United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Oxford Division
Richard Thomas sues several individuals at the University of
Mississippi, alleging, among other things, that they violated
his due process rights when they terminated his employment.
Those defendants, Noel Wilkins, Lee Cohen, Rebecca Bressler,
Rick R. Gregory, Kirsten Dellinger, and Honey Ussery, have
moved to dismiss  the complaint for failing to state a
claim for relief. Thomas has responded. For the reasons set
forth below the Court grants the motion in part and denies
the motion in part.
to the complaint,  Thomas began working as a part-time
faculty member at the University in 2006. Compl.  at 3,
¶ 10. In the spring semester of 2017, Thomas was
teaching four-night classes at the University's DeSoto
campus. Id. ¶ 11. A student in one of his
classes began staying after class to speak to Thomas and
eventually sent Thomas several unsolicited emails.
Id. at 4, ¶¶ 12-15. Thomas and the student
exchanged several emails, and Thomas requested that the
student not speak to University officials about him.
Id ¶¶ 16-17.
girlfriend viewed Thomas's emails and made several
harassing calls to the student. Id. at 5-6,
¶¶ 25-27. Following these calls, Thomas both called
and emailed the student again, stating that they should no
longer exchange emails and that they should establish a
boundary for their relationship. Id. at 6-7,
student later learned that Thomas's girlfriend was a
police officer at Northwest Community College and filed an
incident report with the police department. Id. at
7-8, ¶¶ 35-36. The NWCC police informed Rick
Gregory, the executive director of the University's
DeSoto Campus, of the incident. Id. at 8, ¶ 37.
Several days later, while the student and a classmate were
walking toward their car in the parking lot after class,
Thomas drove by them, in a manner they asserted made them
uncomfortable. Id. at 9-10, ¶¶ 45, 48. The
student then filed another incident report against Thomas.
After making this report, Gregory interviewed the student
with two other University employees present. The University
initiated a Title IX investigation.
Ussery, the University's Title IX Coordinator, performed
this investigation. Ussery interviewed Thomas, the student,
the classmate, Thomas's girlfriend, and Defendant Rick
Gregory, the executive director of the DeSoto campus. Ussery
Report [53-3] at 2-5. Additionally, she reviewed the emails sent
between Thomas and the student, as well as security video of
the parking lot incident. See Ussery Report Ex. 1, 3
& 6. Ussery questioned Thomas both about the emails and
the parking lot incident. Id. at 4-5. After the
investigation, Ussery issued a report stating that
Thomas's explanations did not comport with other evidence
she found through the investigation, namely the emails she
reviewed and a video of the parking lot incident.
Id. at 6. She found that his actions had violated
Title IX, and her report made several recommendations,
including that he be removed from teaching classes in which
the student was enrolled, and that his contract not be
renewed at the end of the semester. Id. The report
also informed Thomas that the findings of the report
constituted grounds for termination and warned that the
University might consider dismissing him as a result of the
receiving the report, Thomas participated in a phone call
with Defendant Lee Cohen, the Dean of the College of Liberal
Arts, and Kirsten Dellinger, the Chair of the Sociology and
Anthropology Department within the College of Liberal Arts.
Compl. At 11, ¶ 57. Thomas alleges that during this call
he was informed that his employment with the University was
being terminated. Thomas asserts that he did not have an
opportunity to object to Ussery's findings during this
hearing. Id. at 11-12.
filed his first complaint in this suit against the University
of Mississippi and the Board of Trustees of the Institutes of
Higher Learning. Thomas amended his complaint to include
Cohen, Dellinger, Ussery, Gregory, as well as Noel Wilkins,
the Executive Vice Chancellor of the University, and Rebecca
Bressler, the Director of Equal Opportunity and Regulatory
Compliance. Thomas sued these persons in both their
individual and official capacities.
Court dismissed the University and the Board of Trustees as
being immune from suit under the Eleventh Amendment.
Thomas v. Univ. of Mississippi, No.
3:18-CV-00062-GHD-RP, 2018 WL 6613807, at *2-3 (N.D. Miss.
Dec. 17, 2018). The Court also rejected the official capacity
claims against the individual defendants under the Eleventh
Amendment because Thomas had not pleaded appropriate
injunctive relief against them to avail himself of the Ex
Parte Young exception to Eleventh Amendment immunity.
Id. at *3-4.
the claims against Defendants in their individual capacities,
the Court found that Thomas's complaint constituted a
shotgun pleading in that it was unclear which claims he
asserted against which Defendants, and asserting all claims
against all Defendants did not seem warranted by the facts of
the complaint. Id. at *5. Thus, the Court ordered
Thomas to file a second amended complaint specifically
identifying which causes of action he asserted against which
Defendants, and the facts supporting those causes.
Id. at *6.
current complaint, Thomas again makes the nonspecific
allegations that all the Defendants violated his procedural
due process rights in both his continued employment and his
reputation. To the extent he has identified specific claims
against specific individuals, he claims that Cohen and
Dellinger deprived him of a protected property interest
without due process by terminating him without providing him
a hearing and an opportunity to respond to the charges
against him. He claims that Gregory violated his
constitutionally protected liberty interest in his reputation
by allowing two individuals to sit in on an interview he
conducted with the student after she made the police report.
Against Ussery, he alleges that she deprived him of a
protected property and liberty interests by compiling a
biased and inaccurate report. He also accuses Ussery of
tortiously interfering with his employment contract with the
University. He claims that Wilkins violated his
constitutional rights for failing to uphold policies that
would have prevented Thomas from being fired without a
hearing, and he claims Bressler violated his rights by
failing to supervise Ussery. It is unclear what specific
constitutional rights Thomas claims Wilkins and Bressler
violated. Additionally, Thomas alleges that all Defendants
breached his contract with the University and that all
Defendants violated his substantive due process rights.
Thomas sues for money damages, and an injunction directing
Defendants to reinstate him as an employee.
Defendants have moved to dismiss, arguing that Thomas has
failed to state a claim for relief and that they are entitled
to qualified immunity.
Motion to Dismiss Standard
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, N.A.,
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)).
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 All. 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 ...