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Guy v. City of Wilmington

United States District Court, D. Delaware

February 28, 2019

SAMUEL L. GUY, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF WILMINGTON, Defendant.

          Samuel L. Guy, Attorney at Law, Wilmington, DE - Pro Se Plaintiff.

          Barry M. Willoughby, Lauren E.M. Russell, YOUNG CONAWAY STARGATT & TAYLOR, LLP, Wilmington, DE - attorneys for Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          NOREIKA, U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is the Motion to Dismiss and to Set a Briefing Schedule[1] (D.I. 16) filed by Defendant City of Wilmington ("Wilmington" or "Defendant"). The Amended Complaint (D.I. 14) filed by Plaintiff, Samuel L. Guy ("Guy" or "Plaintiff), raises three claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and one state law claim. Defendant alleges that the Amended Complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted and must be dismissed pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). The Court has subject matter jurisdiction over the federal claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and over the state law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant Defendant's motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6).

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff is an At-Large Member of the 107th Session of the Wilmington City Council ("Council"). (D.I. 14 ¶¶ 1, 14). At the close of the 106th Session of the Council, a total of $15, 400.00 in scholarship and discretionary funding for At-Large Councilmembers remained and carried over to the new session[2]. (Id. ¶ 11). Plaintiff calculates that there should have been an average of $3, 850 available for distribution to each At-Large Councilmember in the 107th Session. (Id. ¶ 12). Plaintiff, however, was not allocated any funds. (Id. ¶ 15). Meanwhile, re-elected At-Large Councilwoman Loretta Walsh received $8, 650.00, newly-elected At-Large Councilwoman Rysheema Dixon received $6, 500.00, and newly-elected At-Large Councilman Ciro Adams received $250. (Id. ¶ 16). Following the disbursements, the Council President, Hanifa Shabazz, made a public announcement that the distributions were made in alphabetical order. (Id. ¶ 19)[3]. On May 8, 2017, Plaintiff filed a complaint in the Superior Court of Delaware against Hanifa Shabazz, Rysheema Dixon, Loretta Walsh, and the Wilmington City Council for alleged violations of the due process and equal protection clauses of the United States Constitution and Delaware Constitution. (D.I. 1, Ex. A). The complaint contended that “Shabazz made up an alphabetical order rationale as her explanation” and instead “distributed discretionary funds in a manner reflecting her personal preference.” (D.I. 1 ¶¶ 27, 29). Plaintiff alleged “[t]he method of operating the scholarship and discretionary fund with regard to the At-Large members of the 107th Session of the Wilmington City Council violates the constitutional guarantees of equal protection of the laws under the Federal Constitution (a concept that inures as a matter of due process under the Delaware constitution) and due process of law under both Federal and Delaware Constitutions.” (Id. ¶ 42). Plaintiff further alleged that “Ciro Adams has had his constitutional rights violated as well but he doesn't seem concerned according to email correspondence he has distributed.” (Id. ¶ 40). Defendants Shabazz, Dixon, Walsh, and Wilmington City Council removed the action to this Court on May 17, 2017, (D.I. 1), and subsequently filed a motion to dismiss on June 16, 2017 (D.I. 3). On February 6, 2018, the Court issued an Opinion and Order granting the motion to dismiss finding: (1) the individual defendants' actions were subject to legislative immunity; (2) the Wilmington City Council was not a proper defendant; (3) Plaintiff had no protectable property interest in the scholarship and discretionary funds, and thereby no due process claim; and (4)Plaintiff's equal protection clause claim, as pleaded, failed to state a claim. (D.I. 11). Regarding the equal protection claim, the Court stated:

As currently pled, the complaint does not allege that Guy was treated differently from similarly situated newly elected At-Large Council members. It is clear from the allegations that the discretionary funds were allocated to the newly elected At-Large City Council members based upon the alphabetical order of the last names of the outgoing At-Large Council members and the alphabetical order of the last names of the newly elected At-Large City Council members. The allocation method used was the same for all newly elected At-Large City Council members. Unfortunately for Guy, his name was last in the alphabetical order and the corresponding outgoing At-Large City Council member had no money left in discretionary funds.

(Id. at 12). The Court, however, provided Plaintiff leave to file an amended complaint naming proper defendants and reasserting a properly pleaded equal protection claim. (Id.).

         On March 2, 2018, Plaintiff filed the Amended Complaint naming Wilmington as the sole Defendant. (D.I. 14 ¶ 5). The Amended Complaint is largely identical to the original[4], save for the substituted Defendant and a new section outlining the four counts. In that new section, the Amended Complaint realleges a violation of the Equal Protection Clause (Count I), but also adds claims alleging violations of the First Amendment and Due Process (Counts II and III[5]), as well as a violation of Wilmington City Code § 35-165 (Count IV). (Id.). The Court will review each of these counts in turn.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         A complaint must contain “‘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 Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 554-55 (2007) (citing Conley v. Gibson 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957); Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). When dismissal is sought under Rule 12(b)(6), the court conducts a two-part analysis. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009). First, the court separates the factual and legal elements of a claim, accepting “all of the complaint's well-pleaded facts as true, but [disregarding] any legal conclusions.” Id. at 210-11. Second, the court determines “whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show . . . a ‘plausible claim for relief.'” Id. at 211 (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009)). A claim is facially plausible where “plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. “A pleading that offers ‘labels and conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'” Id. Further, “[t]he complaint must state enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of [each] necessary element” of the plaintiff's claim. Wilkerson v. New Media Tech. Charter Sch. Inc., 522 F.3d 315, 321 (3d Cir. 2008) (internal quotations omitted).

         “The issue is not whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims.” In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1420 (3d Cir. 1997) (quoting Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)). The court may grant a motion to dismiss only if, after “accepting all well pleaded allegations in the complaint as true, and viewing them in the light most favorable to plaintiff, [the] plaintiff is not entitled to relief.” Id. “In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court must consider only the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, matters of public record, as well as undisputed authentic documents if the complainant's claims are based upon these documents.” Mayer v. Belichick, 605 F.3d 223, 230 (3d Cir. 2010) (emphasis added).

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Count I - 42 U.S.C. ยง ...


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