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Brown v. City of Harrodsburg

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington

March 31, 2015

TOBIE BROWN, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF HARRODSBURG, KENTUCKY, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

JOSEPH M. HOOD, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint in this action. [DE 10]. Plaintiff has responded [DE 13], and Defendants have replied [DE 14]. Thus, this motion is now ripe for review. For the reasons which follow, Defendants' motion will be granted.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

Plaintiff Tobie Brown was hired as a dispatcher for the Harrodsburg Police Department Communications and Records Department on September 23, 2013. [DE 6 at 3]. She was hired on a probationary period, which was later extended and set to expire on April 22, 2014. [ Id. ]. On March 8, 2014, Plaintiff filed a written grievance complaining of the behavior of her supervisor, Gail M. Napier. [DE 6 at 4]. Plaintiff alleges that "Ms. Napier began a systematic effort to gather false and misleading evidence to support the termination of Plaintiff." [ Id. ]. Plaintiff was terminated on May 1, 2014. [DE 6 at 3]. She claims that her termination was a direct and proximate result of, and in retaliation for, her written grievance against Napier. [DE 6 at 4]. Following her discharge on May 1, Plaintiff "grieved her discharge and requested a hearing" on May 12, 2014. She was denied a hearing on May 27, 2014. [ Id. ].

Plaintiff brings a federal claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging a violation of her rights under the First and Fifth Amendments, and her Fourteenth Amendment right to due process, as well as a state law violation of her due process rights pursuant to Section 2 of the Kentucky Constitution. Plaintiff seeks damages for past and future loss of wages and pain and suffering, punitive damages, and reinstatement of her former position with the City of Harrodsburg. [DE 6].

II. Standard of Review

A motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of the plaintiff's complaint. The court views the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and must accept as true all well-pleaded factual allegations contained within it. Thompson v. Bank of Am., N.A., 773 F.3d 741, 750 (6th Cir. 2014). "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 Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is plausible when it contains facts that allow the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the alleged misconduct. Id. "The plausibility standard... asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id.

III. Discussion

A. Section 1983 Claims

For a plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim to survive a motion to dismiss, "[f]irst, a plaintiff must allege that a defendant acted under color of state law. Second, a plaintiff must allege that the defendant's conduct deprived the plaintiff of rights secured under federal law." Handy-Clay v. City of Memphis, Tenn., 695 F.3d 531, 539 (6th Cir. 2012) (citation omitted). Absent either element, no claim exists. Christy v. Randlett, 932 F.2d 502, 504 (6th Cir. 1991).

Defendants do not dispute whether their actions were under color of state law. Thus, the question before this Court is whether Plaintiff has a plausible claim that Defendants deprived her of her rights under the First, Fifth, or Fourteenth Amendment. The Court finds that Plaintiff does not have a plausible claim and will address each alleged constitutional violation in turn.

1. First Amendment Claim

Plaintiff alleges that after she filed a grievance complaining of her supervisor's behavior, her supervisor "began a systematic effort to gather false and misleading evidence to support the termination of Plaintiff" and then Plaintiff was terminated in retaliation for her complaint. [DE 6 at 4]. Plaintiff also states she was deprived of her position "for exercising her right... to grieve her employers' decision... pursuant to the City's policies and procedures." [DE 6 at 4-5].

"To establish a prima facie case of First Amendment retaliation under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, [Plaintiff] must demonstrate that: (1) [she] was engaged in a constitutionally protected activity; (2) [she] was subjected to adverse action or deprived of some benefit; and (3) the protected speech was a substantial or motivating factor in the adverse action." Farhat v. Jopke, 370 F.3d 580, 588 (6th Cir. 2004) (internal quotation omitted). As to whether the plaintiff has engaged in a constitutionally protected activity, the Supreme Court has established a four-step analysis. See Devlin v. Kalm, 531 F.Appx. 697, 704 (6th Cir. 2013) (summarizing the case law). The first step in this analysis is to ascertain whether the relevant speech addressed matters of public concern. See Connick v. Myers, 461 U.S. 138, 143 (1983) ...


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