Court Dismisses Age Discrimination Suit Brought by Georgia Deputy Chief

A lawsuit filed by a deputy chief from Warner Robbins, Georgia who was suspended for ten days in 2018 after allegedly responding to a fire under the influence, has been dismissed.

Deputy Chief Robert S. Wood filed suit last August accusing the City of Warner Robins, Mayor Randy Toms, Fire Chief Ross Moulton, Assistant Chief Scottie Durham, Assistant Chief Chris Cannady, and Assistant Chief Scott Renfroe of age discrimination, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and violating his constitutional rights. The essence of Chief Wood’s case is that he was not impaired, and that the defendants created a hostile work environment for him in an effort to force him off the job because of his age, in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).

Judge Tilman E. Self, III handed down the ruling last week, and while granting Chief Wood 14 days to refile a second amendment complaint, he pointed out the shortcomings of his first amended complaint:

  • The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has held that the ADEA does not “countenance individual liability.”
  • Accordingly, since individuals cannot be held liable under the ADEA, to the extent that Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint asserts ADEA claims against Defendants TOMS, MOULTON, DURHAM, CANNADY, and RENFROE, in their individual capacities, the Court DISMISSES these claims because they fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.
  • The “capacity to sue or be sued shall be determined by the law of the state in which the district court is held.
  • [A fire] department is not an entity subject to suit in those instances where that department is simply “an integral part” of a city’s government “and is merely the vehicle through which the [c]ity government fulfills its [public service] functions” (rather than a separate entity).
  • Accordingly… the Court DISMISSES all claims against the Warner Robins Fire Department for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.
  • Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint alleges discrimination only on the basis of age, making no mention of race, 42 U.S.C. § 1981 does not apply to the facts as pled.
  • Thus, the Court DISMISSES Plaintiff’s 42 U.S.C. § 1981 claims because they also fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.
  • This circuit uses the term “shotgun pleading” to refer to an “incomprehensible” pleading that “employs a multitude of claims and incorporates by reference all of its factual allegations into each claim, making it nearly impossible for [d]efendants and the Court to determine with any certainty which factual allegations give rise to which claims for relief . . . [which] patently violates Federal Rule of Civil Procedure.
  • [S]hotgun pleadings, whether filed by plaintiffs or defendants, exact an intolerable toll on the trial court’s docket, lead to unnecessary and unchanneled discovery, and impose unwarranted expense on the litigants, the court and the court’s parajudicial personnel and resources.
  • The Eleventh Circuit has specifically held that [i]t is not the proper function of courts in this Circuit to parse out such incomprehensible allegations, which is why we have stated that a district court that receives a shotgun pleading should strike it and instruct counsel to replead the case-even if the other party does not move the court to strike the pleading.
  • Thus, the Court STRIKES Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint and, relying on Rule 12(e), gives Plaintiff leave to file a Second Amended Complaint within 14 days of the date of this Order.
  • Plaintiff’s Second Amended Complaint shall not include the claims already dismissed in this Order and shall fully comply with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure.
  • Further, the Court reminds Plaintiff each count must “clearly identify the defendant to which it is directed, the basis for that defendant’s liability, and the relief Plaintiff seeks.”

Here is a copy of the ruling:

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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