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Beavers v. City of Atlanta

United States District Court, N.D. Georgia, Atlanta Division

March 31, 2015

REGINALD BEAVERS, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
CITY OF ATLANTA, GEORGIA, et al., Defendants.

ORDER AND OPINION[1]

ALAN J. BAVERMAN, Magistrate Judge.

This matter is before the Court on a joint Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint filed by Defendants City of Atlanta, Georgia (hereinafter "the City"); Mayor Kasim Reed, individually and in his official capacity as Mayor of the City of Atlanta; Yvonne Yancy, individually and in her official capacity as Commissioner of Human Resources; and Patrick L. Labat, individually and in his official capacity as Chief of the City of Atlanta Department of Corrections' (collectively "Defendants"), [Doc. 17]. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is GRANTED. Specifically, Plaintiffs' Equal Protection (Count Three) and Due Process (Count Four) claims are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE and, with the Court declining to exercise pendent or supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiffs' state law claims (Counts One, Two, Five, Six and Seven), those claims are REMANDED TO THE SUPERIOR COURT OF FULTON COUNTY.

I. Background

Plaintiffs originally filed their complaint in the Superior Court of Fulton County, Georgia on July 2, 2013. The Superior Court assigned it Case No. 2013-CV-205191. [ See Doc. 1 at 1]. The City removed the action to this Court on October 22, 2013. [ Id. ]. Plaintiffs moved to amend the complaint on March 3, 2014, [Doc. 9], which motion was granted on March 31, 2014. [Doc. 15]. The amended complaint, inter alia, added the individual defendants as parties. [ See Doc. 16]. Defendants filed their motion to dismiss on April 15, 2014. [Doc. 17]. Plaintiffs responded on April 15, 2015. [Doc. 20].

In considering a motion to dismiss, the Court accepts the non-conclusory factual allegations in the complaint as true and construes them in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs. Speaker v. U.S. Dep't of Health & Human Servs. Ctrs. for Disease Control & Prevention, 623 F.3d 1371, 1379 (11th Cir. 2010). The amended complaint provides that Plaintiffs are current and former employees of the City's Department of Corrections. [Doc. 16 at ¶¶ 1, 16]. According to the City of Atlanta Code, "all officers and employees, except uniformed members of the department of fire, who are entitled to earn annual leave shall also be entitled to earn sick leave with full pay to be computed on the basis of one-fourth day for each five days of full-time paid service." [ Id. at ¶ 22 (citing Atlanta, Georgia, Municipal Code (hereinafter "Code") § 114-416)]. For the basis of calculating sick leave, a work day normally consists of eight hours of work. [ Id. at ¶ 24 (citing Code § 114-411)].

Prior to December 2008, Plaintiffs worked eight-hour shifts. [ Id. at ¶ 27]. Plaintiffs allege that in December 2008, Defendants changed the hours for Department of Corrections officers to twelve-hour work days. [ Id. at ¶ 28]. As a result, starting December 12, 2008 through July 4, 2012, Plaintiffs worked twelve-hour shifts and forty-eight hours per week. [ Id. at ¶¶ 1, 17, 30]. Plaintiffs allege that upon changing to a twelve-hour work day, Plaintiffs' sick leave and annual leave were improperly calculated and they were deprived of their sick leave and annual leave without due process. [ Id. at ¶ 37].

On an eight-hour work day and forty hours in a work week, each employee was entitled to one-fourth of an eight hour work day for sick leave equating to two hours of sick leave. [ Id. at ¶ 29]. At twelve hour work days and forty-eight hour work weeks, Plaintiffs allege that they were entitled to one-fourth of a twelve hour work day for sick leave equating to three hours of sick leave. [ Id. at ¶ 31]. However, Plaintiffs allege, Defendants calculated Plaintiffs' leave on the basis of a forty-hour work week, or eight-hour work day, and Defendants only gave Plaintiffs two hours of sick leave for every forty-eight-hour work week. [ Id. at ¶ 32]. Plaintiffs allege they were thus deprived of four hours of sick leave every month and forty-eight hours of sick leave every year. [ Id. at ¶ 33]. Additionally, when Plaintiffs sought to use one day of sick leave, they were docked for twelve hours of leave, thus, Plaintiffs allege, Defendants took an additional four hours of leave without cause. [ Id. at ¶ 36].

