McKey v. August, Civil Action 16-13642-WBV-MBN

CourtUnited States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Louisiana)
Writing for the CourtWendy B. Vitter, United States District Judge
PartiesSUSAN DILLARD MCKEY v. ROBERTA ZENO AUGUST, ET AL.
Docket Number19-8033,Civil Action 16-13642-WBV-MBN
Decision Date13 August 2021

SUSAN DILLARD MCKEY
v.

ROBERTA ZENO AUGUST, ET AL.

Civil Action No. 16-13642-WBV-MBN

No. 19-8033

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

August 13, 2021


SECTION: D (5)

ORDER AND REASONS[1]

Wendy B. Vitter, United States District Judge

Before the Court is a Motion to Dismiss, filed by Tammy Houston, Roberto Zeno August, and the St. John the Baptist Parish Library Board (collectively, “Defendants”).[2] Defendants seek to dismiss the Complaint filed by Susan Dillard McKey in Civ. A. No. 19-8033. McKey opposes the Motion, [3] and Defendants have filed a Reply.[4] During a January 30, 2020 Status Conference, the Court discussed the Motion with counsel, and allowed counsel to present additional arguments in support of their positions. After careful consideration of the parties' memoranda and the applicable law, as well as the arguments presented by counsel during the January 30, 2020 Status Conference, the Motion is GRANTED.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

This consolidated matter arises out of the 2016 civil rights lawsuit filed by McKey, a former employee of the St. John the Baptist Parish Library (the “”Library”), who alleges reverse racial discrimination and deprivation of continued family health insurance coverage without due process of law.[5] In 2019, McKey filed a second lawsuit[6] alleging constitutional violations stemming from her termination, arrest, and prosecution for allegedly stealing Library documents and/or deleting certain files from her work computer without authorization.[7] Because the instant Motion to Dismiss concerns the allegations in the Complaint filed in the 2019 lawsuit, the Court will limit its recitation of the procedural background to the facts of that case.

On April 3, 2019, McKey filed a Complaint in this Court, seeking damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 from Tammy Houston, Roberto Zeno August, and the St. John the Baptist Parish Library Board (the “Library Board”) (collectively, “Defendants”) for violating her federal constitutional rights by causing her termination and subsequent arrest and prosecution.[8] McKey alleges that on May 27, 2015, she was terminated from her 29-year employment as the Assistant Director of the Library by August, the Director of the Library, who acted in concert with Houston, the Administrative Services Coordinator of the Library. McKey asserts that on or about July 2, 2015, Houston and August made a false criminal report to the St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff's Office (the “Sheriff's Office”), reporting that McKey “had stolen documents belonging to the Library and had injured public records of the Library.”[9] McKey alleges that on July 6, 2015, Lieutenant Richard Dubus of the Sheriff's Office was assigned to investigate the accusations, and that he met with Houston, August, and Edward Sims, the Library's Information Technology (“IT”) Director, on July 15, 2015 in connection with the investigation.[10] McKey asserts that, upon information and belief, Houston and August told Dubus during that meeting that they wanted to press criminal charges against McKey “for essentially the same reasons for which she was terminated.”[11]

McKey alleges that on or about August 5, 2015, the Sheriff's Office issued a warrant for her arrest and that she reported to the St. John the Baptist Parish Jail that same day and was arrested for violating La. R.S. 14:132(B), Injuring Public Records.[12] McKey alleges that Houston and August caused her termination and prosecution, both of which were racially motivated.[13] McKey also alleges that Houston and August took these actions even though they knew that McKey “had on May 13, 2015 at 10:00 a.m. returned all library documents that had been requested by Defendant August.”[14] McKey alleges that on September 24, 2015, she was formally charged by the St. John the Baptist Parish District Attorney's Office (the “District Attorney's Office”) with 51 felony counts of injuring public records, in violation of La. R.S. 14:132(B), and two felony counts of attempted criminal damage to property, in violation of La. R.S. 14:56, charges that she contends were “false, pretextual, and unfounded.”[15] According to McKey, the prosecution's theory was that McKey had deleted certain files from her work computer and had moved them to the computer's recycle bin.[16] McKey claims the prosecution concluded three years later on November 8, 2017, when the 40th Judicial District Court for St. John the Baptist Parish determined that there was no probable cause for the 53 felony counts.[17] The District Attorney's Office subsequently dismissed the claims with prejudice via nolle prosequi on December 12, 2018.[18] McKey filed this lawsuit four months later on April 3, 2019, asserting four causes of action against Defendants: (1) a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim for malicious detention and prosecution without probable cause, in violation of the Fourth Amendment; (2) a § 1983 claim for violating the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, based on her racially motivated detention and prosecution; (3) a § 1983 claim for violating her rights to due process in the criminal proceeding by intentionally losing and/or destroying material evidence; and (4) a state law claim of malicious prosecution.[19]

