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Frazier v. State ex rel. Office of Chief Medical Examiner

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

October 3, 2019




         This matter comes before the court on the Motion to Amend Complaint [Doc. 23] of plaintiff Rodney Wayne Frazier. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is denied.

         I. Background and Procedural History

         This is an employment dispute brought by plaintiff Rodney Wayne Frazier against his former employer, State of Oklahoma ex rel. the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (the “OCME”). Frazier began working for the OCME as an in-house medicolegal death investigator in September 2015, and was discharged from his employment on July 11, 2017. Frazier alleges that his termination was in retaliation for a sexual harassment complaint made by him against a female co-worker. Additionally, Frazier asserts that, throughout his employment, the OCME failed to properly compensate him for hours worked in excess of forty hours in a week.

         On January 25, 2019, Frazier brought this case pursuant to the court's federal question jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1331.[1] On April 29, 2019, the OCME filed a Partial Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint.[2] [Doc. 5]. In response, Frazier amended his complaint. [Doc. 8]. The Amended Complaint included two claims: (1) retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and (2) violation of the Oklahoma Protection of Labor Act (“OPLA”), 40 Okla. Stat. §§ 165.1 et seq. The OCME filed a motion to dismiss only the OPLA claim [Doc. 11], which the court granted in an order dated August 5, 2019. [Doc. 22].

         Frazier now seeks leave to file a Second Amended Complaint to address the pleading deficiencies identified by this court in its August 5 Order. [Doc. 23]. The OCME objects to Frazier's request. [Doc. 24]. The motion to amend is now ripe for the court's review.

         II. Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a) permits a party to amend its pleading once as a matter of course within twenty-one (21) days of service or, if the pleading is one to which a responsive pleading is required, within 21 days of service of the responsive pleading or motion. Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(1). “In all other cases, a party may amend its pleading only with the opposing party's written consent or the court's leave.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). Although a court should freely grant leave to amend “when justice so requires, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2), “denial of a motion to amend may be appropriate where there has been shown ‘undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive on the part of the movant, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, undue prejudice to the opposing party by virtue of allowance of the amendment, futility of amendment, etc.'” Steadfast Ins. Co. v. Agric. Ins. Co., No. 05-CV-126-GKF-TLW, 2014 WL 1901175, at *4 (N.D. Okla. May 13, 2014) (quoting Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962)). “‘[T]he grant of leave to amend the pleadings pursuant to Rule 15(a) is within the discretion of the trial court.'” Minter v. Prime Equip. Co., 451 F.3d 1196, 1204 (10th Cir. 2006) (alteration in original) (quoting Zenith Radio Corp. v. Hazeltine Research, Inc., 401 U.S. 321, 330 (1971)).

         III. Analysis

         As previously stated, Frazier seeks leave to amend to include additional factual allegations with respect to a claim for unpaid overtime under the OPLA. In opposition, the OCME contends that Frazier's requested amendment is futile for three separate reasons: (1) supplemental jurisdiction does not exist over the OPLA wage claim; (2) Frazier failed to comply with the Oklahoma Governmental Tort Claims Act, Okla. Stat. tit. 51, § 152.1; and (3) the allegations of the proposed Second Amended Complaint fail to state a valid OPLA claim. Because the court concludes that supplemental jurisdiction does not exist and the OCME's first contention is dispositive, the court does not consider the OCME's other arguments.

         The federal supplemental jurisdiction statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1367, provides that, in civil cases in which the district courts have original jurisdiction, “the district courts shall have supplemental jurisdiction over all other claims that are so related to claims in the action within such original jurisdiction that they form part of the same case or controversy under Article III of the United States Constitution.” 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a) (emphasis added). “A claim is part of the same case or controversy if it ‘derive[s] from a common nucleus of operative fact.'” Price v. Wolford, 608 F.3d 698, 702-03 (10th Cir. 2010) (quoting City of Chicago v. Int'l Coll. of Surgeons, 522 U.S. 156, 165 (1997)); see also United Mine Workers of Am. v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 725 (1966) (internal citation omitted) (“The federal claim must have substance sufficient to confer subject matter jurisdiction on the court. The state and federal claims must derive from a common nucleus of operative fact.”).

         The operative facts with respect to the federal retaliation claim and the state law overtime claim are included in the proposed Second Amended Complaint. Frazier alleges that, on July 7, 2017, he was getting a cup of coffee when a female co-worker, Joy Norwood, approached him and asked “whether a hug would cheer him up.” [Doc. 23-1, ¶ 11]. Despite Frazier repeatedly rejecting her advances, Norwood allegedly continued following him down the hall and grabbed him from behind [Id.]. Frazier reported Norwood's behavior to his immediate supervisor, Dale Gross, via email that same day. [Id. ¶ 12]. The OCME's Chief Administrative Officer, Amy Elliot, conducted an investigation into the incident and, on July 11, 2017, issued a written opinion that Frazier's allegation was meritless. [Id. ¶ 13]. That same day, the OCME discharged Frazier from his employment for “engaging in harassing behavior.” [Id. ¶ 14].

         Frazier also alleges that, as the agency charged by statute with the responsibility for investigating certain deaths in the State of Oklahoma, the OCME must be able to respond to calls of reported deaths on a 24/7 basis, 365 days out of the year. [Id. ¶ 16]. The OCME has addressed this reality by requiring its medicolegal investigators to work assigned rotating shifts, which included shifts in which Frazier was placed in an “on-call” status overnight and on the weekends. [Id. ¶ 17]. Frazier alleges that, at the time of his hire, OCME agency practice as explained to him by Gross was to only compensate in-house investigators for the time spent actively working a death call. [Id. ¶ 18]. To the extent time spent actively working resulted in the accrual of overtime, medicolegal investigators were instructed to record that time on their monthly time sheets, which would result in the accrual of compensatory time of 1.5 hours for every one hour spent in an overtime status. [Id.]. Frazier specifically alleges that “[m]edicolegal investigators were expressly prohibited from including on-call time on their spreadsheets unless such time was directly tied to an assigned death they were actively investigating.” [Id.].

         Frazier further alleges that the OCME Statement of Policy, Procedure, and Practice, Overtime Pay and Compensatory Time (OP-010901) comported with the training he received upon his hire. [Id. ¶ 19; see also Doc. 23-1, pp. 15-21]. Pursuant to the version of the policy in place at the time of Frazier's hire, “on-call” time was not considered “work time” unless the employee's freedom of movement was so restricted as to prevent the employee from using the time for personal purposes. [Doc. 23, ¶ 19]. Frazier alleges that the OCME's practices required him to remain awake and ready to accept calls, to be showered and dressed in appropriate uniform, and to be actively engaged in reading emails throughout his on-call shift. [Id. ¶ 24]. Further, Frazier alleges that it was “clearly communicated” to him that he would be subject to discipline up to and including termination if he failed to answer the phone while on call or if he did not deploy to a scene within fifteen minutes of receipt of the assignment. [Id.]. Further, the OCME assigned Frazier a state vehicle for use when responding to the scene of a death. [Id. ¶ 25]. Because both State and OCME policy prohibit the use of state vehicles for personal reasons, Frazier alleges his ability to leave his residence while on call was significantly hampered given the requirement that he deploy to an assigned scene within fifteen minutes of receipt of the assignment. [Id.]. Frazier alleges, as a result ...

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