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Taylor v. Ohio County Commission

United States District Court, N.D. West Virginia, Wheeling

November 28, 2017

KATRINA ANNE TAYLOR, Plaintiff,
v.
OHIO COUNTY COMMISSION, TIFFANY HOFFMAN, and MICHELLE POWELL, Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING IN PART DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS AND REMANDING STATE LAW CLAIMS

          JOHN PRESTON BAILEY, JUDGE

         On this day, the above-styled action came before this Court for consideration of the defendants' Motion to Dismiss [Doc. 3], filed October 4, 2017. Having been fully briefed, this matter is now ripe for decision. For the reasons stated herein, this Court GRANTS IN PART the defendants' Motion to Dismiss [Doc. 3], DISMISSES the claims allegedly arising under the United States Constitution, and REMANDS the state law claims to the Circuit Court of Ohio County, West Virginia.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff, Katrina Anne Taylor, filed her Complaint in the Circuit Court of Ohio County, West Virginia, on September 5, 2017 [Doc. 1-9]. This matter arises from plaintiff's contention that defendants created a hostile work environment and ultimately fired plaintiff from her job at the Ohio County Assessor's Office in retaliation for plaintiff running for the position of Ohio County Assessor.

         Specifically, plaintiff asserts that “[o]n or about July 11, 2016, the previous assessor passed away unexpectedly, and Defendant, Michelle Powell, was appointed as assessor on a temporary basis until the election was completed” [Id. at ¶ 9]. Plaintiff then ran against defendant, Tiffany Hoffman, for the office of Ohio County Assessor during the November 2016 election [Id. at ¶ 10].

         Plaintiff claims that around August 2016, after Ms. Powell and Ms. Hoffman learned plaintiff was running for Assessor:

Plaintiff began suffering a hostile work environment created largely by Defendant Powell, and contributed to by Defendant Hoffman once she took office. Said hostile work environment included b[ut] was not limited to, withholding important paperwork from Plaintiff which was needed t o c o m p l e t e her job duties, refraining from turning in specific documents to create an illusion that Plaintiff was not sufficiently fulfilling her job requirements, and excluding her from the decision making process within the real estate office which had always been a part of her job description previously.
Further, upon information and belief, Plaintiff earned compensatory time by working overtime and said time was taken away upon Defendant Hoffman taking office, additionally Plaintiff was removed from the employee rotation for leaving early.

[Id. at ¶¶ 11-12]. Plaintiff further contends that in January 2017 she was “written up for the first time in her ten (10) years with the Ohio County Assessor's Office, for no[t] maintaining her job performance and for complaints from taxpayers” [Id. at ¶ 13]. However, plaintiff claims she “was not provided information regarding the specific areas of her job that had been lacking nor was she provided the nature of said complaints or documentation regarding the same” [Id.].

         After being “written up, ” plaintiff claims she “was placed on probation but was not given a timeline [sic] or terms of said probation and no re-evaluation was done to determine when/if the probation period would conclude” [Id. at ¶ 14]. Plaintiff claims she requested, but was never provided with, “documentation to support . . . the reasoning for the disciplinary action taken against her” [Id. at ¶¶ 15-16].

         Ultimately, plaintiff claims that on or about March 17, 2017, she met with defendant, Tiffany Hoffman, and in said meeting plaintiff was informed “that her employment was being terminated as they felt that due to her ‘mistakes' it would cost more in the long run to keep her employed” [Id. at ¶ 19]. Plaintiff again claims she “requested documentation but was still not provided an explanation of what mistakes had been made nor was she provided with documentation related to the same” [Id. at ¶ 20].

