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Reardon v. International Paper Co.

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division

June 9, 2014

Diane Reardon, Plaintiff,
v.
International Paper Co., Defendant.

ORDER

C. WESTON HOUCK, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court upon the report and recommendation ("R&R") of United States Magistrate Judge Shiva Hodges recommending that the defendant's motion to dismiss the plaintiff's claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101-12213 (2006), ("ADA") and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-2000e-17 (2006), ("Title VII") be granted. For the reasons set forth in this Order, the Court adopts the R&R and grants the defendant's motion to dismiss the plaintiff's ADA and Title VII claims.

I. BACKGROUND

On August 21, 2013, Diane Reardon (the "plaintiff") filed this action in the Court of Common Pleas in Georgetown County, South Carolina, alleging workplace discrimination on the basis of disability in violation of the ADA, and discrimination on the basis of gender and retaliation in violation of Title VII. (Compl. ¶¶ 93, 99, 103, ECF No. 1-1). On October 3, 2013, International Paper Company (the "defendant") timely removed the case to this Court on the grounds of federal question and diversity jurisdiction. (Def.'s Notice of Removal 1, ECF No. 1-2). In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(g), D.S.C., this matter was referred to a United States Magistrate Judge for pre-trial proceedings and a R&R.

In response to the complaint, the defendant filed a motion to dismiss the action for failure to state a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss 1, ECF No. 5). The plaintiff filed a response in opposition, claiming that the defendant's motion to dismiss selectively incorporated facts "intentionally calibrated to influence the Court to dismiss the [p]laintiff's claims." (Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss 1, ECF No. 6). The defendant filed a reply, countering that the facts alleged were inconsistent and contradictory so as to undermine the plausibility of the plaintiff's claim. (Def.'s Reply to Pl.'s Resp. 1-2, ECF No. 7). On February 21, 2014, the magistrate judge issued her R&R that thoroughly analyzed the issues and applicable law, and recommended that the Court grant the defendant's motion to dismiss but grant leave to the plaintiff to file an amended complaint. (R&R at 9).

Applying the standards articulated in Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662 (2009), and Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544 (2007), the magistrate judge found that the plaintiff's complaint, on its face, did not raise allegations sufficient to state a plausible claim for each cause of action. (R&R at 6-9). With respect to the ADA claim of disability discrimination, the magistrate judge concluded that the facts pleaded were internally conflicting and conclusory, that the plaintiff failed to tie the allegations to each element of a prima facie case, and that the plaintiff failed to provide a substantive response to the defendant's argument. (R&R at 5-7). As to the Title VII gender discrimination claim, the magistrate judge likewise concluded that the plaintiff's allegations were inconsistent and unclear, specifically because the plaintiff alleged that the defendant discriminated against her by failing to accommodate her, yet simultaneously claimed that she did not need an accommodation. (R&R at 8). Lastly, with respect to the Title VII retaliation claim, the magistrate judge found that the plaintiff failed to set forth specific facts sufficient to show that she had been engaged in a protected activity or that there was a nexus between a protected activity and her employment termination. (R&R at 11-12). Accordingly, the magistrate judge recommended that the Court grant the defendant's motion to dismiss without prejudice, with leave to the plaintiff to file an amended complaint within fifteen (15) days of this Court's Order on the defendant's motion to dismiss. (R&R at 9).

On March 9, 2013, the plaintiff filed an objection to the magistrate judge's R&R (ECF No. 10), as well as a motion to amend her complaint. (ECF No. 9). On March 27, 2014, the defendant filed a reply to the plaintiff's objection (ECF No. 14), as well as a response to the plaintiff's motion to amend. (ECF No. 13).

II. LEGAL STANDARD

"A motion filed under Rule 12(b)(6) challenges the legal sufficiency of a complaint." Francis v. Giacomelli , 588 F.3d 186, 192 (4th Cir. 2009). The Court measures the legal sufficiency by determining whether the complaint meets the Rule 8 standards for a pleading. Id . Rule 8 requires that a claim for relief contains a statement of the grounds for the Court's jurisdiction, a statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, and a demand for the relief sought. Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a). Each allegation must be simple, concise, and direct. Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(d)(1). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a complaint need not assert "detailed factual allegations"; however, it must contain "more than labels and conclusions, " and "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action" will not suffice. Twombly , 550 U.S. at 555. Furthermore, "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly , 550 U.S. at 570).

Two working criteria guide the plausibility standard articulated in Twombly. Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 678. First, although a court must accept all facts alleged in the complaint as true, this is inapplicable to legal conclusions, and "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id . (citation omitted). Although legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, factual allegations must support the complaint for it to survive a motion to dismiss. Id . at 679. Therefore, a pleading that provides only "labels and conclusions" or "naked assertion[s]" lacking "some further factual enhancement" will not satisfy the requisite pleading standard. Twombly , 550 U.S. at 555, 557.

Second, to the extent that there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their truth and "then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 679. This determination of whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief is "a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id . (citation omitted). Rule 12(b)(6) does not allow dismissals based on a court's disbelief of a complaint's factual allegations. Twombly, 556 U.S. at 556 (quoting Neitzke v. Williams , 490 U.S. 319, 327 (1989)).

III. DISCUSSION

This matter is now before the Court for disposition. The magistrate judge makes only a recommendation to the Court. Mathews v. Weber , 423 U.S. 261, 270 (1976). The recommendation carries no presumptive weight, and the responsibility to make a final determination remains with the Court. Id . at 270-71. The Court may "accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the recommendation made by the magistrate judge or recommit the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). The Court is charged with making a de novo determination of any portion of the R&R to which a specific objection is made. Id . However, in the absence of a timely filed, specific objection, the Court reviews the R&R only for clear error. Diamond v. Colonial Life & Accident Ins. Co. , 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005). Furthermore, the failure to file ...


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