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Garcia v. City of Laredo

United States District Court, Fifth Circuit

January 16, 2014

Cynthia GARCIA, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF LAREDO, TEXAS and CARLOS R. MALDONADO in his individual capacity, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

GEORGE P. KAZEN, Senior District Judge.

Pending before the Court is a Motion to Dismiss filed by the Defendants, Carlos R. Maldonado and the City of Laredo, for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Dkt. 42.) Plaintiff Cynthia Garcia filed a Response in Opposition to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. (Dkt. 47.)

Background

The following facts come from the Plaintiff's live pleading, the Second Amended Original Complaint. Plaintiff was employed by the Laredo Police Department as a Clerk III. (Dkt. 40 at ¶¶ 12-17.) She performed her work well and did not have access to sensitive information. (Id.) She became pregnant and took Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave beginning on April 22, 2010. ( Id. at ¶¶ 18-21.) On May 18, 2010, while she was on FMLA leave and in her third trimester of pregnancy, the Laredo Police Department and federal law enforcement performed a search of her home. ( Id. at ¶¶ 22-26.) During this search, she was required to stand outside in 90 degree heat, was prevented from reentering her home, was not allowed to leave, was required to comply with commands, and was not given the opportunity to eat, even though she needed food for her diabetes medication. ( Id. at ¶¶ 22-26, 28.) Law enforcement seized $8, 117 in legally-obtained cash, as well as weapons that were lawfully registered to the Plaintiff's common-law husband. ( Id. at ¶¶ 27-29.) These items were later returned because they were not illegally obtained or possessed. ( Id. at ¶ 35.) No illegal drugs were found, but her common-law husband "was arrested allegedly for drug related charges" outside the house. ( Id. at ¶¶ 30, 33.) The charges against her common-law husband were dismissed on June 28, 2010. ( Id. at ¶ 37.)

The Plaintiff expected to return to work after her FMLA leave in early July 2010, but she was instead terminated by the Laredo Chief of Police, Defendant Maldonado, on July 6, 2010, while she was still on FMLA leave. ( Id. at ¶¶ 36-37.) There was "no justifiable reason to terminate Plaintiff's employment." ( Id. at ¶ 39.) Instead, the only cause of the termination was the arrest of the Plaintiff's common-law husband. ( Id. at ¶¶ 38-40.)

Discussion

In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, the Court accepts as true all well-pleaded factual allegations in the complaint and determines whether that complaint states, plausibly on its face, a claim for relief. Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949-50 (2009). "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." Id. at 1949. Plausibility requires "more than a sheer possibility, " but less than a probability, "that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id . "While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds' of his entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of a cause of action's elements will not do." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964 (2007) (alterations and quotations in original; internal citations omitted).

The Plaintiff has sued the City and Maldonado in his individual capacity. She asserts seven causes of action against both Defendants. (Dkt. 40.) The Defendants' Motion to Dismiss generally asserts that Maldonado has qualified immunity from suit. (Dkt. 42 at 1, ¶¶ 3-4.) It also attacks several causes of action for failure to state a claim. ( Id. at ¶¶ 5-13.) The Plaintiff filed a Response in Opposition to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. (Dkt. 47.)[1] The Court will discuss each of the seven causes of action individually before turning to Maldonado's general qualified immunity defense.

1. Deprivation of Liberty Interest

The Plaintiff's First Cause of Action is that the Defendants deprived her of a liberty interest when she was discharged, stigmatized by false charges that were made public, and denied the opportunity to clear her name at a hearing. (Dkt. 40 at ¶¶ 48-55.) As the Defendants point out, for such a cause of action, the Plaintiff must show:

(1) that she was discharged; (2) that stigmatizing charges were made against her in connection with the discharge; (3) that the charges were false; (4) that she was not provided notice or an opportunity to be heard prior to her discharge; (5) that the charges were made public; (6) that she requested a hearing to clear her name; and (7) that the employer refused her request for a hearing.

Hughes v. City of Garland , 204 F.3d 223, 226 (5th Cir. 2000). Among other things, the Defendants argue that the Plaintiff failed to "aver any facts showing... that the reason given for the termination was publicized in a manner that stigmatized the Plaintiff." (Dkt. 42 at ¶ 7.) The Plaintiff does not respond to the Defendants' arguments about this cause of action. (See Dkt. 47.)

The Plaintiff only makes conclusory allegations that stigmatizing charges were made public and that "[k]nowledge of Plaintiff's termination was disclosed to various individuals and it was widely reported in the media." (Dkt. 40 at ¶¶ 46, 51, 53.) A governmental entity is not liable unless the public disclosure is "fairly attributable" to the governmental entity itself. Hughes , 204 F.3d at 227-28. The Plaintiff does not indicate who made any supposed ...


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