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Ellis v. Bradley County

June 22, 2007

DAVID ELLIS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
BRADLEY COUNTY, TENNESSEE, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Judge Curtis L. Collier

MEMORANDUM

This matter is before the Court on the motion to dismiss filed by defendant Bradley County ("Defendant") (Court File No. 10), with supporting memorandum (File No. 12). Plaintiff David Ellis ("Plaintiff") timely responded (File No. 13). Defendant replied on March 22, 2007 (File No. 14). Defendant argues Plaintiff's employment discrimination and retaliatory firing complaint should be dismissed because Defendant was not Plaintiff's employer. Rather, Defendant asserrs Plaintiff was an employee of the State of Tennessee and therefore the State is liable for any illegal employment actions. The Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1343(a)(4). The Court agrees with Defendant's construction of the applicable statutes and cases, and will GRANT Defendant's motion (File No. 10).

I. FACTS

Plaintiff filed this suit on December 7, 2006 (File No. 1). The complaint alleges Defendant first impermissibly refused to accommodate Plaintiff and then terminated Plaintiff because of his medical needs. The following fact summary is drawn from the complaint (File No. 1):

Plaintiff was employed as Administrator of Elections ("Administrator") by Defendant's Election Commission. Defendant is covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601 et seq., and the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq. Plaintiff was entitled to, requested, and took FMLA leave in April 2006. When Plaintiff returned to work in June 2006 pursuant to a doctor's release, Defendant refused to reinstate him to his former position (id. at ¶¶ 6-18). Plaintiff also suffers from Crohn's Disease. He is otherwise qualified for the Administrator position, but is disabled and requires reasonable accommodation. Defendant allegedly refused to accommodate him. Defendant replaced Plaintiff with a non-disabled individual (id. at ¶¶ 19-26).

Plaintiff claims to have complained of and opposed Defendant's discriminatory acts and to have properly requested accommodation. Defendant purportedly reinstated Plaintiff to his position, but then immediately suspended him. Plaintiff was officially terminated on October 6, 2006. Plaintiff alleges his opposition to Defendant's discriminatory practices was a substantial factor in Defendant's decision to terminate him (id. at ¶¶ 27-30).

The complaint alleges additional claims of differential treatment, adverse employment action, and violations of the Tennessee Human Rights Act, the Tennessee Handicap Act, and other State laws (id. at ¶¶ 31, 32, 35). Finally, the complaint alleges Defendant violated the requirements of the Tennessee Open Meetings Act, Tenn. Code Ann. § 8-44-101, et seq. (id. at ¶ 37). Plaintiff requests compensatory damages, reinstatement or front pay, liquidated damages, punitive damages, attorneys' fees, and interest (id. at § IV).

II. APPLICABLE LAW

A. Standard of Review

If subject matter jurisdiction is challenged under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1), the party asserting jurisdiction bears the burden of establishing it, Moir v. Greater Cleveland Reg'l Transit Auth., 895 F.2d 266, 269 (6th Cir. 1990), and of sufficiently pleading each element of Article III standing to support federal subject matter jurisdiction, Courtney v. Smith, 297 F.3d 455, 459 (6th Cir. 2002). Under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), a complaint may be dismissed if it fails to state a claim for which relief may be granted. In evaluating the complaint pursuant to a 12(b)(6) motion, the Court must accept the complaint's allegations as true and must construe it in the plaintiff's favor. Hishon v. King & Spalding LLP, 467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984); Trzebuckowski v. City of Cleveland, 319 F.3d 853, 855 (6th Cir. 2003); Saglioccolo v. Eagle Ins. Co., 112 F.3d 226, 228 (6th Cir. 1997). A complaint will not be dismissed unless the complaint fails to plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, -- U.S. -- , 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1974 (May 21, 2007) (quoting, altering the traditional 12(b)(6) standard of Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)). To survive a motion to dismiss, the complaint's factual allegations "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level" and must "give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Id. at 1965. This Court need not accept legal conclusions or unwarranted factual inferences. Scheid v. Fanny Farmer Candy Shops, Inc., 859 F.2d 434, 436 (6th Cir. 1988) (though the "standard for Rule 12(b)(6) is quite liberal, more than bare assertions of legal conclusions is ordinarily required to satisfy federal notice pleading requirements"); Tritent Int'l Corp. v. Kentucky, 467 F.3d 547, 554 (6th Cir. 2006).

B. Statutory Requirements

Resolution of this motion turns on whether Plaintiff, an appointed public official, was a county or State employee. There is conflicting authority. To the best of his knowledge, Plaintiff was a Bradley County employee -- his paychecks were cut by the "Bradley County Executive" (File No. 13-2). However, in the motion to dismiss, Defendant points out code sections, case law, and State Attorney General opinions which suggest Plaintiff is functionally a State employee. On balance, the Court agrees with Defendant's interpretation and concludes Plaintiff is an employee of the State of Tennessee and not of Bradley County.

In Durham v. Dismukes, 333 S.W.2d 935 (Tenn. 1960), the Tennessee Supreme Court offered a test to help decide whether an official functions as a county or State employee. The court found a Sumner County General Sessions judge to be a county employee based on consideration of

(1) whether the county or State bore the judge's salary and (2) whether the statute creating the position demonstrated an intent to extend the position beyond the county's borders. Id. at 938. The Court declared the "primary badge" of a State official/employee was that the State paid the official's salary. Id. at 939. In Stambaugh ...


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