United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
GREN SCHOLER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Order addresses Defendants Erath County, Texas, Sheriff Matt
Coates ("Coates"), Dee Stephens, Herbert Brown, Joe
Brown, and Scott Jackson's (collectively,
"Defendants") Motion to Dismiss [ECF No. 28], For
the following reasons, the Court grants the Motion in part
and denies the Motion in part.
Jason Upshaw and Randy Fowler ("Plaintiffs") are
former employees of Erath County. Am. Compl. ¶¶
12-13. Upshaw served as the Chief Deputy Sheriff of Erath
County, and Fowler served as the Captain of Erath County.
Id. At the time of Plaintiffs' allegations,
Coates was employed by the Erath County District Attorney.
Id. ¶ 14. Plaintiffs allege that they were
suspended without pay and subsequently terminated as
"retribution" for complaining about Coates to the
Erath County District Attorney ("DA"). See
Id. ¶¶ 18, 21-22, 24.
allege that Coates "would frequently visit the Erath
County Sheriffs office where Coates would harass and make
grossly inappropriate sexually-related remarks to the female
employees." Id. ¶ 14. According to
Plaintiffs, they were both "sensitive to and protective
of the reputation of the Erath County Sheriffs office, which
previously been subject to a scandal involving sexual
harassment and inappropriate behavior." Id.
¶ 15. Upshaw and Fowler state that they were
"dedicated to reporting any sexual harassment they
witnessed" and "sought to maintain a professional
working environment at the Erath County Sheriffs
office." Id. Upshaw complained about
Coates's behavior to the DA, and Fowler expressed his
support. Id. ¶ 18.
about December 20, 2016, shortly after the former Erath
County Sheriffs death by suicide, Coates was appointed
interim Sheriff, See Id. ¶¶ 20-21.
Plaintiffs allege that within an hour after being sworn in as
the new Sheriff, Coates suspended Upshaw and Fowler without
pay because they were allegedly "under
investigation." Id. ¶ 22. Plaintiffs claim
that when they asked Coates why they were under
investigation, Coates did not tell them. Id.
According to Plaintiffs, they were escorted out of the
Sheriffs office in "a hostile and humiliating manner,
creating an impression of wrongdoing." Id.
about December 20, 2016, Plaintiffs were terminated, and each
was given a "General Discharge." Id.
¶ 24. Coates then published this information to the
Texas Commission on Law Enforcement
("TCOLE"). Id. Plaintiffs further allege
that Coates "published, or caused to be published,
highly stigmatizing information concerning Upshaw and Fowler
to local news outlets[, ] including the Stephenville Empire
Tribune newspaper[, which] ran a story including stigmatizing
information concerning Upshaw and Fowler." Id.
allege that the manner and circumstances around their
termination have so stigmatized them that their reputations
have been irreparably harmed and that they suffered severe
emotional distress and mental anguish. Id. ¶
24. According to Plaintiffs, the "General
Discharge" was a "proverbial 'kiss of
death' for a law enforcement officer," so their
employment opportunities have been substantially foreclosed,
both requested a name clearing hearing, but were denied their
requests. Id. ¶ 25. Plaintiffs allege that they
have been given neither notice as to why they were terminated
nor the due process hearing to which they were entitled.
Id. According to Plaintiffs, "the actual reason
why Coates made the stigmatizing remarks about Upshaw and
Fowler, and caused their suspensions without pay and
terminations, was because Upshaw and Fowler exercised their
free speech regarding Coates'[s] disgusting and
inappropriate speech and actions." Id. ¶
each assert three causes of action in their First Amended
Complaint. In Count I, Plaintiffs assert claims for
deprivation of civil rights under 42 U.S, C. § 1983.
Plaintiffs allege that Defendants' actions (i) deprived
them of their right to free speech as secured by the First
Amendment, (ii) deprived them of their procedural due process
rights, and (iii) deprived them of their substantive due
process rights. In Count II, Plaintiffs assert claims for
deprivation of due course of law under Texas Constitution
Article I, § 19. In Count III, Plaintiffs assert claims
for violations of the Texas Whistleblower Act
move to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to
state a claim. Coates asserts a defense of qualified immunity
as to the claims brought against him in his individual
defeat a motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a plaintiff must plead "enough
facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its
face." Bell Ad. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544,
570 (2007); Reliable Consultants, Inc. v. Earle, 517
F.3d 738, 742 (5th Cir. 2008). To meet this "facial
plausibility" standard, a plaintiff must "plead
factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable
inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct
alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678
(2009). Plausibility does not require probability, but a
plaintiff must establish "more than a sheer possibility
that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. The
court must accept well-pleaded facts as true and view them in
the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Sonnier v.
State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 509 F.3d 673, 675 (5th
Cir. 2007). However, the court does not accept as true
"conclusory allegations, unwarranted factual inferences,
or legal conclusions." Ferrer v. Chevron Corp.,
484 F.3d 776, 780 (5th Cir. 2007). A plaintiff must provide
"more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic
recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not
do." Twomhly, 550 U.S. at 555 (internal
citations omitted). "Factual allegations must be enough
to raise a right to relief above the speculative level ... on
the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are
true (even if doubtful in fact)." Id. (internal
ultimate question is whether the complaint states a valid
claim when viewed in the light most favorable to the
plaintiff. Great Plains Tr. Co. v. Morgan Stanley Dean
Witter & Co., 313 F.3d 305, 312 (5th Cir. 2002). At
the motion to dismiss stage, the court does not evaluate the
plaintiffs likelihood of success. It only determines whether
the plaintiff has stated a claim upon which relief can be
granted. Mann v. Adams Realty Co., 556 F.2d 288, 293
(5th Cir. 1977).
42 U.S.C. ...