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Stanton v. Woodside

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

September 11, 2019




         On January 14, 2019, Plaintiffs filed this lawsuit claiming that Defendant violated their civil rights under 42 USC § 1983. Specifically, Plaintiffs assert violations of their due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution as a result of not being afforded the procedural protection of a name-clearing hearing when their positions ended with the Anchor Bay School District. The matter is presently before the Court on Defendant's motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and (6). (ECF No. 5.) The motion has been fully briefed. (ECF Nos. 10, 13.) Finding the facts and legal arguments sufficiently presented in the parties' briefs, the Court is dispensing with oral argument pursuant to Eastern District of Michigan Local Rule 7.1(f).

         I. Applicable Standard of Review

         A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) challenges the court's subject matter jurisdiction. “Rule 12(b)(1) motions to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction generally come in two varieties: a facial attack or a factual attack.” Gentek Bldg. Prods., Inc. v. Sherwin-Williams Co., 491 F.3d 320, 330 (6th Cir. 2007).

         A facial attack challenges the sufficiency of the pleading itself. In that instance, the court accepts the material allegations in the complaint as true and construes them in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. United States v. Ritchie, 15 F.3d 592, 598 (6th Cir. 1994) (citing Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 235-37 (1974)).

         In contrast, a factual attack is “not a challenge to the sufficiency of the pleading's allegation, but a challenge to the factual existence of subject matter jurisdiction.” Id. When a factual attack, also known as a “speaking motion, ” raises a factual controversy, the district court must weigh the conflicting evidence to arrive at the factual predicate that subject-matter does or does not exist.” Gentek Bldg. Prods., 491 F.3d at 330 (citing Ohio Nat'l Life Ins. Co. v. United States, 922 F.2d 320, 325 (6th Cir. 1990)). “In its review, the district court has wide discretion to allow affidavits, documents, and even a limited evidentiary hearing to resolve jurisdictional facts.” Id. “[W]hen a defendant produces evidence challenging the factual existence of [subject matter jurisdiction], a plaintiff must generally prove [subject matter jurisdiction] with evidence, even at the motion-to-dismiss stage.” Harris v. Lexington-Fayette Urban Cty. Gov't, 685 Fed.Appx. 470, 472 (6th Cir. 2017) (citing Taylor v. KeyCorp., 680 F.3d 609, 613 (6th Cir. 2012); Superior MRI Servs., Inc. v. All Healthcare Servs., Inc., 778 F.3d 502, 504 (5th Cir. 2015)).

         A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint. RMI Titanium Co. v. Westinghouse Elec. Corp., 78 F.3d 1125, 1134 (6th Cir. 1996). Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), a pleading must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint need not contain “detailed factual allegations, ” but it must contain more than “labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action . . ..” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). A complaint does not “suffice if it tenders ‘naked assertions' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).

         As the Supreme Court provided in Iqbal and Twombly, “[t]o 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.'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that Defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). The plausibility standard “does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage; it simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of illegal [conduct].” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556.

         In deciding whether the plaintiff has set forth a “plausible” claim, the court must accept the factual allegations in the complaint as true. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). This presumption, however, is not applicable to legal conclusions. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 668. Therefore, “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

         Ordinarily, the court may not consider matters outside the pleadings when deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. Weiner v. Klais & Co., Inc., 108 F.3d 86, 88 (6th Cir. 1997) (citing Hammond v. Baldwin, 866 F.2d 172, 175 (6th Cir. 1989)). A court that considers such matters must first convert the motion to dismiss to one for summary judgment. See Fed. R. Civ. P 12(d). However, “[w]hen a court is presented with a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, it may consider the [c]omplaint and any exhibits attached thereto, public records, items appearing in the record of the case and exhibits attached to [the] defendant's motion to dismiss, so long as they are referred to in the [c]omplaint and are central to the claims contained therein.” Bassett v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass'n, 528 F.3d 426, 430 (6th Cir. 2008). Thus, a court may take judicial notice of “other court proceedings” without converting a motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment. Buck v. Thomas M. Cooley Law Sch., 597 F.3d 812, 816 (6th Cir. 2010) (citing Winget v. J.P. Morgan Chase Bank, N.A., 537 F.3d 565, 575 (6th Cir. 2008)).

         II. Factual and Procedural Background

         Plaintiffs John Stanton (“Mr. Stanton”) and Robin Stanton (“Mrs. Stanton”) (collectively “Plaintiffs” or “the Stantons”) were employed at Anchor Bay School District as Principals of Anchor Bay High School and Anchor Bay Middle School, respectively. (Compl. ¶ 6, ECF No. 1 at Pg ID 2.) Defendant Leonard Woodside is the Superintendent for Anchor Bay School District. Plaintiffs employment was government by an employment agreement, which included the following grievance provision:

Complaints by an Administrator or group of administrators relating to a violation, misinterpretation, or misapplication of a specific provision of this agreement or any policy, rule, regulation or practice shall be presented (in person or writing) to the Superintendent or his/her designee within ten (10) school days of such incident or occurrence. A conference with the Superintendent or designee will be scheduled to resolve the complaint within ten (10) days of its receipt. A written decision to the complaint shall be given to the administrator and the Association within ten (10) school days following the conference. If the Superintendent fails to provide a written decision within ten (10) such workdays, the Association may, at its discretion, move the grievance to the next level by following the procedures set forth below. If the administrator desires to pursue the complaint or the decision following the conference he/she may then appeal the matter through Association representation to the Executive Committee of the Board. The association leadership shall be provided the opportunity to present the complaint to a designated member (contact person) from the executive committee of the Board of Education for review and a hearing with the Executive Committee will be scheduled. …

(Def.'s Mot. Ex. F § 5.06, ECF No. 5-7 at Pg ID 117.)

         Prior to the 2016-2017 school year, Plaintiffs were rated “highly effective” or “effective” during their annual performance reviews. (Id. ¶ 7, Pg ID 2.) During the 2016-2017 school year, Mr. Stanton received write-ups for actions he believed were innocuous and Mrs. Stanton was stripped of certain contractual duties, such as making staff assignments. (Id. ¶ 9, Pg ID 3.)

         On or about May 26, 2017, Pat Mikolowski, a security guard at Anchor Bay High School, received a new job within the school district. (Id. ¶ 10, Pg ID 3.) As a parting gift, Mr. Stanton gave Ms. Mikolowski a wooden penis which Ms. Mikolowski previously had confiscated from a student and turned in to him. (Id. ¶ 12, Pg ID 3.)

         On or about June 5, 2017, Sherry Kenward, Director of Student Services at Anchor Bay High School, learned about Mr. Stanton's gift to Ms. Mikolowski. Ms. Kenward informed Joe McDonald, the District's Director of Secondary Education. (Id. ¶ 13, Pg ID 3.) Ms. Kenward told Mr. McDonald that Ms. Mikolowski complained to her about the gift she received from Mr. Stanton. (Id.) Ms. Kenward further stated that Ms. Mikolowski reported that she and her husband were upset and embarrassed by the gift, and that Ms. Mikolowski cried all weekend after receiving the gift. (Id.) Ms. Kenward also told Mr. McDonald that Ms. Mikolowski said the reason she was leaving her current job was due to Mr. Stanton's treatment of her at Anchor Bay High School and from fear of retaliation from Mrs. Stanton, who she described as a “bitch.” (Id.)

         Plaintiffs believe Ms. Kenward's statements were unsubstantiated allegations which resulted in a rating of “ineffective, ” the lowest rating given by Anchor Bay during ...

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