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Primm v. Tennessee Department of Correction

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

August 27, 2019




         Carolyn Primm brings suit against the Tennessee Department of Correction (“TDOC”), several other Tennessee state agencies, the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, [1] and numerous individuals, all of whom are alleged to be current or former state or county employees. She asserts claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and state law. (Doc. No. 1.) Because Plaintiff proceeds in forma pauperis, the complaint is before the Court for an initial review. For the reasons set forth herein, the complaint will be dismissed in its entirety.

         I. Initial Review

         Because Plaintiff proceeds in forma pauperis, the Court is required under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) to conduct an initial review of the Complaint and to dismiss it if it is facially frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief. McGore v. Wrigglesworth, 114 F.3d 601, 604 (6th Cir. 1997), overruled on other grounds by Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199 (2007). The Sixth Circuit has confirmed that the dismissal standard articulated by the Supreme Court in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), and Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), “governs dismissals for failure to state a claim under [§ 1915(e)(2)] because the relevant statutory language tracks the language in Rule 12(b)(6).” Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 470-71 (6th Cir. 2010).

         A pro se pleading must be liberally construed and “held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (citing Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)). However, “[s]ua sponte dismissals of a complaint are appropriate when a statute-of-limitations defect is obvious from the face of the complaint.” Bowman v. Fister, No. 16-6642, 2017 WL 5495717, at *2 (6th Cir. Mar. 22, 2017) (citing Alston v. Tenn. Dep't of Corr., 28 Fed.Appx. 475, (6th Cir. 2002); Pino v. Ryan, 49 F.3d 51, 53-54 (2d Cir. 1995)).

         II. Procedural History and Relevant Facts

         Plaintiff filed a previous lawsuit in this Court in March 2015, Primm v. Tenn. Dep't of Corr. et al., No. 3:15-cv-00230 (“Primm I”), [2] bringing claims under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 against TDOC and numerous current and former employees of TDOC and several other state agencies (collectively, the “Individual Defendants”) in their individual and official capacities. Primm alleged that TDOC and the Individual Defendants discriminated against her by terminating her employment with TDOC in July 2013. Primm also alleged that the Administrative Law Judges (“ALJs”) and Board of Appeals members who heard her administrative action violated her due process rights during her pre- termination hearing and the subsequent appeal process. In accordance with a show-cause order issued by the Court (Nixon, S.J.) shortly after the complaint was filed, Plaintiff submitted a copy of the EEOC's Dismissal and Notice of Rights (“right to sue letter”) dated December 10, 2014. (Doc. No. 7-1.)[3]

         In the order granting her first motion to amend her complaint, the Court dismissed on statute of limitations grounds all § 1983 claims against the Individual Defendants arising from Plaintiff's termination in 2013, leaving intact her claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and Title VII against all defendants and her § 1983 claims against TDOC. See Primm I, Doc. Nos. 8, 35 (Campbell, J.). In March 2017, the Court granted TDOC's motion to dismiss the claims against it under §§ 1981 and 1983 on the basis that they were barred by sovereign immunity, but the Court denied TDOC's motion to dismiss the claims under Title VII. Primm I, Doc. No. 35. At the same time, the Court declined to address TDOC's arguments as to why the claims against the Individual Defendants should be dismissed, because the Individual Defendants had not yet been served with process and TDOC lacked standing to raise defenses on their behalf. In addition, the Court recognized that it was not Plaintiff's fault that no defendants other than TDOC had been served. Primm I, Doc. No. 35 at 7. The Court directed the Clerk to issue summonses for, and ensure service of process upon, the Individual Defendants. Id.

         On November 17, 2017, four days after the November 13 deadline set by the scheduling order for filing motions to amend, Plaintiff filed a motion requesting a twenty-day extension of the time within which to file an amended complaint. The magistrate judge granted the motion on January 10, 2018, giving Plaintiff until January 30, 2018 to file any motion to amend the complaint and to include the proposed amended complaint as an exhibit to the motion. Primm I, Doc. Nos. 62, 67, 68. Plaintiff never filed the anticipated motion.

         On July 3, 2018, more than five months after the extended deadline for filing her motion to amend and proposed amended complaint, the magistrate judge entered a show-cause order, first noting that Plaintiff had “not complied with the Court's order” and had “not filed anything in this action since filing her motion for an extension of time on November 17, 2017. Primm I, Doc. No. 71 at 1. The order directed Plaintiff to “show cause within fourteen days from the date of this order why the undersigned magistrate judge should not recommend that this action be dismissed for failure to prosecute.” Id. at 2. Plaintiff failed to file anything in response to that order. Consequently, the magistrate judge filed a Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) on July 30, 2018, recommending that the case be dismissed without prejudice. Primm I, Doc. No. 73.

         On the same day, Plaintiff filed a “Motion for Reconsideration.” Primm I, Doc. No. 75. In adopting and accepting the R&R, the Court noted that Plaintiff “likely did not receive electronic notification of the R&R before filing her Motion for Reconsideration the same day” and therefore construed the motion to be an untimely response to the show-cause order rather than as timely objections to the R&R. Primm I, Doc. No. 77 at 2. Because Plaintiff failed to file a timely response to the show-cause order, the Court found that she had “waived the opportunity to do so.” Id. Moreover, even if the filing were construed as objections to the R&R, Plaintiff did not challenge the ruling of the R&R or provide a basis for rejecting it. The Court therefore dismissed the case for failure to prosecute and failure to comply with a court order.

         Plaintiff thereafter filed a Motion to Alter or Amend Judgment, a proposed Amended Complaint, Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, Objections to the denial of the latter motion, and an Emergency Motion to Reopen Case, none of which was perceived to have merit. On June 4, 2019, the Court denied the last of these motions and further noted that “no further filings in this matter are warranted.” Primm I, Doc. No. 91 at 2.

         Undeterred, Plaintiff filed a new complaint, initiating this action, on August 8, 2019, naming the following as defendants: TDOC; the Office of the Tennessee Attorney General; Tennessee Department of Human Resources; Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III; Assistant Attorney General Eugenie B. Whitesell; Assistant Attorney General Lody Limbird; Assistant Attorney General Lindsay Haynes Sisco; Derrick Schofield; Tony Parker; Lisa Patton; Rebecca Hunter; Rebecca Hunter; Craig Raymer; Connie Johnson; J.R. Miller; Rennee Cladwell; Debbie Inglis; Virginia Lewis; Kim Summers; Bland Justis; Barbara Clark; James Hamilton; John Drummond; Steve Darnell; Metro; and Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall.[4] (Doc. No. 1 at 1.) Plaintiff now t brings suit under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and Tenn. Code Ann. § 8-30-101.

         For the most part, the new complaint reiterates the claims brought in 2015 in Primm I, but Plaintiff also raises new claims against new defendants under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983. The new defendants are Tennessee Attorney General Slatery, three assistant attorneys general, Sheriff Hall, and Metro. (Doc. No. 1.) The new claims relate to Plaintiff's arrest for aggravated assault in 2013. Plaintiff asserts that she learned in October 2018 that her arrest and prosecution were unconstitutional because the arrest ...

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