United States District Court, District of South Carolina, Orangeburg Division
ORDER AND OPINION
Plaintiff Angelo Redding (“Plaintiff”) filed this action against Defendant Sun Printing Inc. (“Defendant”), alleging state law claims for negligence and wrongful termination in violation of public policy and an implied contract. (ECF No. 1-1.)
This matter is before the court on Defendant’s Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c) (“Rule 12(c) motion”) on the basis that Plaintiff’s claims are barred by the applicable statute of limitations. (ECF No. 9.) In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Rule 73.02(B)(2)(g) D.S.C., the matter was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Paige J. Gossett for pretrial handling. On September 16, 2014, the Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation in which she recommended that the court remand the case to state court because the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the Complaint. (ECF No. 28.) Defendant filed Objections to the Report and Recommendation asserting that the court should maintain jurisdiction over the action and grant its Rule 12(c) motion. (ECF No. 30.) For the reasons set forth below, the court REMANDS the case to the County of Orangeburg (South Carolina) Court of Common Pleas.
I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND TO THE PENDING MOTION
Plaintiff alleges that he was employed by Defendant until his termination on August 20, 2010. (ECF No. 1-1 at 3 ¶ 4, 4 ¶ 5.) On August 20, 2013, Plaintiff commenced the instant action against Defendant in the Orangeburg County (South Carolina) Court of Common Pleas, alleging claims for negligence and wrongful termination in violation of public policy and an implied contract. (ECF No. 1-1 at 3–6.) On January 15, 2014, Defendant removed the matter to this court on the basis of federal question jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1441. (ECF No. 1.) Specifically, Defendant asserted removal was appropriate for the following reasons:
The Complaint in the instant action asserts federal questions over which this court has original jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and the action is one which may be removed to this court by the defendant under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1441 and 1446 and pursuant to the artful pleading doctrine. McKnight v. Surgical Associates of Myrtle Beach, LLC, 2011 WL 5869800, at *2 (D.S.C. Nov. 18, 2011) (“The artful pleading doctrine permits the court to examine whether a plaintiff has attempted to avoid removal jurisdiction by ‘artfully’ casting essentially federal law claims as state law claims.”). “The artful pleading doctrine has . . . been applied . . . where plaintiff first files a lawsuit alleging federal claims and then, after dismissal, seeks to recast those claims under state law . . .” Cheshire v. Coca-Cola Bottling Affiliated, Inc., 758 F.Supp. 1098, 1100-01 (D.S.C. 1990) (citing Federated Dep’t Stores v. Moitie, 452 U.S. 394, 398 n.2 (1981)). That is precisely what Plaintiff has done here.
Plaintiff, whose original Title VII claim is now barred by the 90-day statute of limitations established in 42 U.S.C. § 2000e–5(f)(1), has simply recast that claim as one for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy under Ludwick v. This Minute of Carolina, Inc., 337 S.E.2d 213 (1985). However, as a matter of law, his Ludwick claim is barred because remedies exist under both Title VII and 42 USC § 1981. Sellers v. South Carolina Autism Soc., Inc., 861 F.Supp.2d 692, 699 (D.S.C. 2012) (dismissing Ludwick claim with prejudice because claims of race discrimination “may be advanced under at least two federal statutes (Title VII and Section 1981)” (parentheses in original)). Thus Plaintiff’s wrongful discharge claim is in fact a federal discrimination action and removal is proper.
(Id. at 2.)
In response to the allegations in the Complaint, Defendant filed a Rule 12(c) motion on March 14, 2014, asserting primarily that this action is barred by the statute of limitations. (ECF No. 9.) Plaintiff filed opposition to Defendant’s Rule 12(c) motion on May 4, 2014, to which Defendant filed a Reply in support of Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings on May 6, 2014. (ECF Nos. 19, 21.)
II. LEGAL STANDARD
A. The Magistrate Judge’s Report and Recommendation The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this court. The recommendation has no presumptive weight. The responsibility to make a final determination remains with this court. See Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71 (1976). The court reviews de novo only those portions of a magistrate judge’s report and recommendation to which specific objections are filed, and reviews those portions which are not objected to - including those portions to which only “general and conclusory” objections have been made - for clear error. Diamond v. Colonial Life & Acc. Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005); Camby v. Davis, 718 F.2d 198, 200 (4th Cir. 1983); Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982). The court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the recommendation of the magistrate judge or recommit the matter with instructions. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).
B. Motions for Judgment on the Pleadings
Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c) provides that “[a]fter the pleadings are closed—but early enough not to delay trial—a party may move for judgment on the pleadings.” Id. “A fairly restrictive standard” is applied in ruling on a Rule 12(c) motion, as “hasty or imprudent use of this summary procedure by the courts violates the policy in favor of ensuring to each litigant a full and fair hearing on the merits of his or her claim or defense.” Greenwich Ins. Co. v. Garrell, C/A No. 4:11-cv-02743-RBH, 2013 WL 869602, at *4 (D.S.C. Mar. 7, 2013) (quoting 5C Charles A. Wright and Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1368 (3d ed. 2011)). A motion for judgment on the pleadings is intended to test the legal sufficiency of the complaint and will operate to dispose of claims “where the material facts are not in dispute and a judgment on the merits can be rendered by looking to the substance of the pleadings and any judicially noted facts.” Cont’l Cleaning Serv. v. UPS, No. 1:98CV1056, 1999 WL 1939249, at *1 (M.D. N.C. Apr. 13, 1999) (citing Herbert Abstract v. Touchstone Props., Inc., 914 F.2d 74, 76 (5th Cir. 1990)). “[A] motion for judgment on the pleadings is decided under the same standard as a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6).” Deutsche Bank Nat’l Trust Co. v. IRS, 361 F. App’x 527, 529 (4th Cir. 2010) (citing Independence News, Inc. v. City of Charlotte, 568 F.3d 148, 154 (4th Cir. 2009)); see also Massey v. Ojaniit, 759 F.3d 343, 353 (4th Cir. 2014) (citing Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 244 (4th Cir. 1999)); Walker v. Kelly, 589 F.3d 127, 139 (4th Cir. 2009). “When considering a motion for judgment on the pleadings, the court may consider the pleadings, exhibits attached thereto, documents referred to in the complaint that are central to the plaintiff's claims, and other ‘materials in addition to the complaint if such materials are public records or are otherwise appropriate for the taking of judicial notice.’” In re MI Windows & Doors, Inc. Prods. Liab. Litig., MDL No. 2333, Nos. 2:12-mn-00001, 2:12-cv-02269-DCN, 2013 WL 3207423, at *2 (D.S.C. June 24, 2013) (citations omitted); cf. Philips v. Pitt Cnty. Mem’l Hosp., 572 F.3d 176, 180 (4th Cir. 2009) (“In reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal, we may properly take judicial notice of matters of public record. We may also consider documents attached to the complaint, as well as those attached to the motion to dismiss, so long as they are integral to the complaint and authentic.”) (citations omitted).
In order to survive a motion for judgment on the pleadings, the complaint must contain sufficient facts “to raise a right to relief above the speculative level” and “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 570 (2007); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009). “A claim has facial plausibility when the 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 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). In reviewing the complaint, the court accepts all well-pleaded allegations as true and construes the facts and reasonable inferences derived therefrom in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Venkatraman v. REI Sys., Inc., 417 F.3d 418, 420 (4th Cir. 2005). However, the court is not required to accept the legal conclusions the plaintiff sets forth in the complaint. Edwards, 178 F.3d at 244. “When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine ...