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Martin v. Copeland

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division

January 17, 2017

TERRI G. MARTIN, Plaintiff,
v.
ANTHONY COPELAND, et al ., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JOSEPH S. VAN BOKKELEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Terri G. Martin sued the City of East Chicago, its mayor, and three other individuals in connection with her employment termination in October 2015. East Chicago moved for partial dismissal. (DE 9.) The four individual Defendants also moved for dismissal. (DE 11.)

         A. Standard for evaluating a motion to dismiss

         The purpose of a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim is to test the sufficiency of the pleadings, not to decide the merits of the case. See Gibson v. Chi., 910 F.2d 1510, 1520 (7th Cir. 1990). Rule 8(a)(2) provides that a complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” However, “recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)).[1]

         As the Supreme Court has stated, “the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions.” Id. Rather, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Id. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). A complaint is facially plausible if a court can reasonably infer from factual content in the pleading that the defendant is liable for the alleged wrongdoing. Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

         The Seventh Circuit has synthesized the standard into three requirements. See Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 581 (7th Cir. 2009). “First, a plaintiff must provide notice to defendants of her claims. Second, courts must accept a plaintiff's factual allegations as true, but some factual allegations will be so sketchy or implausible that they fail to provide sufficient notice to defendants of the plaintiff's claim. Third, in considering the plaintiff's factual allegations, courts should not accept as adequate abstract recitations of the elements of a cause of action or conclusory legal statements.” Id.

         B. Plaintiff's complaint

         Martin alleges the following:

         She entered into an employment contract on December 17, 2014, with the East Chicago Board of Health to act as its Director from January 1, 2015, to December 31, 2017. The contract says Martin may be removed from her position only for cause after a hearing by the East Chicago Board of Health.

         Mayor Copeland “looked with disfavor” on Martin's handling of certain matters-Martin doesn't say why-and as a result the individual Defendants conspired to terminate Martin's employment.

         On October 13, 2015, Dabertin and Favella delivered a letter to Martin signed by Browning, terminating Martin's employment without a hearing. Dabertin and Favella demanded Martin turn over various items, and they confined her in her office and intimidated her.

         Martin purports to bring § 1983 claims under the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments. She claims the contract created a property interest in her employment protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. She claims she did not receive a pre-termination hearing or opportunity to object. She claims political considerations of the Defendants motivated the termination. She claims Defendants retaliated against her for exercising her rights in the performance of her duties.

         Martin also purports to bring state claims for intentional tortious interference with contract, confinement, intimidation, and defamation.

         C. Discussion

         (1) Defendant East Chicago's motion to dismiss

         (a) Defamation

         Defendant East Chicago seeks dismissal of the defamation claim because the complaint does not state the specific defamatory statement, nor does the Complaint allege East Chicago published any statement. In her response, Plaintiff Martin failed to address these arguments.

         The Supreme Court of Indiana considers it a matter of hornbook law that a plaintiff must include the alleged defamatory statement in the complaint. Trail v. Boys & Girls Clubs Nw. Ind., 845 N.E.2d 130, 136-37 (Ind. 2006). And even under the liberal federal pleading standards, Plaintiff failed to state a defamation claim because she failed to put East Chicago on notice regarding the claim's basis. Plaintiff has not alleged who said what, even by way of paraphrase.

         Moreover, Plaintiff waived her defamation claim by failing to respond to East Chicago's arguments for its dismissal. Bonte v. U.S. Bank, N.S., 624 F.3d 461, 466 (7th Cir. 2010).

         The Court therefore dismisses Plaintiff's defamation claim against Defendant East Chicago.

         (b) Tortious interference with contract

         Defendant East Chicago seeks dismissal of Plaintiff's tortious-interference claim on the ground that this tort requires the action of an independent third party. East Chicago argues it is not an independent third party because one of the parties to the contract-the East Chicago Board of Health-is an instrumentality of East Chicago. Therefore, the argument goes, East Chicago is not an independent third party whose actions could give rise to a claim for tortious interference with contract.

         Although Plaintiff addressed this claim in her response to East Chicago's motion to dismiss, Plaintiff failed to address the argument that East Chicago cannot be liable for this claim because it is not a third party with respect to the contract. Plaintiff presented no argument against East Chicago's assertion that the East Chicago Board of Health, which was a party to the contract, is an instrumentality of East Chicago such that East Chicago is not a third party.

         The Supreme Court of Indiana recognizes that a party cannot interfere with its own contracts, so only third parties can commit tortious ...


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