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Robinson v. Hill

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Orlando Division

February 20, 2018




         This Matter comes before the Court on the Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 18) filed by Defendant Randy Lee Hill (“Hill”); the Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 28) filed by Defendants BJ Loughman Lake Lodge, LLC (“LLL”) and Anywhere Anytime Airboat Tours, LLC (“AAA”); and the Responses (Docs. 23, 34) filed by the Plaintiff.

         Hill moves to dismiss Count X, which alleges a violation of the Violence Against Women Act (“VAWA”), for failure to state a claim, arguing that it has been deemed unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court. Doc. 18 at 2. LLL and AAA move to dismiss the entire Amended Complaint for failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted. Doc. 28 at 2.

         I. Factual Background

         Prior to the relevant time period, the Plaintiff worked as a manager for LLL, a restaurant on the St. Johns River in Brevard County, Florida. Around mid-2016, Jack Barta, the owner of LLL, informed the Plaintiff that he was hiring a new manager and requested that she stay on for three months in order to train the new manager. The Plaintiff agreed, and Barta told the Plaintiff to “do whatever [the new manager] tells you to do.” Amend. Compl. ¶ 10. The new manager, Hill, repeatedly told the Plaintiff that he was a “partner” in LLL. Id. ¶ 11-12. He informed her that one of the changes he would make was to integrate AAA into the operations and employment at LLL, creating a joint operation. Id. ¶ 13. He began making frequent and regular sexual comments to the Plaintiff and other female employees. Id. ¶ 15, 17-18. Hill also “pressed[ed] his (clothed) genitals against [the Plaintiff's] (clothed) buttocks in a grossly sexual manner” multiple times during an eighteen-day period. Id. ¶ 16. Hill repeatedly and regularly asked the Plaintiff for sexual favors. Id. ¶ 21. Additionally, Hill hired an assistant manager, named Dale Dees, who also made regular sexual comments to the Plaintiff and other female employees, apparently with the approval of Hill. Id. ¶ 20.

         On August 31, 2016, Hill instructed the Plaintiff to come into work while the restaurant was closed in order to help with managerial duties; he then instructed her to go with him in an AAA boat on the St. Johns River to show him where former airboat pilots had taken guests on tours. Id. ¶ 23. Hill led the Plaintiff to believe that she was required to go with Hill as a “crewperson, ” because he signed her paychecks and because AAA operations were “part of her job” at LLL. Id. ¶ 23-24. When they were out on the St. Johns River, Hill “attacked [the Plaintiff] by painfully and offensively pressing his mouth over her mouth, by penetrating her mouth with his tongue, by groping the genital area of her clothing, and by pressing his (clothed) crotch on her.” Id. ¶ 25. The Plaintiff pushed Hill away and told him to stop. Then, after taking the airboat to a different location on the St. Johns River, Hill “repeated his sexual attacks.” Id. ¶ 26. The Plaintiff demanded that Hill take her back to LLL, and he did. Upon their return, the Plaintiff went to get her purse so that she could leave, “but Hill grabbed her from behind, pulled her to him and . . . put his hand down the front of [the Plaintiff's] pants and brutally and painfully inserted one or more of his fingers into her vagina.” Id. ¶ 27. The Plaintiff pushed him away, left LLL, and never returned to work for LLL or AAA.

         The Plaintiff reported the August 31 incidents to the police, and after a controlled call from the Plaintiff to Hill, the police arrested Hill for felony sexual battery and assault on the Plaintiff. Id. ¶ 29. After Hill's arrest, he allegedly either publicized or caused to be publicized falsehoods about the Plaintiff, including that she was fired for stealing money from LLL/AAA. The Plaintiff also claims that, after the arrest, Hill had associates and/or friends attempt to threaten and intimidate her into dropping the criminal charges.

         II. Legal Standards

         In ruling on a motion to dismiss, the Court must view the complaint in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff, see, e.g., Jackson v. Okaloosa County, Fla., 21 F.3d 1531, 1534 (11th Cir. 1994), and must limit its consideration to the pleadings and any exhibits attached thereto. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 10(c); see also GSW, Inc. v. Long County, Ga., 999 F.2d 1508, 1510 (11th Cir. 1993). The Court will liberally construe the complaint's allegations in the Plaintiff's favor. See Jenkins v. McKeithen, 395 U.S. 411, 421 (1969). However, “conclusory allegations, unwarranted factual deductions or legal conclusions masquerading as facts will not prevent dismissal.” Davila v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., 326 F.3d 1183, 1185 (11th Cir. 2003).

         In reviewing a complaint on a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), “courts must be mindful that the Federal Rules require only that the complaint contain ‘a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.' ” U.S. v. Baxter Intern., Inc., 345 F.3d 866, 880 (11th Cir. 2003) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)). This is a liberal pleading requirement, one that does not require a plaintiff to plead with particularity every element of a cause of action. Roe v. Aware Woman Ctr. for Choice, Inc., 253 F.3d 678, 683 (11th Cir. 2001). However, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds for his or her entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 554-555 (2007). The complaint's factual allegations “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, ” id. at 555, and cross “the line from conceivable to plausible.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 680 (2009).

         III. Analysis

         A. Count I

         In Count I, the Plaintiff alleges Sexual Harassment, Assault, and Battery under the Jones Act, 46 U.S.C. § 30104, et seq., against LLL and AAA. Section 30104 provides that “[a] seaman injured in the course of employment . . . may elect to bring a civil action at law, with the right of trial by jury, against the employer.” There are two essential requirements for seaman status under the Jones Act: (1) the employee must have duties that “contribute to the function of the vessel or the accomplishment of its mission, ” and (2) the employee “must have a connection to a vessel in navigation . . . that is substantial in terms of both its duration and its nature.” Chandris, Inc. v. Latsis, 515 U.S. 347, 368 (1995) (internal quotations and citations omitted). Ultimately, however, if reasonable minds could differ as to whether an individual qualifies as a seaman, it remains a question of fact for a jury to resolve. Id. at 369.

         In the Amended Complaint, the Plaintiff alleges that she “was a crewperson on one or more of Defendants' airboats on the navigable waters of the St. Johns River.” Amend. Compl. ¶ 7. The Plaintiff also alleges that Hill told her that he was a “partner” in LLL, and that AAA and LLL became a “joint operation” after Hill became the new manager. Id. ΒΆ 11-13. The Plaintiff has sufficiently alleged that she had a duty that contributed to the accomplishment of the vessel's mission: she went on the boat in order to show Hill locations for AAA airboat tours. However, the Plaintiff has not alleged that she had a connection to the vessel that was substantial in terms of both its duration and its nature. There is no indication that the ...

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