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Thomas v. University of Mississippi

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

December 17, 2018

RICHARD KENNETH THOMAS PLAINTIFF
v.
UNIVERSITY OF MISSISSIPPI, et al DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

         The Court has before it a motion to dismiss [Doc. 35] filed by Defendants. For the reasons set forth below the Court finds that the motion should be granted but that Plaintiff should be allowed to amend his complaint.

         Plaintiff Richard Thomas is a former professor at the University of Mississippi's DeSoto campus. After an internal Title IX investigation, Thomas was terminated from his employment with the University. He now brings this action asserting that University, the Board of Trustees of the State Institution of Higher Learning ("IHL"), and University employees Noel Wilkins, Lee Cohen, Rebecca Bressler, Rick Gregory, Kirsten Dellinger, and Honey Ussery (collectively the "employee Defendants") both in their official and individual capacities, violated his Fourteenth Amendment rights. Specifically, he alleges Defendants deprived him of his employment contract without due process in terminating him without a fair investigation and that the Defendants deprived him of his liberty by using an unfair investigation to disparage him. Thomas also brings a state law breach of contract claim against Defendants.

         Defendants now move to dismiss the amended complaint. They argue the claims against University, IHL, and the employee Defendants in their official capacities should be dismissed pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) because they enjoy Eleventh Amendment immunity. Defendants also argue the complaint should be dismissed pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim.

         Standards of Review

         I. 12(b)(1) Standard

         A Rule 12(b)(1) motion allows a party to challenge the Court's subject matter jurisdiction." '[A] factual attack under Rule 12(b)(1) may occur at any stage of the proceedings, and plaintiff bears the burden of proof that jurisdiction does in fact exist.'" Arena v. Graybar Elec. Co., 669 F.3d 214, 223 (5th Cir. 2012) (quoting Menchaca v. Chrysler Credit. Corp., 613 F.2d 507, 511 (5th Cir. 1980) (citations omitted)).

         The Fifth Circuit has instructed:

A case is properly dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction when the court lacks the statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate the case. In considering a challenge to subject matter jurisdiction, the district court is free to weigh the evidence and resolve factual disputes in order to satisfy itself that it has the power to hear the case. Thus, under Rule 12(b)(1), the district court can resolve disputed issues of fact to the extent necessary to determine jurisdiction[.]

Smith v. Reg'l Transit Auth, 756 F.3d 340, 347 (5th Cir. 2014) (quotation marks and citation omitted). In ruling on a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss, the Court can consider: "(1) the complaint alone; (2) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts evidenced in the record; or (3) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts plus the court's resolution of disputed facts." Tsolmon v. United States, 841 F.3d 378, 382 (5th Cir. 2016) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

         II. 12(b)(6) Standard

         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 Fed.Appx. 215, 216-17 (5th Cir. 2014) (citing Kennedy v. Chase Manhattan Bank USA, NA, 369 F.3d 833, 839 (5th Cir. 2004)). "[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)).

         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 Bell Atl Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). "[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 Fed.Appx. 238, 241 (5th Cir. 2013) (quoting City of Clinton, Ark. v. Pilgrim's Pride Corp., 632 F.3d 148, 152-53 (5th Cir. 2010) (internal 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 Fed.Appx. 372, 372 (5th Cir. 2014) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955).

         Analysis

         I. Eleventh ...


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