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Flowers v. Fllac Educational Collaborative

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

November 28, 2017

MARY FLOWERS, Plaintiff,



         This matter comes before the Court on Defendants FLLAC Educational Collaborative (“FLLAC”), Cheryl Hannam, Ricky Hylson, Holly Jacob, Nancy Levy, Gary MacCallum, Beth Marble, and Sandy Sylvester's motions to dismiss.[1], [2] (Dockets #9, 11). Plaintiff Mary Flowers has filed an opposition to the motions. (Docket #15). This matter is now ripe for adjudication. For the reasons that follow, the motions to dismiss (Docket #9, 11) are ALLOWED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Flowers is a current employee of FLLAC, a nonprofit corporation that develops and operates educational programs to serve a wide range of students. (Docket #10-1 at 2; Docket #10-2 at 3). One of the educational programs operated by FLLAC is the Caldwell Alternative High School/Middle School (the “Caldwell Alternative School”). (Docket #10-2 at 4). The Caldwell Alternative School provides educational services to approximately forty middle to high school students with emotional/behavioral concerns, limited academic success, and/or specific learning disabilities. (Id.). Flowers was hired by FLLAC in 1997 as a paraprofessional at the Caldwell Alternative School. (Docket #10-1 at 2).

         On December 3, 2012, Flowers filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (“MCAD”) alleging a racially hostile work environment, and retaliation. (Id. at 2-3). The MCAD Charge was jointly filed with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the “EEOC”). (Id. at 4-5).

         On March 4, 2016, the MCAD made a “Lack of Probable Cause Finding.” (Docket #10-3). Flowers appealed the decision with the MCAD. (Docket #10-4). Following a hearing, the lack of probable cause finding was affirmed on July 22, 2016. (Id.). On February 24, 2017, the EEOC adopted the findings of the MCAD, dismissed the claims, and issued a right-to-sue letter. (Docket #10-5).

         On April 13, 2017, Flowers filed the instant action. (Docket #1). In addition to suing FLACC, Flowers also sued co-workers as individual defendants. (Id.). In the complaint, Flower asserts the following “Statement of Claim:”

Racial Harassment, the mistreatment of my complaints along with a fals[l]ey written warning involving trickery and neglect. Also learning 3 months later of a violent write-up and police report filed against me.

(Docket #1 at 4 (emphasis in original)).

         II. STANDARD

         Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides, in relevant part, that “[a] pleading that states a claim for relief must contain . . . a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief[.]” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). The statement must “give the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Phelps v. Local 0222, No. 09-11218-JLT, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 88007, at *13 (D. Mass. Aug. 20, 2010) (quoting Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 512 (2002)). In addition, the pleadings must afford the defendants “a meaningful opportunity to mount a defense.” Diaz-Rivera v. Rivera-Rodriguez, 377 F.3d 119, 123 (1st Cir. 2004) (quotation omitted). At a minimum, “the complaint should at least set forth minimal facts as to who did what to whom, when, where, and why - although why, when why means the actor's state of mind, can be averred generally.” Educadores Puertorriquenos En Accion v. Hernandez, 367 F.3d 61, 68 (1st Cir. 2004). While the “First Circuit holds a pro se litigant to a standard of pleading less stringent than that for lawyers, ” “this cannot be taken to mean that pro se complaints are held to no standard at all.” Green v. Massachusetts, 108 F.R.D. 217, 218 (D. Mass. 1985).

         On a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), the court “must assume the truth of all well-plead[ed] facts and give the plaintiff the benefit of all reasonable inferences therefrom.” Ruiz v. Bally Total Fitness Holding Corp., 496 F.3d 1, 5 (1st Cir. 2007). “Under Rule 12(b)(6), the district court may properly consider only facts and documents that are part of or incorporated into the complaint; if matters outside the pleadings are considered, the motion must be decided under the more stringent standards applicable to a Rule 56 motion for summary judgment.” Rivera v. Centro Medico de Turabo, Inc., 575 F.3d 10, 15 (1st Cir. 2009) (quoting Trans-Spec Truck Serv., Inc. v. Caterpillar, Inc., 524 F.3d 315, 321 (1st Cir. 2008)). There lies an exception to this rule “for documents the authenticity of which are not disputed by the parties; for official public records; for documents central to plaintiffs' claim; or for documents sufficiently referred to in the complaint.” Id. (quoting Alternative Energy, Inc. v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co., 267 F.3d 30, 33 (1st Cir. 2001)).

