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Byrd v. Comfort Inn-Tupelo

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

January 23, 2019

MARY JOHN GARRETT BYRD PLAINTIFF
v.
COMFORT INN-TUPELO, MISSISSIPPI; FUSION HOSPITALITY, LLC; & LEE B2, LLC DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

         Before this Court is Defendants LeeB2, LLC and ABRMP Management's[1] motion for judgment on the pleadings. Doc. 56. Upon due consideration, and for the reasons set forth below, the Court finds the motion should be granted.

         Background

         According to the complaint, the Plaintiff, Mary John Garrett Byrd, who is white, and her husband were guests at the Comfort Inn hotel in Tupelo, Mississippi in February 2017. Compl. [1] ¶ 7. The complaint alleges that Byrd and her husband checked into the room on February 14 and intended to stay for several days. Id. However, on February 15, the hotel staff, who were black, informed the Tupelo Police Department that Byrd was unlawfully in the room. Id. A police officer and the hotel staff entered the room, and the officer arrested Byrd. Id.[2]

         Byrd then filed this complaint, asserting numerous civil rights and state tort law claims against Defendants. Defendants now move for judgment on the pleadings. Byrd filed no response[3], and the matter is now ripe for review.

         Standard of Review

         After the pleadings are closed-but early enough not to delay trial-a party may move for judgment on the pleadings." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). A Rule 12(c) motion is governed by the same standards as a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. See Brown v. Citi Mortgage, Inc., All Fed. App'x. 302, 303 (5th Cir. 2012) (citing St. Paul Mercury Ins. Co. v. Williamson, 224 F.3d 425, 440 n.8 (5th Cir. 2000)). "A motion brought pursuant to [Rule] 12(c) is designed to dispose of cases where the material facts are not in dispute and a judgment on the merits can be rendered by looking to the substance of the pleadings and any judicially noticed facts." Hebert Abstract Co. v. Touchstone Props., Ltd., 914 F.2d 74, 76 (5th Cir. 1990) (citing 5A Charles A. Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1367, at 509-10 (1990)).

         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).

         Anaylsis

         1. The complaint fails to state a claim for relief under federal law.

         The Court first identifies the federal statutes upon which she bases her claims, of which there are several. The complaint asserts that Byrd's claims arise under 29 U.S.C. § 216(b), 29 U.S.C. § 2617(a)(2), 42 U.S.C. § 1981, 42 U.S.C. §1983, and 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f).

         Of those, per their respective texts, 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) (the Fair Labor Standards Act), 29 U.S.C. § 2617(a)(2) (the Family and Medical Leave Act); and 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f) (Title VII), each apply only to employment relationships. Clearly, Byrd does not claim that Defendants ever employed her, and so any claims arising under those statues must be dismissed.

         That leaves § 1981 and § 1983. There are three elements of a § 1983 claim: "(1) a deprivation of a right secured by federal law (2) that occurred under color of state law, and (3) was caused by a state actor." Victoria W. v. Larpenter, 369 F.3d 475, 482 (5th Cir. 2004). Here, Byrd sues two private actors, not any government official or officer. To hold a private actor liable under § 1983, the plaintiff must show that "the private citizen was a 'willful participant in joint activity with State or its agents.'" Priester v. Lowndes Cty., 354 F.3d 414, 420 (5th Cir. 2004) (quoting Cinel v. Connick,, 15 F.3d 1338, 1342 (5th Cir. 1994)). "The plaintiff must allege: (1) an agreement between the private and public defendants to commit an illegal act and (2) a deprivation of constitutional rights." Id.

         Here, Byrd alleges only that hotel employees informed the Tupelo Police Department that Byrd was unlawfully in the room, and that the employees unlocked the door to the room for the officer to get in. What the complaint does not allege, however, is any specific facts evincing a conspiracy between the staff and the officer to commit an illegal act. For "a private party [to] be liable as a state actor for filing a complaint with law enforcement" there must be allegations that the law enforcement officer "'acted in accordance with a preconceived plan to take action merely because [the action] was designated ... by the private party;'" and the officer '"did so without independent investigation'" Michael v. Boutwell,138 F.Supp.3d 761, 778 (N.D. Miss. 2015) (quoting Sims v. Jefferson Downs Racing Ass'n.,788 F.2d 1068, ...


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