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Colleton v. Ambrose

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

February 29, 2016

Abraham Colleton, Plaintiff,
Charleston Water System; Cliff Brown; Allen Clum; Jim Meeks; and Dana Ambrose, both personally and individually, Defendants.


          KAYMANI D. WEST, Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Abraham Colleton ("Colleton" or "Plaintiff"), brings this action against his former employer, Charleston Water System ("CWS"), and CWS employees Cliff Brown, Allen Clum, Jim Meeks, and Dana Ambrose ("Individual Defendants"). Against CWS, Plaintiff brings claims of discrimination and retaliation due to his race pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e, et seq. He also brings state-law claims of defamation and negligent supervision, as well as a cause of action for "Discovery/Attorney's Fees, Suit Money, and Cost." Second Am. Compl., ECF No. 39 ("SAC"). This matter is before the court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2) (D.S.C.) for a Report and Recommendation on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss and Renewed Motion to Dismiss. ECF Nos. 28, 45. The court has considered Defendants' Motions and Memoranda; as well as Plaintiff's response to Defendant's original Motion to Dismiss, ECF No. 32, and Defendant CWS's Reply to that opposition, ECF No. 34. Having reviewed the parties' submissions and applicable law, the undersigned recommends Defendants' Motions be granted, dismissing all but the as-yet-unchallenged Title VII discrimination claim against CWS and dismissing all claims against all Individual Defendants.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff was employed as a truck driver for CWS from June 2002 through January 15, 2015. SAC ¶¶ 6, 14, 30, 34. Plaintiff's SAC focuses principally on events of January 14 and 15, 2015 that culminated in his termination. See SAC ¶¶ 15-34. According to Plaintiff he was "forced into and subjected to a surprise[] meeting with Defendant Clum and Defendant Brown" at 6:00 a.m. on January 14, 2015. Plaintiff states Clum advised him not to stop at McDonald's for breakfast, at a truck stop, or at the "rest area on break or go to the restroom [or] stop for any reason'" while operating a CWS truck. SAC ¶¶ 20-21 (quotation attributed to Clum). At around 10:30 a.m. that same day, Plaintiff stopped to use the restroom at a Hardee's, parking the truck in a "safe vacant parking lot." Id. ¶ 23. Plaintiff also made an "emergency restroom stop" at a rest area that was convenient and safe for trucks. Id. ¶ 25.

         On January 15, 2015, Plaintiff states he was using the restroom from "11:33 a.m. to 11:49 a.m." when CWS plant secretary, Defendant Ambrose saw the CWS truck Plaintiff was driving parked at a rest stop and sent a photograph of it to Defendant Clum. Plaintiff avers Defendants Clum and Brown then picked up the CWS truck Plaintiff had been driving while Plaintiff was still using the restroom, leaving him stranded. Id. ¶¶ 26-29. Plaintiff avers Defendants Clum and Brown fired him during a telephone call prior to his 2:04 p.m. arrival at the CWS facility that same day. Id. ¶ 30. Upon arrival at the facility, Plaintiff met with Defendants Clum and Brown in a conference room, where he was "subjected to a hostile and retaliatory meeting, " and Defendant Clum was "obnoxious and frightening" to Plaintiff, becoming "verbally violent and ma[king] multiple attempts in provoking the Plaintiff to become violent." Id. ¶¶ 30-32. Defendant Clum "again fired Plaintiff" and escorted him to his car without permitting him to collect his personal items." SAC ¶ 34.

         After filing a Charge of Discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") and receiving a "right to sue" letter from the EEOC, see ECF Nos. 28-2, 28-3, Plaintiff filed this action pro se, ECF No. 1. Shortly thereafter, counsel appeared on Plaintiff's behalf and, with leave of court, filed an Amended Complaint. ECF Nos. 22, 23, 26. CWS, the only Defendant at that time, filed responsive pleadings, including a Motion to Dismiss. ECF Nos. 28, 29. After briefing was completed as to that Motion to Dismiss, see ECF Nos. 32, 34, Plaintiff was permitted to file his SAC, which named the Individual Defendants, ECF No. 39. CWS and the Individual Defendants filed responsive pleadings to the SAC. ECF Nos. 45, 46. In their Renewed Motion to Dismiss Defendants seek dismissal of all claims against the Individual Defendants and reiterate the challenges to all claims against CWS other than the Title VII discrimination claim. ECF No. 45. Plaintiff filed no response to the Renewed Motion to Dismiss. To the extent they are responsive, the court will consider Plaintiff's arguments advanced against the initial Motion to Dismiss.

         II. Standard of review

         Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiff's Title VII retaliation claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), alleging the court lacks jurisdiction because Plaintiff failed to exhaust administrative remedies as to his retaliation claim.[1] A plaintiff always bears the burden of demonstrating that subject matter jurisdiction properly exists in federal court. See Evans v. B.F. Perkins Co., a Div. of Standex Int'l Corp., 166 F.3d 642, 647 (4th Cir. 1999). When a defendant challenges subject-matter jurisdiction pursuant to a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss, the court may regard the pleadings as mere evidence on the issue and may consider evidence outside the pleadings without converting the proceeding to one for summary judgment. Velasco v. Gov't of Indonesia, 370 F.3d 392, 398 (4th Cir. 2004) (citing cases).

