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Dell Cullum v. Teton County

March 7, 2011

DELL CULLUM, PLAINTIFF,
v.
TETON COUNTY, A BODY POLITIC AND CORPORATE WITHIN THE STATE OF IDAHO, LLOYD WISER, IN HIS INDIVIDUAL AND OFFICIAL CAPACITY, AND LOUIS SIMONET, IN HIS INDIVIDUAL AND OFFICIAL CAPACITY, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable B. Lynn Winmill Chief U. S. District Judge

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

INTRODUCTION

The Court has before it Plaintiff's Motion to Amend (Dkt. 11) and Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Dkt. 15).

BACKGROUND

The Plaintiff, Dell Cullum, was employed by Defendant Teton County and worked at Teton County's solid waste processing facility. Proposed Amended Complaint, Dkt. 11-1 at ¶ 10. Defendant Lloyd Wiser was Mr. Cullum's immediate supervisor; Defendant Louis Simonet oversaw the entire facility. Id. at ¶¶ 11-12.

In early 2009, Mr. Cullum interceded on behalf of a co-worker whom Mr. Wiser was physically attacking and verbally abusing. Mr. Cullum reported the incident to Teton County. Id. at ¶¶ 14-17.

On July 17, 2009, Mr. Wiser accused Mr. Cullum of damaging a piece of equipment the two were repairing. Id. at ¶ 19. Mr. Wiser became verbally aggressive with Mr. Cullum, prompting Mr. Cullum to walk away. Id. at ¶ 21. Mr. Wiser twice blocked Mr. Cullum's exit while continuing to verbally abuse him. Id. at ¶¶ 22-26. Mr. Wiser struck Mr. Cullum in the chest three times before Mr. Cullum was able to leave the solid waste facility. Id. at ¶ 27.

Mr. Cullum went directly to the Teton County administrative office and asked to speak to Defendant Louis Simonet. Id. at ¶¶ 29-30. Unable to speak with Mr. Simonet, Mr. Cullum went to the Teton County Sheriff's office and reported the incident with Mr. Wiser. Id. at ¶¶ 31-32.

Later that day, Mr. Simonet gave Mr. Cullum a termination notice. The notice stated that Mr. Cullum had (1) been insubordinate, (2) damaged county property, (3) failed to follow instructions, and (4) engaged in abusive conduct. The notice stated that Mr. Cullum could request a hearing from Teton County within fourteen days. The Teton County employee manual also stated that a fired employee had the right to a name clearing hearing. Id. at ¶¶ 33-35. Mr. Cullum timely requested a hearing, but Teton County did not provide one or respond to his request. Id. at ¶¶ 36-37.

On December 10, 2009, pursuant to I.C. § 6-901 ("Idaho tort claims act"), Mr. Cullum presented his claims to Teton County. Teton County declined to respond thereto. Id. at ¶ 42. On June 11, 2010, Mr. Cullum filed a complaint with this Court against Teton County, Mr. Wiser, and Mr. Simonet. Complaint, Dkt. 1. A proposed amended complaint, along with a motion for leave to file, was filed on December 14, 2010. Motion to Amend/Correct, Dkt. 11. Mr. Cullum asserts two causes of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983: violation of bodily integrity and deprivation of due process. Mr. Cullum invokes supplemental jurisdiction to assert three state law causes of action: assault, battery, and infliction of emotional distress. Proposed Amended Complaint, Dkt. 11. The Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the proposed amended complaint on December 28, 2010. Response to Motion to Amend/Correct and Motion to Dismiss, Dkt. 15.

LEGAL STANDARD

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires only "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief," in order to "give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964 (2007). While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss "does not need detailed factual allegations," it must set forth "more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Id. at 555. To 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. 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. at 556. The plausibility standard is not akin to a "probability requirement," but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully. Id. Where a complaint pleads facts that are "merely consistent with" a defendant's liability, it "stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of 'entitlement to relief.'" Id. at 557.

In a more recent case, the Supreme Court identified two "working principles" that underlie Twombly. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). First, the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Id. "Rule 8 marks a notable and generous departure from the hyper-technical, code-pleading regime of a prior era, but it does not unlock the doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions." Id. at 1950. Second, only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss. Id. "Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will . . . be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id.

Providing too much in the complaint may also be fatal to a plaintiff. Dismissal may be appropriate when the plaintiff has included sufficient allegations disclosing some absolute defense or bar to recovery. See Weisbuch v. County of L.A., 119 F.3d 778, 783, n.1 (9th Cir. 1997) (stating that "[i]f the pleadings establish facts compelling a decision one way, that is as good as if depositions and other . . . evidence on summary judgment establishes the identical facts").

A dismissal without leave to amend is improper unless it is beyond doubt that the complaint "could not be saved by any amendment." Harris v. Amgen, Inc., 573 F.3d 728, 737 (9th Cir. 2009) (issued 2 months after Iqbal).*fn1 The Ninth Circuit has held that "in dismissals for failure to state a claim, a district court should grant leave to amend even if no request to amend the pleading was made, unless it determines that the pleading could not possibly be cured by the allegation of other facts." Cook, Perkiss and Liehe, Inc. v. Northern California Collection Service, Inc., 911 F.2d 242, 247 (9th Cir. 1990). The issue is not whether a plaintiff will prevail but whether ...


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