McCall v. Dallas Independent School Dist.

Decision Date17 April 2001
Docket NumberNo. CIV.A. 3:99CV2118L.,CIV.A. 3:99CV2118L.
Citation169 F.Supp.2d 627
PartiesConnie McCALL, Plaintiff, v. DALLAS INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT; James Hughey; and the Board of Trustees for the Dallas Independent School District, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Texas

Cheryl B. Wattley, Attorney at Law, Wattley & Plumlee, Dallas, TX, Terry Kazan Ray, Attorney at Law, Law Office of Terry K. Ray, DeSoto, TX, for plaintiff.

Robert Charles Wendland, Attorney at Law, Scott Edmund Hayes, Attorney at Law, Vial Hamilton Kock & Knox, Dallas, TX, for defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

LINDSAY, District Judge.

Before the court is Defendants' Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, filed April 25, 2000. Upon careful consideration of the motion, response, reply, the pleadings on file in this case, and the applicable law, the court grants in part and denies in part the motion for the reasons stated herein.

I. Factual and Procedural Background1

This lawsuit involves an alleged demotion in June, 1997 of Plaintiff Connie McCall ("McCall") from her position as an Executive Planner in the Real Estate division of Defendant Dallas Independent School District ("DISD") to a position as a Special Administrative Assistant in the Transportation division. She alleges that this transfer was directed by then Superintendent of DISD, Yvonne Gonzalez ("Gonzalez"), despite the disagreement and objections of McCall's supervisors. The transfer was unrelated to any actions by McCall or her performance in her former position.

McCall appealed this action under DISD's grievance procedures. She was denied a "Step 2 level" hearing, which she contends would have been favorable to her because it would have been presided over by someone opposed to her removal, and she was unsuccessful at the "Step 3 level" hearing. She was unable to appeal any further because DISD could not produce the administrative record, that is, a tape recording of the hearing.

McCall filed suit in state court on July 23, 1999 against DISD; Dr. James Hughey ("Hughey"), in his official capacity as Interim Superintendent of DISD; and the Board of Trustees of DISD ("the Board"). Although styled as against all Defendants, this lawsuit in effect is against DISD only. Hughey is sued in his official capacity and such official capacity lawsuits are treated as lawsuits against the governmental entity of which the individual is an agent, employee, official or representative. See Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 25, 112 S.Ct. 358, 116 L.Ed.2d 301 (1991); Brooks v. George County, Miss., 84 F.3d 157, 165 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 519 U.S. 948, 117 S.Ct. 359, 136 L.Ed.2d 251 (1996). Similarly, "a school district and its board of trustees, acting in its official capacity only, are one and the same entity." New Caney Indep. Sch. Dist. Bd. of Trustees v. Burnham Autocountry, Inc., 960 S.W.2d 957, 959 (Tex.App. — Texarkana 1998, no pet.). The court therefore refers hereafter to DISD or Defendant to encompass Hughey and the Board as well.

McCall asserts claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged violations of the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees of substantive due process and procedural due process; for tortious interference with her employment contract with DISD; and for "interference with contract based upon race."2 Defendant removed to this court on September 17, 1999 and filed the motion for judgment on the pleadings on April 25, 2000.

II. Standard of Review

Any party may move for judgment on the pleadings after the pleadings are closed and when it would not delay the trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). A motion brought pursuant to Rule 12(c) "is designed to dispose of cases where the material facts are not in dispute and a judgment on the merits can be rendered by looking to the substance of the pleadings and any judicially noticed facts." Hebert Abstract Co., Inc. v. Touchstone Properties, Ltd., 914 F.2d 74, 76 (5th Cir.1990). If, however, matters outside the pleadings are also presented to the court for consideration, a Rule 12(c) motion must be treated as one for summary judgment. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c); Darlak v. Bobear, 814 F.2d 1055, 1064 (5th Cir.1987). "Like a motion for summary judgment, a 12(c) motion should be granted only if there is no issue of material fact and if the pleadings show that the moving parties are entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Perez v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., 967 F.Supp. 920, 924 (S.D.Tex.1997). A ruling on a motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) is reviewed under the same standard as a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. GATX Leasing Corp. v. National Union Fire Ins. Co., 64 F.3d 1112, 1114 (7th Cir.1995); see also St. Paul Ins. Co. of Bellaire, Tex. v. AFIA Worldwide Ins. Co., 937 F.2d 274, 279 (5th Cir. 1991).

