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Halliburton v. Liberty County School District

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

July 22, 2019

DR. LAVERNE HALLIBURTON, Plaintiff,
v.
LIBERTY COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT; DR. JUDY SCHERER, individually; DR. FRANKLIN PERRY, individually and in his official capacity as Superintendent of the Liberty County School District; LILY H. BAKER, individually and in her official capacity as a Board Member of the Liberty County School District; MARCIA ANDERSON, individually and in her official capacity as a Board Member of the Liberty County School District; BECKY CARTER, individually and in her official capacity as a Board Member of the Liberty County School District; CHARLIE J. FRASIER, individually and in his official capacity as a Board Member of the Liberty County School District; CAROL GUYETT, individually and in her official capacity as a Board Member of the Liberty County School District; VERDELL JONES, individually and in his official capacity as a Board Member of the Liberty County School District; and HAROLD WOODS, individually and in his official capacity as a Board Member of the Liberty County School District; Defendants.

          ORDER

          WILLIAM T. MOORE, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs Second Amended Complaint. (Doc. 2 9.) For the following reasons, Defendants' motion is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

         BACKGROUND

         This case stems from the Superintendent of Defendant Liberty County School District's decision not to recommend renewal of Plaintiffs contract as principal. Plaintiff LaVerne Halliburton claims she faced racial discrimination in her workplace.[1]In July 2006, Plaintiff was hired as a principal by the Liberty County School District. (Doc. 28 at ¶ 14.) Plaintiff, while employed as a principal, received satisfactory evaluations and earned $108, 000.00 a year plus fringe benefits. (Id. at ¶ 15.) Plaintiff alleges that during a meeting around March 2011, Defendant Dr. Judy Burton Scherer, the then Superintendent of the Liberty County School District, made a recommendation to the school board to not renew Plaintiff's employment contract. (Id. at 18.) The recommendation was not acted upon during the March 2011 meeting, but Defendant Scherer allegedly made a second recommendation to not renew Plaintiffs employment contract during a meeting on or about April 14, 2011. (Id.) The recommendation of Defendant Scherer was defeated by a four-to-three vote of the board members, with all four of the black board members voting against the recommendation and all three of the white board members voting to approve the recommendation. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that after Defendant Scherer's recommendation was unsuccessful, Defendant Scherer "illegally and without legal authority attempted to unilaterally, and on her own accord, non-renew the contract of Plaintiff/Petitioner even though she did not have the legal authority under Georgia law to do so." (Id. at ¶ 19.)

         Plaintiff contends that her termination was due to her complaints to Defendant Scherer about the job performance of her white assistant principal and that her non-renewal was directly related to Plaintiffs exercise of her First Amendment rights. (Id. at ¶ 20.) Plaintiff also states that Defendant Scherer allowed white employees to undermine her authority and position as principal. (Id. at ¶ 21.) After Plaintiff was terminated, her position was filled by a white person and Plaintiff s white assistant principal was transferred rather than terminated or non-renewed. (Id.)

         Plaintiff initially filed suit in the superior court of Liberty County alleging various state law claims. (Doc. 1, Attach. 26.) In a one-sentence order, the Superior Court denied Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. (Doc. 1, Attach. 2 9.) However, the Georgia Court of Appeals reversed that decision in part and dismissed the claims against Defendant Liberty County School District ("LCSD") and the individual Defendants, in their official capacities. (Doc. 1, Attach. 46.) In response, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint in superior court. (Doc. 1, Attach. 48.) The amended complaint alleged the same claims, including those previously dismissed, and added claims based on 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Id. at 11 4-7 (including both paragraphs number 6).)

         Based on the inclusion of these federal claims, Defendants invoked this Court's federal question jurisdiction and removed the case to this Court. (Doc. 1.) Plaintiff sought to remand this case on the basis that not all Defendants consented to removal. (Doc. 14.) This Court denied Plaintiff s Motion to Remand. (Doc. 21.) Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the amended complaint (Doc. 4), which this Court denied. (Doc. 2 6.) Due to the exceedingly poor nature of the amended complaint, this Court dismissed Plaintiffs amended complaint and directed Plaintiff to file a new amended complaint. (Doc. 26 at 10.) Plaintiff filed her second amended complaint on April 19, 2018 (Doc. 28) and Defendants have now moved to dismiss the second amended complaint (Doc. 29).

         In her second amended complaint, Plaintiff brings six counts against Defendants, four of which are state law claims and two of which are federal claims. (Doc. 28 at ¶ 2.) Plaintiff specified in paragraphs 6-13 that Defendants Scherer, Baker, Anderson, Carter, Frasier, Guyett, Jones, and Woods are being sued in their individual capacities for the state law claims and in their individual and official capacities for the federal law claims. (Id. at ¶¶ 6-13.)[2] First, in Count I, Plaintiff claims that Defendants' actions in stigmatizing Plaintiff during the non-renewal and/or termination process and foreclosing employment opportunities in other school systems violated her rights under the Constitution of the State of Georgia. (Id. at ¶¶ 23-24.) In Count II, Plaintiff claims that Defendants discriminated against her on the basis of race, in violation of the Constitution of the State of Georgia. (Id. at ¶¶ 25-26.) In Count III, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants tortuously interfered with her employment relationship in violation of Georgia law. (ld. at ¶¶ 27-28.) In Count IV, Plaintiff claims that Defendants violated her rights of freedom of speech, association, and affiliation under the Constitution of the State of Georgia by "taking action" against her "because of her political association and/or affiliation." (Id. at ¶ 30.) In Count V, Plaintiff claims Defendants discriminated and retaliated against her on the basis of race in violation of 4 2 U.S.C. § 1981. (Id. at 33.) Finally, in Count VI, Plaintiff brings 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims based on violations of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, violations of her right to due process and "liberty interests," and violations of her First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and association. (Id. at ¶¶ 35-38.)

