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Goss v. Cathey

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

August 20, 2019

JERRY GOSS, Plaintiff,


          Terence C. Kern United States District Judge.

         Before the Court is Defendants Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission's and Kelly Cathey's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 11). For the reasons discussed below, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED.

         I. Factual Background

         This case arises out of Plaintiff Jerry Goss's termination from his job as Steward for the Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission (“Commission”). Plaintiff worked for the Commission for several years, and alleges that, as a Steward, he had a protected interest in his continued employment as a matter of state law and could only be terminated for cause. As a Steward, Plaintiff was regularly assigned to the Will Rogers Downs at Claremore where it appears that he presided over hearings regarding whether to fine, suspend, or revoke licenses issued by the Commission. Plaintiff alleges that he was required to conduct hearings with basic due process notions, and that he took an oath to uphold the federal and state Constitutions, not to take a bribe, and to discharge his duties faithfully and to the best of his abilities.

         Defendant Kelly Cathey is the Commission's Executive Director. As Executive Director, he is responsible for the Commission's day-to-day administrative functions, but has a limited role in the Commission's adjudication process. However, as a matter of course, Defendant Cathey issued ex parte directives and edicts to disproportionately punish, sanction, and suspend some licensees. He also instructed Stewards, including Goss, how to decided issues before the actual hearing. Plaintiff “took exception” to Defendant Cathey's conduct. He alleges that when he pointed out Defendant Cathey's rule violations, he was told to “let it go, ” “stop, ” or “drop it.” He also alleges that he was told “don't mention that again, ” and “it won't be good for you.” It is not clear who made these comments to Plaintiff. However, Plaintiff alleges that despite these comments, he used his best efforts to ensure lawful compliance and voted during hearings to uphold the Commission's licensees' Constitutional rights to a fair hearing and reasonable enforcements of the Commission's Rules of Racing. As a result of this conduct, Defendant Cathey terminated Plaintiff's employment via signed letter on November 13, 2017, without notice that he had violated an employment rule or policy, or a pre-termination hearing.

         II. Procedural History

         Plaintiff filed his Petition in Rogers County District Court on May 8, 2018. In his Petition, he alleges claims for wrongful termination in violation of Oklahoma public policy, also called a Burk tort (Claim One), deprivations of property and liberty without procedural due process (Claim Two), and intentional infliction of emotional distress (Claim Three). Defendants Cathey and Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission removed the case to this Court on June 8, 2018. (Doc. 2.)

         III. Motion to Dismiss Standard

         In considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a court must determine whether the plaintiff has stated a claim upon which relief may be granted. “To survive a motion to dismiss, 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 Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “[T]he mere metaphysical possibility that some plaintiff could prove some set of facts in support of the pleaded claims is insufficient; the complaint must give the court reason to believe that this plaintiff has a reasonable likelihood of mustering factual support for these claims.” Ridge at Red Hawk, LLC v. Schneider, 493 F.3d 1174, 1177 (10th Cir. 2007).

         The Tenth Circuit has interpreted “plausibility, ” the term used by the Supreme Court in Twombly, to “refer to the scope of the allegations in a complaint” rather than to mean “likely to be true.” Robbins, 519 F.3d at 1247. Thus, “if [allegations] are so general that they encompass a wide swath of conduct, much of it innocent, then the plaintiffs have not nudged their claims across the line from conceivable to plausible.” Id. (internal quotations omitted). “The allegations must be enough that, if assumed to be true, the plaintiff plausibly (not just speculatively) has a claim for relief.” Id. “This requirement of plausibility serves not only to weed out claims that do not (in the absence of additional allegations) have a reasonable prospect of success, but also to inform the defendants of the actual grounds of the claim against them.” Id. at 1248.

         In the specific context of § 1983 actions in which officers are sued personally and have asserted the defense of qualified immunity at the Rule 12(b)(6) stage, the Tenth Circuit has stated:

To nudge their claims across the line from conceivable to plausible, in this context, plaintiffs must allege facts sufficient to show (assuming they are true) that the defendants plausibly violated their constitutional rights, and that those rights were clearly established at the time. This requires enough allegations to give the defendants notice of the theory under which their claim is made. This does not mean that complaints in cases subject to qualified immunity defenses must include all the factual allegations necessary to sustain a conclusion that defendant violated clearly established law.

Id. at 1249 (10th Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

         IV. Plaintiff Has Failed to State a Claim for a ...

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