Richards v. City of Weatherford

Decision Date27 February 2001
Docket NumberNo. 4:00-CV-1807-E.,4:00-CV-1807-E.
Citation145 F.Supp.2d 786
PartiesTerry C. RICHARDS, v. CITY OF WEATHERFORD.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Texas

Donna R. Morris, Attorney at Law, Morris & Morris, Flower Mound, TX, for plaintiff.

James Thomas Jeffrey, Jr., Attorney at Law, Remington & Jeffrey, Arlington, TX, for defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

MAHON, District Judge.

Now before the Court is a Motion to Dismiss ("the Motion") filed by Defendant, the City of Weatherford ("the City"), pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Plaintiff, Terry C. Richards ("Richards") has filed a response in opposition to the Motion to Dismiss, and the City thereafter filed a reply brief in support of the motion. The Motion to Dismiss is now ripe for disposition. After considering the submissions of the parties, the record in this matter, and the applicable law, the Court determines that the Motion to Dismiss should be GRANTED for the reasons set forth below.

BACKGROUND

The Weatherford City Council first appointed Richards to serve as a municipal judge in June 1996. Richards was later reappointed in November 1998, and was to serve in his position through December 2000. On May 23, 2000, without any explanation, Richards was suspended and placed on paid administrative leave. Richards alleges that the City refused to provide him with the reasons for his suspension, and he requested a public hearing before the City Council regarding his suspension.

At the July 11, 2000 City Council meeting, a report related to an investigation of Richards was publicly read. However, the City Council did not allow any testimony by Richards or the general public at the meeting. Later, on July 31, 2000, the City held a special meeting (which Richards was not made aware of) at which the City Council discussed Richards' suspension.

On August 16, 2000, Richards sent a letter to the Parker County District Attorney regarding certain criminal wrongdoing by a City Council member and the Chief of Police. Shortly thereafter, on August 30, 2000, another City Council meeting was held at which Richards was allowed to present his defense and cross-examine his accusers. In early September, the City Council found, by a vote of 4-1, that Richards did not commit any act of misconduct or disability that required the City Charter to remove him from office. Despite the City Council's vote, Richards remained on paid administrative leave, and was not allowed to return to his position as municipal judge.

Richards filed this lawsuit on November 30, 2000 asserting violations of his due process rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution; the Texas Whistle blower Act, Tex. Gov't Code Ann. § 554.001 et seq.; the Texas Open Records Act, Tex. Gov't Code Ann. § 552.001 et seq.; and a common law claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. The City now seeks to dismiss each of Richards' claims for failing to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.

ANALYSIS
I. Dismissal Standards Under Federal Rule 12(b)(6)

In evaluating a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), this Court must construe a plaintiff's complaint in the light most favorable to a plaintiff and take the factual allegations contained in the complaint as true. Mitchell v. McBryde, 944 F.2d 229, 230 (5th Cir.1991); Mann v. Adams Realty Co., Inc., 556 F.2d 288 (5th Cir.1977). A motion to dismiss should only be granted when a plaintiff could not prove any set of facts, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, 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); see also Hitt v. City of Pasadena, 561 F.2d 606, 607 (5th Cir.1977).

The Court may dismiss a claim when it is clear that a plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim that would entitle him to relief. Fee v. Herndon, 900 F.2d 804, 807 (5th Cir.1990). "In order to avoid dismissal for failure to state a claim, a plaintiff must plead specific facts, not mere allegations." Elliott v. Foufas, 867 F.2d 877, 881 (5th Cir.1989). While a complaint need not outline all the elements of a claim, the complaint must be comprehensible and specific enough to draw the inference that the elements exist. Walker v. South Cent. Bell Telephone Co., 904 F.2d 275, 277 (5th Cir.1990); Ledesma v. Dillard Dept. Stores, Inc., 818 F.Supp. 983, 984 (N.D.Tex.1993) (Belew, J.). Furthermore, "`[c]onclusory allegations and unwarranted deductions of fact are not admitted as true' by a motion to dismiss." Guidry v. Bank of LaPlace, 954 F.2d 278, 281 (5th Cir.1992) (quoting Associated Builders, Inc. v. Alabama Power Company, 505 F.2d 97, 100 (5th Cir.1974)). The ultimate question in considering a motion to dismiss is whether the complaint states a valid cause of action when it is viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Lowrey v. Texas A & M University Sys., 117 F.3d 242, 247 (5th Cir.1997).