Plaintiffs allege that upon changing to a twelve-hour work day, Plaintiffs' sick leave was calculated and removed at a rate inconsistent with the employee handbook and in a different manner than other similarly situated city employees and other sworn city officers. [ Id. at 38]. Plaintiffs further allege that miscalculation of their leave led to a miscalculation of retired Plaintiffs' pension benefits and/or cash benefits for their leave. [ Id. at 39].

The amended complaint is in seven counts. Count One alleges that Plaintiffs are entitled to specific performance by the City of the sick leave ordinance, that is, credit for 1/4 day of sick leave for each 40 hours of service. [Doc. 16 at 13]. Count Two seeks attorneys fees and expenses of litigation under O.C.G.A. § 13-6-11 and 42 U.S.C. §§ 1988, 12205. [Doc. 16 at 14].

Count Three claims a violation of Plaintiffs' rights to equal protection, and although the claim is couched in terms of the City's decision, damages in the form of lost salary and benefits are sought from all Defendants. [Doc. 16 at 14-15]. Count Four alleges that Defendants violated Plaintiffs' procedural and substantive due process rights by depriving them of vested sick leave without fair warning and redress. [Doc. 16 at 15-17].

Count Five seeks damages for breach of contract against all Defendants. [ Id. at 17-18]. Count Six seeks damages for breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing against all Defendants. [ Id. at 18-19]. In Count Seven, Plaintiffs appear to seek enforcement of promises allegedly made by Defendants regarding the earlier leave policy. [ Id. at 19-20].

II. Legal Standard

A court will grant a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss if the complaint "fail[s] to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Under Rule 8, a pleading states a claim when it contains, inter alia, "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). In applying the Rule 12(b)(6) standard, the Court must construe the amended complaint in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs, accepting all well-pleaded factual allegations as true. Baker County Medical Services, Inc. v. U.S. Atty. Gen., 763 F.3d 1274, 1276 (11th Cir. 2014) (citing Miyahira v. Vitacost.com, Inc., 715 F.3d 1257, 1265 (11th Cir. 2013)). "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.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Dismissal for failure to state a claim is appropriate if the facts as pleaded fail to state a claim for relief that is "plausible on its face." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citation omitted). A plaintiff's "obligation to provide the grounds' of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (alterations and citation omitted). Despite the fact that a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, it must contain "more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Regardless of the alleged facts, however, a court may dismiss a complaint on a dispositive issue of law. Marshall Cnty. Bd. of Educ. v. Marshall Cnty. Gas Dist., 992 F.2d 1171, 1174 (11th Cir. 1993).

III. Discussion

Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiffs' amended complaint on six grounds: (1) Plaintiffs' amended complaint does not satisfy the heightened pleading standards required for action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (2) Plaintiffs' amended complaint fails to state any claim for relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the City; (3) Plaintiffs' amended complaint fails to state any claim for relief against Defendants Reed, Yancy, and Labat in their individual capacities; (4) Defendants Reed, Yancy, and Labat are entitled to qualified immunity; (5) Plaintiffs' claims against Defendants Reed, Yancy, and Labat sued in their official capacity should be dismissed as being duplicative of claims against the City; and (6) Plaintiff's claims for breach of covenant should be dismissed as being duplicative of their breach of contract claims.

A. Heightened Pleading

Defendants first argue that there is a heightened pleading standard for civil rights actions which requires plaintiffs to craft complaints with specificity and does not allow allegations that are vague and conclusory. [Doc. 17 at 4-5]. While Defendants cite to cases that pre-date Iqbal and Twombly to assert a pleading standard that is specifically tailored to civil rights actions, the standard set forth in Iqbal/Twombly applies to all federal civil complaints, thus encompassing civil rights actions. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 684 (holding that the Supreme Court's interpretation of Rule 8 governs the pleading standard "in all civil actions and proceedings in the United States district courts."). Accordingly, the standard that the undersigned cites above is the standard that will be used to govern the motion to dismiss. In any event, the Eleventh Circuit has held that in light of Iqbal, there is no heightened pleading requirements for actions brought pursuant to § 1983. Saunders v. Duke, ...


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