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Dunlap v. City of Fort Worth

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Fort Worth Division

January 8, 2020

CARLA F. DUNLAP, Plaintiff,



         On July 25, 2019, the United States Magistrate Judge issued Findings, Conclusions, and a Recommendation (the “FCR”) in this case. FCR, ECF No. 80. The FCR recommended that the Court grant Defendant the City of Fort Worth's (the “City”) Amended Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 64), filed March 13, 2019, and deny as moot the City's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint and Brief in Support (ECF No. 62), filed March 13, 2019. FCR 1, ECF No. 80. Plaintiff Carla Dunlap (“Dunlap”) filed Objections to the Findings, Conclusions, and Recommendations of the United States Magistrate Judge on August 8, 2019. Pl.'s Objections, ECF No. 82.

         The Court has conducted a de novo review of the FCR. For the following reasons, Dunlap's Objections are OVERRULED, and the Court ADOPTS the reasoning in the Magistrate Judge's FCR. Accordingly, the Court GRANTS the City's Amended Motion for Summary Judgment and DENIES as moot the City's Motion to Dismiss. I. BACKGROUND

         After being fired from her position with the Fort Worth Police Department, see Def.'s App. 221, ECF No. 66, Carla Dunlap sued the City, see generally Notice of Removal, ECF No. 1. In her Amended Complaint, Dunlap provided details to support her assertion that “[t]he City of Fort Worth committed the following violations concerning the Plaintiff: (1) wrongful termination of her employment; (2) racial discrimination against her; (3) retaliation; (4) pay and promotional discrimination; (5) harassment and bullying in the workplace; (6) defamation of her character; (7) firing her for being late one time in 25 years and not calling; (8) failure to provide reasonable accommodations for her under the Americans With Disabilities Act for two injuries acquired on the job; (9) accusation against her of impeding the identities of arrestees; and (10) firing her for missing a non-mandatory training class that she signed up for on her time off.” Pl.'s Am. Compl. 4, ECF No. 53 (cleaned up). Liberally construed, Dunlap's Amended Complaint asserted claims against the City for discrimination on the bases of race, disability, and age; various torts; and violations of Chapter 37 of the Texas Penal Code. See Id. at. 23-26.

         After the close of discovery, the City moved for summary judgment, asserting several reasons why Dunlap's claims under § 1983, Title VII, the ADA, the ADEA, state tort law, and state criminal law all fail as a matter of law. See generally Def.'s Br. Supp. Mot. Summ. J., ECF No. 65. The Magistrate Judge agreed with the City's arguments, and he issued a thorough analysis and recommendation that the Court grant the City's Amended Motion for Summary Judgment. FCR, ECF No. 80. Dunlap objected to each of the Magistrate Judge's conclusions. Pl.'s Objections, ECF No. 82. The FCR and Dunlap's Objections are ripe for the Court's review.


         A. Motion for Summary Judgment

         The Court may grant summary judgment where the pleadings and evidence show “that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Summary judgment is not “a disfavored procedural shortcut, ” but rather an “integral part of the Federal Rules as a whole, which are designed to secure the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of every action.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 327 (1986).

         “[T]he substantive law will identify which facts are material.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A genuine dispute as to any material fact exists “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. The movant must inform the court of the basis of its motion and demonstrate from the record that no genuine dispute as to any material fact exists. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. “The party opposing summary judgment is required to identify specific evidence in the record and to articulate the precise manner in which that evidence supports his or her claim.” Ragas v. Tenn. Gas Pipeline Co., 136 F.3d 455, 458 (5th Cir. 1998).

         When reviewing the evidence on a motion for summary judgment, courts must resolve all reasonable doubts and draw all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the non-movant. See Walker v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 853 F.2d 355, 358 (5th Cir. 1988). The court cannot make a credibility determination in light of conflicting evidence or competing inferences. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. If there appears to be some support for disputed allegations, such that “reasonable minds could differ as to the import of the evidence, ” the court must deny the motion. Id. at 250.

         B. Pro Se Standard

         Federal courts have a “traditional disposition of leniency toward pro se litigants.” Spotville v. Cain, 149 F.3d 374, 377 (5th Cir. 1998) (per curiam). “[A] pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (per curiam) (emphasis omitted) (internal citation omitted). “Of course, this is not to say that pro se plaintiffs don't have to submit competent evidence to avoid summary judgment, because they do.” Davis v. Fernandez, 798 F.3d 290, 293 (5th Cir. 2015). “Additionally, courts have continuously held that ignorance of the law and inadvertent noncompliance, including missed deadlines and defective pleadings, are inexcusable even when the plaintiff is proceeding pro se.” Edwards v. Biotronics Kidney Ctr., No. 1:09-CV-348, 2010 WL 27214, at *2 (E.D. Tex. Jan. 5, 2010) (emphasis omitted) (citing McNeil v. United States, 508 U.S. 106, 113 (1993) (“[W]e have never suggested that procedural rules in ordinary civil litigation should be interpreted so as to excuse mistakes by those who proceed without counsel.”); Teemac v. Henderson, 298 F.3d 452, 458 (5th Cir. 2002)).


