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Johnson v. Greenville Safety Consultants Inc.

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

June 1, 2018

Kyle Johnson, Plaintiff,
v.
Greenville Safety Consultants, Inc., Juanita Worthy and Mark Worthy Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          The Honorable A. Marvin Quattlebaum, Jr. United States District Judge.

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendants' Greenville Safety Consultants, Inc., Juanita Worthy and Mark Worthy (“Defendants”) Partial Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff Kyle Johnson's (“Plaintiff”) Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (ECF No. 6.) Specifically, Defendants seek dismissal of Plaintiff's state law causes of action for Wrongful Discharge in Violation of Public Policy (Second Cause of Action) and violation of the South Carolina Unfair Trade Practices Act (Eighth Cause of Action). The matter has been fully briefed, and the Court heard arguments from counsel on May 29, 2018. For the following reasons, the Court hereby grants in part and denies in part Defendants' Partial Motion to Dismiss.

         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 Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). “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.'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570)). “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. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556)). In considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a 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). A court should grant a Rule 12(b)(6) motion if, “after accepting all well-pleaded allegations in the plaintiff's complaint as true and drawing all reasonable factual inferences from those facts in the plaintiff's favor, it appears certain that the plaintiff cannot prove any set of facts in support of his claim entitling him to relief.” Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 244 (4th Cir. 1999).

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff initiated this action by filing his complaint in the Court of Common Pleas in Greenville County, South Carolina on July 19, 2017. (ECF No. 1.) Plaintiff's Complaint alleges nine causes of action against Defendants for breach of contract, wrongful termination, violation of the South Carolina Payment of Wages Act, violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act, fraud, fraud in the inducement, violation of the South Carolina Unfair Trade Practice Act, quantum meruit and retaliatory termination. Id. Defendants' filed their Notice of Removal on August 30, 2017, asserting federal question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Id. Thereafter, on September 13, 2017, Defendants filed their Partial Motion to Dismiss. (ECF No. 6.)

         Generally, Plaintiff claims that Defendants improperly classified him as an independent contractor, rather than an employee, to avoid paying payroll taxes on Plaintiff, to avoid having to cover Plaintiff under Defendants' workers' compensation insurance and to avoid paying Plaintiff overtime pay. (ECF No. 1-1 at 4.) Plaintiff further alleges that he sustained injuries while working for Defendants in January 2017. Id. After sustaining the injuries, Plaintiff reported the accident to Defendants who discouraged him from pursuing coverage under Defendants' workers' compensation policy. Id. 4-5. Nonetheless, Plaintiff chose to pursue a claim for his injuries under Defendants' workers' compensation policy, which Defendants later discovered. Id. at 5. Thereafter, Plaintiff claims Defendants terminated Plaintiff's employment on or about February 22, 2017 in retaliation for him filing a workers' compensation claim. Id. at 5-6. Plaintiff also avers that Defendants' actions are capable of repetition in that Defendants' routinely misclassify employees as independent contractors. Id. at 12.

         DISCUSSION

         Defendants move for an order dismissing Plaintiff's Second Cause of Action for Wrongful Discharge in Violation of Public Policy and Plaintiff's Eighth Cause of Action for Violation of the South Carolina Unfair Trade Practices Act (“SCUTPA”). The Court will address each cause of action in turn.

         1. Wrongful Discharge in Violation of Public Policy

         At the hearing on Defendants' Partial Motion to Dismiss held on May 29, 2018, Plaintiff withdrew his Second Cause of Action for Wrongful Discharge in Violation of Public Policy. Because this claim is no longer before the Court, Defendants' motion as to this claim is hereby denied because the issue is moot.

         2. South Carolina Unfair Trade Practices Act

         The SCUTPA creates a private right of action in favor of any person who suffers an ascertainable loss of money or property “as a result of the use or employment by another person of an unfair or deceptive method, act or practice declared unlawful by [this Act].” S.C. Code Ann. § 39-5-140(a). “Unfair methods of competition and unfair or deceptive acts or practices in the conduct of any trade or commerce are . . . unlawful.” S.C. Code Ann. §39-5-20(a). However, to be actionable under the SCUTPA, “the unfair or deceptive act or practice must have an impact upon the public interest.” York v. Conway Ford, Inc., 480 S.E.2d 726, 728 (S.C. 1997). “Unfair or deceptive acts or practices have an impact upon the public interest if the acts or practices have the potential for repetition.” Id. Additionally, the conduct at issue must affect more than just the parties to the litigation to have an impact on the “public interest.” See Florence Paper Co. v. Orphan, 379 S.E.2d 289, 291 (S.C. 1989).

         South Carolina Courts have held that employer-employee relations matters are not covered by the SCUTPA because they are private matters that do not involve the public interest. See Miller v. Fairfield Communities, Inc., 382 S.E.2d 16, 20 (S.C. Ct.App. 1989) (holding that a plaintiff's claim based on the employer-employee relationship is not covered by the SCUTPA) and Davenport v. Island Ford, Lincoln, Mercury, Inc., 465 S.E.2d 737, 740 (S.C. Ct. App. 1995) (stating that the employer-employee relationship does not fall within the intended scope of the SCUTPA). Furthermore, this Court, interpreting South Carolina law, has similarly held that claims arising out of the employer-employee relationship are not cognizable under the SCUTPA. See Uhlig LLC v. Shirley, No. 6:08-CV-01208-JMC, 2011 WL 1119548, at *9 (D.S.C. Mar. 25, 2011) (holding that disputes arising between employers and employees are private matters that fall outside the scope of the SCUTPA) and Ramsey v. Vanguard Services, ...


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