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Terrill v. Limestone College

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

October 31, 2017

Wesley O. Terrill, Plaintiff,
v.
Limestone College and President Walt Griffin, Defendants.

          ORDER

          Timothy M. Cain, United States District Judge

         This is matter is before the court on a partial motion to dismiss filed by Defendants Limestone College and Limestone's President, Walt Griffin. (ECF No. 5). Defendants seek to have Plaintiff's racial discrimination and retaliation claims dismissed on the basis of res judicata. Id. Plaintiff filed a response opposing the motion (ECF No. 14), and Defendants filed a reply to that response (ECF No. 16). Pursuant to the provisions of Title 28, United States Code, Section 636(b)(1)(A), and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(g) (D.S.C.), this motion was referred to a magistrate judge for review. The magistrate judge reviewed the record and issued a Report and Recommendation (the “Report”) recommending that the Defendants' partial motion to dismiss be granted and that only the Plaintiff's claim for violation of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) should remain pending before this court. (ECF No. 19). Plaintiff filed objections to the Report (ECF No. 20), and the Defendants filed a Response to those objections (ECF No. 22).

         The recommendations set forth in the Report have no presumptive weight, and this court remains responsible for making a final determination in this matter. See Matthews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71 (1976). The court is charged with making a de novo determination of those portions of the Report to which a specific objection is made, and the court may accept, reject, modify, in whole or in part, the recommendation of the magistrate judge or recommit the matter with instructions. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). However, the court need not conduct a de novo review when a party makes only “general and conclusory objections that do not direct the court to a specific error in the magistrate's proposed findings and recommendations.” Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982). In the absence of a timely filed, specific objection, the magistrate judge's conclusions are reviewed only for clear error. See Diamond v. Colonial Life & Accident Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005).

         I. Background/Procedural History

         In August 2011, Plaintiff, an African American male, began working as an Assistant Director for the Extended Campus Classroom (“ECC”) and as an Academic Advisor and Site Representative for Limestone College. (ECF No. 1 at 2). Additionally, since 2003, Plaintiff has served as a Course Instructor in Defendants' program called “Call Me Mister.” Id. On March 30, 2017, Plaintiff was given notice that his employment with Defendants was terminated, effective April 3, 2017. (ECF No. 1 at 4).

         On December 21, 2016, Plaintiff filed his first lawsuit in state court (hereinafter “Terrill I”) against these same Defendants, alleging breach of his employment contract, breach of employment contract with fraudulent intent, and retaliation, all of which allegedly arose out of Plaintiff's employment with Limestone College. (ECF No. 5-1). Plaintiff alleged the following in his breach of contract claim: (1) that Defendants breached their contract with Plaintiff by allowing Area Coordinators to receive higher compensation than Plaintiff despite their lower ranking in the company; (2) that Defendants breached their contract with Plaintiff by reducing Plaintiff's job duties; and (3) that Defendants breached their contract with Plaintiff by advocating for and allowing other employees to maintain their positions and salaries while Plaintiff's job duties and salary decreased. (ECF No. 5-1 at 6-7). Additionally, Plaintiff alleged the same facts in his claim for breach of contract with fraudulent intent, but he further alleged that to his detriment he had relied on Defendants' promises regarding compensation and on the employment contract's provisions. (ECF No. 5-1 at 8).

         Finally, Plaintiff alleged the following in regards to his retaliation claim in Terrill I: (1) that Plaintiff's supervisors participated in a common design through concerted efforts to retaliate against Plaintiff for Plaintiff's unintentional failure to disclose when the ECC vehicle trade had gone through; (2) that these supervisors eliminated and reduced Plaintiff's job duties, which negatively affected his earnings; (3) that one of the supervisors retaliated against Plaintiff when she failed to consider him for exempt status under the Fair Labor Standards Act while advocating for exempt status and raises on behalf of others in the company; (4) that one supervisor retaliated against Plaintiff when Plaintiff's company vehicle was taken away and given to someone else; and (5) that these two supervisors knowingly and willfully isolated and harassed Plaintiff in order to diminish his job opportunities, which made Plaintiff unable to generate supplemental income. (ECF No. 5-1 at 9).

         On March 15, 2017, Plaintiff stipulated to the dismissal of Terrill I with prejudice pursuant to South Carolina Rule of Civil Procedure 41. (ECF No. 14 at 2). Following his termination from Limestone College, Plaintiff filed this lawsuit (hereinafter “Terrill II”) against Defendants on April 12, 2017, alleging race discrimination and retaliation in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and wrongful termination in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). (EFC No. 1). On May 8, 2017, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the racial discrimination and retaliation claims. (ECF No. 5). The Plaintiff responded on June 27, 2017 (ECF No. 14), and Defendants replied on July 5, 2017 (ECF No. 16). The motion was referred to a magistrate judge, and he issued a Report recommending the motion to dismiss in part be granted. (ECF No. 19). Plaintiff made two timely objections. (ECF No. 20). Defendants timely replied to these objections. (ECF No. 22). This court overrules these objections for the reasons below.

