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Smith v. Town of Cramerton

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division

September 5, 2019

RANDALL SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
TOWN OF CRAMERTON, a municipal corporation, DAVID PUGH, Town of Cramerton Manager, in his Official and Individual Capacity, WILL CAUTHEN, Town of Cramerton Mayor, in his Official and Individual Capacity, DEMETRIOS KOUTSOUPIAS, Town of Cramerton Mayor Pro Tempore and Commissioner, in his Official and Individual Capacity, HOUSTON HELMS, Town of Cramerton Commissioner, in his Official and Individual Capacity, SUSAN NEELEY, Town of Cramerton Commissioner, in her Official and Individual Capacity, DONALD RICE, Town of Cramerton Commissioner, in his Official and Individual Capacity, and DIXIE ABERNATHY, Town of Cramerton Commissioner, in her Official and Individual Capacity. Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND RECOMMENDATION AND ORDER

          David C. Keesler United States Magistrate Judge

         THIS MATTER IS BEFORE THE COURT on “Defendants' Motion to Dismiss” (Document No. 13). This motion has been referred to the undersigned Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and is now ripe for disposition. Having carefully considered the arguments, the record, and the applicable authority, the undersigned will respectfully recommend that the motion be granted in part and denied in part.

         In summary, for the reasons stated below, all causes of action against the individual Defendants - in both their official and individual capacities - should be dismissed. Causes of Action Two, Three, and Four against Defendant Town of Cramerton should also be dismissed. Causes of Action One, Five, Six, and Seven against Defendant Town of Cramerton should survive at this stage of the litigation.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Randall Smith (“Plaintiff” or “Smith”) was employed by the Town of Cramerton from on or about February 2, 1982 until November 19, 1992, as a Reserve Police Officer. (Document No. 1, ¶ 16); see also (Document Nos. 1-2 and 1-3). From November 19, 1992, to June 30, 2010, Mr. Smith was employed by the Town of McAdenville as a regular full-time Law Enforcement Officer. (Document No. 1, ¶¶ 24, 41). Plaintiff was again employed by the Town of Cramerton from July 1, 2010, until on or about July 30, 2018, where he worked as a patrol officer until August 2017, and was then reassigned as a School Resource Officer with the Cramerton Police Department. Id. at ¶¶ 41, 43, 45).

         Mr. Smith's retirement from the Cramerton Police Department took effect on August 1, 2018. Id. at ¶ 46. At the time of his retirement, Mr. Smith had over twenty-five years of full-time, paid employment and over thirty-six years of total employment, including eleven years as a Reserve Officer, with the Towns of McAdenville and Cramerton. Id. at ¶¶ 53-54.

         On December 7, 2004, the Town of Cramerton adopted a resolution creating the “Retiree's Health Benefit” (the “Benefit”) to “pay 100% of the health insurance premiums of any retiree with 25 years of service until the age of 65.” Id. at ¶ 26. There is disagreement as to whether the Benefit was amended. Pleading in the alternative, Plaintiff alleges that the Benefit was either amended to require thirty years of service in July of 2005 or September of 2010, or was not duly amended at all. Id. at ¶¶ 29, 30, 35. The term “service” is not defined in either the Town of Cramerton's policies or the meeting minutes implementing the Benefit. Id. at ¶ 28.

         On July 1, 2010, the Town of McAdenville entered into an Interlocal Cooperation Agreement (the “Agreement”) dissolving its police department and allowing the Cramerton Police Department (“CPD”) to be the primary provider of police services for both towns. Id. at ¶¶ 36, 38(c); see also (Document No. 1-4). The Agreement incorporated an Implementation Plan (the “Plan”), in which the Town of Cramerton agreed to assume the then “current McAdenville Police Department (“MPD”) full-time employees, ” including Mr. Smith. Id. at ¶¶ 37, 39(a); see also (Document No. 1-5). The Plan provided that current MPD personnel “would comply with . . . Town of Cramerton Personnel Policies to include salary and benefits” and “would enjoy their current years of service at CPD with salaries commensurate to current CPD officers. . . .” Id. at ¶ 39(b). The term “service” is not defined in the Agreement or the Plan. Id. at ¶ 40.