Defendants filed the instant Motion to Dismiss on June 10, 2019, seeking to dismiss all of McKey's claims for failure to state a claim under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).[20] McKey opposes the Motion, asserting that the Motion should be denied because she has alleged sufficient facts in support of each of her claims.[21] In response, Defendants maintain that the Motion should be granted.[22]

II. LEGAL STANDARD

A. Rule 12(b)(6) Standard

It is well-settled in this Circuit that motions to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) are viewed with disfavor and are rarely granted.[23] To overcome a defendant's motion to dismiss, a plaintiff must plead a plausible claim for relief.[24] A claim is plausible if it is pleaded with factual content that allows the court to reasonably infer that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.[25] But, no matter the factual content, a claim is not plausible if it rests on a legal theory that is not cognizable.[26]In ruling on a motion to dismiss, the Court accepts all well-pleaded facts as true and views those facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.[27] However, the factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level on the assumption that all of the complaint's allegations are true.[28] “[C]onclusory allegations or legal conclusions masquerading as factual conclusions will not suffice to prevent a motion to dismiss.”[29] In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a court is generally prohibited from considering information outside the pleadings, but may consider documents outside of the complaint when they are: (1) attached to the motion; (2) referenced in the complaint; and (3) central to the plaintiff's claims.[30] The Court can also take judicial notice of matters that are of public record, including pleadings that have been filed in a federal or state court.[31]

III. ANALYSIS

A. McKey's 42 U.S.C. § 1983 Claims Against the Library Board Must Be Dismissed for Failure to State a Plausible Claim for Municipal Liability.

McKey has asserted three claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the “Defendants, ” alleging that: (1) Defendants willfully and maliciously caused her detention and prosecution without probable cause and in violation of the Fourth Amendment; (2) Defendants caused her detention and prosecution based on her race, in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; and (3) Defendants violated her rights to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment after her arrest, but before the conclusion of her criminal prosecution, by intentionally losing and/or destroying several items of material evidence.[32]

Under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, every person who, under color of any state law, subjects or causes to be subjected, any person within the jurisdiction of the United States to a “deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities under the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress.”[33] To state a viable § 1983 claim, the complaint must allege: (1) the violation of a constitutional right; and (2) that the violation was committed by a person acting under color of state law.[34] The Supreme Court has made clear that, “a municipality cannot be held liable under § 1983 on a respondeat superior theory.”[35] According to the Fifth Circuit, “A municipality is liable only for acts directly attributable to it ‘through some official action of imprimatur.'”[36]“To establish municipal liability under § 1983, a plaintiff must show the deprivation of a federally protected right caused by action taken ‘pursuant to an official municipal policy.'”[37]

A plaintiff asserting a claim against a municipality under § 1983 must allege: (1) the existence of an official policy or custom; (2) a policymaker's actual or constructive knowledge of the policy or custom; and (3) a constitutional violation whose “moving force” is that policy or custom.[38] An “official policy or custom” can be shown through evidence of “an actual policy, regulation or decision that is officially adopted and promulgated by lawmakers or others with policymaking authority.”[39]The Fifth Circuit has held that the plaintiff must identify “each and any policy which allegedly caused constitutional violations ....”[40] The Fifth Circuit has also recognized that a single decision by a policymaker may, under certain circumstances, constitute a policy for which a municipality may be liable.[41] However, the Fifth Circuit cautioned that, “this ‘single incident exception' is extremely narrow and gives rise to municipal liability only if the municipal actor is...

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