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Ball v. City of Muncie

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

June 25, 2014

RONALD BALL, Plaintiff,

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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For RONALD BALL, Plaintiff: M. Edward Krause, III, COHEN GARELICK & GLAZIER, Indianapolis, IN.

For THE CITY OF MUNCIE, DENNIS TYLER, Defendants: Cory Christian Voight, COOTS HENKE & WHEELER, P.C., Carmel, IN; Matthew L. Hinkle, COOTS HENKE & WHEELER, Carmel, IN.

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SARAH EVANS BARKER, United States District Judge.

This cause is before the Court on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, filed on September 19, 2013, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Plaintiff Ronald Ball has brought claims against Defendants, the City of Muncie and Dennis Tyler, alleging they deprived him of his First Amendment rights in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 when he was terminated from his employment solely because of his political affiliation. Amend. Compl. ¶ 30.

Defendants claim that the Amended Complaint is defective in the following ways: (1) the claims against Dennis Tyler in his official capacity and against the City of Muncie are duplicative; (2) Plaintiff has failed to state a plausible Monell claim against the City; and (3) the position Plaintiff occupied prior to his separation from employment was not one entitled to protection under the First Amendment. For the reasons detailed in this entry, we GRANT IN PART and DENY IN PART Defendants' Motion to Dismiss.

Factual Background

Plaintiff Ronald Ball was an employee of the City of Muncie Street Department (" Street Department" ) from 1999 to 2012. Pl.'s Amend. Compl. ¶ ¶ 7, 25. Ball began his employment with the Street Department as a commercial driver, but eventually achieved the position of Street Foreman in 2005--the position he held until his termination on January 3, 2012. Id. at ¶ ¶ 7, 8. According to the official job description, the Street Foreman " is responsible for working and assisting with directing department operations." Pl.'s Amend. Compl. Ex. A, at 1. Specifically, the Street Foreman's essential job functions include: (1) supervising, coordinating and managing all street department crews; (2) receiving a list of work priorities from the Street Superintendent and scheduling work operation of fixing chuckholes, picking up leaves, and removing snow from streets; (3) dispatching all work crews on a daily basis according to instructions from the Street Superintendent; and (4) receiving and investigating citizen complaint from dispatch regarding City streets and related areas. Id. The Street Foreman is also responsible for assisting in maintaining inventory of department equipment, materials, and supplies, and submitting recommendations to the Street Superintendent as needed. Id.

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Plaintiff claims that, as Street Foreman, he did not have the authority, discretion, or responsibility to decide which potholes were filled first or which streets were plowed first during inclement weather, and he did not have authority to hire or fire any Street Department employees. Amend. Compl. ¶ ¶ 11-12, 15. He insists that potholes were filled in the exact order the department received complaints by citizens via telephone and website, Id. at ¶ 11, and the decisions regarding snowplowing were based on a pre-existing system designed in 1999. Id. at ¶ 12. The routes of the snowplow drivers were decided by the Street Superintendent. Id. Additionally, Plaintiff denies that he had authority to decide which equipment, materials, and supplies were purchased for the department; rather, he would report his inventory to the Street Superintendent, who would then decide which materials, equipment, and supplies to purchase. Id. at ¶ 14. Plaintiff maintains that throughout his employment he exercised no discretion in formulating policies or procedures within the Street Department; instead, he received all of his instructions and delegations of duty from the Street Superintendent. Id. at ¶ 16.

Prior to accepting the Street Foreman position, Plaintiff was informed that the position was not a politically appointed one and the any political change in the administration would have no effect on whether he retained the job. Id. at ¶ 17. From 1999 to 2011, the Republican Party controlled the mayor's office in the City of Muncie, but in November of 2011, the Democratic opponent, Dennis Tyler, defeated the incumbent Republican Mayor, Sharon McShurley. Id. at ¶ ¶ 18-19. On November 30, 2011, Mayor-Elect Tyler sent Plaintiff a letter explaining that he would not be reappointed as the " Chief of Street Maintenance." Id. at ¶ 20. On December 20, 2011, Mayor McShurley sent Mayor-Elect Tyler a letter explaining that Plaintiff was in fact the Street Foreman, not the Chief of Street Maintenance, and that the Street Foreman was not an appointed position. Id. at ¶ 21, Pl.'s Amend. Compl. Ex. B. One week later, Plaintiff received a letter from the soon-to-be Superintendent of Public Works, Duke Campbell, offering Plaintiff the position of truck driver and reassigning him from Street Foreman. Pl.'s Amend. Compl. ¶ 22. On January, 3, 2012, Plaintiff was informed by Mr. Campbell that if he did not accept the position of truck driver, he would be terminated from his employment. Id. at ¶ 24. After Plaintiff refused to voluntarily accept the truck driver position--feeling he was entitled to remain in his current position as Street Foreman--Plaintiff was terminated on January 3, 2012. Id. at ¶ 25.

Plaintiff filed suit more than a year later, on April 19, 2013, naming Dennis Tyler, in both his individual and official capacities, and the City of Muncie as defendants. Plaintiff has asserted a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for deprivation of his First Amendment rights, contending that he was unconstitutionally terminated on January 3, 2012, due to his political affiliation. Id. at ¶ ¶ 23-24.

On September 19, 2013, Defendants filed a Renewed Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) seeking dismissal of all claims asserted against them. Therein Defendants argue that the Street Foreman position is not entitled to First Amendment Protection because the nature of the job makes political loyalty an appropriate qualification for performing the job effectively. The Defendants also argue that the claims against the City of Muncie must be dismissed because they are duplicative of the official-capacity claims against Tyler and because

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Plaintiff has made no plausible claim for municipal liability under Monell.

Legal Standard

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) authorizes dismissal of a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. 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.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2008) (quoting Bell A. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). A complaint is sufficient if it gives " enough details about the subject-matter of the case to present a story that holds together." Swanson v. Citibank, 614 F.3d 400, 404 (7th Cir. 2010). On the other hand, a plaintiff " can plead himself out of court by pleading facts that show that he has no legal claim." Atkins v. City of Chicago, 631 F.3d 823 (7th Cir. 2011). When reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, we accept as true all well-pleaded factual allegations and draw reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Lavalais v. Vill. of Melrose Park, 734 F.3d 629, 632 (7th Cir. 2013). " [O]nce a claim has been stated adequately, it may be supported by showing any set of facts consistent with ...

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