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Black v. South Carolina Department of Corrections

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Anderson/Greenwood Division

July 27, 2016

Christina Black, Plaintiff,
v.
South Carolina Department of Corrections, Defendant.

          Christina Black, Plaintiff, represented by James Lewis Cromer, J Lewis Cromer and Associates, Julius Wistar Babb, IV, J Lewis Cromer and Associates & Shannon Polvi, J Lewis Cromer and Associates.

          South Carolina Department of Corrections, Defendant, represented by Eugene H. Matthews, Richardson Plowden and Robinson.

          REPORT OF MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          KEVIN F. McDONALD, Magistrate Judge.

         This matter is before the court on the defendant's motion to dismiss (doc. 5). Pursuant to the provisions of Title 28, United States Code, Section 636(b)(1)(A), and Local Civ. Rule 73.02(B)(2)(g) (D.S.C.), this magistrate judge is authorized to review all pretrial matters in employment discrimination cases and submit findings and recommendations to the district court.

         The defendant removed this case from the McCormick County Court of Common Pleas on January 11, 2016 (doc.1), based upon this court's federal question jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C. § 1331. In her complaint, the plaintiff alleges two causes of action: (1) a federal claim for interference with rights in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") and (2) a state law claim for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy.

         The defendant has moved to dismiss the case pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and (6) and for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c). On February 19, 2016, the plaintiff filed a response in opposition to the motion to dismiss (doc. 12), and on February 26, 2016, the defendant filed a reply (doc. 16).

         PLAINTIFF'S ALLEGATIONS

         The plaintiff is a former employee of the defendant South Carolina Department of Corrections ("the defendant" or "SCDC"). SCDC is an agency of the State of South Carolina (doc. 1-1, comp., parties ¶¶ 1-2).

         In her first cause of action, the plaintiff alleges that the defendant violated her rights under the FMLA (doc. 1-1, comp. ¶¶ 6-14, 25-30). The plaintiff alleges that in her most recently updated family medical leave request from her physician, her physician indicated that the plaintiff "suffers from a lifelong condition, " she was seen by her doctor on September 25, 2013, and that she was able to return to work on November 20, 2013 ( id., factual allegations ¶ 13). The plaintiff returned to work on November 21, 2013 ( id. ¶ 15). Thereafter, she claims that she was "targeted, " "reprimanded for pretextual reasons, " and ultimately terminated from employment ( id. ¶¶ 16-23). The plaintiff claims that she went on medical leave under the FMLA for her own serious heath condition and was terminated "for exercising her rights pursuant to the FMLA" ( id. ¶¶ 27-29). As relief, the plaintiff seeks "back pay, front pay, liquidated damages, interest, attorney's fees and costs, equitable relief as may be appropriate, including reinstatement, and all other relief she may be entitled to under the FMLA" ( id. ¶ 30).

         In her second cause of action, the plaintiff alleges that SCDC terminated her employment in violation of the public policy of South Carolina. Specifically, the plaintiff states that Provisions 1.1, 2.1, and 7.2 of the Code of Ethics for Nurses set forth "clear mandates of public policy" ( id. ¶¶ 32-33) (citing S.C. Code Ann. § 40-33-70 ("Nurses shall conduct themselves in accordance with the code of ethics adopted by the board in regulation."))). She alleges that SCDC wrongfully terminated her because she "did carry out the functions of her job competently and satisfactorily as reflected in all employee annual evaluations and in accordance with the Code of Ethics for Nurses... ( id. ¶ 35).

         APPLICABLE LAW AND ANALYSIS

          Standard of Review

         The defendant has moved for dismissal of the plaintiff's FMLA cause of action under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and (6) and has moved for judgment on the pleadings on the plaintiff's wrongful discharge in violation of public policy cause of action under Rule 12(c) (doc. 5 at 1). A Rule 12(c) motion is assessed under the same standards as a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6).[1] Occupy Columbia v. Haley, 738 F.3d 107, 115 (4th Cir. 2013) (citing Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir.1999)). "The purpose of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion is to test the sufficiency of a complaint." Williams v. Preiss-Wal Pat III, LLC, 17 F.Supp. 3d 528, 531 (D.S.C. 2014) (quoting Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999)). "[T]he facts alleged must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level' and must provide enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Robinson v. American Honda Motor Co., Inc., 551 F.3d 218, 222 (4th Cir. 2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 569 (2007)). "The plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement, but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         While a complaint "does not need [to allege] detailed factual allegations, " pleadings that contain mere "labels and conclusions" or "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. "Where a complaint pleads facts that are merely consistent with a defendant's liability, it stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (internal quotation marks omitted). Stated differently, "where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not show [n]'-that the pleader is entitled to relief.'" Id. at 679 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). When determining a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the court must take all well-pled material allegations of the ...


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