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Mack v. Board of Regents of University System of Georgia

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

December 19, 2019

JILL E. MACK, Plaintiff,
v.
BOARD OF REGENTS OF THE UNIVERSITY SYSTEM OF GEORGIA, Intervenor, HERTY ADVANCED MATERIALS DEVELOPMENT CENTER, Defendant.

          ORDER

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

         Before the Court is Intervenor Board of Regents' of the University System of Georgia's (the "Board") Motion to Dismiss. (Doc. 16.) For the following reasons, the Board's Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

         BACKGROUND

         On July 8, 2015, Plaintiff filed a complaint against Herty Advanced Materials Development Center ("HAMDC") . (Doc. 1. ) She alleged that the entity had hired her in April of 2012 to act as a quality control laboratory technician. (Id. at ¶ 6.) On August 15, 2013, Plaintiff took time off from work to care for her husband pursuant to the Family Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601-2654 ("FMLA") . (Id. at ¶ 7.) Around the same time, Plaintiff informed her employer that she would need to take time off for surgery related to her carpal tunnel syndrome and cubital tunnel syndrome. (Id. at ¶ 8.) She took the requisite time, and on October 8, 2013, began receiving short-term disability benefits. (Id. at ¶¶ 9-10.)

         While she was recovering, Plaintiff learned that an employee had been hired to replace her. (Id. at ¶ 11. ) Plaintiff s employment with HAMDC was terminated on November 12, 2013. (Id. at ¶ 12.) Plaintiff alleges that at the time of her termination she had remaining unexpired FMLA leave, was not informed that she was ineligible for FMLA leave, and was on medical leave for a personal health condition. (Id. at ¶¶ 13-17.) Plaintiff brought claims for violations of the FMLA and the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. ("ADA"). (Id. at ¶¶ 18-35.)

         On July 9, 2015, the Court issued a summons to Herty Advanced Materials Development Center, care of Alexander A. Koukoulas. (Doc. 2. ) On November 13, 2015, an entity named Herty Advanced Materials Development Center, LLC ("Herty, LLC") answered the complaint.[1] (Doc. 4.) The answer stated that Herty, LLC was making a special appearance to file an answer on behalf of the named defendant HAMDC. (Id. at 1. ) However, the answer stated that Plaintiff had failed to join an indispensable party because Herty, LLC had never employed Plaintiff. (Id. at 2. ) Three days later, the Board filed its Motion to Dismiss alleging that it was the successor to and continuation of the HAMDC. (Doc. 6.) The Board argued that the complaint should be dismissed for improper service. (Doc. 6, Attach. 1 at 2.) The Court dismissed that motion because the Board had failed to file either a motion to intervene or a motion to substitute party. (Doc. 12.)

         On July 12, 2016, the Board filed a Motion to Intervene. (Doc. 13.) The motion was granted on August 2, 2016. (Doc. 14.) On August 15, 2016, the Board filed a renewed motion to dismiss the complaint in lieu of an answer. (Doc. 16.) In response to the Board's Motion to Dismiss, Plaintiff, who does not contest the applicability of the Eleventh Amendment to the Board, argued that the Court should grant Plaintiff the opportunity to discover the identity of her actual employer. (Doc. 20.) Plaintiff noted that she served HAMDC and the individual that terminated her from HAMDC, Alexander Koukoulas. (Id. at 6.) Mr. Koukoulas is also listed as the Chief Executive Officer ("CEO") and President of HAMDC and Herty, LLC. (Doc. 20, Attach. 3.) Moreover, HAMDC and Herty, LLC share the same address. (Doc. 20, Attach. 4, Attach. 5.) Plaintiff also alleged that none of her work documents reference the Board. (Id.) As a result of the confusion surrounding Plaintiff's proper employer, this Court administratively terminated the Board's Motion to Dismiss and directed the parties to file briefs regarding Plaintiff s proper employer and the relationship between HAMDC, Herty, LLC, and the Board. (Doc. 25.) The Board filed a brief on behalf of itself and HAMDC addressing the employment of Plaintiff and arguing that O.C.G.A. § 20-3-73.3 transferred control and ownership of HAMDC to the Board. (Doc. 28.) Plaintiff responded to the Board by agreeing that Plaintiff was employed by HAMDC prior to the transfer of ownership to the Board, but argued that her employment was still with HAMDC because her employment-related documents all referenced HAMDC as her employer. (Doc. 29.) Herty, LLC also responded to this Court's show cause order by pointing to evidence that Herty, LLC did not exist for the majority of Plaintiff s employment with HAMDC and that Herty, LLC did not receive an Employer Identification Number ("EIN") until after Plaintiff was terminated from HAMDC. (Doc. 33.) After reviewing the briefs regarding Plaintiffs proper employer, the Board's Motion to Dismiss is now ripe for review.

         ANALYSIS

         I. STAHDARD 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 'detailed factual allegations,' but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully- harmed-me accusation." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L. Ed. 2d 868 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 1964, 167 L. Ed. 2d. 929 (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, 127 S. Ct. at 1964). "Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders "naked assertion[s]' devoid of 'further factual enhancement.' " Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557, 127 S. Ct. at 19 66) (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, 127 S. Ct. at 1973). 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., 578 F.3d 1252, 1261 (11th Cir. 2009) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, 129 S. Ct. at 1949) (internal quotations omitted). 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, 129 S. Ct. at 1949. "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, 127 S. Ct. at 1966). 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 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 127 S. Ct. at 1964).

         When the Court considers a motion to dismiss, it accepts the well-pleaded facts in the complaint as true. Sinaltrainal, 578 F.3d 1252 at 1260. However, this Court is "not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, 129 S. Ct. at 1949. 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'1 Univ., 495 F.3d 1289, 1295-96 (11th Cir. 2007) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 545, 127 S. Ct. at 1959).

         II. THE BOARD'S MOTION TO DISMISS

         The Board argues in its Motion to Dismiss that it was Plaintiff's employer and, therefore, Plaintiff's claims are barred for various reasons, including that the Board is immune from suit under the Eleventh Amendment. (Doc. 16.) The Board also argues that because Plaintiff served HAMDC and not the Chancellor of the Board, as required by Georgia law, Plaintiff's claims should be dismissed for improper service. (Id.) Many of the Board's arguments related to the dismissal of Plaintiff s claims are dependent on the Board being Plaintiff's employer at the time of the relevant events. (Id.) Accordingly, the ...


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