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Leaks v. Limestone College

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

January 30, 2018

Ileka L. Leaks, Plaintiff,
Limestone College; Walt Griffin, President In His Official Capacity, Defendants.


          Donald C. Coggins, Jr. United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court on a Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendants. ECF No. 5. Defendants seek to have Plaintiff's race discrimination and retaliation claims dismissed on the basis of res judicata. ECF No. 5. Plaintiff filed a Response in opposition to the Motion to Dismiss, ECF No. 13, and Defendants filed a Reply. ECF No. 14. Pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(g) (D.S.C.), Defendants' motion was referred to a Magistrate Judge for consideration. The Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation (“the Report”) recommending that the Defendants' motion to dismiss be granted. ECF No. 18. Plaintiff filed Objections to the Report, ECF No. 19, and Defendants filed a Response to Plaintiff's Objections. ECF No. 20. Having reviewed the entire record, the Court finds that the Magistrate Judge fairly and accurately summarized the facts and applied the correct principles of law. Accordingly, the Court adopts the Report and fully incorporates it into this Order.

         I. Background/Procedural History

         Plaintiff, an African American female, began working for Defendant Limestone College (“Limestone”) in August 2011 as Director of Career Services. ECF No. 1 at 1-2. Since that time, Plaintiff has also taught five to six classes each semester at Limestone. ECF No. 1 at 1.

         On December 21, 2016, Plaintiff filed a lawsuit in the Cherokee County Court of Common Pleas (“the State Court Action”), alleging that Defendants added another instructor to the course instructor rotation, elevated that instructor to a higher level of seniority with more classes to teach than Plaintiff, and changed Plaintiff's classification to a non-exempt employee[1] to reduce her course load. ECF No. 5-1 at 2-6. The State Court action asserted causes of action for breach of contract, breach of contract with fraudulent intent, and retaliation. ECF No. 5-1 at 6-9. On March 15, 2017, Plaintiff filed a joint stipulation of dismissal with prejudice in the State Court Action as to all defendants. ECF No. 5-2.

         On April 11, 2017, Plaintiff filed the instant action, bringing claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 for race discrimination and retaliation. ECF No. 1 at 4-6. The substance of Plaintiff's Complaint relates to the same subject matter addressed in the State Court Action-i.e., Defendants' alleged favoritism of another course instructor, reduction of Plaintiff's course load, and classification of Plaintiff as a non-exempt employee. ECF No. 1. In her Report recommending the grant of the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, the Magistrate Judge found that Plaintiff's claims in the instant case should be dismissed because they are barred by res judicata. ECF No. 18.

         II. Standard of Review

         A. The Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation

         The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this Court. The Report has no presumptive weight, and the responsibility to make a final determination remains with this Court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71. Parties are allowed to make a written objection to the Report within fourteen days after being served a copy of the Report. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). From the objections, the Court reviews de novo those portions of the Report that have been specifically objected to, and the Court may accept, reject, or modify the Report, in whole or in part. Id.

         B. Motion to Dismiss Standard

         A motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) examines the legal sufficiency of the facts alleged on the face of the plaintiff's complaint. Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999). Under Rule 12(b)(6), a claim should be dismissed if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. To that end, the Court should “accept as true all well-pleaded allegations and should view the complaint in a light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Mylan Labs., Inc. v. Matkari, 7 F.3d 1130, 1134 (4th Cir. 1993). However, the Court “need not accept the legal conclusions drawn from the facts” nor “accept as true unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments.” Eastern Shore Mkts., Inc. v. J.D. Assocs. Ltd. P'ship, 213 F.3d 175, 180 (4th Cir. 2000).

         “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 (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.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. 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).

         III. Analysis

         As referenced above, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss argues that Plaintiff's claims should be dismissed because they are barred by res judicata. Res judicata bars litigation of claims that were litigated or could have been litigated in an earlier suit. Nevada v. United States, 463 U.S. 110, 130 (1983). To determine the preclusive effect of a state court judgment, federal courts look to state law. Laurel Sand & Gravel, Inc. v. Wilson, 519 F.3d 156, 161-62 (4th Cir. 2008). Under South Carolina law, res judicata requires proof of three elements: “(1) identity of the parties; (2) identity of the subject matter; and (3) adjudication of the issue in the former suit.” Plum Creek Dev. Co. v. ...

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