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Capone v. University of Arkansas

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fayetteville Division

June 20, 2016

UNIVERSITY OF ARKANSAS, and the Board of Trustees of the University of Arkansas as a Public Body Corporate; UNIVERSITY OF ARKANSAS, a Political Subdivision of the State of Arkansas; UNIVERSITY OF ARKANSAS, Operating and D/B/A/ RAZORBACK TRANSIT; and JANE DOE & JOHN DOE DEFENDANTS



         Currently before the Court are Plaintiff Sterling Capone's Motion for Leave to File Amended Complaint (Doc. 19) and Memorandum in Support (Doc. 20), as well as Defendants University of Arkansas and the Board of Trustees' (collectively, "the University") Objection (Doc. 23) and Brief in Support (Doc. 24). Also before the Court are the University's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 6) and Brief in Support (Doc. 7), Ms. Capone's Response (Doc. 10), the University's Reply (Doc. 11), Ms. Capone's Supplemental Response (Doc. 15), the University's Response to her Supplemental Response (Doc. 16), and a final Response (Doc. 21) submitted by Ms. Capone after her attorney entered his appearance. For the reasons given below, Ms. Capone's Motion is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART, and the University's Motion is MOOT.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Ms. Capone alleges that she was employed by the University as a bus driver from around March 2014 until around November 22, 2014, and that during her employment she was subjected to sexual harassment and discrimination by various supervisors. She further alleges that on numerous occasions she informed her supervisors of workplace practices that she believed to be unsafe or unlawful, and that her supervisors ignored and sometimes explicitly overrode her requests that such practices be stopped or corrected. Ms. Capone asserts that she complained to the University's human resources department of these and other related matters on November 21, 2014, and that she was fired in retaliation the very next day.

         Around May 8, 2015, Ms. Capone submitted an intake questionnaire to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), in order to initiate the process of filing formal charges with that agency against the University under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000(e) et seq. ("Title VII"). Around June 18, 2015, the EEOC concluded its investigation into Ms. Capone's claims and mailed her a letter informing her that it was unable to conclude that a violation of Title VII had occurred, and that she had ninety days within which to file a lawsuit under that statute in federal court, if she wished to do so. Ninety days later, Ms. Capone initiated this lawsuit pro se, filing her original Complaint (Doc. 1) in this Court and asserting three counts against the University: retaliation in violation of Title VII, sex discrimination in violation of Title VII, and retaliation in violation of the Arkansas Whistleblower Act, Ark. Code Ann. § 21-1-603 ("AWA").

         On December 8, 2015, the University filed its Motion, arguing that Ms. Capone's Complaint should be dismissed under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The parties filed various dueling briefs regarding this Motion before counsel for Ms. Capone entered his appearance on March 15, 2016. Then, on April 6, 2016, Ms. Capone's attorney filed a supplemental Response in opposition to the University's Motion, along with a Motion for Leave to file an amended complaint which would assert two counts under Title VII, one count under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 ("Title IX"), one count under the AWA, one count under the Arkansas Civil Rights Act ("ACRA"), and one count of negligence under Arkansas common law. A couple of weeks later, the University filed its Response in opposition to Ms. Capone's Motion, arguing that amendment of Ms. Capone's Complaint would be futile. Both motions are now fully briefed and ripe for decision.


         When a defendant opposes granting leave to file an amended complaint on the grounds that amendment would be futile, the Court must determine whether the proposed amended complaint would survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. See Zutz v. Nelson, 601 F.3d 842, 850 (8th Cir. 2010). To survive such a motion, the proposed amended complaint must provide "a short and plain statement of the claim that [Plaintiffs are] entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). The purpose of this requirement is to "give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). The Court must accept all of the proposed amended complaint's factual allegations as true, and construe them in the light most favorable to Ms. Capone, drawing all reasonable inferences in her favor. See Ashley Cty., Ark. v. Pfizer, Inc., 552 F.3d 659, 665 (8th Cir. 2009).

         However, the proposed amended 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 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 the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. "A pleading that offers 'labels and conclusions' or 'a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.' Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders 'naked assertion[s]' devoid of 'further factual enhancement.'" Id. In other words, while "the pleading standard that Rule 8 announces does not require 'detailed factual allegations, ' ... it demands more than an unadorned, the defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Id.

         Generally, Rule 12(b)(6) motions must be decided on the face of the pleadings. Rule 12(d) states that if the Court considers "matters outside the pleadings" when ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, then "the motion must be treated as one for summary judgment" and "[a]ll parties must be given a reasonable opportunity to present all the material that is pertinent to the motion." However, the Court "may consider. . . matters of public and administrative record referenced in the complaint" without converting a Rule 12(b)(6) motion into a motion for summary judgment. Great Plains Trust Co. v. Union Pac. R.R. Co., 492 F.3d 986, 990 (8th Cir. 2007). Although the parties have referenced various public and administrative filings with the EEOC, the Court has no need to consult such materials in order to resolve the instant issues, though the preceding "background" section of this Order contains some information gleaned therefrom, solely to provide some context for readers.

         As for Rule 12(b)(1) motions, "the question may be resolved either on the face of the pleadings or upon factual determinations made in consideration of matters outside of the pleadings." Bhd. of Maint. of Way Emps. Div. of Intern. Bhd. of Teamsters v. Union Pac. R.R. Co., 475 F.Supp.2d 819, 834-35 (N.D. Iowa 2007) (citing Titus v. Sullivan, 4 F.3d 590, 593 (8th Cir. 1993); Osbom v. United States, 918 F.2d 724, 729 & n.6 (8th Cir. 1990)). The Court will resolve the instant question of subject-matter jurisdiction on the face of the pleadings, and therefore for purposes of this issue accepts all factual allegations in Ms. Capone's proposed amended complaint as true, and draws all reasonable inferences in Ms. Capone's favor. Id.


         The Court begins by considering Ms. Capone's Motion for Leave to File Amended Complaint, which the University opposes on grounds of futility. Below, the Court addresses in turn the University's arguments as to Ms. Capone's ...

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