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Funches v. Mississippi Development Authority

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

April 4, 2019

ANDRE FUNCHES, SR. PLAINTIFF
v.
MISSISSIPPI DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY, ET AL. DEFENDANTS

          ORDER

          DANIEL P. JORDAN III CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This previously dismissed employment-discrimination case is before the Court on pro se Plaintiff Andre Funches, Sr.’s, Motion for Leave to File Amended Complaint [13] and his Motion for Sanctions and Contempt [15] against Defendants Mississippi Development Authority (“MDA”), Jay McCarthay, and Jennifer Sledge (collectively “Responding Defendants”). Responding Defendants oppose both motions. For the following reasons, Funches’s motion to amend is granted in part and denied in part, and his Motion for Sanctions and Contempt is denied.

         I. Background

         Funches-an African-American male and former MDA employee-initially filed this race-discrimination and retaliation suit against Responding Defendants and two additional defendants, Glenn McCullough and Daron Wilson. Neither McCullough nor Wilson has been served. The original complaint asserted 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. On January 14, 2019, the Court granted Responding Defendants’ motion to dismiss those claims without prejudice, finding that (1) Funches had not pleaded a plausible retaliation claim because he suffered no adverse employment actions; and (2) the Title VII and § 1983 hostile-work-environment claims failed because the pleaded facts did not suggest sufficiently severe or pervasive conduct. See Jan. 14, 2019 Order [12] at 4–8. The Court gave Funches 14 days to file a motion seeking leave to amend. Id. at 9.

         Funches timely sought leave, but his proposed amended complaint moves in a new direction. Instead of curing the defects in his original complaint, he seeks leave to add new claims and two new defendants. Funches also filed a motion for sanctions and contempt. Responding Defendants oppose both motions.

         II. Motion for Leave to File Amended Complaint

         A. Standard

         “The court should freely give leave [to amend a complaint] when justice so requires.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a). Rule 15(a) therefore “evinces a bias in favor of granting leave to amend” and “severely restricts the judge’s freedom.” Dussouy v. Gulf Coast Inv. Corp., 660 F.2d 594, 597 (5th Cir. 1981). But leave is not automatically granted. Valid reasons to deny leave include factors such as “undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive on the part of the movant, repeated failures to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, undue prejudice to the opposing party by virtue of allowance of the amendment, futility of amendment, etc.” Shivangi v. Dean Witter Reynolds, Inc., 825 F.2d 885, 890 (5th Cir. 1987) (citations omitted). An amendment is futile if the “amended complaint would fail to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.” Stripling v. Jordan Prod. Co., Inc., 234 F.3d 863, 873 (5th Cir. 2000) (citations omitted). Thus, to determine whether a proposed claim is futile, the Court applies “the same standard of legal sufficiency as applies under Rule 12(b)(6).” Id.

         Funches’s discursive amended complaint is at times unintelligible. But because he proceeds pro se, the Court must construe it liberally. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). Even under this lenient standard, “conclusory allegations or legal conclusions masquerading as factual conclusions will not suffice.” Taylor v. Books A Million, Inc., 296 F.3d 376, 378 (5th Cir. 2002).

         B. Analysis

         The easiest way to organize Funches’s proposed amended complaint is by separating the claims related to conduct occurring before he filed the instant case from conduct allegedly occurring after he filed. As to acts before the initial complaint, Funches generally realleges his original claims that Defendants created a racially hostile work environment and retaliated against him for his past complaints.

         The new claims generally relate to the way Funches used lewd photographs of a co-worker to pursue this case. When Funches filed his response to Responding Defendants’ motion to dismiss, he attached lewd photographs without asking the Court to seal them. So until the Court sealed them sua sponte, photographs of a nude co-worker were publicly available. According to Funches, MDA responded by suspending him from work and then terminating his employment. He now alleges that this conduct was retaliatory under Title VII and that he was treated less favorably than a female employee, Tameika Shelwood, who supposedly lied during an investigation but was not fired. He therefore asserts a new retaliation claim under Title VII and gender-discrimination claims under Title VII and 42 U.S.C. § 1983.[1]

         Starting with the original retaliation and hostile-work-environment claims, Responding Defendants say Funches failed to cure the deficiency the Court highlighted when it dismissed those claims without prejudice. In its dismissal Order, the Court informed Funches that he could seek leave to amend but carefully outlined what he would need to do to successfully plead those claims.

         In particular, the Court stated that Funches would need to “describe the factual instances of racial discrimination forming the basis of his hostile-work-environment claim and state what each defendant did to allegedly contribute to it.” Jan. 14, 2019 Order [12] at 9. Funches ignored these instructions. He pleaded nothing new regarding the original claims. As to the individual defendants, the proposed amended complaint still fails to plead facts regarding what they supposedly did or how they could face liability under Title VII or § 1983. See generally Proposed Am. Compl. [13-1]. Regarding MDA, Funches’s proposed amended complaint offers no additional facts that would overcome the Court’s initial analysis of his Title VII ...


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