United States District Court, D. Maryland
LORELEE M. FARRELL, et al., Plaintiffs,
BOARD OF EDUCATION OF ALLEGANY COUNTY, et al., Defendants.
L. Russell, III United States District Judge
MATTER is before the Court on Defendants', Board of
Education of Allegany County (the “Board”), David
A. Cox, Benjamin Brauer, and Sheree Witt, Motion to Dismiss
(ECF No. 6). This 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action arises from
Plaintiffs', Lorelee M. Farrell and Robert S. Farrell,
involvement in the Board's 2014 election and the
subsequent end of their employment with Allegany County
Public Schools (“ACPS”). The Motion is ripe for
disposition, and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule
105.6 (D.Md. 2016). For the reasons outlined below, the Court
will grant in part and deny in part the Motion.
Farrell was a tenured teacher with ACPS. (Compl. ¶ 13,
ECF No. 2). He first worked as a teacher from 2003 to 2007
and then worked as the Coordinator of Safety and Security
from 2007 until his termination in 2015. (Id.
¶¶ 16, 36). According to Mr. Farrell, he was a
successful teacher and received commendable evaluations for
most of his time with ACPS. (Id. ¶ 18). Mrs.
Farrell was a Health and Family Life Assistant Supervisor
with ACPS. (Id. ¶ 15). Like Mr. Farrell, Mrs.
Farrell experienced success at her position and received
commendable evaluations for most of her time with ACPS.
(Id. ¶ 19).
2014, Mrs. Farrell ran for elected office with the Board.
(Id. ¶ 21). Mr. Farrell spoke in support of
Mrs. Farrell's campaign. (Id. ¶¶ 21,
50). One campaign issue publically discussed leading up to
the Board election was a 2013 revision of the Board's
communication policy (“Revised Policy”).
(Id. ¶¶ 22, 24, 25). The Revised Policy
required all communication between Board employees to go
through the Superintendent, Defendant Cox, who enacted the
Policy. (Id. ¶¶ 24, 27). Mrs. Farrell
voiced her opposition to the Revised Policy during her 2014
campaign. (Id. ¶¶ 22, 26). She argued that
the Revised Policy limited communication and that, instead,
the Board should foster communication to further the public
interest. (Id. ¶ 26). Mr. Farrell also opposed
Cox's stance on the Revised Policy. (See Id.
¶ 29). Later in the 2014 campaign, the Board revised the
communication policy again to remove the 2013 revisions and
formally encourage communication between Board employees.
(Id. ¶ 28).
the 2014 campaign, Defendant Brauer, Mr. Farrell's
supervisor, conducted a performance evaluation of Mr. Farrell
and found he needed improvement, for the first time, in four
categories of his job. (Id. ¶ 30). After the
election, on January 16, 2015, Defendant Witt, Mrs.
Farrell's supervisor, conducted a performance evaluation
of Mrs. Farrell and found she needed improvement, for the
first time, in three categories of her job evaluation.
(Id. ¶ 31).
of 2015, the Board granted Mrs. Farrell's request for
leave to receive cancer treatment. (Id. ¶ 37).
On January 16, 2015, Brauer and Witt required Mr. Farrell to
attend a hearing in February of 2015 in order to provide him
“due process” -- but did not reveal any
additional details about the hearing's purpose.
(Id. ¶ 32). Witt also told Mr. Farrell that he
“doesn't live in a vacuum” at the Board,
which Mr. Farrell interpreted as a threat to his employment.
(Id. ¶ 33). Mr. Farrell never received any
notice detailing any charges against him or any evidence that
would serve as a basis for employment decisions.
(Id. ¶ 34).
hearing took place on February 2, 2015, and Mr. Farrell
attended with counsel. (Id. ¶¶ 32, 34).
Mr. Farrell sought additional information regarding any
charges against him, notice of offense, or evidence that
would serve as a basis for employment decisions, but neither
Witt nor Brauer provided any of that information during the
hearing. (Id. ¶ 35). Mr. Farrell objected to
the Board's hearing. (Id.). On June 30, 2015,
the Board terminated Mr. Farrell's employment with ACPS,
citing the elimination of Mr. Farrell's Coordinator of
Safety and Security position as its reason. (Id.
¶ 36). When Mrs. Farrell returned from leave in December
of 2015, the Board significantly changed her job
responsibilities, placing her in a position equivalent to a
teacher's classroom assistant. (Id. ¶ 38).
She later retired in January of 2016 “solely as a
result of the acts and actions” of the Board.
(Id. ¶ 39).
17, 2016, The Farrells sued Defendants in the Circuit Court
for Allegany County, Maryland. (Compl.). They allege three
counts: (1) violation of Mrs. Farrell's First Amendment
rights; (2) violation of Mr. Farrell's First Amendment
rights; and (3) violation of Mr. Farrell's due process
rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States
Constitution and under Article 24 of the Maryland Declaration
of Rights. (Id.). The Farrells seek monetary damages
and retrospective and prospective injunctive relief. On June
21, 2016, Defendants removed the action to this Court. (ECF
No. 1). On June 28, 2016, Defendants move to dismiss each
claim for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be
granted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (ECF
No. 6). On July 22, 2016, the Farrells filed a Response, (ECF
No. 11), and on August 8, 2016, Defendants filed a Reply.
(ECF No. 12).
Standard of Review
purpose of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion “is to test the
sufficiency of a complaint, ” not to “resolve
contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the
applicability of defenses.” Edwards v. City of
Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243-44 (4th Cir. 1999) (quoting
Republican Party v. Martin, 980 F.2d 943, 952 (4th
Cir. 1992)). A complaint fails to state a claim if it does
not contain “a short and plain statement of the claim
showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” Rule
8(a)(2), or does not “state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face, ” Ashcroft v. Iqbal,
556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is facially
plausible “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. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).
“Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of
action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not
suffice.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at
555). Though the plaintiff is not required to forecast
evidence to prove the elements of the claim, the complaint
must allege sufficient facts to establish each element.
Goss v. Bank of Am., N.A., 917 F.Supp.2d 445, 449
(D.Md. 2013) (quoting Walters v. McMahen, 684 F.3d
435, 439 (4th Cir. 2012)), aff'd sub nom., Goss v.
Bank of Am., NA, 546 F.App'x 165 (4th Cir. 2013).
considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court must examine the
complaint as a whole, consider the factual allegations in the
complaint as true, and construe the factual allegations in
the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Albright v.
Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 268 (1994); Lambeth v. Bd. of
Comm'rs of Davidson Cty., 407 F.3d 266, 268 (4th
Cir. 2005) (citing Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232,
236 (1974)). But, the court need not accept unsupported or
conclusory factual allegations devoid of any reference to
actual events, United Black Firefighters v. Hirst,
604 F.2d 844, 847 (4th Cir. 1979), or legal conclusions
couched as factual allegations, Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.
Eleventh Amendment Immunity from Suit
Farrells bring their claims under § 1983. Section 1983
provides that a plaintiff may file suit against any person
who, acting under color of state law, “subjects, or
causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or
other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the
deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured
by the Constitution and laws” of the United States. 42
U.S.C. § 1983. Section 1983 “is not itself a
source of substantive rights, ' but merely provides
‘a method for vindicating federal rights elsewhere
conferred.” Albright v. Oliver,510 U.S. 266,
271 (1994) (quoting Baker v. McCollan,443 U.S. 137,
144 n.3 (1979)). To state a claim under § 1983, “a
plaintiff must aver that a ...