         To survive a motion to dismiss, a plaintiff must “state a claim that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). That is, “[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level . . . on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).” Id. at 555 (internal citations omitted). “The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). Despite this generous standard, “Rule 12(b)(6) is not entirely a toothless tiger . . . [t]he threshold for stating a claim may be low, but it is real.” Dartmouth Rev. v. Dartmouth Coll., 889 F.2d 13, 16 (1st Cir. 1989) (quotation omitted). The complaint must therefore “set forth factual allegations, either direct or inferential, respecting each material element necessary to sustain recovery under some actionable legal theory.” Gooley v. Mobil Oil Corp., 851 F.2d 513, 515 (1st Cir. 1988); see DM Research, Inc. v. Coll. Of Am. Pathologists, 170 F.3d 53, 55 (1st Cir. 1999) (explaining that the complaint must “allege a factual predicate concrete enough to warrant further proceedings”).

         Although the complaint need not provide “detailed factual allegations, ” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, it must “amplify a claim with some factual allegations . . . to render the claim plausible, ” Iqbal v. Hasty, 490 F.3d 143, 157-58 (2d Cir. 2007). Thus, the complaint must provide “the grounds upon which [the plaintiff's] claim rests through factual allegations sufficient ‘to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.'” ATSI Commc'ns v. Shaar Fund, Ltd., 493 F.3d 87, 98 (2d Cir. 2007) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). “A pleading that offers ‘labels and conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Dismissal is appropriate if a plaintiff's well-pleaded facts do not “possess enough heft to show that [the] plaintiff is entitled to relief.” Ruiz Rivera v. Pfizer Pharms., LLC, 521 F.3d 76, 84 (1st Cir. 2008) (quotations and original alterations omitted).

         Though most motions to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) are “premised on a plaintiff's putative failure to state an actionable claim, such a motion may sometimes be premised on the inevitable success of an affirmative defense.” Nisselson v. Lernout, 469 F.3d 143, 150 (1st Cir. 2006). “As a general rule, a properly raised affirmative defense can be adjudicated on a motion to dismiss so long as (i) the facts establishing the defenses are definitely ascertainable from the complaint and the other allowable sources of information, and (ii) those facts suffice to establish the affirmative defense with certitude.” Rodi v. S. New Eng. Sch. of Law, 389 F.3d 5, 12 (1st Cir. 2004).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 151B

         Defendants seek dismissal of any claim asserted pursuant to Massachusetts General Laws chapter 151B, on the basis that such claims are time-barred. (Docket #10 at 4). A party seeking to recover under chapter 151B must file a charge of discrimination with the MCAD within 300 days of the last alleged discriminatory act. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 151B, § 5. Ninety days following the filing of the complaint with the MCAD, but not later than three years after the alleged unlawful practice occurred, a plaintiff may bring a civil action. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 151B, § 9. “[A] plaintiff need not wait for the resolution of the MCAD investigation [before bringing a civil action]; the filing of a lawsuit triggers the dismissal of the MCAD complaint if it has not already been resolved by MCAD.” Goldstein v. Brigham & Women's Faulkner Hosp., Inc., 80 F.Supp.3d 317, 324 (D. Mass. 2015).

         Flowers filed her charge with the MCAD on December 3, 2012. (Docket #10-1 at 1). She filed the instant complaint in this court on April 13, 2017, more than five years later. (Docket #1). Flowers makes no argument that her claim accrued after the December 3, 2012 filing with the MCAD; instead, she asserts that the limitations period should be equitably ...

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