Galbreath v. Hale Cnty., CIVIL ACTION NO. 15-00308-CG-N

CourtUnited States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Southern District of Alabama
Writing for the CourtKATHERINE P. NELSON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Docket NumberCIVIL ACTION NO. 15-00308-CG-N
PartiesTRICIA GALBREATH, Plaintiff, v. HALE COUNTY, ALABAMA COMMISSION, HALE COUNTY, ALABAMA, and ARTHUR CRAWFORD, Probate Judge, Defendants.
Decision Date15 September 2015

TRICIA GALBREATH, Plaintiff,
v.
HALE COUNTY, ALABAMA COMMISSION, HALE COUNTY, ALABAMA,
and ARTHUR CRAWFORD, Probate Judge, Defendants.

CIVIL ACTION NO. 15-00308-CG-N

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA NORTHERN DIVISION

September 15, 2015


REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

This action is before the Court on the Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 7) filed by the Defendants, which seeks dismissal of certain claims in the Complaint (Doc. 1) under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). Plaintiff Tricia Galbreath ("Galbreath") has timely filed a response (Doc. 10) to the motion, and the Defendants have timely filed a reply (Doc. 11) to the response. The motion is now under submission (see Doc. 9) and is ripe for determination.

Under S.D. Ala. GenLR 72(b), the Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 7) has been referred to the undersigned Magistrate Judge for entry of a report and recommendation as to the appropriate disposition under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B)-(C), Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(b)(1), and S.D. Ala. GenLR 72(a)(2)(S). Upon consideration, and for the reasons stated herein, the undersigned RECOMMENDS that the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 7) be GRANTED in part and DENIED in part, as set out herein.

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I. Well-Pleaded Facts 1

Galbreath is a white female and is currently 54 years old. On November 25, 2008, she was hired under written contract by the Defendant Hale County, Alabama Commission (hereinafter, "the Commission") to serve as County Administrator for Defendant Hale County, Alabama (hereinafter, "Hale County"). The Commission is the governing body of Hale County and consists predominantly of African-American commissioners. The Hale County Probate Judge is also the chairman of the Commission. Defendant Arthur Crawford ("Crawford"), an African-American male, was elected Hale County Probate Judge in November 2012, defeating the three-term incumbent following a write-in campaign.2

On November 27, 2012, Galbreath executed an amendment to her employment contract with the Commission (hereinafter, the "Amended Contract").3 Article I of the Amended Contract contained the following provisions:

INITIAL TERM OF EMPLOYMENT: The employer [the Commission] hereby employs the employee [Galbreath] and the employee hereby accepts employment with the employer for a period of five years beginning on November 25, 2008 to November 25, 2013. However, this agreement may be terminated by the employee at an earlier date, as hereinafter provided.

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RENEWAL TERM OF EMPLOYMENT: Upon the expiration of the Initial Term of Employment, the Employer hereby extends the terms of this Agreement for five years beginning on November 26, 2013, to November 25, 2018.

(Doc. 1-1 at 2).

Article IV of the Amended Contract provided, inter alia:

[]In the event of termination by the Employee voluntarily during the Employment Term, the Employee shall be entitled to receive, in full discharge of all County's obligations to Employee, the Employee's full compensation, benefits and expenses reimbursements then payable to [her] through the date of termination.

[]In the event of termination by the Employer for cause prior to the completion of the Employment term, the Employee shall be entitled to receive, in full discharge of all of County's obligations to Employee, the Employee's full compensation, benefits and expense reimbursements then payable to the Employee through the date of termination and the Employee shall be entitled to an additional six (6) months of Employee's full compensation from the effective date of termination.
...
[]In the event of termination of Employee's employment other than (i) as a result of any disability pursuant to the above, (ii) by reason of Employee's death, (iii) for cause pursuant to the above, or (iv) by the Employee voluntarily during the Employment Term, the Employee shall be entitled to receive, in full discharge of all of County's obligations to Employee, Employee's full compensation, benefits and expense reimbursements due and payable to the Employee under the terms of this Agreement, including any salary increase Employee would have been due under said Contract for the remainder of the contract term. Said payments shall be made in equal monthly installments for the total number of months remaining on the contract term at the time of termination.

(Id. at 4 (emphasis added)).

Following Crawford's election, Crawford and the Commission "began a systemic purging of white county employees," terminating Galbreath, the then-

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Chief Clerk of the Probate Court,4 and the then-County Attorney. Each of these county employees was replaced by an African-American. Galbreath's and the then-County Attorney's replacements were also younger than them.

Galbreath and the then-County Attorney were both terminated at a Commission "executive session" meeting held on June 18, 2013. Galbreath was not given any prior notice that she was going to be terminated or disciplined in any way. Instead, she was called into the meeting under the guise of discussing performance issues and an "improvement plan." The reasons given for her termination at the executive session included absenteeism, failure to carry out duties, and use of foul language. Prior to the executive session, no Defendant had ever raised any of the issues presented to Galbreath, nor did they or anyone acting on their behalf ever give any indication that Galbreath was not performing to their expectations or was otherwise failing to perform her duties. Following Galbreath's termination, Crawford repeatedly made false statements, including repeating the allegations made at the executive session, to persons outside of Hale County government, including persons in state government.

The Defendants have refused to honor the aforementioned terms of the Amended Contract since Galbreath's termination. Moreover, at the time of her termination, Hale County had promulgated personnel policies, including disciplinary procedures and a grievance process, which the Defendants did not follow. Galbreath filed a Notice of Claim with the Commission on September 4,

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2013. She also filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which issued her a right-to-sue letter on April 27, 2015.

II. Causes of Action

Galbreath initiated this civil action on June 16, 2015, by filing a Complaint (Doc. 1) with the Court alleging eight causes of action:

Count 1 (against all Defendants) - Depriving Galbreath of her "constitutionally protected property interest in her employment as County Administrator" without procedural due process (specifically - notice, a sufficient opportunity to be heard, and a neutral decision maker) required by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

Count 2 (against all Defendants) - Discriminatory termination of Galbreath on the basis of race in contravention of the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

Count 3 (against all Defendants) - Discriminatory termination of Galbreath on the basis of race in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., as amended by the Civil Rights Act of 1991, 42 U.S.C. § 1981a ("Title VII").

Count 4 (against Hale County and the Commission) - Breach of Contract under state law

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Count 5 (against Hale County and the Commission) - Wrongful Termination under state law

Count 6 (against Crawford) - Defamation under state law

Count 7 (against all Defendants) - A "stigma plus" due process rights deprivation under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Specifically, the circumstances of Galbreath's termination "seriously damaged her standing and associations in the community and/or foreclosed her freedom to take advantage of other employment opportunities," and she "was not afforded an opportunity to clear her name."

Count 8 (against all Defendants) - Discriminatory termination of Galbreath on the basis of age, in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. ("ADEA").5

Defendant Crawford is being sued in both his individual capacity and in his official capacity as chairman of the Commission.6

III. Analysis

The Defendants' motion asserts six separate grounds for dismissal (hereinafter, "Argument I," "Argument II," etc.). The undersigned will consider each separately, though not in the order presented by the Defendants.

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a. Argument III - Procedural Due Process Claims

In Argument III of their motion, the Defendants argue that McKinney v. Pate, 20 F.3d 1550 (11th Cir. 1994) (en banc), compels dismissal of Galbreath's § 1983 claims asserting deprivation of procedural due process (Counts 1 & 7). McKinney noted:

The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment provides "nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1. The Supreme Court's interpretation of this clause explicates that the amendment provides two
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