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Funches v. Mississippi Development Authority

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

January 14, 2019




         This employment-discrimination case is before the Court on the Motion to Dismiss [3] filed by Defendants Mississippi Development Authority (“MDA”), Jay McCarthay, and Jennifer Sledge (collectively “Moving Defendants”). For the reasons that follow, the motion is granted, but Plaintiff Andre Funches will be given an opportunity to seek leave to amend. Two other defendants, Glenn McCullough and Daron Wilson, may not have been properly served, so Funches must show cause why the claims against those defendants should not be dismissed under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(m).

         I. Background

         Funches-an African-American male-is employed by MDA and says Defendants subjected him to a racially hostile work environment and retaliated against him for engaging in protected conduct. Funches has apparently filed a number of internal grievances, EEOC charges, and lawsuits over the years. In August 2016, MDA gave Funches-and no other employee-a memorandum explaining how he should file future employment grievances. Compl. [1] ¶ 5. Among other things, MDA instructed Funches to enclose his grievances in envelopes. Id. Although Funchs says he complied, MDA reprimanded him in April 2017 for failing to enclose a new grievance. Id.; see Reprimand [5-1].[1]

         Aggrieved by the reprimand, Funches filed a charge of race discrimination and retaliation with the EEOC. EEOC Charge [1-2]. And on November 21, 2017, he received his notice of right to sue. EEOC Notice [1-1]. Funches then filed this Complaint on February 7, 2018, within the 90-day time limit, against MDA, Glenn McCullough, Daron Wilson, Jay McCarthy, and Jennifer Sledge. Defendants MDA, McCarthy, and Sledge now move to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). It does not appear that McCollough or Wilson has been served.

         II. Standard

         In considering a motion under Rule 12(b)(6), the “court accepts ‘all well-pleaded facts as true, viewing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.'” Martin K. Eby Constr. Co. v. Dall. Area Rapid Transit, 369 F.3d 464, 467 (5th Cir. 2004) (quoting Jones v. Greninger, 188 F.3d 322, 324 (5th Cir. 1999) (per curiam)). But “the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). To overcome a motion to dismiss, a plaintiff must plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. “Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).” Id. at 555 (citations and footnote omitted).

         “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). It follows that “where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not ‘show[n]'-‘that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” Id. at 679 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). “This standard ‘simply calls for enough fact to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of' the necessary claims or elements.” In re S. Scrap Material Co., LLC, 541 F.3d 584, 587 (5th Cir. 2008) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

         Additionally, Funches is proceeding pro se. “It is well-established that ‘pro se complaints are held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.'” Taylor v. Books A Million, Inc., 296 F.3d 376, 378 (5th Cir. 2002) (quoting Miller v. Stanmore, 636 F.2d 986, 988 (5th Cir. 1981)). “However, regardless of whether the plaintiff is proceeding pro se or is represented by counsel, ‘conclusory allegations or legal conclusions masquerading as factual conclusions will not suffice.'” Id. (quoting S. Christian Leadership Conference v. Supreme Court of the State of La., 252 F.3d 781, 786 (5th Cir. 2001)).

         Finally, in considering a motion under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court “must [generally] limit itself to the contents of the pleadings, including attachments thereto.” Collins v. Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, 224 F.3d 496, 498 (5th Cir. 2000). An exception to this rule exists for documents “if they are referred to in the plaintiff's complaint and are central to [his] claim.” Id. at 499 (citing Venture Assocs. Corp. v. Zenith Data Sys. Corp., 987 F.2d 429, 431 (7th Cir. 1993)).

         In this case, Funches attached the disputed reprimand [5-1] to his Response [5]. The document is obviously central to his claims, so the Court may consider it without converting the motion to dismiss to one for summary judgment. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(d) (“If, on a motion under Rule 12(b)(6) . . ., matters outside the pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the court, the motion must be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56. All parties must be given a reasonable opportunity to present all the material that is pertinent to the motion.”).

         III. Analysis

         Funches asserts Title VII claims for retaliation and hostile work environment and an equal-protection claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Compl. [1] at 1-3. Frankly, the Court struggled to determine which claims Funches asserted against which defendants, and a motion to dismiss on that basis would probably be granted with leave to amend. Moreover, Funches's Title VII claims against the individual defendants are defective because individuals are generally not considered “employers” under Title VII. See Ackel v. Nat'l Commc'ns, Inc., 339 F.3d 376, 381 n.1 (5th Cir. 2003) (“Individuals are not liable under Title VII in either their individual or official capacities.”).

         But Moving Defendants neglected these issues. Instead, their two-paragraph analysis observes that the Complaint fails to state plausible claims for retaliation or hostile work environment. Accordingly, the Court has focused on those issues and, for the reasons that follow, finds them ...

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