         Defendants also seek Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal of all of Plaintiff's claims brought against the Individual Defendants and the claims of defamation, negligent supervision, and attorneys' fees brought against CWS. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). A plaintiff's complaint should set forth "a short and plain statement... showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Rule 8 "does not require detailed factual allegations, ' but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). To show that the plaintiff is "entitled to relief, " the complaint must provide "more than labels and conclusions, " and "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

         A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim should not be granted unless it appears certain that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts that would support his claim and would entitle him to relief. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). When considering a motion to dismiss, the court should "accept as true all well-pleaded allegations and should view the complaint in a light most favorable to the plaintiff." Mylan Labs., Inc. v. Matkari, 7 F.3d 1130, 1134 (4th Cir. 1993). When ruling on a motion to dismiss, the court "must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). Nonetheless, the court need not accept as true unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments." E. Shore Mkts., Inc. v. J.D. Assocs., Ltd. P'ship, 213 F.3d 175, 180 (4th Cir. 2000). The court need not accept legal conclusions couched as factual allegations, Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009), or "legal conclusions drawn from the facts." Monroe v. City of Charlottesville, 579 F.3d 380, 385-86 (4th Cir. 2009) (internal quotation omitted).

         Although the usual rule is that a court "may not consider any documents that are outside of the complaint, or not expressly incorporated therein, " Clatterbuck v. City of Charlottesville, 708 F.3d 549, 557 (4th Cir. 2013), a court may properly consider documents "attached or incorporated into the complaint, " as well as documents attached to the defendant's motion, "so long as they are integral to the complaint and authentic." Philips v. Pitt Cnty. Mem'l Hosp., 572 F.3d 176, 180 (4th Cir. 2009); see also Anand v. Ocwen Loan Servicing, LLC, 754 F.3d 195, 198 (4th Cir. 2014); E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. v. Kolon Indus., Inc., 637 F.3d 435, 448 (4th Cir. 2011).

         III. Analysis

         A. Claims against all Individual Defendants

         The SAC added Defendants Brown, Clum, Meeks, and Ambrose as Defendants, identifying them all as "Truck Driver[s] and employee[s], at the [CWS's] facility located in Charleston, South Carolina." Id. ¶¶ 7-10. The Caption of the SAC indicates the Individual Defendants are sued "Both Personally and Individually." Prior iterations of Plaintiff's Complaint identified Defendant Brown as Plaintiff's supervisor; Defendant Clum as the plant manager (Compl. ¶ 2); Defendant Ambrose as the plant secretary (Am. Compl. ¶ 21); and Defendant Meeks as having been present at a January 2015 meeting (Compl. ¶ 5).

         Defendants move to dismiss the Individual Defendants from all claims. Renewed Mot. 3. Plaintiff filed no response to Defendant's Renewed Motion to Dismiss. The original Motion to Dismiss concerned the Amended Complaint, in which CWS was the sole Defendant. Accordingly, Plaintiff's response to the original Motion does not address this portion of Defendants' Renewed Motion in any manner. As Plaintiff has declined to challenge Defendants' argument concerning dismissal of all claims as to the Individual Defendants, he has abandoned all claims against them. See Ferdinand-Davenport v. Children's Guild, 742 F.Supp.2d 772, 777 (D. Md. 2010) (citation omitted). Accordingly, it is recommended this portion of Defendants' Renewed Motion be granted and Defendants Brown, Clum, Meeks, and Ambrose be dismissed from this matter.

         B. Claims against CWS

         1. Retaliation

         Plaintiff's SAC contains two Title VII claims. Defendants do not challenge the first cause of action for "Race Discrimination in Violation of Title VII" at this time. They argue the second cause of action for "Retaliation in Violation of Title VII" should be dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. ECF No. 28-1.

         Title VII prohibits an employer from retaliating against an employee for opposing unlawful discrimination or for participating in Title VII processes. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a). Before filing suit under Title VII, however, "a plaintiff must exhaust her administrative remedies by bringing a charge with the EEOC." Smith v. First Union Nat'l Bank, 202 F.3d 234, 247 (4th Cir. 2000); see also 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(1). Exhausting the administrative remedies is a statutory prerequisite to invoking the jurisdiction of this court. Jones v. Calvert Group, Ltd., 551 F.3d 297, 300 (4th Cir. 2009) ("[A] failure by the plaintiff to exhaust administrative remedies concerning a Title VII claim deprives the federal courts of subject matter jurisdiction over the claim.").

         The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has considered the goals of Congress in enacting the Title VII exhaustion requirement. See Chacko v. Patuxent Inst., 429 F.3d 505, 510 (4th Cir. 2005). The court has explained that, rather than "a formality to be rushed through so that an individual can quickly file his subsequent lawsuit, " Congress intended "the exhaustion requirement to serve the primary purposes of notice and conciliation." Id. By notifying an employer of the alleged discrimination through the EEOC charge, the employer may investigate and possibly resolve the alleged discriminatory actions on its own. Id. For these and other reasons, "the administrative process is an integral part of the Title VII enforcement scheme." Id. Once a plaintiff files an administrative charge, that charge "plays a substantial role in focusing the formal litigation it precedes." Chacko, 429 F.3d at 509; see also Bryant v. Bell Atl. Md., Inc., 288 F.3d 124, 132 (4th Cir. 2002) ("The EEOC charge defines the scope of the plaintiff's right to institute a civil suit.").

         Plaintiff's Amended Charge is dated January 20, 2015, and is completed on an EEOC Form 5. ECF No. 28-2. The Form 5 Charge of Discrimination requires claimants to "Check appropriate box(es)" indicating the bases of their discrimination claims. The charge form contains "check boxes" for the following: race, color, sex, religion, national origin, retaliation, age, disability, genetic information, and other. The form also requires claimants to include the earliest and latest dates on which the complained-of discrimination took place. The claimant can also check a box for a "Continuing Action."

         In his Amended Charge, Plaintiff checked the box indicating his charge of discrimination was based upon race and age. Id.[2] Plaintiff did not check the box indicating he suffered retaliation. He indicates the discrimination took place on January 15, 2015 at the "earliest" and "latest." He did not check the "continuing action" box. Id. ...

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