United States District Court, D. South Carolina
Cynthia B. Woods, Plaintiff,
S. C. Department of Health & Human Services; Mona Sechrest; Marsha Brown; Kim Backman; Hollie Hoadwonic, and Dr. Pete Liggett, Defendants.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION (PARTIAL SUMMARY
KAYMANI D. WEST FLORENCE, SOUTH CAROLINA UNITED STATES
a civil action filed by a pro se litigant requesting to
proceed in forma pauperis. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(b)(1), and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(e)
(D.S.C.), the undersigned magistrate judge is authorized to
review all pretrial matters in such pro se cases and to
submit findings and recommendations to the district court.
Factual and Procedural Background
B. Woods (“Plaintiff”) is a former employee of
the South Carolina Department of Health and Human Services
(“SCDHHS”), whose Complaint alleges that her
employment was terminated in violation of federal
discrimination statutes (Title VII; the Americans with
Disabilities Act (“ADA”)) and the Family Medical
Leave Act (“FMLA”). Proper Form Complaint, ECF
No. 1-6, at 5-6. She sues SCDHHS and various individuals who
allegedly were involved in the circumstances that led to
Plaintiff's termination from employment. See Id.
at 2, 4. Plaintiff seeks back pay, reimbursement for expenses
incurred, and damages. She also seeks an order from this
court directing SCDHHS to make changes to her personnel
record to permit her to have the status of a retiree.
Id. at 48.
Standard of Review
established local procedure in this judicial district, a
careful review has been made of the pro se Complaint pursuant
to the procedural provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1915. The
review has been conducted in light of the following
precedents: Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319,
324-25 (1989); Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97
(1976); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519 (1972);
Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147 (4th Cir. 1978).
Complaint in this case was filed under 28 U.S.C. § 1915,
which permits an indigent litigant to commence an action in
federal court without prepaying the administrative costs of
proceeding with the lawsuit. To protect against possible
abuses of this privilege, the statute allows a district court
to dismiss the case upon a finding that the action
“fails to state a claim on which relief may be
granted” or is “frivolous or malicious.” 28
U.S.C. §1915(e)(2)(B)(I), (ii). Hence, under 28 U.S.C.
§1915(e)(2)(B), a claim based on a meritless legal
theory may be dismissed sua sponte. Neitzke v.
Williams, 490 U.S. 319 (1989).
court is required to liberally construe pro se pleadings,
Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. at 97, holding them to a
less stringent standard than those drafted by attorneys,
Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5 (1980). The mandated
liberal construction afforded pro se pleadings means that if
the court can reasonably read the pleadings to state a valid
claim on which the plaintiff could prevail, it should do so,
but a district court may not rewrite a pleading to
“conjure up questions never squarely presented”
to the court. Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d
1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985). The requirement of liberal
construction does not mean that the court can ignore a clear
failure in the pleading to allege facts which set forth a
claim currently cognizable in a federal district court.
Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387,
390-91 (4th Cir. 1990). Even under this less stringent
standard, however, the pro se Complaint under review in this
case is subject to partial summary dismissal.
Plaintiff fails to state a plausible Title VII claim against
any Defendant in this case because she does not
allege that she suffered discrimination because of her race,
color, religion, sex, or national origin. See Gerner v.
Cnty. of Chesterfield, 674 F.3d 264, 266 (4th Cir. 2012)
(recognizing that a Title VII claimant must show
“membership in a protected class”); 42 U.S.C.
§ 2000e-2(a)(1). Plaintiff's allegations show only
alleged discrimination because of a disability, not because
of her membership in one of the protected classes under
and FMLA claims against SCDHHS
claims against Defendant SCDHHS for monetary damages pursuant
to the ADA and FMLA should be summarily dismissed because
such claims against state governmental entities such as
SCDHHS are barred by the Eleventh Amendment to the United
States Constitution. See, e.g., Coleman v. Md. Court of
Appeals, 560 U.S. 30, 33 (2012) (“In agreement
with every Court of Appeals to have addressed this question,
this Court now holds that suits against States under [the
FMLA's self-care provision] are barred by the States'
immunity as sovereigns in our federal system”); Bd.
of Trustees of Univ. of Ala. v. Garrett, 531 U.S. 356
(2001) (holding state employees were barred by Eleventh
Amendment from recovering monetary damages from state
employer for failure to comply with Title I of the ADA);
McKay v. Med. Univ. of S.C., No. CV 2:17-45-RMG-BM,
2017 WL 9250345, at *3 (D.S.C. July 19, 2017), report and
recommendation adopted, 2017 WL 3477799 (D.S.C. Aug. 14,
2017); Nelson v. Univ. of Texas at Dallas, 535 F.3d
318, 321 (5th Cir. 2008); Miles v. Bellfontaine
Habilitation Ctr., 481 F.3d 1106 (8th Cir. 2007);
Toeller v. Wis. Dep't of Corr., 461 F.3d 871
(7th Cir. 2006); Touvell v. Ohio Dep't of Mental
Retardation & Developmental Disabilities, 422 F.3d
392, 402 (6th Cir. 2005); Brockman v. Wy. Dep't of
Family Servs., 342 F.3d 1159, 1164 (10th Cir. 2003).
in addition to her claims for monetary relief (back pay,
reimbursement of expenses, and damages), Plaintiff seeks
injunctive relief in the nature of changes to her employment
record to allow her to become a retiree “with full
benefits.” Although Eleventh Amendment immunity bars
ADA and FMLA monetary relief as to SCDHHS, a plaintiff may
seek injunctive relief for ADA and FMLA claims under Ex
parte Young, 209 U.S. 123 (1908). See, e.g.,
Garrett, 531 U.S. at 374 n.9 (ADA); see also
Coleman, 566 U.S. at 65 (Ginsburg, J.) (dissenting)
(noting the availability of injunctive relief for FMLA
self-care claims). See Allen v. The College of William
& Mary, 245 F.Supp.2d 777, 787 (E.D. Va. 2003)
(ADA); McGregor v. Goord, 18 F.Supp.2d 204, 210