II. Due Process Claims

To state a cognizable claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Richards must allege that he was deprived of a federally secured right by the City, acting under the color of state law. Flagg Brothers, Inc. v. Brooks, 436 U.S. 149, 155-56, 98 S.Ct. 1729, 56 L.Ed.2d 185 (1978); Raggio v. Parkland Memorial Hospital, 1997 WL 135662 * 7 (N.D.Tex.1997) (Buchmeyer, J.). Richards alleges that the acts and practices of the City related to his suspension and placement on paid administrative leave denied him due process rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution.

The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment protects against deprivations of life, liberty or property without due process or due course of law. See Zinermon v. Burch, 494 U.S. 113, 125, 110 S.Ct. 975, 108 L.Ed.2d 100 (1990); Anderson v. U.S. Sprint Communications Co., 1999 WL 604835 *3 (N.D.Tex.1999) (Fitzwater, J.). A person is entitled to the protection of the Fourteenth Amendment only if he can show a deprivation of, or intrusion upon, a property right or liberty interest. Wells v. Hico Indep. Sch. Dist., 736 F.2d 243, 251 (5th Cir.1984), cert. dismissed, 473 U.S. 901, 106 S.Ct. 11, 87 L.Ed.2d 672 (1985); Hill v. Silsbee Indep. Sch. Dist., 933 F.Supp. 616, 624 (E.D.Texas 1996); see also Kelleher v. Flawn, 761 F.2d 1079, 1086 (5th Cir.1985) ("in order to recover under the Fourteenth Amendment in a § 1983 action, a plaintiff must demonstrate that [he] was deprived of a liberty or property interest and that [he] was not afforded adequate procedural protection prior to or following the deprivation"). In his Complaint, Richards contends that the City deprived him of both a protected property and liberty interest without due process of law. See Complaint at 5.

A. Property Interest Claim

It is well-established that a plaintiff, asserting a due process claim in the public employment context, must demonstrate that he has a clearly-established property interest in his employment. Schultea v. Wood, 27 F.3d 1112, 1116 (5th Cir.1994), reh'g en banc, 47 F.3d 1427 (5th Cir.1995); Moulton v. City of Beaumont, 991 F.2d 227, 229 (5th Cir.1993); Youngblood v. City of Galveston, 920 F.Supp. 103, 105 (S.D.Tex.1996). "The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment does not create a property interest in government employment." Cabrol v. Town of Youngsville, 106 F.3d 101, 105 (5th Cir. 1997). Such a property interest may exist by operation of a contract, law, or policy established under state law. Board of Regents v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 577, 92 S.Ct. 2701, 33 L.Ed.2d 548 (1972); Cabrol, 106 F.3d at 105; Spuler v. Pickar, 958 F.2d 103, 106 (5th Cir.1992). In any event, the existence of a property interest must be determined by reference to state law. Bishop v. Wood, 426 U.S. 341, 344, 96 S.Ct. 2074, 48 L.Ed.2d 684 (1976); Moulton, 991 F.2d at 229.

Richards' Complaint alleges that he has a property interest in his employment "as a result of the fact that he had been appointed to serve as a municipal judge through December 2000." See Complaint at 5. The City argues that since Richards was placed on "paid administrative leave," and was not terminated, he has not suffered a loss of a property interest. See Motion to Dismiss at 3-4. Richards responds merely by stating that he has a property interest in his position. See Response to Motion to Dismiss at 4.1 Richards' claim for a deprivation of a property interest in his employment is highly unusual in that Richards was never actually terminated or discharged from his position. See, e.g., Moulton, 991 F.2d at 230 ("To succeed with a claim based on ... due process in the public employment context, the plaintiff must show two things: (1) that he had a property interest/right in his employment, and (2) that the public employer's termination of that interest was arbitrary or capricious."); see also Honore v. Douglas, 833 F.2d 565, 568 (5th Cir. 1987). Because Richards has failed to plead the basis for a property interest in his employment, this Court must resort to speculation and assume that Richards is claiming a property interest in the duties and responsibilities of his employment position that he was not allowed to perform while he was on administrative leave. But see Martin v. United States Post Office, 752 F.Supp. 213, 218 (N.D.Tex.1990)(Porter, J.), aff'd, 929 F.2d 697 (5th Cir.1991) ("It is not the Court's place to speculate or imagine what the plaintiff's claims may be.").

Richards' Complaint and Response to the Motion to Dismiss fail to cite any Texas statute, ordinance, contract, or case-law recognizing a protected property interest in the duties and responsibilities of a municipal judge. Further, the Court notes that its own search has revealed at least two Texas courts that have dismissed the due process property interest claims of municipal judges. See Salmon v. Miller, 951 F.Supp. 103, 107 (E.D.Tex.1996) (former municipal judge's argument that "if not for the termination of the...

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