         II. Applicable Law and Analysis

         When considering a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the court must accept as true the facts alleged in the complaint and view them in a light most favorable to the plaintiff. Ostrzenski v. Seigel, 177 F.3d 245, 251 (4th Cir. 1999). “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.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. Although “a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, ” a pleading that merely offers “labels and conclusions, ” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Likewise, “a complaint [will not] suffice if it tenders ‘naked assertion[s]' devoid of ‘further factual enhancements.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).

         Additionally, because Plaintiff's state court action for breach of contract was adjudicated under South Carolina law, the law of South Carolina controls the determination of whether res judicata bars the Plaintiff's present claim. See Kremer v. Chem. Const. Corp., 456 U.S. 461, 466-67(1982) (stating that the law “requires federal courts to give the same preclusive effect to state court judgments that those judgments would be given in the courts of the State from which the judgment emerged”); Marrese v. Am. Acad. of Orthopaedic Surgeon, 470 U.S. 373, 380 (1985) (stating that the law “directs a federal court to refer to the preclusion law of the State in which the judgment was rendered.”). Under South Carolina law, in order to establish that res judicata applies, a defendant must show (1) that the prior judgment was final, valid, and on the merits; (2) that the parties are identical in both cases; and (3) that the second case involves “matter properly included in the first action.” Wilson v. Charleston Cty. Sch. Dist., 419 S.C. 442, 450, 798 S.E.2d 449, 453 (Ct. App. 2017) (internal citations omitted). Furthermore, if a defendant establishes all three elements, not only is the plaintiff barred from raising issues that were adjudicated in the prior suit, but the plaintiff is also barred from raising “any issues which might have been raised in the former suit.” Id. at 450, 798 S.E.2d at 453. In determining whether a claim might have or should have been brought in a prior suit, South Carolina courts look at four factors: (1) if subject matter is the same in both cases, (2) if the first and second cases involve the same primary right held by the plaintiff and one primary wrong committed by the defendant, (3) if there is the same evidence in both cases, or (4) if the claims arise out of the same transaction or occurrence that is the subject matter of the prior action. Judy v. Judy, 393 S.C. 160, 176, 712 S.E.2d 408, 416 n.7 (2011) (quoting James F. Flanagan, South Carolina Civil Procedure 649-50 (2d ed. 1996)). However, South Carolina courts have continuously held that “[r]es judicata bars subsequent actions by the same parties when the claims arise out of the same transaction or occurrence that was the subject of a prior action between those parties.” Id. at 172, 712 S.E.2d at 414 (citing Plum Creek Dev. Co. v. City of Conway, 334 S.C. 30, 34 (1999)).

         Plaintiff concedes that the same parties are involved in both Terrill I and Terrill II. (ECF No. 20 at 4). However, Plaintiff objects to the magistrate judge's determinations that Terrill I was a final adjudication on the merits and that Terrill I and Terrill II arise out of the same transaction or occurrence. (ECF No. 20 at 20). Essentially, Plaintiff contends that res judicata does not apply because elements (1) and (3) are not met. However, this court has determined that all elements of res judicata are met and that res judicata bars the non FMLA claims in Terrill II.

         A. Non-FMLA claims in Terrill II should have been brought in Terrill I

         Plaintiff objects to the magistrate judge's determination that Terrill I and Terrill II arose from the same transaction or occurrence, and that, therefore, the claims in Terrill II should have been brought in Terrill I. (ECF No. 20 at 4). Plaintiff alleges that the causes of action in the two cases depend on “entirely different factual allegations and occurrences” and that Terrill II is based on facts that had not yet occurred at the time of the Terrill I dismissal. (ECF No. 20 at 7). Plaintiff lists five “new” facts that he contends occurred after the conclusion of Terrill I: (a) that “Defendants' agent, Hudson [a white female] failed to communicate with Plaintiff concerning pertinent information for Plaintiff to complete his job duties, ” (b) that “Plaintiff was excluded from necessary calls that were essential to his job, ” (c) that “Plaintiff['s] income was reduced and his supplemental income was taken away from him while Caucasian workers did not have their income reduced or lose their supplemental income, ” (d) that “Plaintiff was mandated to tak[e] his lunch break at a designated time while his Caucasian co-workers were not required ...


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