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McPherson v. CSX Transportation, Inc.

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

March 27, 2017

Thomas J. McPherson, Plaintiff,
v.
CSX Transportation, Inc., Defendant.

          ORDER AND OPINION

          Bruce Howe Hendricks United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant's motion to dismiss Plaintiff's amended Complaint. (ECF No. 16.) For the reasons set forth below, the motion is GRANTED.

         BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff Thomas J. McPherson is a former train engineer for Defendant CSX Transportation, Inc. (ECF No. 10 ¶ 4.) On July 25, 2009, Plaintiff received a citation from the North Charleston Police Department for obstructing a highway while operating one of Defendant's trains in North Charleston, South Carolina. (Id. ¶¶ 5-9.) According to Plaintiff, the Police Department “lacked the legal authority” to issue the citation. (Id. ¶ 9.)

         Plaintiff alleges that Defendant's supervisors played an active role as the incident unfolded. Specifically, one of Defendant's supervisors, Michael Wiley (“Wiley”), was present “for all conversations with law enforcement and kept a carbon copy of the original citation issued to Plaintiff.” (Id. ¶ 10.) Wiley “ensured Plaintiff that Defendant's legal department would take care of the improperly issued citation pursuant to company policy and procedure.” (Id. ¶ 11.) Later that evening, Plaintiff met with the Florence supervisor, Joseph Edelbrock (“Edelbrock”), “to discuss the next steps to be taken with regard to the pending citation.” (Id. ¶ 13.) Edelbrock “made a photocopy of the citation and further ensured Plaintiff that Defendant's legal department” would handle the citation. (Id. ¶ 14.)

         Plaintiff alleges that “Defendant's policies and procedures” required that he follow the directives of his supervisors and prevented him from independently disputing the citation “without risking disciplinary action and/or discharge.” (Id. ¶ 15.) He further alleges that “Defendant intended to retain outside counsel to litigate the citation . . ., but failed to follow its routine protocol of challenging citations . . . due to the neglect of its managerial employees.” (Id. ¶ 19.) According to Plaintiff, this failure “was in contravention of Defendant's internal policies and procedures, in contravention of Defendant's employment contract with the Plaintiff, and in contravention of Defendant's contract with and obligations to the United Transportation Union.” (Id. ¶ 20.)

         Plaintiff alleges that Defendant failed to take any action to challenge the citation, unbeknownst to him, and the City of North Charleston tried Plaintiff in his absence for the violation listed on the citation. (Id. ¶ 23.) A bench warrant was then issued for Plaintiff's arrest. (Id.) Despite this, Plaintiff alleges that when he spoke with his supervisors shortly after his court date, he was informed that the citation had been taken care of on his behalf. (Id. ¶ 24.) Plaintiff left his employment with Defendant in December 2009. (Id. ¶ 25.) On March 20, 2015, Plaintiff was pulled over for a minor traffic infraction in Florence, South Carolina, which revealed the active bench warrant for his arrest. (Id. ¶ 26.) Plaintiff was then arrested. (Id. ¶ 27.)

         On June 13, 2016, Plaintiff filed this civil action alleging a negligence claim against Defendant for its failure to exercise due care in relation to the above events. Plaintiff asserts that “[a]s a result of his arrest and the acts and omissions of Defendant, ” he has “suffered actual damages, including but not limited to physical restraint, physical injury, costs associated with the criminal charge and arrest, stigmatism of reputation and character, loss of enjoyment of life, wrongful imprisonment, false imprisonment and confinement, deprivation of liberty, mental and emotional distress, worry, and anxiety.” (Id. ¶ 29.)

         On August 24, 2016, Defendant moved to dismiss Plaintiff's amended Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (ECF No. 16.) Plaintiff filed a response on August 25, 2016 (ECF No. 18), to which Defendant replied on September 6, 2016 (ECF No. 19). The Court has reviewed the briefing and the applicable law, and now issues the following ruling.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A plaintiff's complaint should set forth “a short and plain statement . . . showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Rule 8 “does not require ‘detailed factual allegations, ' but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). To show that the plaintiff is “entitled to relief, ” the complaint must provide “more than labels and conclusions, ” and “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. In considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court “accepts all well-pled facts as true and construes these facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff . . . .” Nemet Chevrolet, Ltd. v. Consumeraffairs.com, Inc., 591 F.3d 250, 255 (4th Cir. 2009).

         To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a complaint must state “a plausible claim for relief.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. “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. 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.'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). 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. (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)). Still, Rule 12(b)(6) “does not countenance . . . dismissals based on a judge's disbelief of a complaint's factual allegations.” Colon Health Centers of Am., LLC v. Hazel, 733 F.3d 535, 545 (4th Cir. 2013) (quoting Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327 (1989)). “A plausible but inconclusive inference from pleaded facts will survive a motion to dismiss . . . .” Sepulveda-Villarini v. Dep't of Educ. of Puerto Rico, 628 F.3d 25, 30 (1st Cir. 2010) (Souter, J.).

         DISCUSSION

         Defendant moves to dismiss the amended Complaint, arguing, inter alia, that it fails to allege a legally recognized duty Defendant owed to Plaintiff. (ECF No. 16-1 at 2.)

         “An essential element in a cause of action based upon negligence is the existence of a legal duty of care owed by the defendant to the plaintiff. Without a duty, there is no actionable negligence.” Oblachinski v. Reynolds, 706 S.E.2d 844, 845-46 (S.C. 2011); see also Steinke v. S.C. Dep't of Labor, Licensing & Regulation, 520 S.E.2d 142, 149 (S.C. 1999) (“In a negligence action, a plaintiff must show that the (1) defendant owes a duty of care to the plaintiff, (2) defendant breached the duty by a negligent act or omission, (3) defendant's breach was the actual and proximate cause of the plaintiff's injury, and (4) plaintiff suffered an injury or damages.”). “Whether the law recognizes a particular duty is an issue of law to be determined by the court.” Ellis v. Niles, 479 S.E.2d 47, 49 (S.C. 1996). An affirmative legal duty may be created by statute, a contractual relationship, status, property interest, or some other special circumstance. Madison v. Babcock Ctr., Inc., 638 S.E.2d 650, 656-57 (S.C. 2006). However, South Carolina courts will not extend the concept of a legal duty of care in ...


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