United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma
TIMOTHY D. DEGIUSTI UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
the Court is Defendant Board of County Commissioners of Caddo
County's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's First Amended
Complaint [Doc. No. 15], filed pursuant Fed.R.Civ.P.
12(b)(6). The sole issue raised by the Motion is whether the
Board of County Commissioners is a proper party in this
action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, in which Plaintiff claims
that Defendant Edward Whitworth, the county assessor,
terminated her employment in retaliation for an exercise of
First Amendment rights. Plaintiff has filed a response [Doc.
No. 16] in opposition to the Motion, and the Board has
replied [Doc. No. 17]. Thus, the Motion is fully briefed and
and Procedural Background
brings suit under § 1983 to recover damages for her
alleged wrongful discharge from county employment in
violation of the First Amendment. Plaintiff alleges that she
was employed as a deputy assessor for Caddo County from May
2011 until April 2018, when Defendant Whitworth terminated
her employment immediately after she made a filing with the
county election board to run against him as a candidate for
the office of Caddo County Assessor, which he held (and still
holds). Plaintiff alleges that she was satisfactorily
performing her job and there was no legitimate reason to
discharge her. She also alleges Defendant Whitworth was a
Caddo County official with final policymaking authority over
her employment. See First Am. Compl. [Doc. No. 11]
First Amended Complaint states facts to show that Defendants
knew the termination of Plaintiff's employment in
retaliation for campaign activities violated the First
Amendment. These facts include allegations that
Defendant Whitworth had been discharged by the previous
county assessor for similar reasons, brought a federal
lawsuit, and obtained injunctive relief prohibiting the
conduct. See Blackburn v. Crumm, No. CIV-91-10-A,
Order (W.D. Okla. June 5, 1991). Plaintiff also alleges that
Defendant Whitworth had previously discharged another deputy
assessor for supporting his opponent in an election for the
office of county assessor. Plaintiff alleges that these facts
show that “Caddo County has adopted a pattern,
practice, or custom of discharging subordinates who run for
political office, engage in the freedom of speech, or
exercise their right of political association.”
See First Am. Compl. ¶ 23.
does not contend the Board of County Commissioners or any of
its members played a direct role in her termination. She does
allege, however, that the Board has “statutory and
supervisory responsibilities over all Caddo County officers
and employees, including [Defendant] Whitworth and
[Plaintiff]” and that it is responsible for
“developing personnel policies for the Caddo County,
” appropriating funds for employees' salaries and
training, and entertaining complaints or grievances of county
employees that cannot be resolved within their departments.
Id. ¶¶ 24-27. Plaintiff claims “the
Board has failed to properly train, supervise, or discipline
county officers or employees to protect Caddo County
employees' constitutional rights . . . [d]espite having
direct knowledge that Caddo County employees' First
Amendment rights are at risk when Deputies support candidates
other than their elected Officer.” Id.
¶¶ 28-29. According to Plaintiff, “[b]ecause
of the Board's failures, [she] was discharge[d] in
violation of her constitutional rights.” Id.
Board seeks dismissal on the ground “it is not the
proper party to Plaintiff's claim” or lawsuit.
See Mot. Dismiss at 1, 3. It asserts that Defendant
Whitworth in his official capacity is the proper party to be
sued and, because Plaintiff has included him in this action,
the Board is unnecessary and should be dismissed. The Board
further argues that the county assessor is an elected
official with independent control over deputy assessors like
Plaintiff, and that the Board has no authority over the
county assessor's actions with regard to personnel
matters in his office. The Board contends Plaintiff does not
state a § 1983 claim against it because the First
Amended Complaint contains “no sufficient allegation
that the Board itself was involved in the Assessor's
decision to terminate Plaintiff, nor that the Assessor
delegated any policy-making authority to the Board with
regard to the operation of the Assessor's office or to
the actions of the Assessor's Office; nor is there any
sufficient allegation otherwise affirmatively linking the
Board to Plaintiff's allegations herein.”
Id. at 6. In the Board's view, without factual
allegations that permit “a plausible inference of the
Board's direct involvement in the hiring, training, or
discipline of the deputies working for the county assessor,
the Board is not a proper party in a suit under §
1983.” See Reply Br. at 5.
survive a motion to dismiss [under Rule 12(b)(6)], a
complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as
true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on
its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S.
662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)); see Robbins v.
Oklahoma, 519 F.3d 1242, 1247 (10th Cir. 2008). “A
claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads
factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable
inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct
alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Determining
whether a complaint states a plausible claim is a
“context-specific task that requires the reviewing
court to draw on its judicial experience and common
sense.” See id. at 679; see also
Robbins, 519 F.3d at 1248. It is particularly important
in § 1983 cases for a complaint “to provide each
[defendant] with fair notice as to the basis of the claims
against him or her.” See Robbins, 519 F.3d at
1249-50 (emphasis omitted); see also Smith v. United
States, 561 F.3d 1090, 1104 (10th Cir. 2009).
the defendant is a governmental entity, “the
longstanding interpretation of § 1983's standards
for imposing municipal liability” under Monell v.
Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 691-92, 694
(1978), requires “that a plaintiff must identify a
government's policy or custom that caused the
injury” and “show that the policy was enacted or
maintained with deliberate indifference to an almost
inevitable constitutional injury.” See Schneider v.
City of Grand Junction Police Dep't, 717 F.3d 760,
769 (10th Cir. 2013) (internal quotations omitted) (citing
Bd. of Cty. Comm'rs v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 403
(1997), and City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378,
389 (1989)). An official policy for § 1983 liability
purposes may be “a formally promulgated policy, a
well-settled custom or practice, a final decision by a
municipal policymaker, or deliberately indifferent training
or supervision.” Id. at 770; see Bryson v.
City of Okla. City, 627 F.3d 784, 788 (10th Cir. 2010).
“To establish the causation element, the challenged
policy or practice must be closely related to the violation
of the plaintiff's federally protected right.”
Schneider, 717 F.3d at 770 (internal quotation
asserts that the Board of County Commissioners is a proper
defendant for her § 1983 retaliatory discharge action
under two legal theories. First, although Defendant Whitworth
was the decisionmaker who terminated her county employment,
Oklahoma law by statute “requires that all suits
prosecuted by or against a county be prosecuted in the name
of the board of county commissioners of the county of
interest.” Green Constr. Co. v. Okla. Cty., 50
P.2d 625, 627 (Okla. 1935); see Okla. Stat. tit. 19,
§ 4. Second, the Board allegedly maintained a policy of
failing to train and supervise county officers and employees
with respect to First Amendment rights and so allowed
retaliatory discharges like hers to occur.
Plaintiff's § 1983 Action Based on Defendant