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Williams v. Gibson County

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

June 24, 2015

MARY V. WILLIAMS
v.
GIBSON COUNTY, TENNESSEE

Session June 10, 2015

Appeal from the Circuit Court for Gibson County No. 8716, 8724 Clayburn Peeples, Judge

Mary V. Williams, Trenton, Tennessee, Pro Se.

James I. Pentecost, Jackson, Tennessee, for the appellee, Gibson County, Tennessee.

J. Steven Stafford, P. J., W.S., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Arnold B. Goldin, J., and Kenny Armstrong, J., joined.

MEMORANDUM OPINION [1]

J. STEVEN STAFFORD, JUDGE

Background

This appeal stems from several lawsuits filed by Appellant Mary V. Williams related to her employment as an Emergency Medical Technician ("EMT") with Appellee Gibson County, Tennessee ("Gibson County, " the "County, " or "Appellee"). Gibson County hired Ms. Williams in May 2004 as a part-time emergency responder. At some point after she was hired, Ms. Williams was deployed as a medic on active duty with the Army National Guard. According to Ms. Williams, she was deployed for approximately two years. Ms. Williams was eventually honorably discharged from the military and returned to Gibson County in an attempt to regain her part-time position as an EMT.[2]

On May 19, 2008, Ms. Williams filed suit in the United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee against Gibson County. In this suit, she alleged that the County violated the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act ("USERRA"). She alleged that the County failed to promptly reemploy her as a part-time EMT upon her return from active duty in the Army National Guard and either failed or refused to promote her to full-time employment subsequently.[3] At this time, Ms. Williams was represented by counsel provided by the military.

Ms. Williams and the County eventually reached an agreement and filed a Consent Decree on May 21, 2008, with the federal district court. Although the County denied that it violated USERRA, the Consent Decree included several remedies whereby it agreed to, inter alia, promote Ms. Williams to full-time status and pay her a monetary award of $17, 000.00. The total award was comprised of $9, 900.00 in back pay, $84.00 in accumulated interest, and $7, 016.00 in expenses. The Consent Decree provided that it would expire one year after its entry if the remedial obligations had been fulfilled. Pursuant to the Consent Decree, the County subsequently assigned Ms. Williams full-time EMT duties shortly thereafter on June 7, 2008. However, the County terminated Ms. Williams's employment several years later, on September 17, 2012, alleging that it had recorded a series of complaints and other violations against Ms. Williams.

After her termination, Ms. Williams filed two lawsuits against Gibson County in the Circuit Court of Gibson County. The first case, docket number 8716, was filed by Ms. Williams on July 12, 2013. In the complaint for case number 8716, it appears that Ms. Williams alleges that the County wrongly terminated her employment as an EMT after she sustained injuries from a dog bite while on the job. From what we can discern, Ms. Williams alleges that the County terminated her employment after she made "several complaints about the non treatment she receive[d]." Her complaint provides that her termination was also racially motivated and violated the "EEOC, Title VII, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, or the Age Discrimination in Employment Act: By: [sic] Firing Ms[.] Williams after being injured on the job and refusing to pay for medical expenses due to that injury." Among other things, Ms. Williams requested relief in the form of back pay from the date of her termination on September 17, 2012.

Less than one month after filing case number 8716, on August 7, 2013, Ms. Williams filed case number 8724. In this complaint, Ms. Williams alleges that Gibson County violated USERRA when it failed to pay her the entire monetary award she was entitled to pursuant to the parties' Consent Decree entered in the federal district court case. She states that the County paid her $9, 900.00 in back pay, but failed to pay the remainder of the award. The record does not indicate that Ms. Williams sought any relief in the federal district court due to the County's alleged failure to comply with the Consent Decree.

On September 3, 2013, the County filed a motion to dismiss Ms. Williams's complaint in case number 8724.[4] The County alleged that Ms. Williams failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted pursuant to Rule 12 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure because she merely cited to certain statutes without providing factual allegations of how the County violated them. Additionally, the County argued that the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act ("TGTLA") was applicable and that the County was immune to suit under the TGTLA for its discretionary acts, including the termination of Ms. Williams.

The record does not include any response to the motion to dismiss by Ms. Williams. However, on September 4, 2013, Ms. Williams filed a motion to change the venue in both cases.[5] Again, on October 23, 2013, she filed another motion to change the venue, claiming she would not get a fair trial with the trial court because she was a pro se litigant.[6]

On October 28, 2013, the parties provided notice to the trial court that the County had fulfilled its obligations under the Consent Decree in the federal case by filing the Joint Notice to Court Regarding Dismissal. This notice was dated October 15, 2009, and was previously filed with the federal court to effectuate the dismissal of Ms. Williams's federal district court case. The same day, based on an oral motion by counsel for Appellees, the trial court consolidated docket number 8716 and 8724.

On November 5, 2013, the trial court entered an order granting in part the County's motion to dismiss.[7] In its order, the trial court explained its decision as to each alleged cause of action in the consolidated matter. Regarding Ms. Williams's claims of racial discrimination and a cause of action related to the dog bite, the trial court found that Ms. Williams sufficiently stated a claim to survive the motion to dismiss. On the other hand, with regard to Ms. Williams's claims that the County had not fulfilled its obligations under the Consent Decree entered in her federal case, the trial court found that those claims were barred by the statute of repose, res judicata, and Rule 8 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure.[8] The trial court also found that Ms. Williams failed to state a claim regarding any violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, or the Age Discrimination Employment Act because she merely named these acts, without including any specific factual allegations pertaining to how ...


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