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Shelton v. Bonham Independent School District

United States District Court, E.D. Texas, Sherman Division

May 16, 2018




         Pending before the Court is Defendant Bonham Independent School District's (“Bonham ISD”) Motion for Partial Dismissal of Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint (Dkt. #20). Having reviewed the motion and Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint, the Court finds that the motion should be granted.


         Plaintiff Norman Shelton worked for Bonham ISD for approximately twelve years, and at the time of his termination was a groundkeeper in the maintenance department. According to Plaintiff, [1] John Shackelford, Plaintiff's supervisor and the Director of Transportation/Maintenance, was under investigation for the personal sale of district equipment. In August 2016, Plaintiff was asked to write a statement regarding the Shackelford situation. After writing the statement, Plaintiff was asked not to discuss the matter with anyone. Subsequently, Plaintiff attended an event, which was not an event related to Bonham ISD. At the event, an attendee approached Plaintiff and asked about the Shackelford situation, to which Plaintiff claimed he could not discuss the matter. However, Jim Currin (“Currin”), Bonham ISD's electrician, overheard the conversation and began to detail the investigation of Shackelford to the attendee.

         Subsequently, on September 7, 2016, Claude Lewis (“Lewis”), the interim Director of Maintenance, informed Plaintiff that Bill Wakefield (“Wakefield”), the Director of Operations, ordered Plaintiff not to discuss the Shackelford investigation with any reporters or he would lose his job. Shortly thereafter, a police officer called Plaintiff into the station to discuss the matter. He was called in on two separate occasions. After his last visit, Currin approached Plaintiff at his second job at the Bonham VFW asking what happened during his visits at the police station. Wakefield and Lewis were the only ones who knew Plaintiff was called into the station. Currin also told Plaintiff that Wakefield asked whether Plaintiff was involved in Shackelford's scheme. The following week Kelly Trompler, an Assistant Superintendent, and Wakefield terminated Plaintiff and Wakefield stated the reason was because Plaintiff discussed the investigation. Two days later, Plaintiff went to Wakefield to pick up his final paycheck. At that time, Wakefield told Plaintiff that Bonham ISD terminated Plaintiff because of insubordination. Plaintiff protested that others had discussed the investigation and were not punished. When asked who had discussed the investigation, Plaintiff provided Currin's name and Wakefield told Plaintiff that he needed to be able to back up the accusation.

         On October 24, 2017, Plaintiff filed his complaint based on his termination from Bonham ISD for violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 and violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 based on First Amendment retaliation. On February 14, 2018, Defendant filed the present partial motion to dismiss Plaintiff's § 1983 claims (Dkt. #20). Plaintiff filed a response on February 28, 2018 (Dkt. #22). Finally, Bonham ISD filed its reply on March 7, 2018 (Dkt. #23).


         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require that each claim in a complaint include a “short and plain statement . . . showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Each claim must include enough factual allegations “to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007).

         A Rule 12(b)(6) motion allows a party to move for dismissal of an action when the complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). When considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court must accept as true all well-pleaded facts in plaintiff's complaint and view those facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Bowlby v. City of Aberdeen, 681 F.3d 215, 219 (5th Cir. 2012). The Court may consider “the complaint, any documents attached to the complaint, and any documents attached to the motion to dismiss that are central to the claim and referenced by the complaint.” Lone Star Fund V (U.S.), L.P. v. Barclays Bank PLC, 594 F.3d 383, 387 (5th Cir. 2010). The Court must then determine whether the complaint states a claim for relief that is plausible on its face. ‘“A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the [C]ourt to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.'” Gonzalez v. Kay, 577 F.3d 600, 603 (5th Cir. 2009) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). “But where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the [C]ourt to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not ‘show[n]'-‘that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)).

         In Iqbal, the Supreme Court established a two-step approach for assessing the sufficiency of a complaint in the context of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. First, the Court should identify and disregard conclusory allegations, for they are “not entitled to the assumption of truth.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 664. Second, the Court “consider[s] the factual allegations in [the complaint] to determine if they plausibly suggest an entitlement to relief.” Id. “This standard ‘simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary claims or elements.'” Morgan v. Hubert, 335 Fed.Appx. 466, 470 (5th Cir. 2009) (citation omitted). This evaluation will “be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing [C]ourt to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.

         Thus, “[t]o 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. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).


         Bonham ISD moves for dismissal of Plaintiff's claim for First Amendment retaliation. Bonham ISD argues that Plaintiff has failed to plead a proper policymaker and an official policy. Plaintiff responds that he has given fair notice to Bonham ISD of his First Amendment retaliation claim and that these arguments are more appropriate for summary judgment.

         As the Court previously noted in Wright v. Denison Independent School District, when alleging a § 1983 claim, a plaintiff may not establish liability against a government entity through respondeat superior. Deville v. Marcantel, 567 F.3d 156, 170 (5th Cir. 2009) (citing Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978)); Wright, No. 4:16-cv-615, 2017 WL 2262778, at *3 (E.D. Tex. May 24, 2017), memorandum adopting in part, No. 4:16-cv-615, Dkt. #36 (E.D. Tex. Apr. 19, 2017). Accordingly, plaintiffs must plead and prove that the government entity “itself causes the constitutional violation at issue.” City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 385 (1989) (citing Monell, 436 U.S. at 694-95). To establish that the government entity caused the ...

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