         Accordingly, the Complaint alleges five counts against all defendants, which include (I) “Violation of First Amendment Rights of Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Association Brought Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, ” (II) “Violation of Rights of Freedoms of Speech, Association and Candidacy Protected by Article III, § 7 and § 16 and Article IV, § 1 and § 4 of the West Virginia Constitution, ” (III) “Violation of Fourteenth Amendment Rights Protected by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution by 42 U.S.C. § 1983, And [sic] by Article III, § 10 of the West Virginia Constitution, ” (IV) “Violation of First Amendment Rights by Engaging in Political Patronage under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, ” and (V) “Tort of Outrage” [Id. at ¶¶ 21-45]. Specifically, Count I alleges the defendants created a hostile work environment “to intimidate Plaintiff to withdraw from the campaign” and that plaintiff was “terminated for political reasons in retaliation of [sic] Plaintiff's exercising her First Amendment rights to free speech and free association in seeking public office” [Id. at ¶¶ 23-24]. Count II essentially alleges the same, yet states grounds for relief arising under the West Virginia Constitution [Id. at ¶¶ 25-31]. Count III alleges defendants' actions “sought to deprive Plaintiff Taylor of her rights to due process and equal protection of the law secured by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution . . . [and] the West Virginia Constitution” [Id. at ¶ 36]. Count IV alleges defendants “violated Plaintiff Taylor's First Amendment rights by engaging in political patronage in retaliation for Plaintiff Taylor seeking the office of Ohio County Assessor” and that plaintiff was fired “for solely political reasons” [Id. at ¶¶ 37-41]. Finally, Count V alleges “[t]he wrongful employment acts and/or omissions taken against Plaintiff Taylor were done in an outrageous manner and were so extreme as to be intolerable in a civilized society. Defendants acted intentionally or with reckless indifference that said actions were likely to cause extreme emotional distress” [Id. at ¶¶ 43-44].

         The action was removed to the United States District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia based on federal question jurisdiction on September 28, 2017 [Doc. 1]. Defendants filed the instant Motion to Dismiss on October 4, 2017 [Doc. 3]. The Motion contends the following:

1. Plaintiff's First Amendment claim does not meet the requirements of Twombly and Iqbal, and must therefore be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted;
2. Plaintiff does not have a clear First Amendment right to candidacy;
3. Plaintiff pleads no facts whatsoever that indicate her “speech” was a “substantial factor” in her dismissal;
4. Plaintiff has no liberty or property right to her employment, and none of Plaintiff's due process rights were violated;
5. Defendants have qualified immunity from Plaintiff's claims; 6. Plaintiff does not properly plead a claim supporting a § 1983 allegation against the Ohio County Commission, and all claims against Ohio County Commission must be dismissed;
7. Plaintiff's claims of “outrage” do not meet the pleading standard set forth in Iqbal and Twombly, and do not meet the standard necessary to continue with the claim.

[Id. at 2-3].

         LEGAL STANDARD

         In reviewing the sufficiency of a complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a district court must accept the factual allegations in the complaint as true. Zak v. Chelsea, 780 F.3d 597, 601 (4th Cir. 2015) (citing Matrix Capital Mgmt. Fund, LP v. Bearing Point, Inc., 576 F.3d 172, 176 (4th Cir. 2009)). While a complaint does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Indeed, courts “are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986).

         A complaint must be dismissed if it does not allege “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Giarratano v. Johnson, 521 F.3d 298, 302 (4th Cir. 2008) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 547) (emphasis added). “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.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). This requires “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. However, when reviewing the sufficiency of a complaint, a court may also consider “documents incorporated into the complaint by reference, and matters of which a court may take judicial notice.” Tellabs, Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights, Ltd., 551 U.S. 308, 322 (2007). A court may consider documents attached to a motion to dismiss when they are “integral to and explicitly relied on in the complaint and . . . the plaintiffs do not challenge [their] authenticity.” American Chiropractic Ass'n v. Trigon Healthcare, Inc., 367 F.3d 212, 234 (4th Cir. 2004).

         “A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of a complaint; importantly, it does not resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses.” Republican Party of N.C. v. Martin, 980 F.2d 943, 952 (4th Cir. 1992). “But in the relatively rare circumstances where facts sufficient to rule on an affirmative defense are alleged in the complaint, the defense may be reached by a motion to dismiss filed under Rule 12(b)(6), ” so long as “all facts necessary to the affirmative defense ‘clearly appear[] on the face of the ...


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