A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) "is viewed with disfavor and is rarely granted." Lowrey v. Texas A & M Univ. Sys., 117 F.3d 242, 247 (5th Cir.1997). A district court cannot dismiss a complaint, or any part of it, for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted "unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957); Blackburn v. City of Marshall, 42 F.3d 925, 931 (5th Cir.1995). In reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court must accept all well-pleaded facts in the complaint as true and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Baker v. Putnal, 75 F.3d 190, 196 (5th Cir. 1996). In ruling on such a motion, the court cannot look beyond the face of the pleadings. Id.; Spivey v. Robertson, 197 F.3d 772, 774 (5th Cir.1999), cert. denied, 530 U.S. 1229, 120 S.Ct. 2659, 147 L.Ed.2d 274 (2000). The ultimate question in a Rule 12(b)(6) motion is whether the complaint states a valid cause of action when it is viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and with every doubt resolved in favor of the plaintiff. Lowrey, 117 F.3d at 247. A plaintiff, however, must plead specific facts, not mere conclusory allegations, to avoid dismissal. Guidry v. Bank of LaPlace, 954 F.2d 278, 281 (5th Cir.1992).

III. Analysis
A. Section 1983 Claims

Although McCall refers to the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution in the preamble of the petition, her claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 are actually based only on the Fourteenth Amendment. There are no further mentions of the First and Fifth Amendments in the petition, or any alleged facts that would support a conclusion that Defendant violated those provisions. The petition asserts claims for violations of substantive due process and procedural due process, pursuant to the Fourteenth Amendment.3 In the public employment context, a claim of substantive due process requires that the plaintiff had a protected property interest in her employment, and that the termination of the interest was arbitrary and capricious. Harrington v. Harris, 118 F.3d 359, 368 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 522 U.S. 1016, 118 S.Ct. 603, 139 L.Ed.2d 491 (1997). Similarly, a claim of procedural due process requires that the plaintiff had a protected property interest in her employment, and that the termination of the interest was effected without the requisite procedural protections. McDonald v. City of Corinth, Tex., 102 F.3d 152, 155 (5th Cir. 1996); Browning v. City of Odessa, Tex., 990 F.2d 842, 844 (5th Cir.1993). A plaintiff who is deprived of a significant protected property interest is entitled, depending on the circumstances, to either a predeprivation or postdeprivation hearing. Cleveland Bd. of Educ. v. Loudermill, 470 U.S. 532, 542, 105 S.Ct. 1487, 84 L.Ed.2d 494 (1985). The plaintiff must receive notice a timely hearing, and an opportunity to respond. Id. at 545-46, 105 S.Ct. 1487.4

With respect to both claims, DISD argues that: 1) McCall has not properly alleged a protected property interest; and 2) McCall has not alleged that the constitutional violation was a result of a custom or policy of DISD, and therefore DISD may not be held liable. With respect to the substantive due process claim, DISD further argues that McCall has not properly alleged that the transfer/demotion was arbitrary and capricious. With respect to the procedural due process claim, DISD further argues that McCall's petition discloses that she received sufficient due process.

As discussed below, there are several deficiencies with respect to the factual allegations in the petition, as a result of which the petition fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted for both of the due process claims. When a plaintiff has already come forward with specific and detailed allegations constituting her best case, that is the end of the matter and the court will dismiss the claim. See Jacquez v. Procunier, 801 F.2d 789, 792-93 (5th Cir.1986) ("At some point a court must decide that a plaintiff has had fair opportunity to make his case; if, after that time, a cause of action has not been established, the court should finally dismiss the suit."); Morrison v. City of Baton Rouge, 761 F.2d 242, 246 (5th Cir.1985) ("We can assume, therefore, that the specific allegations of the amended complaint constitute the plaintiffs' best case ...."). In this situation, McCall has not had an opportunity to amend her petition, and the conclusory allegations offered do not clearly demonstrate that she has already made their best case. The court therefore is less confident that she can prove no set of facts in support of her claims which would entitle her to relief. Accordingly, dismissal of the claims at this point is inappropriate. Jacquez, 801 F.2d at 792 ("Dismissing an action after giving the plaintiff only one opportunity to state his case is ordinarily unjustified."). In repleading her § 1983 claims, however,...

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