide
the complaint's framework, they must be supported by
factual allegations.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 664.
“Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of
action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not
suffice.” Id. at 678.
U.S.C. § 1983 provides a cause of action for the
violation of an individual's rights secured by the
Constitution or laws of the United States by a person acting
under color of state law. However, “[t]he doctrine of
qualified immunity protects government officials ‘from
liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not
violate clearly established statutory or constitutional
rights of which a reasonable person would have
known.'” Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S.
223, 231 (2009) (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457
U.S. 800, 818 (1982)). Accordingly, a government official is
entitled to immunity from suit unless (1) Plaintiff has made
allegations sufficient to show a violation of a