United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Orlando Division
B. STANLEY MCCULLARS, Plaintiff,
GRANT MALOY, Defendant.
G. BYRON JUDGE
cause comes before the Court on Defendant Grant Maloy's
Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 13), filed October 6, 2017. Plaintiff
responded in opposition on November 6, 2017. (Doc. 22). With
briefing complete, the matter is ripe for review.
action centers on Defendant Grant Maloy's
(“Maloy”) termination of Plaintiff B. Stanley
McCullars' (“McCullars”) employment with
Seminole County, Florida, because of an online post by
McCullars. On April 4, 2016, McCullars was hired as Assistant
Financial Director for the Clerk of Court and Comptroller of
Seminole County, Florida. (Doc. 1, ¶ 9). At all times
relevant to this action, Maloy was the Seminole County Clerk
of Court. (Id. ¶ 11).
online post was apparently precipitated by a March 16, 2017,
press conference held by Orange/Osceola County State Attorney
Aramis Ayala (“Ayala”). (Id. ¶ 14).
At the press conference, Ayala announced that her office
would not seek the death penalty under any circumstances in
any case. (Id.). Ayala's statements received
local and national media coverage, triggered intense public
commentary, and led Florida Governor Rick Scott to reassign
all capital cases previously assigned to Ayala to a different
state attorney. (Id. ¶ 15).
social media post at issue was dispatched after 10:00 p.m. on
Sunday, March 19, 2017. (Id. ¶¶ 17, 19).
McCullars' post (the “Post”) stated:
“maybe she [Ayala] should get the death penalty,
” and “she should be tarred and feathered if not
hung from a tree.” (Id. ¶ 17). The next
day, at 7:00 a.m., the Post was deleted. (Id. ¶
19). However, before it was deleted, someone had taken a
screen image of the Post and shared it with other third
parties. (Id. ¶ 20). That same day, March 20,
Maloy told McCullars that the Post “was clearly a First
Amendment issue, ” and assured McCullars that his job
was safe. (Id. ¶ 21). Notwithstanding these
assurances, McCullars was placed on administrative leave
approximately an hour later. (Id. ¶ 22). On
March 21, 2017, Maloy directed the human resources manager to
terminate McCullars based solely upon the Post. (Id.
¶ 23). After his termination, McCullars was
“instructed that he should provide a resignation
letter, which he did, ” allegedly involuntarily.
(Id. ¶ 26). At the time of the Post, Defendants
did not have a social media policy in place. (Id.
Complaint asserts two 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims against
Defendant Maloy (in his official and individual capacities),
alleging that Maloy violated McCullars' First Amendment
rights when he terminated McCullars for engaging in protected
STANDARD OF REVIEW
12(b)(6) motion to dismiss tests the legal sufficiency of the
plaintiff's complaint. To survive the motion, the
complaint must “state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). A claim is plausible
on its face when the plaintiff alleges enough facts to
“allow 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 mere recitation of the elements of a claim is not
enough, and the district court need not give any credence to
legal conclusions that are unsupported by sufficient factual
material. Id. District courts must accept all
well-pleaded allegations within the complaint and any
documents attached thereto as true and must read the
complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.
Hunnings v. Texaco, Inc., 29 F.3d 1480, 1484 (11th
Cir. 1994) (per curiam).
Maloy moves to dismiss Count I based on qualified immunity.
(Doc. 13). His motion is due to be denied.
immunity protects government officials “from liability
for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate
clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of
which a reasonable person would have known.” Harlow
v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). To receive
qualified immunity, a government official “must first
prove that he was acting within the scope of his
discretionary authority when the allegedly wrongful acts
occurred.” Lee v. Ferraro, 284 F.3d 1188, 1194
(11th Cir. 2002) (internal quotation marks omitted).
Plaintiffs do not dispute this first step. (Doc. 22, p. 5.)
the defendant establishes that he was acting within his
discretionary authority, the burden shifts to the plaintiff
to show that qualified immunity is not appropriate.”
Lee, 284 F.3d at 1194. To do so, the plaintiff must
make a two-part showing. The plaintiff must allege that the
facts of the case, if proven to be true, would make out a
constitutional violation. Pearson v. Callahan, 555
U.S. 223, 232 (2009); Beshers v. Harrison, 495 F.3d
1260, 1265 (11th Cir. 2007). The plaintiff must also allege
that the constitutional right was “clearly
established” at the time of the alleged misconduct.
Pearson, 555 U.S. at 232. Because qualified immunity
provides a complete defense from suit, “courts should
ascertain the validity of a qualified immunity defense as
early in the lawsuit as possible.” Gilmore v.
Hodges, 738 F.3d 266, 272 (11th Cir. 2013).
are not required to conduct the qualified immunity analysis
in any particular order. Rather district courts are
“‘permitted to exercise their sound discretion in
deciding which' prong of the inquiry to address
first.” Festa v. Santa Rosa Cnty. Fla., 413
Fed.Appx. 182, 185 (11th Cir. 2011) (per curiam) (quoting
Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 236 (2009)). The
Court will ...