United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Huntington Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
C. CHAMBERS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
are Defendant Mason County Commission's Motion to Dismiss
and Defendant Elizabeth Jones's Motion for Partial
Dismissal, ECF No. 8. For the reasons below, the Court
GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN
PART the Motions.
Lauren Billiter alleges the following facts. Billiter began
working in 2013 as a deputy circuit clerk in Mason County,
West Virginia. ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 2-3. Deputy circuit
clerks are co-employed by the circuit clerk and the Mason
County Commission. Id. ¶ 19. In June 2017, Vera
Caldwell, who is Billiter's mother and a Democrat, became
the circuit clerk of Mason County. Id. ¶¶
7, 13. In November 2018, Defendant Lauren Jones, a
Republican, replaced Caldwell as circuit clerk. Id.
¶ 8. Soon after being sworn in, Jones handed Billiter a
letter of termination and said, “[t]his is for your
mother.” Id. ¶¶ 11, 16. The
defendants then hired three new deputy clerks, all of whom
are registered Republicans. Id. ¶¶ 17-18.
challenges her termination with claims under the West
Virginia Human Rights Act, article III, sections 7, 10, 11,
and 16 of the West Virginia Constitution, and the First and
Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution per
42 U.S.C. § 1983. Id. ¶ 33. The defendants
move to dismiss on three grounds. ECF No. 8. First, the
defendants argue Billiter failed to allege an
unconstitutional policy or custom to hold the County
Commission liable under § 1983. ECF No. 9, at 3-9.
Second, the defendants argue Billiter failed to state a claim
under the West Virginia Constitution because the County
Commission could not be considered the proximate cause of
Billiter's termination. Id. at 9-11. Third, the
defendants argue Billiter's claims under the West
Virginia Human Rights Act fail because she is not a member of
a protected class. Id. at 11-14.
survive a motion to dismiss, a plaintiff's complaint must
contain “a short and plain statement of the claim
showing [the plaintiff] is entitled to relief.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). The facts contained in the statement
need not be probable, but the statement must contain
“enough facts to state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). 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)
(citation omitted). In considering the plausibility of a
plaintiff's claim, the Court must accept all factual
allegations in the complaint as true. Id.
The complaint fails to state a claim against the County
Commission under § 1983.
defendants first argue that Billiter insufficiently alleges
the County Commission is liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
ECF No. 9, at 3-9. Under Monell v. Department of Social
Services, courts may hold a local government entity
liable for its officers' actions under § 1983 only
if the entity itself caused the deprivation of the
plaintiff's rights. Connick v. Thompson, 563
U.S. 51, 60 (2011) (citing Monell, 436 U.S. 658, 692
(1978)). A plaintiff can prevail if she suffered a
deprivation of her federal rights and the execution of the
government's “policy or custom” inflicted the
injury. Lytle v. Doyle, 326 F.3d 463, 471 (4th Cir.
2003). A local government entity can develop a policy or
custom in four ways:
(1) through an express policy, such as a written ordinance or
regulation; (2) through the decisions of a person with final
policymaking authority; (3) through an omission, such as a
failure to properly train officers, that “manifest[s]
deliberate indifference to the rights of citizens”; or
(4) through a practice that is so “persistent and
widespread” as to constitute a “custom or usage
with the force of law.”
Id. (quoting Carter v. Morris, 164 F.3d
215, 217 (4th Cir. 1999)).
first, third, and fourth theories are inapplicable here.
Billiter does not allege the existence of an express policy,
so the first theory does not apply. The third theory is also
inapplicable because Billiter does not allege that a decision
by the County Commission reflects deliberate indifference to
the risk that allegedly unlawful terminations like
Billiter's would follow. See Carter v. Morris,
164 F.3d 215, 218 (4th Cir. 1999) (quoting Bd. of Cnty.
Comm'rs v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 411 (1997)). Lastly,
the complaint does not implicate the fourth theory because
Billiter does not allege multiple incidents of unlawful
conduct. See Nichols v. Cty. Comm'n of Cabell
Cty., No. 3:18-0266, 2018 WL 4016311, at *5 (S.D. W.Va.
Aug. 22, 2018) (holding plaintiff sufficiently alleged other
instances of unconstitutional conduct for his Monell
claim against the County Commission to proceed).
Court thus analyzes Billiter's allegations that the
Commission permitted or authorized her termination under the
second theory. ECF No. 1 ¶ 24. The Commission's
liability depends on who had authority to terminate Billiter,
and the Court turns to state law for this determination.
See Hall v. Marion Sch. Dist. No. 2, 31 F.3d 183,
196 (4th Cir. 1994) (citation omitted). Under West Virginia
Code section 7-7-7(h), each circuit clerk has “the
authority to discharge any of his or her assistants, deputies
or employees by filing with the clerk of the county
commission a discharge statement specifying the discharge
action . . . .” The Commission argues this subsection
grants the circuit clerk sole authority to terminate
deputies, so the Commission cannot be liable for the
termination. ECF No. 9, at 7. However, the Court rejected
this argument in Nichols v. County Commission of Cabell
County. 2018 WL 4016311, at ...