By Elizabeth DeFrance

On December 9, 2015 the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a published opinion in the civil case, Goode v. Central Virginia Legal Aid Society. The plaintiff, Freddie L. Goode (“Goode”), appealed the district court’s dismissal without prejudice of his complaint against Central Virginia Legal Aid Society (“CVLAS”) for race and age discrimination. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals determined that it lacked jurisdiction because the order of dismissal was not final and appealable.

Complaint for Race and Age Discrimination Dismissed Under 12(b)(6)

Goode is an African-American male, who was seventy-two years old when he was terminated from his position as one of two Senior Managing Attorneys at CVLAS. The Board of Directors made the decision to eliminate Goode’s position during a meeting where it discussed the loss of funding and the need for reorganization. Goode subsequently filed a complaint against CVLAS for race discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and for age discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. The district court granted CVLAS’s motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under12(b)(6), determining that Goode “failed either to present direct or circumstantial evidence of discrimination or to make out a prima facie case of discrimination.” The district court held that Goode failed to allege sufficient facts to show his job performance was satisfactory at the time of his termination, that he was treated differently than similarly situated employees outside the protected class, and that he was replaced by someone outside the protected class with comparable qualifications. Accordingly, Goode’s case was dismissed without prejudice, and he filed a timely appeal.

When A Complaint Is Dismissed Without Prejudice, It Is Not Appealable

Under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, the Court may only exercise jurisdiction over final orders (and certain interlocutory and collateral orders not at issue in this case). When a complaint is dismissed without prejudice, it is not a final order “unless the grounds for dismissal clearly indicate that no amendment in the complaint could cure the defects in the plaintiff’s case.”

Defects in The Complaint Were Curable

The Court concluded that Goode could cure the defects in his complaint by amending it to plead specific facts supporting his contentions that his job performance was satisfactory at the time he was terminated, that he was treated differently than similarly situated employees outside the protected class, and that his job duties were dispersed to remaining, younger employees. Nothing in the district court’s order indicated Goode would not have the opportunity to amend his complaint to include such facts. Therefore, the order of dismissal was not final because the district court’s order did not clearly indicate that no amendment could cure the defects in the complaint.

In his appeal, Goode alleged that the district court used an erroneous legal standard to dismiss his case. However, the Court declined to take up this issue because the “district court maintains authority over a case until it issues a final and appealable order.”

Dismissed for Lack of Jurisdiction

Because the district court’s order did not clearly indicate that no amendment could cure the defects in the complaint, the order of dismissal was not final and appealable. Therefore, the Court dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction and remanded the case with instructions to allow Goode to amend his complaint.

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