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Mack v. South Carolina Department of Transportation

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

May 16, 2016

ROBERTA B. MACK, Plaintiff,
v.
SOUTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, Defendant.

ORDER ADOPTING THE REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION AND GRANTING DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS

MARY GEIGER LEWIS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

Plaintiff Roberta B. Mack filed this job discrimination action against her employer, Defendant South Carolina Department of Transportation, on April 15, 2015. The matter is before the Court for review of the Report and Recommendation (Report) of the United States Magistrate Judge suggesting that Defendant’s Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings be granted. The Report was made in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636 and Local Civil Rule 73.02 for the District of South Carolina.

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 the Court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270 (1976). The Court is charged with making a de novo determination of those portions of the Report to which specific objection is made, and the Court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the recommendation of the Magistrate Judge or recommit the matter with instructions. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

The Magistrate Judge filed the Report on March 18, 2016, Plaintiff filed her objections on April 25, 2016, and Defendant filed its response to Plaintiff’s objections on May 5, 2016. The Court has considered the objections, but finds them to be without merit. Therefore, it will enter judgment accordingly.

Plaintiff filed this lawsuit (Mack II), against Defendant in state court, alleging retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, for filing a previous lawsuit alleging discrimination and retaliation that led to the Court’s decision in Mack v. South Carolina Department of Transportation, C.A. No. 3:12-2960-MGL (Mack I). She states in Mack II that the retaliation that she suffered at the hands of Defendant came in the form of Defendant denying to her “a due salary equity analysis because of her protected activity[, ]” Mack II, ECF No. 1, Compl. ¶ 31, and for it failing to promote her to “a position in May[ ] 2013 for which she was qualified [and instead giving] [t]hat position . . . to a lesser qualified white male, ” id. ¶¶ 34-35.

Defendant removed Mack II to this Court. Mack II, ECF No. 1. Thereafter, Defendant filed a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, maintaining Mack II is barred by res judicata as the result of the Court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Defendant in Mack I. Mack II, ECF No. 17. In the Report, the Magistrate Judge suggests that the Court grant Defendant’s motion for judgment on the pleadings based on the doctrine of res judicata.

“Res judicata is applied to prevent the re-litigation of claims, and thus prevent the unsettling of a prior judgement, whether by increasing or decreasing the award or by reversing the result.” Heckert v. Dotson, 272 F.3d 253, 258 (4th Cir. 2001). “‘For the doctrine of res judicata to be applicable, there must be: (1) a final judgment on the merits in a prior suit; (2) an identity of the cause of action in both the earlier and later suit; and (3) an identity of parties or their privies in the two suits.’” Martin v. Am. Bancorp. Ret. Plan, 407 F.3d 643, 650 (4th Cir. 2005) (quoting Pueschel v. United States, 369 F.3d 345, 354-55 (4th Cir. 2004)). Further, res judicata not only “bar[s] claims that were raised and fully litigated, ” but also “‘prevents litigation of all grounds for, or defenses to, recovery that were previously available to the parties, regardless of whether they were asserted or determined in the prior proceeding.’” Peugeot Motors v. E. Auto Distrib., 892 F.2d 355, 359 (4th Cir.1989) (quoting Brown v. Felsen, 442 U.S. 127, 131 (1979)).

In this action, the parties agree that there was a final judgment on the merits in the earlier suit, Mack I, and that the identities of the parties in this suit, Mack II, are the same as those in Mack I. They disagree, however, on the issue as to whether the claims in Mack II are the same as those in Mack I.

Plaintiff makes four specific objections to the Report. The Court will address each one below.

First, Plaintiff complains that “[t]he Report and Recommendation misapplied the instant retaliation claims as alleging the protected activity at issue was Plaintiff’s prior charges of discrimination as opposed to her prior lawsuit.” Mack II, ECF No. 32, Objections 1 (citation omitted). In other words, Plaintiff “pleads that her retaliation is based on her previous lawsuit, not her prior charge.” Id. at 8. When viewed carefully, this is nothing more than a distinction that makes no difference.

Plaintiff is correct when she states that “[r]es judicata does not bar claims that did not exist at the time of the prior litigation.” Id. at 5 (citations omitted). But, that is not what we have here. In fact, each of Plaintiff’s retaliation claims in fact “exist[ed] at the time of the prior litigation.” Id. And, here is why:

“[T]he appropriate inquiry to determine whether causes of action are identical for claim preclusion purposes is whether the claim presented in the new litigation ‘arises out of the same transaction or series of transactions as the claim resolved in the prior judgment.”’ Pittston Co. v. United States, 199 F.3d 694, 704 (4th Cir. 1999) (quoting Harnett v. Billman, 800 F.2d 1308, 1313 (4th Cir. 1986)). “[A]ll claims arising from the same employment relationship constitute the same transaction or series of transactions for claim preclusion purposes.” Wilkes v. Wyo. Dep’t of Emp’t, Div. of Labor Standards, 314 F.3d 501, 504 (10th Cir. 2003) (quoting Mitchell v. City of Moore, 218 F.3d 1190, 1202 (10th Cir. 2000)). “Not only does res judicata bar claims that were raised and fully litigated, it ‘prevents litigation of all grounds for, or defenses to, recovery that were previously available to the parties, regardless of whether they were asserted or determined in the prior proceeding.”’ Puegot Motors, 892 F.2d at 359 (quoting Felsen, 442 U.S. at 131).

Plaintiff filed Mack I on October 12, 2012. Mack I, ECF No. 1. She states in the present suit that “[s]ince filing [Mack I], Plaintiff was and has been continuously denied a due salary equity analysis because of her protected activity.” Mack II, ECF No. 9, ¶ 31. She also avers that Defendant has failed to promote her because of her Mack I lawsuit. Id. ¶ 32.

For purposes of deciding Defendant’s motion, all facts alleged in the complaint must be taken as true and all reasonable factual inferences must be drawn in favor of the plaintiff, Burbach Broad. Co. v. Elkins Radio Corp., 278 F.3d 401, 406 (4th Cir. 2002). Consequently, because Plaintiff complains that “[s]ince filing that lawsuit, [she] was and has been continuously denied a due salary equity analysis because of her protected activity[, ]” Mack II, ECF No. 9, ¶ 31, Plaintiff’s Mack II complaint makes it self-evident that her present allegation of retaliation regarding her salary existed while Mack I was still pending. She also avows that Defendant’s ...


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