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Wilson v. West

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

January 31, 2019

KEVIN L. WILSON and DANA WILLIAMS WILSON PLAINTIFFS
v.
PHILIP WEST, Individually and in his Official Capacity as Vice-President of the Natchez-Adams School District; JACQUELINE L. MARSAW, Individually and in concert with Defendant, PHILIP WEST; NATCHEZ-ADAMS SCHOOL DISTRICT BOARD OF TRUSTEES; Amos James, Philip West, Thelma Newsome and Brenda Robinson Individually and in their Official Capacities and in concert with Defendant, Philip West; and JOHN DOES NO. 1-10 DEFENDANTS

          ORDER

          DAVID BRAMLETTE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is the defendants Natchez-Adams School District Board of Trustees' and Philip West's Motion to Dismiss [Doc. 12]; the plaintiffs' Response in Opposition [Doc. 25]; the defendants' Rebuttal [Doc. 36]; the defendants' Motion to Strike [Doc. 34]; the plaintiffs' Response in Opposition [Doc. 41]; and the defendants' Rebuttal [Doc. 43]. For the reasons that follow, the Motion to Dismiss [Doc. 12] is DENIED and the Motion to Strike [Doc. 34] is DENIED as moot.

         I

         The plaintiffs, Kevin L. Wilson and Dana Williams Wilson, allege that the defendants infringed on a number of the plaintiffs' constitutional rights, namely First, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments. Doc. 1, p.2.

         This matter began with a referendum election held in the Natchez-Adams School District on May 23, 2017, to determine whether the electorate in the district support the Natchez-Adams School District Board of Trustees (“the Board”)'s proposal to issue general obligation bonds. Doc. 13, p.1. The electorate voted against the proposal. Id. Then, the Board turned to alternative means of raising funds and voted to issue Limited Tax Notes in the amount of $9 million (“Tax Notes”) and Trust Certificates not to exceed $25 million (“Trust Certificates). Id.

         The plaintiffs allege that on May 23, 2017, the Board's proposal to issue a general obligation bond was unsuccessful because a majority of the taxpayers and citizens of Natchez, Adams County, Mississippi, refused to fund the taxable bond. Doc. 1, p.6. The plaintiffs further allege that on or about July 5, 2017, the Board published a general notice of its intent to borrow $9 million to fund certain projects or plans. Doc. 1, p.6. The plaintiffs contend that between May 23, 2017, and July 5, 2017, “none of the minutes of the Natchez Adams School District Board reflect any open meetings in which such a purported Resolution was proposed, motioned, seconded, and voted upon as required by Miss. Code Ann. §§ 25-431-5 and 25-41-13.” Doc. 1, p.7.

         On July 20, 2017, the plaintiffs appeared before the Board, expressing their opposition regarding the Board's proposed issuance of bonds or Tax Notes. Doc. 1, p.5. The plaintiffs allege that the Board took no final action regarding the issue of its authority to borrow funds. The plaintiffs allege that Defendant West “defamed and slandered the [p]laintiffs by repeatedly, intentionally, maliciously and negligently stating with hate before the public that the [p]laintiffs were racist and were taking racist actions.” Doc. 1, p.8, ¶9. The plaintiffs also claim that “Defendant Marsaw, in concert and conspiracy with Defendant West, caused defamatory and hate-driven [speech] and induced publications to be made on social media, which likewise evinces the patently false statements that the [p]laintiffs are racists and that all persons should therefore boycott the businesses and enterprises owned and operated by the [p]laintiffs, so as to cause loss and damages to the [p]laintiffs.” Doc. 1, p.9, ¶11. The plaintiffs also claim that “[a]s a direct and proximate result of the actions and conduct of Defendant Marsaw, the [p]laintiffs have suffered actual and compensatory, incidental and consequential, damages all to their loss and detriment.” Doc. 1, p.10, ¶11. Therefore, the plaintiffs allege that the defendants retaliated against the plaintiffs for expressing their First Amendment rights. Doc. 1, p.9, ¶11. The plaintiffs also make claims of mental and emotional distress, invasion of privacy, and harming business opportunities. See Doc. 1.

         Standard of Review

          The Fifth Circuit states that to survive a motion to dismiss, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Gonzalez v. Kay, 577 F.3d 600, 603 (5th Cir. 2009)(citing and quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009)(quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007))). A complaint is facially plausible when it contains factual content that allows the court to draw a reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the alleged misconduct. Id.

         The Court accepts well-pleaded facts as true and considers them in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs. In re ATP Oil & Gas Corp., 888 F.3d 122, 125-26 (5th Cir. 2018)(citing Bustos v. Martini Club, Inc., 599 F.3d 458, 461 (5th Cir. 2010)). To survive the defendants' motion, the plaintiffs must plead “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” In re ATP Oil & Gas Corp., 888 F.3d 122, 126 (5th Cir. 2018)(citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). In ruling on the defendants' motion, the Court may rely on the Complaint, its proper attachments, and documents incorporated into the Complaint by reference. Wolcott v. Sebelius, 635 F.3d 757, 763 (5th Cir. 2011).

         The plaintiffs cite Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-6 (1957) as authority for the proposition that, in determining the sufficiency of a complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief. However, the plaintiffs should note that the United States Supreme Court abrogated Conley v. Gibson:

This phrase is best forgotten as an incomplete, negative gloss on an accepted pleading standard: once a claim has been stated adequately, it may be supported by showing any set of facts consistent with the allegations in the complaint. . . . Conley, then, described the breadth of opportunity to prove what an adequate complaints claims, not the minimum standard of adequate pleading to govern a complaint's survival.

Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 561 ...


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