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Bruton v. Oklahoma Department of Corrections

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

July 29, 2019




         Before the Court is the Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 12) filed by Defendants Oklahoma Department of Corrections (“DOC”), Angela York, Don Grigsby, Greg Williams, Millicent Newton-Embry, Patricia Bruton, Tina Hicks, William Monday, and Patricia Ormerod. Plaintiff, appearing pro se, responded in opposition to the motion. Upon consideration of the parties' submissions, the Court finds as follows.

         Defendants' motion is filed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) allows a party to move for dismissal of a case for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Rule 8(a)(2), in turn, requires a complaint to contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Accordingly, in order to survive a motion to dismiss, the 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 Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Although the Court must accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true, the same is not true of legal conclusions. Id. “[L]abels and conclusions” or “formulaic recitation[s] of the elements of a cause of action” will not suffice. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. “Thus, in ruling on a motion to dismiss, the Court should disregard all conclusory statements of law and consider whether the remaining specific factual allegations, if assumed to be true, plausibly suggest the defendant is liable.” Kan. Penn Gaming, LLC v. Collins, 656 F.3d 1210, 1214 (10th Cir. 2011).

         As to Defendants' 12(b)(1) argument, they do not specifically indicate how the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff's claims. Although not raised by Defendants, the Court notes Plaintiff did not include a jurisdictional statement in her Complaint. This absence, however, is not fatal.

In the instant case, Plaintiff's Complaint is deficient as to the jurisdictional statement. However, under 28 U.S.C. § 1653 defective allegations of jurisdiction may be amended, upon terms, in the trial or appellate courts. If facts giving the Court jurisdiction are set forth in the Complaint, the provision conferring jurisdiction need not be specifically pleaded. Blue v. Craig, 505 F.2d 830 (Fourth Cir. 1974); Williams v. United States, 405 F.2d 951 (Ninth Cir. 1969).

Hatridge v. Seaboard Sur., 74 F.R.D. 6, 8 (E.D. Okla. 1976). The Court finds the allegations in the Complaint, considered as whole, sufficient to allege federal question jurisdiction, despite the absence of a jurisdictional statement. As set forth herein, Plaintiff sufficiently alleges facts to state a claim against the Department of Corrections under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which supports the existence of federal question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

         Having concluded the existence of subject matter jurisdiction, the Court turns to Defendants' remaining arguments, mindful that because Ms. Bruton is proceeding pro se, her pleadings are subject to liberal construction. Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (10th Cir. 1991). Despite liberal construction of a pro se litigant's pleadings, the Court will not “assume the role of advocate.” Id.

         Plaintiff, a former employee of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, filed this action alleging violations of Title VII, specifically retaliation because she complained about racial discrimination. (Doc. No. 13, p. 1). Among other allegations, Plaintiff contends that she informed her supervisors that the chairman of the Department of Corrections hiring committee and the department manager altered certain scores so that a white female became the top candidate, to the detriment of higher-scoring Hispanic and African American candidates. Thereafter Plaintiff alleges that she was transferred/demoted and moved to the Central Human Resources Department. The transfer was explained to her as a way to manage “personality differences, ” which Plaintiff believes were premised on a racially- and gender-biased work environment. Plaintiff alleges her duties were transferred to a younger white female, who lacked the experience to perform the job.

         Plaintiff alleges that after her transfer she once again complained about discrimination, this time to the Equal Rights and Responsibilities unit; thereafter she was told she would be moved from an office to a cubicle. Plaintiff further asserts that after her initial internal grievance was dismissed, on October 6, 2017, she was once again reassigned, which resulted in an increased workload and certain of her duties being assigned to other employees. She perceived this as retaliation. Plaintiff filed an EEOC charge on October 16, 2017 and alleges that, following an unsuccessful mediation through the EEOC, the hostile work environment increased, and her performance was subject to unwarranted scrutiny. After she informed her supervisor that she intended to file a complaint regarding alleged harassment by Don Grigsby, HR Manager, Plaintiff contends she was subjected to retaliation with regard to leave administration and that she was terminated for false reasons.

         Within this framework Defendants seeks dismissal of the Complaint, arguing (1) that Plaintiff has no claim against the individual defendants in their official capacities; (2) individual defendants cannot be liable under Title VII; (3) Plaintiff's Complaint fails to state a claim; (4) the complaint does not comply with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8; (5) Plaintiff failed to comply with the Oklahoma Governmental Tort Claims Act; and (6) the State is immune from Plaintiff's ADEA claim. The Court will address these arguments by considering each of Plaintiff's claims in the order listed in the Complaint.

         Defendants are correct in noting that Plaintiff's Complaint ends rather abruptly with a list of alleged claims that is difficult to follow and not supported in many cases by the allegations in the Complaint. Within a multi-paragraph section labeled “34” Plaintiff ends with the following, which immediately precedes her prayer for relief:

The Plaintiff asserts that her rights were violated based upon of Title VII Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-3 and Oklahoma state law; retaliation for having participated in opposition to unlawful discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”); violations of the Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment right to Equal Protection; violations of the Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment right to substantive and procedural due process; violations of the Plaintiff's First Amendment right to freedom of speech; violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”); failure to pay wages in violation of Oklahoma Protection of Labor Act (“OPLA”); whistleblowing in violation of state law; interference with a prospective economic advantage; and interference with an employment contract; ERISA; blacklisting and defamation[.]

         Complaint, Doc. No. 1, p. 27.

         Because Defendants challenge the Court's jurisdiction, the Court first queries whether Plaintiff has alleged sufficient facts to support this Court's jurisdiction. It is apparent that Plaintiff is relying on federal question jurisdiction rather than diversity. She is a citizen of Oklahoma suing the state and various employees who are alleged to be residents of the state. Additionally, Plaintiff's Complaint is replete with references to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Accordingly, the Court starts with Title VII and ...

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