         On May 3, 2018, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss. (Doc. 2 9.) In their motion, Defendants contend that Plaintiffs state law claims, Counts I, II, III, and IV, fail to state plausible claims. (Doc. 29 at 7.) In regards to Plaintiff's federal law claims, Defendants argue that both Count V and VI are barred by the two-year statute of limitations. (Id. at 11.)

         In response, Plaintiff argues that her state law claims are properly before this Court because the Georgia Court of Appeals found that "there was sufficient evidence for claims based on racial discrimination to go forward" and additionally argues that she has demonstrated a prima facie case of racial discrimination. (Doc. 36 at 5, 7.) Plaintiff does not otherwise respond to Defendants' arguments that she has failed to state a claim in her state law claims. In regards to her federal law claims, Plaintiff contends that her claims are timely as they relate back to her original complaint. (Id. at 8.)

         ANALYSIS

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires a complaint to contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." "[T]he pleading standard Rule 8 announces does not require Metalled factual allegations,' but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 67 8 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). "A pleading that offers 'labels and conclusions' or a 'formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'" Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555) . "Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders 'naked assertion [s]' devoid of 'further factual enhancement.'" Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557) (alteration in original).

         "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.'" Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). For a claim to have facial plausibility, the plaintiff must plead factual content that "allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Sinaltrainal v. Coca-Cola Co., 3 F.3d 1252, 1261 (11th Cir. 2009) (quotations omitted) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). Plausibility does not require probability, "but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. "Where a complaint pleads facts that are 'merely consistent with' a defendant's liability, it 'stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.'" Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). Additionally, a complaint is sufficient only if it gives "fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Sinaltrainal, 578 F.3d at 1268 (quotations omitted) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

         When the Court considers a motion to dismiss, it accepts the well-pleaded facts in the complaint as true. Sinaltrainal, 578 F.3d 12 52 at 12 60. However, this Court is "not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Moreover, "unwarranted deductions of fact in a complaint are not admitted as true for the purpose of testing the sufficiency of [plaintiff's] allegations." Sinaltrainal, 578 F.3d at 1268 (citing Aldana v. Del Monte Fresh Produce, N.A., Inc., 416 F.3d 1242, 1248 (11th Cir. 2005)) . That is, "[t]he rule 'does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage,' but instead simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary element." Watts v. Fla. Int'l Univ., 495 F.3d 1289, 1295-96 (11th Cir. 2007) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 545).

         II. DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS

         A. Plaintiff's State Law Claims (Counts I, II, III, IV)

         In their Motion to Dismiss, Defendants contend that all of Plaintiff s state law claims against the individual board members should be dismissed because Plaintiff failed to allege any facts tying specific claims to individual defendants. (Doc. 29 at 8.) Defendants further contend that all of Plaintiff's state law claims should be dismissed because (1) Plaintiffs first count fails to state a claim, (2) Plaintiffs second count fails to state a claim because Plaintiff did not allege facts that she was not treated like similarly-situated individuals, (3) Plaintiffs third count is vague and fails to allege facts that renders the claim plausible under Iqbal, and (4) Plaintiffs fourth state law claim fails to state a claim. (Id. at 8-11.) Additionally, Defendants state in a footnote that Defendant Scherer cannot be party to this action because she has passed away. (Doc. 29 at 8.) Each of these arguments will be addressed in turn.

         1, Failure to allege facts against specific Defendants

         While Plaintiff claims that the individual board members violated her constitutional rights and tortuously interfered with her right to contract, Defendants contend that these claims must be dismissed because Plaintiff "does not point to one single act on the part of a Board Member, acting individually, which supports these claims." (Doc. 29 at 8.) Plaintiff has named as Defendants in this action the members of the Liberty County School District's board of education. Defendants Baker, Anderson, Carter, Frasier, Guyett, Jones, and Hoods (the "Board Defendants") are listed in the second amended complaint alongside Defendant Scherer, however, Plaintiff includes sparse factual allegations regarding these defendants. (Doc. 28 at ¶ 5-13.)

         When introducing each of the Defendants, Plaintiff specifically pled that Defendant Scherer (1) "participated in the process which lead [sic] to the unlawful termination of Plaintiff/Petitioner's employment," (2) "participated in the retaliation against Plaintiff for engaging in protected activity," and (3) "participated in and caused the racially disparate treatment of Plaintiff/Petitioner from similarly situated white employees." (Id. at ΒΆ 6.) However, Plaintiff does not include similarly specific ...


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