         Plaintiff filed a Complaint with this Court on November 26, 2018. Id. The crux of the Complaint is that Defendants have failed to provide Plaintiff health insurance in accordance with the Benefit. Id. at ¶ 55. The Complaint asserts causes of action against Defendant Town of Cramerton (“Town of Cramerton”) and seven individually listed town officials (“Town Officials”), including: David Pugh, Town of Cramerton Manager; Will Cauthen, Town of Cramerton Mayor; Demetrios Koutsoupias, Town of Cramerton Mayor Pro Tempore and Commissioner; Houston Helms, Town of Cramerton Commissioner; Susan Neeley, Town of Cramerton Commissioner; Donald Rice, Town of Cramerton Commissioner; and Dixie Abernathy, Town of Cramerton Commissioner. (Document No. 1). The claims against Town Officials are in both their official and individual capacities. Id. at 1.

         The Complaint asserts seven Causes Of Action: (1) Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a violation of Procedural and Substantive Due Process under the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution; (2) Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a violation of Article I, Section 10, the Contracts Clause of the U.S. Constitution; (3) A violation of Article I, Section 19, the Law of the Land Clause of the North Carolina Constitution; (4) A violation of Article I, Section 1, the Fruits of Your Own Labor Clause of the North Carolina Constitution; (5) Breach of Contract; (6) Breach of Contract, Third Party Beneficiary; and (7) Breach of the Implied Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealing. (Document No. 1, ¶¶ 56-168). Each Cause of Action is asserted as to all Defendants.

         “Defendants' Motion to Dismiss” (Document No. 13) was filed on January 25, 2019. Defendants seek “dismissal of all of Plaintiff's causes of action except Plaintiff's cause of action for violation of Substantive Due process pursuant to the Fourteenth Amendment. . . .” (Document No. 13-1, p. 2). “Plaintiff's Response to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss” (Document No. 17) was filed on February 15, 2019. Defendants' “Memorandum of Law in Support of Defendants' Partial Motion to Dismiss” (Document No. 18) was filed on February 22, 2019.

         The pending motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for review and a recommendation to the Honorable Robert J. Conrad, Jr.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) tests the “legal sufficiency of the complaint” but “does not resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses.” Republican Party of N.C. v. Martin, 980 F.2d 943, 952 (4th Cir. 1992); Eastern Shore Markets, Inc. v. J.D. Assoc. Ltd. P'ship, 213 F.3d 175, 180 (4th Cir. 2000). A complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss will survive if it states “enough facts” to “raise a right to relief above the speculative level” and “states a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007); see also Robinson v. American Honda Motor Co., Inc., 551 F.3d 218, 222 (4th Cir. 2009). “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” and must assert more than the “sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id.

         The Supreme Court has also opined that:

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.” Specific facts are not necessary; the statement need only “‘give the defendant fair notice of what the ... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'” In addition, when ruling on a defendant's motion to dismiss, a judge must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint.

Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93-94 (2007) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-56).

         “Although for the purposes of this motion to dismiss we must take all the factual allegations in the complaint as true, we are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986). The court “should view the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Mylan Labs, Inc. v. Matkar, 7 F.3d 1130, 1134 (4th Cir. 1993).

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Town Officials

         Defendants first move to dismiss “all claims alleged against the individually named persons in both their individual and official capacities.” (Document No. 13, p. 1). The undersigned will respectfully recommend that Defendants' motion be granted as to the individual Defendants.

         1. Official Capacity

         In support of dismissal, Defendants first argue that Plaintiff's claims against Town Officials in their official capacities are “duplicative, redundant, and unnecessary” because they are really just claims against the Town. (Document No. 13-1, p. 9). Defendants rely on Hill v. Robeson County to note that “[a] claim against a government employee in his official capacity is tantamount to a claim against the government entity for which he works and should be dismissed as duplicative.” (Document No. 13-1, p. 8); (citing Hill v. Robeson County, 733 F.Supp. 2d. 676, 682 (E.D. N.C. 2010)).

         Plaintiff acknowledges that “a suit against a town official in his official capacity is really a suit against the ...


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