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Cash v. Garner

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

November 16, 2016

Michael Cash, Plaintiff,
v.
Dr. Ronald W. Garner and Spartanburg County School District One, Defendants.

          ORDER

          Bruce Howe Hendricks United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court upon the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation (“Report”), which was made in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(d) (D.S.C.). In his Report, which was issued on May 23, 2016, United States Magistrate Judge Kevin F. McDonald recommends that the Court grant Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiff's First Amendment cause of action; deny Plaintiff's motion to amend his complaint; and decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's remaining state law claims. Plaintiff filed written objections to the Report, and the matter is ripe for review.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was a drafting and design teacher at Swofford Career Center, a high school career center serving Spartanburg County School Districts One and Two. Dr. Ronald W. Garner (“Garner”) is the Superintendent of District One.

         According to Plaintiff's complaint, at the end of the spring 2015 semester, while giving the first of a three-part final exam, Plaintiff witnessed two students talking and one student copying the other student's exam. When Plaintiff graded the exams, he noticed that the students' drawings were identical and that they both incorrectly drew the same portion of the drawing. Plaintiff gave both students a score of 50 on that portion of the exam.

         When the students' parents complained, the District ultimately allowed the students to take a retest of the first part of the exam. Only one student showed up for the retest, and that student scored a 25. The other student scored 0. Plaintiff entered his students' final grants into PowerSchool, the District's student information system, but Plaintiff subsequently learned that “someone from District One” changed the cheating students' grades in PowerSchool and gave them a final course grade of 85, which translates to a “B” letter grade. (ECF 1-1 at 9.) Plaintiff does not identify who changed the grades, but he asserts that he tried to open his PowerSchool account to see what had been altered but discovered that his account had been deleted. Plaintiff informed Joel Griggs, an investigator for the South Carolina Department of Education, about the incident, and according to Plaintiff, Griggs told him that the school was not cooperating in the investigation. Plaintiff claims that “[r]ather than be a party to the criminal conduct committed by the District, ” he “decided to resign.” (Id.)

         Subsequently, Plaintiff agreed to meet with Defendant Garner and Spartanburg County School District Two's Superintendent, Dr. Mercer. During this meeting, Garner asked Plaintiff what it would take to keep him at Swofford, and Plaintiff stated he would return if the grades for the students he caught cheating were changed to reflect the grades he had given them. Defendants refused to change the grades, and Plaintiff alleges he was “constructively discharged . . . when it became clear that the District would require Plaintiff to violate a criminal law of this state to retain his employment.” (Id. at 10.) Specifically, Plaintiff cites section 16-13-15 of the South Carolina Code, which provides in pertinent part:

(A) It is unlawful for any person to falsify or alter a transcript, a diploma, or the high school equivalency diploma known as the GED from any high school, college, university, or technical college of this State, from the South Carolina Department of Education, or from any other transcript or diploma issuing entity.
(C) Any person who knowingly violates the provisions of this section is guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction, must be fined not more than one thousand dollars or imprisoned for not more than one year, or both.

S.C. Code Ann. § 16-13-15.

         In his complaint, Plaintiff alleges a claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violation of his First Amendment rights, as well as state-law claims for wrongful termination in violation of public policy and violation of the South Carolina Payment of Wages Act, SC Code Ann. § 41-10-10 through -110. On March 1, 2016, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss, asserting that Plaintiff's complaint fails to state a cognizable First Amendment claim and that even if Plaintiff's complaint does state a cognizable First Amendment claim, Defendant Garner is entitled to qualified immunity.

         Plaintiff filed a response in opposition as well as a motion to amend his complaint. In his motion to amend, Plaintiff maintains the same causes of action but seeks to include additional facts to demonstrate Defendants' alleged pattern and practice of altering students' grades.

         Defendants filed a response in opposition to Plaintiffs' motion to amend, asserting that the proposed amendment would be futile and that the new facts alleged did not cure Plaintiff's failure to state a First Amendment claim.

         On May 23, 2016, the Magistrate Judge issued his Report, recommending that the Court grant Defendants' motion to dismiss, deny Plaintiff's motion to amend, and decline to exercise supplemental ...


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