United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division
COLETTE M. WILCOX, Plaintiff,
NATHAN H. LYONS, ESQ., et al., Defendants.
Michael F. Urbanski, Chief United States District Judge.
an employment action arising under both federal and state
law. Plaintiff Colette M. Wilcox ("Wilcox") filed
this employment action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983,
alleging violations of her due process rights under the
Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Defendants moved to dismiss Wilcox's claims. ECF No. 35.
The court held a hearing on Defendants' first motion to
dismiss on March 22, 2018, and subsequently entered an order
dismissing with prejudice Wilcox's claims against Carroll
County as well as her hostile work environment claim against
defendants Nathan H. Lyons, Esq., ("Lyons"), the
Commonwealth Attorney for Carroll County, and Phillip C.
Steele, Esq. ("Steele"), a Deputy Commonwealth
Attorney for Carroll County. ECF No. 22. The court dismissed
without prejudice Wilcox's claims of sex discrimination,
retaliation, and deprivation of liberty interest. ECF No. 22.
The court also gave Wilcox leave to amend. Wilcox's state
law battery claim against Steele survived the first motion to
dismiss. ECF Nos. 32-33.
moved for reconsideration of the court's March 23, 2018,
order regarding her retaliation claim. ECF No. 24. The court
entered an order denying Wilcox's motion for
reconsideration. ECF No. 33. Wilcox then filed an amended
complaint in which she (1) asserted additional factual matter
supporting her claim for deprivation of liberty interest
(Count II), (2) restated her battery claim (Count III), and
(3) reasserted her retaliation claim (Count I). Wilcox's
amended complaint did not provide any new factual matter for
the court to consider vis-a-vis the retaliation claim. Count
I was therefore dismissed. Id. The only remaining
claims in the amended complaint are Count II against Lyons
and Count III against Steele.
matter presently before the court is Defendants' motion
to dismiss Wilcox's amended complaint pursuant to Rule
12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. ECF No. 35.
With respect to Count II, Defendants argue that Wilcox fails
to state a claim because the facts alleged are false.
Id. at 10-11. Indeed, Defendants state that the
Wilcox's allegations as to Count II are "just
absolutely contrary to the facts, facts indeed Ms. Wilcox and
her attorney know to be false." ECF No. 35, at 11. This
argument is inapposite as the facts alleged by Wilcox are
taken as true at the motion to dismiss stage. Ibarra v.
United States, 120 F.3d 472, 474 (4th Cir. 1997).
Defendants further argue that Wilcox fails to state a claim
for Count II because Wilcox initiated the administrative
claims process with the Virginia Employment Commission
("VEC"), ECF No. 35, at 5-6, relying on Bishop
v. Wood for the proposition that publicly filed
documents and statements made in a judicial proceeding
commenced by the plaintiff after she suffered her alleged
injury cannot retroactively support a cause of action for
deprivation of liberty. 426 U.S. 341, 348 (1976). Defendants
move to dismiss Count III, arguing that Steele was not acting
under the color of law and state law is not to be enforced in
federal court through 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and that, in any
event, Wilcox failed to adequately plead the "volitional
activity" element required to state a claim for battery
under Virginia law. ECF No. 35, at 11-16.
reasons set forth below, Wilcox has failed to allege facts
sufficient to support her deprivation of liberty claim in
Count II. In light of the dismissal of Wilcox's last
remaining federal claim, the court declines to exercise
supplemental jurisdiction over Count III, her state-law claim
for battery, and dismisses that claim without prejudice. The
motion to dismiss Count II and Count III is therefore
12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows for a
party to move for dismissal when a complaint fails to state a
claim for which relief can be granted. To survive a Rule
12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain
sufficient "facts to state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). A plaintiff
establishes "facial plausibility" by pleading
"factual content that allows the court to draw the
reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the
misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556
U.S. 662, 678 (2009). The complaint's "[f]actual
allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above
the speculative level." Twombly, 550 U.S. at
555. In ruling on a 12(b)(6) motion, the court must accept
all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true and
draw all reasonable factual inferences in the light most
favorable to the plaintiff. Ibarra v. United States,
120 F.3d at 474. However, a court does not need to accept
either "legal conclusions drawn from facts" or
"unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or
arguments." E. Shore Mkts., Inc. v. J.D. Assocs.
Ltd. P'ship, 213 F.3d 175, 180 (4th Cir. 2000).
Further, "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a
cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do
not suffice." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Only
after a claim is stated adequately may it then "be
supported by showing any set of facts consistent with the
allegations in the complaint." Twombly, 550
U.S. at 546.
Fourteenth Amendment protects the "right to procedural
due process when governmental action threatens a person's
liberty interest in his reputation and choice of
occupation." Ridpath v. Bd. of Governors Marshall
Univ., 447 F.3d 292, 307 (4th Cir. 2006). The Fourth
Circuit has determined that to state a claim for deprivation
of a liberty interest in one's reputation or choice of
occupation pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff
must allege (1) that the charges made against her imposed on
her a stigma that prevented her from engaging in other
employment, (2) that the charges were made public by her
employer, (3) that the charges were made in conjunction with
a termination or significant demotion, and (4) that the
charges were false. Stone v. University of Md. Med. Sys.
Corp., 855 F.2d 167, 173 n. 5 (4th Cir. 1988) (citing
Board of Regents of State Colls. V. Roth, 408 U.S.
564, 573-75 (1972); see Bishop v. Wood, 426 U.S.
341, 348-49 (1976).
respect to the first element, Wilcox alleges that her
wrongful termination resulted in a stigmatized and severely
diminished professional reputation within Carroll County and
throughout Southwest Virginia. See Compl., ECF No. 34, at
¶¶ 74-81, 111-12. Wilcox claims that Lyons
perpetuated this stigma related to her work performance by
petitioning the Circuit Court of Carroll County to overturn
an award of unemployment benefits awarded to Wilcox from the
VEC. In furtherance of this petition, Wilcox alleges that
Lyons filed damaging pleadings and made damaging statements
through counsel in open court during oral argument on March
29, 2017, before Circuit Court Judge David A. Melesco.
Id. at ¶¶ 75-81, 112. More specifically,
Wilcox claims the aforementioned documents and statements
suggest that Wilcox: (1) engaged in misconduct at her place
of employment as defined by Virginia Code § 60.2-618,
(2) engaged in willful insubordination and that said her
insubordination was to such a high degree, that a single
incident justified her termination, (3) failed to follow an
attendance policy, and (4) acted unreasonably regarding her
duties as a prosecutor. Id.
respect to the second and third elements, Wilcox claims that
Lyons made statements "through counsel" in open
court petitioning the Circuit Court of Carroll County to
overturn an award of unemployment benefits Wilcox received
because of her termination. Id. at ¶ 76. Wilcox
notes that Lyons' petition involved lengthy briefings by
parties, oral arguments, and public filings directly related
to her termination, and that the "stigmatizing pleadings
remain at the Clerk's Office of Carroll County for public
inspective by anyone." Id. at ¶¶
76-78. Wilcox avers that the statements uttered by counsel
for Lyons were made in a forum frequented by Wilcox's
peers and prospective employers and that the Virginia Supreme
Court's online case information website indicates the
names of parties involved and the existence of pleadings,
Id. at ¶¶ 80-81. Wilcox further alleges
that her termination was well known within the small
community of Carroll County and that prospective employers
have requested whether she has been terminated, requiring her
to describe the circumstances. Id. at ¶¶
107-8. Finally, she alleges that this stigma resulted
directly from statements made after and in conjunction with
her termination. Id. at ¶¶ 75-81, 112
respect to the fourth and final element, Wilcox alleges the
falsity of the statements made in connection with her
termination. Id. at ¶¶ 72, 75, 105-06,
109. Wilcox claims that Lyons' accusation of
insubordination was pre-textual, that she only exhibited
excellent work performance throughout her employment, and
that she was always professional and courteous despite the
allegedly hostile work environment, harassment, and sexual
discrimination she endured. Id. at ¶¶ 72,
98, 116. Wilcox claims that she remained "professional
and cordial" both when Lyons (1) accused her of
violating state policy by taking too much leave and when he
subsequently (2) requested that she sign a written reprimand
documenting this violation. Id. at ¶¶
61-67. When she sought clarification by requesting a copy of
the relevant policy to which Lyons had referred, Wilcox
claims that Lyons suddenly turned his back, raised his voice,
and terminated her for "insubordination."
Id. at ¶¶ 66-68. Wilcox claims to have
been performing her work satisfactorily at the time of her
termination by meeting or exceeding ...