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Lewis v. City of Wadley

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Augusta Division

June 9, 2017

WESLEY L. LEWIS, Plaintiff,
v.
THE CITY OF WADLEY, a municipal corporation organized under the laws of the State of Georgia; HAROLD MOORE, individually and as Mayor, City of Wadley; IZELL MACK, individually and as Councilman, City of Wadley; JOHN MAYE, individually and as Councilman, City of Wadley; KENDRICK MCBRIDE, individually and as Councilman, City of Wadley; ELIZABETH MOORE, individually and as Councilwoman, City of Wadley; and JERRY THOMAS, individually and as Councilman, City of Wadley, Defendants.

          ORDER

          J. RANDAL HALL, CHIEF JUDGE UNITED STATE DISTRICT COURT.

         Presently before the Court is Defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings. The matter has been fully briefed and is ripe for consideration. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion is GRANTED IN PART.

         I. LEGAL STANDARD

         The legal standards applicable to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) motions for judgment on the pleadings and Rule 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss are the same. Roma v. Outdoor Creations, Inc. v. City of Cumming, Ga., 558 F.Supp.2d 1283, 1284 (N.D.Ga. 2008) ("A motion for judgment on the pleadings is subject to the same standard as is a Rule 12(b) (6) motion to dismiss.") A motion for judgment on the pleadings, like a motion to dismiss, does not test whether the plaintiff will ultimately prevail on the merits of the case. Rather, it tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint. Scheur v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974). Therefore, the court must accept as true all facts alleged in the complaint and construe all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Hoffman-Pugh v. Ramsey, 312 F.3d 1222, 1225 (11th Cir. 2002) . The court, however, need not accept the complaint's legal conclusions as true, only its well-pled facts. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677-79 (2009).

         A complaint also must "contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, *to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Id. at 678 (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). The plaintiff is required to plead "factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. Although there is no probability requirement at the pleading stage, "something beyond . . . mere possibility . . . must be alleged." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556-57 (citing Durma Pharm., Inc. v. Broudo, 544 U.S. 336, 347 (2005)). When, however, on the basis of a dispositive issue of law, no construction of the factual allegations of the complaint will support the cause of action, dismissal of the complaint is appropriate. See Executive 100, Inc. v. Martin Cnty., 922 F.2d 1536, 1539 (11thCir. 1991).

         II. BACKGROUND

         This case arises out of an employment action taken against Plaintiff Wesley L. Lewis, who was employed as the Chief of Police of the City of Wadley, Georgia, from January 1, 2009 to March 9, 2016. (Compl., Doc. 1, Ex. 1, ¶ 4.) For purposes of the present motion, the parties agree to the following facts, which are drawn from Plaintiff's complaint: On March 9, 2016, the Mayor of Wadley, Defendant Harold Moore, terminated Plaintiff. Plaintiff exercised his appeal right to Wadley's City Council. Upon conducting a hearing on March 18, 2016, the City Council overturned the Mayor's termination decision and voted to reinstate Plaintiff. Subsequently, the Mayor vetoed that determination and refused to allow Plaintiff to return to his post.

         Plaintiff sued the City of Wadley, the Mayor, and the City Council members, individually and in their official capacities as council members. Plaintiff's claims include a claim for deprivation of due process under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, breach of an employment contract, and a petition for mandamus relief.[1]

         III. LEGAL ANALYSIS

         Section 1983 creates a federal remedy for the deprivation of federal rights. Wideman v. Shallowford Community Hosp., Inc., 826 F.2d 1030, 1032 (11th Cir. 1987). An actionable § 1983 claim requires proof of a deprivation of rights, privileges or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States and that the deprivation was by a person or persons acting under color of law.[2] Id. Here, Plaintiff claims that his termination, more specifically, the Mayor's refusal to recognize the City Council's reinstatement of his position, denied him due process "in clear violation of the laws of Georgia and the Charter and Ordinances of the City of Wadley and in violation of the clear Personnel Policies of the City of Wadley." (Compl. ¶ 21.) Notably, Plaintiff does not plead a violation of federal law.[3] Nevertheless, for purposes of this motion, the Court will liberally construe Plaintiff's allegations to assert a claim for violation of the Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution.

         "A § 1983 action may be brought for a violation of procedural due process." Zinermon v. Burch, 494 U.S. 113, 125 (1990). "The protections of the Due Process Clause apply to government deprivation of those [benefits] of government employment in which the employee has a constitutionally protected 'property' interest." Gilbert v. Homar, 520 U.S. 924, 928 (1997) . The parties in this case do not dispute that Plaintiff had a protected property interest in his position as Chief of Police.[4]

         Through their motion for judgment on the pleadings, Defendants point out that a procedural due process claim is not actionable under § 1983 "unless and until the State fails to provide due process." Zinermon, 494 U.S. at 126. That is, there is a procedural due process violation only if the State fails to provide a means to remedy any alleged deprivation. Foxy Lady, Inc. v. City of Atlanta, Ga., 347 F.3d 1232, 1238 (11th Cir. 2003) ("[E]ven if a procedural deprivation exists during an administrative hearing, such a claim will not be cognizable under § 1983 if the state provides a means by which to remedy the alleged deprivation."); Cotton v. Jackson, 216 F.3d 1328, 1331 (11th Cir. 2000) ("It is the state's failure to provide adequate procedures to remedy the otherwise procedurally flawed deprivation of a protected interest that gives rise to a federal procedural due process claim."); McKinney v. Pate, 20 F.3d 1550, 1563 (11th Cir. 1994) ("[E]ven if [the plaintiff] suffered a procedural deprivation ... at his termination hearing, he has not suffered a violation of his procedural due process rights unless and until the State refuses to make available a means to remedy the deprivation." (emphasis in original)). Moreover, "[i]f adequate state remedies were available but the plaintiff failed to take advantage of them, the plaintiff cannot rely on that failure to claim that the state deprived him of procedural due process." Cotton, 216 F.3d at 1331.

         In this case, Defendants contend that there was an available remedy to Plaintiff under Georgia law, citing O.C.G.A. § 5-4-1 (a), which gives public employees the right to petition the state superior court for review of certain employment decisions. The statute provides that a "writ of certiorari shall lie for the correction of errors committed by any inferior judicatory or any person exercising judicial powers." Id. Because Plaintiff could have filed a petition for a writ of certiorari in state court, so the argument goes, he cannot state a procedural due process claim under § 1983. The crux of Defendants' argument rests upon a determination of whether Defendants' actions were quasi-judicial or whether they were administrative. See Cotton, 216 F.3d at 1332.

         In Georgia, "the basic distinction between an administrative and a judicial act by officers other than judges is that a quasi-judicial action, contrary to an administrative function, is one in which all parties are as a matter of right entitled to notice and to a hearing, with the opportunity afforded to present evidence under judicial forms of procedure; and that no one deprived of such rights is bound by the action taken." South View Cemetary Ass'n v. Hailey, 34 S.E.2d 863, 866 (Ga. 1945), quoted in Cotton, 216 F.3d at 1332; and Mack II v. City of Atlanta, 489 S.E.2d 357, 359 (Ga.Ct.App. 1997). Thus, the distinction generally turns ...


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