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Smith v. Print Machine, Inc.

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

March 7, 2017

Louie Lawton Smith, Jr., Plaintiff,
v.
The Print Machine, Inc., a South Carolina Corporation, Kasey Cooper Fay, Jim Norris, Chris Fay, Jerry Cooper, and Matt Luther, Defendants.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          Shiva V. Hodges United States Magistrate Judge

         In this employment discrimination case, Louie Lawton Smith, Jr. (“Plaintiff”), sues The Print Machine, Inc. (“TPM”), and Kasey Cooper Fay, Jim Norris, Chris Fay, Jerry Cooper, and Matt Luther (the “individual Defendants”) (collectively “Defendants”), alleging claims for workers' compensation retaliation and violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq. (“ADA”). [ECF No. 1]. This matter comes before the court on: (1) Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a), 12(b)(6), and 12(c) [ECF No. 31]; and (2) Plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment [ECF No. 37]. The motions having been fully briefed [ECF Nos. 36, 39-42], they are ripe for disposition.

         All pretrial proceedings in this case were referred to the undersigned pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Civ. Rule 73.02(B)(2)(g) (D.S.C.). Because the motions are dispositive, this report and recommendation is entered for the district judge's consideration. For the reasons that follow, the undersigned recommends the district court grant Defendants' motion to dismiss and deny Plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment.

         I.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         The following is a summary of the facts as alleged by Plaintiff in his complaint and the attachments thereto: Plaintiff was hired by his former employer TPM on October 18, 2004, as a Delivery Driver. [ECF No. 1-2 at 1, 2]. Plaintiff states he worked for TPM for ten years and claims he injured his shoulder/arm on the job in 2009 and suffered a permanent partial disability. [ECF Nos. 1-1 at 1, 1-3 at 1]. He states that he had shoulder surgery and remained out of work, but was paid, for two to three months. [ECF No. 1-3 at 1]. Plaintiff says he was assured by then-TPM executives Todd Brown and Jerry Cooper that his job would always be available regardless of his arm damage. Id. Plaintiff claims that after a change in management, he was discharged. Id. Plaintiff claims that he was told his “position was being eliminated due to weak sales in the Columbia office.” [ECF No. 1-3 at 2-3]. However, he states that approximately one month after he was terminated, TPM's newsletter revealed an increase in business, id. at 3, and it also hired three additional employees to do work he previously performed. [ECF Nos. 1-1 at 2; 1-2 at 4].

         Plaintiff states he filed an administrative charge with the South Carolina Human Affairs Commission in 2015 that was transferred to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). Plaintiff states he received a right to sue letter from the EEOC on June 30, 2016. [ECF No. 1-1 at 4]. Plaintiff seeks monetary damages. [ECF No. 1 at 8].

         II. Discussion

         A. Legal Standard

         To survive a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). The court is “not required to accept as true the legal conclusions set forth in a plaintiff's complaint.” Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 244 (4th Cir. 1999). Indeed, “[t]he presence of a few conclusory legal terms does not insulate a complaint from dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) when the facts alleged in the complaint cannot support” the legal conclusion. Young v. City of Mount Ranier, 238 F.3d 567, 577 (4th Cir. 2001). Furthermore, in analyzing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a court may consider “documents incorporated into the complaint by reference, and matters of which a court may take judicial notice.” Tellabs, Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights, Ltd., 551 U.S. 308, 322 (2007).

         B. Analysis

         1. Workers' Compensation Retaliation

         South Carolina prohibits an employer from discharging or demoting an employee because the employee has instituted or caused to be instituted in good faith any proceeding under South Carolina's Workers' Compensation Law, SC Code Ann. § 41-1-80 (the “Act”). The employee carries the burden of proving that his discharge or demotion occurred because he instituted proceedings under the Act. Id. To prove his claim, Plaintiff must show that (1) he instituted a workers' compensation claim, (2) he was discharged or demoted, and (3) a causal connection exists between the two events. Hinton v. Designer Ensembles, Inc., 540 S.E.2d 94, 97 (S.C. 2000). The appropriate test for causation is the “determinative factor” test, which requires Plaintiff to establish that he would not have been discharged “but for” the filing of his workers' compensation claim. Id. “The ultimate burden of persuading the trier of fact that the employer retaliatorily discharged the employee for exercising statutory rights under the Act remain at all times with the employee.” Id. (internal quotations omitted).

         Defendants argue that to the extent Plaintiff asserts a workers' compensation retaliation claim against them, his claims are untimely. The statute of limitations for a former employee to assert a workers' compensation retaliation claim is one year. S.C. Code Ann. § 41-1-80. Defendants argue that the court should dismiss as time-barred Plaintiff's complaint for workers' compensation retaliation, as ...


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