In a remarkable decision, the Fifth Circuit affirmed the grant of a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. In Meadows v. City of Crowley, No. 10752 (5th Cir. 5/3/2018), the plaintiff submitted a 36 page complaint detailing how an African-American police officer was passed for promotion five times. On appeal, the plaintiff alleged that the district court had used an evidentiary standard, not a pleading standard. That is, the plaintiff argued that the district court required the employee to make out a prima facie case to avoid dismissal. The majority opinion said the plaintiff needed to plead sufficient facts to avoid dismissal, regardless of the existence of evidence for each element of the prima facie case. In a footnote, the majority opinion took issue with the dissent, saying the employee did not always surpass the qualifications of other employees when she was passed over.
The majority opinion does not explain how a court can look at facts supporting the prima facie elements without actually discussing the prima facie elements themselves.
The rejoinder by the majority, which included the new Judge Ho, is concerning. A motion to dismiss should be based on possibilities in the facts, not certainties. If the applicant even occasionally had better credentials than her rivals, that does suggest the dismissal is not proper. A motion to dismiss should address pleadings, not the merits. In his dissent, Judge Graves notes that the lower court clearly applied the wrong standard for a 12(b)(6) motion. In a footnote, the dissent noted that in Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N. A., 534 U.S. 506 (2002), the Supreme Court unanimously held that a plaintiff does not need to satisfy the McDonnell Douglas test at the 12(b)(6) stage. Id. at 511 (rejecting the notion that “the requirements for establishing a prima facie case under McDonnell Douglas also apply to the pleading standard that plaintiffs must satisfy in order to survive a motion to dismiss”). The applicant was turned down four times in a 1.5 year period. Each time, she was the only minority candidate.
The majority opinion pointed to five applications. But, noted the dissent, that fifth application was removed in plaintiff’s amended complaint. The majority opinion relied on an application for promotion that was no longer part of the live pleadings. The majority opinion failed to consider the facts liberally in favor of the non-movant. See the opinion here.