         Though Plaintiff's Objections do not clearly address each issue she takes with the Magistrate Judge's analysis, it appears she intends to object to each conclusion in the FCR. See generally Pl.'s Objections, ECF No. 82. Accordingly, the Court addresses each conclusion in the order in which they appear in the FCR. Additionally, Plaintiff raises criminal claims not addressed in the FCR. See Id. at 16 (addressing claims under 18 U.S.C. §§ 241, 242). Whereas the Court would typically disregard these claims as not preserved, it proceeds as if these claims were those Dunlap “inartfully pleaded” in her Amended Complaint. Erickson, 551 U.S. at 94 (internal citation omitted). Thus, though these claims do not change the Court's full agreement with the FCR, the Court addresses them as well.

         A. 29 U.S.C. § 1983 Claims

         Dunlap appears to raise three claims based on alleged constitutional violations occurring at her termination-appeal hearing: (1) a freedom of speech violation based on the City preventing her from asking questions during the hearing; (2) a procedural due process violation also based on the City preventing her from asking questions during the hearing; and (3) a procedural due process violation based on the City preventing her from calling a specific witness. See Pl.'s Am. Compl. 3, 9, ECF No. 53. Although Dunlap did not specifically plead these claims under § 1983, “the [Magistrate Judge] liberally construe[d] her claims for alleged violation of due process and infringement of her rights under the First Amendment as premised upon violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983.” FCR 4, ECF No. 80. The City argued and the Magistrate Judge concluded that Dunlap's § 1983 claims fail because (1) they are untimely and (2) the City is not liable for the conduct of its employees. See Def.'s Br. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. 4-9, ECF No. 65; FCR 5-6, ECF No. 80. Dunlap objects that her “claims under section 1983 do not fail as a Matter of Law because she did not file a claim under this statu[te].” Pl.'s Objections 12, ECF No. 82. Instead, she says she filed claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1981, which “will not fail as a Matter of Law because they were not time-barred.” Id. She also objects that the City does “not enjoy immunity under this section.” Id. at 16.

         Before determining whether these claims are barred by the statute of limitations or governmental immunity, the Court first addresses Dunlap's distinguishing between § 1981 and § 1983. See Id. at 12. Though she treats them as separate claims, they function here as one and the same. The Supreme Court has held that § 1981 does not provide a cause of action against local government entities separate from that provided in § 1983. Oden v. Oktibbeha County, 246 F.3d 458, 462 (5th Cir. 2001) (citing Jett v. Dall. Indep. Sch. Dist., 491 U.S. 701, 731 (1989)). Accordingly, “plaintiffs must assert a cause of action against state actors under § 1983 to remedy violations of civil rights under § 1981.” Id. at 463. Thus, if Dunlap meant to raise claims under § 1981, the Magistrate Judge was correct to analyze them under § 1983.

         1. Statute of Limitations

         “Federal civil rights actions brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1981, which lacks an express statute of limitations, are governed by the most closely analogous limitations period provided under state law.” Jones v. Alcoa, Inc., 339 F.3d 359, 364 (5th Cir. 2003). When a § 1981 claim “is brought in Texas, the two-year statute of limitations for personal injury actions in Texas controls.” Id. “The limitations period for [§] 1981 and [§] 1983 employment discrimination cases commences when the plaintiff knows or reasonably should know that the discriminatory act has occurred, the same point from which the Title VII 180-day limitations period runs.” McWilliams v. Escambia Cty. Sch. Bd., 658 F.2d 326, 330 (5th Cir. 1981).

         All three alleged civil-rights violations occurred on January 21, 2016, the day of Dunlap's termination-appeal hearing. Thus, the limitation period began running on January 21, 2016, giving Dunlap until January 21, 2018-two years after the hearing-to file her suit. See Def.'s App. 288, ECF No. 66 (admitting the date of the January 21, 2016 hearing). Because Dunlap did not file her petition in state court until February 23, 2018, her due process and freedom of speech claims are statutorily barred. Pl.'s Original Pet., ECF No. 1. Thus, Dunlap's objection regarding the timeliness of her constitutional claims is OVERRULED.

         2. Munici ...

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