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Seabrooks v. Aiken County

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

August 18, 2016

Sharon Seabrooks, Plaintiff,
v.
Aiken County, Defendant.

          ORDER AND OPINION

         Plaintiff Sharon Seabrooks (“Plaintiff”) filed this action against Defendant Aiken County (“Defendant” or “Aiken County”) alleging a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violation of her due process rights as guaranteed by the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. She also alleges state law claims for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy, breach of contract, quantum meruit, equitable estoppel, violation of the South Carolina Payment of Wages Act, SC Code Ann. §§ 41-10-10 to -110 (2016), and defamation. This matter is before the court on Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(5) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) (ECF No. 3).

         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 Thomas E. Rogers, III for pretrial handling. On May 31, 2016, the Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation (“Report”) in which he recommended that the court grant Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss. (ECF No. 13.) For the reasons set forth herein, the court GRANTS IN PART Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss.

         I. Relevant Factual and Procedural Background

         Plaintiff was hired as a Jury Clerk on or about March 26, 2012. (ECF No. 1-1 at 4 ¶ 5.) Plaintiff took the oath as a deputy clerk on or about March 30, 2012. (Id. at 5 ¶ 9.) The Clerk of Court has authority to hire, dismiss, and supervise her employees, including Plaintiff. (Id. at 5 ¶ 9) Upon announcement by the Assistant to the Clerk of Court that she would be resigning, Plaintiff applied for and was awarded the position. (Id. at 5 ¶¶ 8-11.) Plaintiff did not receive a pay increase as a result of the change in jobs from Jury Clerk to Assistant to the Clerk of Court. (Id. at 5, 11, 12 ¶¶ 13, 54, 61-62.) However, she moved into the office of the previous Assistant to the Clerk of Court and was given the tasks and responsibilities associated with that position. (Id. at 5 ¶ 15.)

         On or about April 16, 2013, when Plaintiff received a new badge for entry into the courthouse, it did not reflect the title Assistant to the Clerk of Court. (Id. at 6 ¶ 22.) When Plaintiff asked about the discrepancy in title, she was told by Human Resources that the Clerk of Court, Liz Godard, had not submitted paperwork informing the County of a change in title. (Id. at 6 ¶ 23.) The next morning Plaintiff asked to meet with the Clerk of Court and the Civil Division Supervisor, Anita Koepfle, to discuss what she had been told by Human Resources. (Id. at 6 ¶ 24.)

         Plaintiff then returned to Human Resources and inquired about filing a grievance in response to Godard’s actions. (Id. at 6 ¶ 25.) She obtained a grievance package to complete, and filed the grievance on May 6, 2013. (Id. at 6 ¶ 26-27.) On May 13, 2013, the Clerk of Court dismissed Plaintiff due to insubordination. (Id. at 7 ¶ 32.)

         Plaintiff originally filed this action in the Court of Common Pleas, Aiken County, South Carolina, on May 22, 2015. (ECF No. 1.) However, that Summons and Complaint was not served and an Amended Summons and Complaint were filed on September 17, 2015. (ECF No. 1-1.) The Amended Summons and Complaint were served on Robin Broome, an assistant for the Human Resources office for Aiken County. (ECF No. 3-3 at 1 ¶¶ 2-3.) Process server Winifred Rodgers averred that she was told that Broome was authorized to accept service of process.

         Defendant removed the action to this court on October 15, 2015, and filed the present Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 1, 3.) On November 2, 2015, Plaintiff filed a Response in Opposition to Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss. (ECF No. 7.) The Magistrate Judge issued the Report on May 31, 2016, recommending that the court grant Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss. (ECF No. 13 at 5.) Defendant filed Objections to the Report on June 16, 2016. (ECF No. 14.) Plaintiff filed Objections to the Report on July 5, 2016. (ECF No. 19.) Defendant subsequently filed a Reply to Plaintiff’s Objections to the Report on July 22, 2016. (ECF No. 20.)

         II. Legal Standard

         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 the Magistrate Judge’s Report and Recommendation to which specific objections are made, and the court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the Magistrate Judge's recommendation or recommit the matter with instructions. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(5) provides for the dismissal of an action for insufficient service of process. When service of process is attempted prior to removal of the action to the District Court, the state rules for service of process govern. See Redding v. Sun Printing, Inc., No. 5:12-cv-2113-JMC, 2013 WL 2149685, at *1 n.1 (D.S.C. May 16, 2013); accord Davis v. Tyson Foods, Inc., No. 3:14-cv-0720-GCM, 2015 WL 4638301, at *1 (W.D. N.C. Aug. 4, 2015) (“When service of process is attempted before removal to federal court, the state’s service of process rules govern whether the attempt was sufficient.”). For Aiken County, the County Administrator fills the role of chief executive officer because Aiken County operates under the council-administrator form of government. S.C. Code § 4-9-630(1) (2016) (administrator is “to serve as the chief administrative officer of the county government”); Antley v. Shepherd, 532 S.E.2d 294, 297 (S.C. Ct. App. 2000) (“Aiken County functions under the Council-Administrator form of government.”).

         A 12(b)(6) motion examines whether Plaintiff has stated a claim upon which relief can be granted. The United States Supreme Court has made clear that, under Fed.R.Civ.P. 8, the complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim that is plausible on its face. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009); Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007). The reviewing court need only accept as true the complaint’s factual allegations, not its legal conclusions. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678; Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

         Expounding on its decision in Twombly, the United States Supreme Court stated in Iqbal:

[T]he pleading standard Rule 8 announces does not require “detailed factual allegations, ” but it demands more than an unadorned, the defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation. A pleading that offers “labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders “naked assertion[s]” devoid of “further factual enhancement.” To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” A claim has facial ...

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