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Townsend v. Autozone Stores, LLC

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

November 4, 2016

JOSEPH TOWNSEND PLAINTIFF
v.
AUTOZONE STORES, INC., et al DEFENDANTS

          ORDER

          Susan O. Hickey United States District Judge.

         Before the Court are two motions to dismiss (ECF Nos. 6 and 14) filed by Defendants AutoZone Stores, LLC, [1] AutoZone Development, LLC, AutoZone Texas, LLC, AutoZoners, LLC, and Randy Magness (collectively referred to as “Defendants”). Subsequent to Defendants' first Motion to Dismiss, (ECF No. 6), Plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint which seeks relief on allegations of additional violations. Plaintiff's Amended Complaint thus supersedes the original Complaint, and Defendants' First Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 6) is moot. Plaintiff has filed a response to Defendants' second Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 25), and Defendants have replied (ECF No. 26). The Court finds this matter ripe for consideration.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff is an African American male who was hired by Separate Defendants AutoZone Stores, LLC (hereinafter referred to as “AutoZone Stores”) and AutoZoners, LLC (hereinafter referred to as “AutoZoners”) in 1995.[2] Plaintiff contends that he was subjected to discriminatory treatment based upon his race during his employment. Specifically, Plaintiff asserts that he was denied promotions in favor of lesser qualified Caucasian applicants, falsely accused of taking store products in violation of company policy, and illegally denied overtime wages. In addition, Plaintiff contends that Separate Defendant Randy Magness, Plaintiff's most recent district manager, transferred him to a different store against company policy on June 6, 2011. Plaintiff asserts that he reported Magness to the regional manager and filed employment discrimination and retaliation charges with the EEOC against Magness. On September 13, 2011, Plaintiff was terminated from his position.

         II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On October 13, 2011, Plaintiff filed an EEOC charge against Defendants. Plaintiff received his right to sue letter from the EEOC on August 10, 2012. On November 8, 2012, Plaintiff filed an action in the Circuit Court of Lafayette County, Arkansas, against Separate Defendants AutoZone Stores, and Randy Magness alleging violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1981, the Arkansas Civil Rights Act (“ACRA”), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), the Arkansas Minimum Wage Act (“AMWA”) and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The action was later removed to federal court. Plaintiff subsequently filed a motion pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(2) to voluntarily dismiss his claims against Defendants without prejudice, which was granted by this Court on October 2, 2014.

         On October 2, 2015, Plaintiff filed the instant action in the Circuit Court of Lafayette County, Arkansas. The Complaint alleged claims of race discrimination and retaliation in violation of the ACRA. The Complaint also alleged violations of the FLSA and the AMWA. The Complaint named AutoZone Stores, Inc., AutoZone Stores, LLC, AutoZone Development, LLC (hereinafter referred to as “AutoZone Development”), AutoZone Texas, LLC (hereinafter referred to as “AutoZone, Texas”), AutoZoners and Randy Magness as Separate Defendants.

         On April 4, 2016, Plaintiff filed his Amended Complaint. In his Amended Complaint, Plaintiff asserts claims of race discrimination and retaliation in violation of the ACRA and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. The Amended Complaint also alleges violations of the AMWA. The Amended Complaint asserts each of the aforementioned claims against Separate Defendants AutoZone Stores, AutoZoners, and Randy Magness. The suit was removed to this Court on April 20, 2016.

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a party may assert, by motion, a defense of “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). A motion to dismiss should only be granted when a plaintiff fails to proffer “enough facts to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). When considering a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court accepts all facts alleged in the Complaint as true. Knapp v. Hanson, 183 F.3d 786, 788 (8th Cir. 1999). The Court must construe all reasonable inferences arising from the complaint in favor of the nonmoving party. Crumpley-Patterson v. Trinity Lutheran Hosp., 388 F.3d 588, 590 (8th Cir. 2004).

         IV. DISCUSSION

         A. Separate Defendants AutoZone Development and AutoZone Texas

         First, Defendants move the Court to dismiss all claims against AutoZone Development and AutoZone Texas. Defendants contend that Plaintiff's Amended Complaint fails to assert any facts that would support relief against these Defendants. Defendants further assert that, although Plaintiff's original Complaint (ECF No. 4) named AutoZone Development and AutoZone Texas as defendants, the Amended Complaint removes both of them from the caption and body of the pleading. Defendants argue that, as a result of this omission, Plaintiff intended to dismiss all claims against AutoZone Development and AutoZone Texas. Defendants move the court to construe the Amended Complaint as a motion for voluntary dismissal without prejudice pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(2). In his Response, Plaintiff does not appear to oppose Defendants' argument that he voluntarily dismissed the claims against AutoZone Development and AutoZone Texas through filing the Amended Complaint.

         “An amendment pursuant to Rule 15 that eliminates (or proposes to eliminate) all causes of action against a particular defendant is the same as a motion to dismiss under Rule 41(a)(2) as to that defendant.” Dee-K Enterprises, Inc. v. Heveafil Sdn. Bhd., 177 F.R.D. 351, 355 (E.D. Va. 1998). When a plaintiff “seeks the equivalent of a voluntary dismissal through some other procedural device, the court may treat the application as if made under Rule 41(a)(2).” Moore's Federal Practice, Civil - § 41.40 [4][a] (2015); see also Cooper v. City of Westerville, Ohio, No. 2:13-cv-427, 2014 WL 617650, at *6 (S.D. Ohio Feb. 18, 2014) (construing a plaintiff's amendment under Rule 15, which dropped all § 1983 claims against defendants, as a proper dismissal under Rule 41).

         In the present case, Plaintiff essentially dismissed his claims against Separate Defendants AutoZone Development and AutoZone Texas through the filing of amendments to his original Complaint which removed all references to them. Although Plaintiff did not file a Rule 41(a) motion for voluntary dismissal, the effect of his amendments to the original Complaint was that of voluntarily dismissing those parties. The Court concludes that Plaintiff's Amended Complaint is properly construed as a voluntary dismissal under Rule 41 as to Separate Defendants AutoZone Development and AutoZone Texas. Accordingly, the Court finds that Defendants' Motion to ...


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