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Lee v. City of Walthourville

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

January 28, 2019

CITY OF WALTHOURVILLE and DAISY S. PRAY, Individually, Defendant.



         This workplace retaliation case comes before the Court on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). (Doc. 8.) Defendants City of Walthourville (the “City”) and Daisy S. Pray seek the dismissal of Plaintiff's punitive damages claim and Defendant Pray seeks dismissal of all claims against her. (Id.) Though Plaintiff Latarshia Lee submitted a Response in opposition to Defendants' Motion, she essentially concedes that the law of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals forbids her claims for punitive damages and forbids her claims against Defendant Pray in her individual capacity. (Doc. 11.).

         As laid out below, the precedent of the Eleventh Circuit-which this Court must follow- indeed prohibits the claims at issue. Thus, the Court GRANTS Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, (doc. 8). The Court DISMISSES all claims asserted against Defendant Pray and DISMISSES Plaintiff's claim for punitive damages. Plaintiff's other claims against Defendant City of Walthourville shall remain pending before the Court. The Court DIRECTS the Clerk of Court to terminate Daisy S. Pray as a named Defendant in this action.

         Additionally, the Court notes that the parties' deadline for filing dispositive motions, February 13, 2019, is fast approaching. Prior to the filing of dispositive motions, it would be prudent for the parties to gauge the impact of the instant ruling and provide a status report to the Court. Consequently, the Court hereby ORDERS the parties to file a joint post-discovery status report on or before February 13, 2019.[1] The Court EXTENDS the deadline for the filing of dispositive motions, including all Daubert motions to March 15, 2019.


         Plaintiff filed the present action in this Court on April 20, 2018, seeking damages for alleged violations of her rights under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, § 28 U.S.C. 201, et seq. (“FLSA”). (Doc. 1.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendants violated the FLSA by engaging in unlawful workplace retaliation after Plaintiff settled a separate lawsuit against the City in late 2017. (Id.) Plaintiff maintains that Defendant Pray, as mayor of the City, “was the main actor in Plaintiff's retaliatory discharge and pressured Plaintiff's superior(s) to target Plaintiff for termination” immediately following the settlement.[2] (Doc. 11, p. 2.) Plaintiff seeks to recover “actual and liquidated damages, including lost wages, [] compensatory damages, attorneys' fees, and the costs of litigation, ” as well as punitive damages from both Defendants. (Doc. 1, pp. 11- 12.) In the present Motion, Defendants contend that neither Plaintiff's claims against Defendant Pray nor her request for punitive damages is permitted under the FLSA. (Doc. 8.) In response, Plaintiff acknowledges that Defendants' assertions are supported by Eleventh Circuit precedent but urges the Court to consider law from other circuits. (Doc. 11, p. 1.)


         A court may dismiss a complaint when it lacks subject matter jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) or when the complaint does not state a facially plausible claim for relief under Rule 12(b)(6). Jones v. State, 725 F.2d 622, 623 (11th Cir. 1984). Here, Defendants argue that dismissal is appropriate on both grounds because the law does not permit the at-issue claims.

         Motions pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) take one of two forms: a “facial attack” on subject matter jurisdiction based on the complaint's allegations taken as true or a “factual attack” based on evidentiary matters outside of the pleadings. McElmurray v. Consol. Gov't of Augusta-Richmond Cty., 501 F.3d 1244, 1251 (11th Cir. 2007) (citing Lawrence v. Dunbar, 919 F.2d 1525, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990)). Here, in the “facial attack” context, the Court proceeds as if it were evaluating a 12(b)(6) motion. Sinaltrainal v. Coca-Cola Co., 578 F.3d 1252, 1260 (11th Cir. 2009), abrogated on other grounds by Mohamad v. Palestinian Auth., 566 U.S. 449 (2012).

         In evaluating a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a court must “accept[] the allegations in the complaint as true and constru[e] them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Belanger v. Salvation Army, 556 F.3d 1153, 1155 (11th Cir. 2009). “A complaint must state a facially plausible claim for relief, and ‘[a] claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.'” Wooten v. Quicken Loans, Inc., 626 F.3d 1187, 1196 (11th Cir. 2010) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). “A pleading that offers ‘labels and conclusions' or a ‘formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action'” does not suffice. Ashcroft, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 545 (2007)). While a court must accept all factual allegations in a complaint as true, this tenet “is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, ” are insufficient. Id.


         I. Dismissal of Defendant Pray in her Individual Capacity

          Defendant Pray avers that, as a public official, she cannot be sued in her individual capacity for FLSA violations and urges that the claims against her must be dismissed as a matter of law. (Doc. 8.) The Court agrees.

         A person may be held individually liable in an FLSA retaliation suit if he or she qualifies as an “employer” under the Act. 29 U.S.C. §§ 215(a)(3), 216(b); see also Moore v. Appliance Direct, Inc., 708 F.3d 1233, 1237 (11th Cir. 2013) (the FLSA permits individual liability for retaliation where the individual is considered an “employer”). The FLSA definition of “employer” includes “any person acting directly or indirectly in the interest of an employer in relation to an employee.” 29 U.S.C. § 203(d); see Moore, 708 F.3d at 1237. To determine whether an individual qualifies as an FLSA employer, courts in the Eleventh Circuit are charged with considering “the total employment situation.” Welch v. Laney, 57 F.3d 1004, 1011 (11th Cir. 1995). Such an inquiry includes weighing “whether or not the employment took place on the premises of the alleged employer; how much control [] the alleged employer exert[ed] on the employees; and, [whether] the alleged employer ha[d] the power to fire, hire, or modify the employment condition of the employees[.]” Id. (quoting Wirtz v. Lone Star Steel Co., 405 F.2d 668, 669-70 (5th Cir. 1968)) (alterations in original). In Welch v. Laney, the Eleventh Circuit applied these factors and held that a sheriff could ...

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