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Gray v. American Homepatient, Inc.

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

March 3, 2015



DAVID C. NORTON, District Judge.

This matter is before the court on Magistrate Judge Bristow Marchant's Report and Recommendation ("R&R") that this court grant in part and deny in part defendant American HomePatient, Inc.'s motion to dismiss and grant its motion to strike. Plaintiff Elizabeth Gray ("Gray") filed objections to the R&R. For the reasons set forth below, the court adopts the R&R, grants in part and denies in part defendant's motion to dismiss, and grants defendant's motion to strike.


This case arises out of alleged discriminatory employment practices by defendant American HomePatient, Inc. Gray alleges that she was hired by American HomePatient in or around July 2007. Compl. ¶ 8. In or around 2011, Gray's minor daughter was the victim of sexual molestation and criminal charges were brought against the perpetrator. Id . ¶ 16. Gray alleges that as a result, she was called to court numerous times and had to meet with the solicitor, victim advocates, guardian ad litems, and other court personnel. Id . ¶ 17. Gray contends that despite these absences from work, her performance met and exceeded American HomePatient's expectations. Id . ¶ 18.

Gray alleges that she was under a great deal of stress during this time and was diagnosed with uncontrolled high blood pressure and an anxiety disorder. Id . ¶ 19. Due to these conditions, she missed some work in 2013, for which she applied for leave pursuant to the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"). Id . ¶ 20. American HomePatient allegedly denied her FMLA leave request and instead issued "a letter in lieu of suspension on April 19, 2011 in response to her having to be out of work for court and medical conditions." Id . ¶¶ 21-22. Gray also alleges that her supervisors, Kelly Bratz and Tina Brown, communicated with her by text message in "an extremely harassing manner while [Gray] was attending a doctor's appointment requesting information about her appointment." Id . ¶ 23.

Gray claims that she supplied American HomePatient with copies of subpoenas and letters from the solicitor, victim advocates, and others regarding her required court appointments, as well as doctors' notes for time missed due to illness. Id . ¶¶ 24, 26. Despite receiving valid excuses for her absences, Gray alleges that American HomePatient continued to harass her about being out of work. Id . ¶¶ 25, 27. American HomePatient finally terminated Gray in December 2013. Id . ¶ 28.

On April 1, 2014, Gray filed the instant action, alleging the following causes of action against American HomePatient: (1) violation of public policy; (2) violation of the FMLA; and (3) breach of contract. Gray seeks a variety relief, including compensatory and punitive damages. On May 21, 2014, American HomePatient filed a motion to dismiss all of Gray's claims and a motion to strike various requested relief. Gray responded on June 9, 2014 and American HomePatient filed a reply on June 19, 2014. The magistrate judge issued the R&R on October 24, 2014, recommending that the court grant in part and deny in part the motion to dismiss and grant the motion to strike. Gray objected to the R&R on November 20, 2014[1] and American HomePatient filed a response on December 8, 2014. This matter has been fully briefed and is ripe for the court's review.


A. Objections to R&R

This court is charged with conducting a de novo review of any portion of the magistrate judge's R&R to which specific, written objections are made. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). A party's failure to object is accepted as agreement with the conclusions of the magistrate judge. See Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 149-50 (1985). In absence of a timely filed objection to a magistrate judge's R&R, this court need not conduct a de novo review, but instead must "only satisfy itself that there is no clear error on the face of the record in order to accept the recommendation." Diamond v. Colonial Life & Acc. Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 72 advisory committee's note). The recommendation of the magistrate judge carries no presumptive weight, and the responsibility to make a final determination rests with this court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71 (1976). This court may accept, reject, or modify the report of the magistrate judge, in whole or in part, or may recommit the matter to him with instructions for further consideration. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

B. Motion to Dismiss

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a party may move to dismiss for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the court must accept the plaintiff's factual allegations as true and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. See E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. v. Kolon Indus., 637 F.3d 435, 440 (4th Cir. 2011). But "the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). On a motion to dismiss, the court's task is limited to determining whether the complaint states a "plausible claim for relief." Id. at 679. Although Rule 8(a)(2) requires only a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, " "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). The "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). "Facts pled that are merely consistent with' liability are not sufficient." A Soc'y Without a Name v. Virginia, 655 F.3d 342, 346 (4th Cir. 2011) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678).


As an initial matter, Gray does not object to the magistrate judge's recommendation that this court dismiss her claim for breach of contract and strike her request for punitive damages and treble damages under the FMLA. Moreover, American HomePatient does not object to the magistrate judge's recommendation that the court deny its motion to dismiss with regard to Gray's claim for violation of the FMLA. Because the court finds no clear error on the face of the record, the court adopts the R&R as it relates to these issues and: (1) grants American HomePatient's motion to dismiss with regard to Gray's breach of contract claim; (2) ...

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