United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division
RANDY T. 3THOMAS, Plaintiff,
PETERSBURG UTILITY LINES WATER DEPT., et al., Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION (GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION
E. Hudson, Senior United States District Judge.
matter is before the Court on Defendants'-Petersburg
Utility Lines Water Department ("Petersburg Water
Dept."), Kimberly Robertson, Anthony Williams, Jim Reed,
and Sergeant Hall ("Defendants")-Motion to Dismiss
for Failure to State a Claim (the "Motion"), filed
on July 1, 2019 (ECF No. 15). Randy 3Thomas ("Plaintiff)
filed the Complaint, pro se, on May 29, 2019,
alleging that he was wrongfully terminated from his
employment at Petersburg Water Dept. (ECF No. 4). In their
Motion, Defendants contend that Plaintiff fails to state a
claim upon which relief can be granted, and that Petersburg
Water Dept. is an improper party. In response, Plaintiff
reasserts that he was wrongfully fired, but provides no
further supporting facts. For the reasons stated herein,
Defendants' Motion will be granted.
alleges he sustained a severe injury to his back, requiring a
doctor's care from January to April 2017 (ECF No. 4 at 7,
9). Plaintiff further alleges that his constitutional rights
"were broken" when he was fired from his job in
March 2017 while under a doctor's care, in violation of
the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA").
(Id. at 8.) Plaintiff asserts he had "the right
documents from F.M.L.A. and [his] doctor" to qualify for
FMLA protections. (Id. at 6.) Plaintiff alleges that
he was fired from his job at Petersburg Water Dept. following
a two-to-one vote against him by a "panel board."
(Id.) Notably, it is unclear from the Complaint
whether Plaintiff was allegedly denied FMLA leave and
subsequently fired, or whether he allegedly took leave and
was terminated in retaliation. It is also unclear which of
the six named Defendants were on the board, or if the
panel's meeting directly caused Plaintiffs termination or
otherwise interfered with his FMLA rights.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency
of a complaint; importantly, it 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) (citation
omitted). The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
"require only 'a short and plain statement of the
claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,' in
order to 'give the defendant fair notice of what the ...
claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'"
Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)
(quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)).
A complaint need not assert "detailed factual
allegations," but must contain "more than labels
and conclusions" or a "formulaic recitation of the
elements of a cause of action." Id. (citations
omitted). Thus, the "[f]actual allegations must be
enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative
level," to one that is "plausible on its face"
rather than merely "conceivable." Id. at
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." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678
(2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). In
considering such a motion, a plaintiffs well-pleaded
allegations are taken as true, and the complaint is viewed in
the light most favorable to the plaintiff. T.G. Slater
& Son, Inc. v. Donald P. & Patricia A. Brennan,
LLC, 385 F.3d 836, 841 (4th Cir. 2004) (citation
omitted). Legal conclusions enjoy no such deference.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.
pro se complaints are afforded a liberal
construction. Laber v. Harvey, 438 F.3d 404, 413 n.3
(4th Cir. 2006). The Court, however, need not attempt
"to discern the unexpressed intent of the
plaintiff." Id. Nor does the requirement of
liberal construction excuse a clear failure in the pleading
to allege a federally cognizable claim. See Weller v. Dep
't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387, 390-91 (4th Cir.
1990). As the Fourth Circuit articulated in Beaudett v.
City of Hampton, "[t]hough [pro se]
litigants cannot, of course, be expected to frame legal
issues with the clarity and precision ideally evident in the
work of those trained in law, neither can district courts be
required to conjure up and decide issues never fairly
presented to them. 775 F.2d 1274, 1276 (4th Cir. 1985).
their Motion, Defendants raise two objections to Plaintiffs
Complaint. First, Defendants claim that Petersburg Water
Dept. is not a proper defendant. Second, even if all of the
parties are properly named, Defendants assert that Plaintiff
does not allege sufficient facts to state a claim under the
Water Dept. is an improper party because it is a subdivision
of the Petersburg municipality. Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 17(b),
state law determines whether a governmental body may be sued
in federal court. "In Virginia, departments of municipal
governments are not capable of being sued in their own
names." Allmond v. Sec. 8 Dep't, No.
03-894-A, 2003 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 28728, at *5 (E.D. Va. Sept.
25, 2003); see also Hearn v. Hudson, 549 F.Supp.
949, 952 n.l (W.D. Va. 1982) ("The capacity of a
governmental unit to be sued in federal court is to be
determined by reference to state law."). This rule has
been applied to a diverse range of municipal departments in
Virginia. See, e.g., Allmond, 2003 U.S. Dist. LEXIS
28728, at *5-6 (Department of Housing and Community
Development); Davis v. City of Portsmouth, 579
F.Supp. 1205, 1210 (E.D. Va. 1983) (Department of Economic
Development, and Planning Commission); Hearn, 549
F.Supp. at 952 n.l (Police Department).
the departments at issue in Allmond, Davis, and
Hearn, Petersburg Water Dept. is, by all measures,
not an entity separate from the City of Petersburg. Thus,
Petersburg Water Dept. cannot be sued in its own name and is
an improper party named in Plaintiffs Complaint.
in Virginia, "[e]very locality may ... be sued in its
own name in relation to all matters connected with its
duties." Va. Code Ann. § 15.2-1404. While the
Complaint incorrectly names Petersburg Water Dept., it is
plausible that Plaintiff named the additional Defendant,
Anthony Williams, Petersburg City Attorney, with the intent
of serving process on the City of Petersburg. Va. Code Ann.
§ 8.01-300. This does not, however, cure the original
error of naming Petersburg Water Dept. as a party,
particularly because Plaintiff has failed to name the City of
Petersburg as a Defendant.
Plaintiff does not allege facts sufficient to support a
cognizable claim under the FMLA against Defendants. The FMLA
creates two types of claims- interference and retaliation. 29
U.S.C. § 2615(a)(1)-(a)(2); see Waag v. Sotera Def.
Sols., Inc.,857 F.3d 179, 186 (4th Cir. 2017);
Yashenko v. Harrah's NC Casino Co., 446 F.3d
541, 546 (4th Cir. 2006). The FMLA allows employees to take
twelve workweeks of leave during a twelve-month period
"[b]ecause of a serious ...