United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Columbia Division
OPINION AND ORDER
C. COGGINS, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter is before the Court on Defendant's Motion for
Partial Judgment on the Pleadings. ECF No. 21. Plaintiff
filed a Response in Opposition, and Defendant filed a Reply.
ECF Nos. 24, 27. Accordingly, the Motion is ripe for review.
brings this action alleging she was subjected to retaliation
in violation of the Fair Labor and Standards Act, that
Defendants violated her due process rights, and various state
law claims. The following facts are taken from
Plaintiff's Amended Complaint. Plaintiff was employed as
the Director of Classified Employment Services for Defendant
Richland County School District One (“the
District”) on May 18, 2015. ECF No. 8 at 2. In May
2016, the United States Department of Labor issued new
regulations raising the salaries for exempt employees.
Id. at 2-3. Plaintiff was assigned the task of
identifying employees affected by the new regulation and
employees who may have been misclassified under the duties
test for exemption. Id. at 4. Identified employees
were sent a letter by Sanita Savage Cousar, Chief of Human
Resources for the District, alerting them to the change in
the regulation and informing them that the changes to their
salary or exemption status would go into effect on December
1, 2016. Id. at 5.
November 22, 2016, the United States District Court for the
Eastern District of Texas enjoined enforcement of the new
regulation nationwide. Id. Plaintiff emailed Cousar
that she believed delaying implementation of the regulation
could impact the District legally and financially and would
result in an investigation by the Labor Department. Susan
Williams, General Counsel for the District, admonished
Plaintiff that her email was inappropriate; on December 16,
2016, Cousar issued a written reprimand of Plaintiff.
Id. at 6. Plaintiff had been written up two previous
times in April and August 2016.
disputed the reprimand and the two write ups and filed a
grievance. Id. Craig Witherspoon, the Superintendent
of the District, placed Plaintiff on administrative leave on
January 8, 2017; on February 10, 2017, the District
terminated Plaintiff's employment. Id. at 7.
Plaintiff was granted a hearing before Witherspoon on
February 27, 2017. Id. Witherspoon upheld
Plaintiff's termination on March 6, 2017. Id.
Motion, Defendant argues that it is entitled to partial
judgment on the pleadings with respect to Plaintiff's
claim that Defendant violated her due process rights and
violated South Carolina law on defamation, wrongful
discharge, civil conspiracy, and the whistleblower statute.
12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure permits the
dismissal of an action if the complaint fails “to state
a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Such a
motion tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint and
“does not resolve contests surrounding the facts, the
merits of the claim, or the applicability of defenses . . . .
Our inquiry then is limited to whether the allegations
constitute ‘a short and plain statement of the claim
showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.'”
Republican Party of N.C. v. Martin, 980 F.2d 943,
952 (4th Cir. 1992) (internal quotation marks and citation
omitted). In a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court is obligated
to “assume the truth of all facts alleged in the
complaint and the existence of any fact that can be proved,
consistent with the complaint's allegations.”
E. Shore Mkts., Inc. v. J.D. Assocs. Ltd.
P'ship, 213 F.3d 175, 180 (4th Cir. 2000). However,
while the Court must accept the facts in a light most
favorable to the nonmoving party, it “need not accept
as true unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or
survive a motion to dismiss, the complaint must state
“enough facts to state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570(2007). Although the
requirement of plausibility does not impose a probability
requirement at this stage, the complaint must show more than
a “sheer possibility that a defendant has acted
unlawfully.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662,
678 (2009). A complaint has “facial plausibility”
where the pleading “allows the court to draw the
reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the
misconduct alleged.” Id.
12(c) provides that “[a]fter the pleadings are
closed-but early enough not to delay trial-a party may move
for judgment on the pleadings.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c).
“[A] motion for judgment on the pleadings is decided
under the same standard as a motion to dismiss under Rule
12(b)(6).” Deutsche Bank Nat'l Trust Co. v.
IRS, 361 F. App'x. 527, 529 (4th Cir. 2010) (citing
Independence News, Inc. v. City of Charlotte, 568
F.3d 148, 154 (4th Cir. 2009)); see also Massey v.
Ojaniit, 759 F.3d 343, 353 (4th Cir. 2014) (citing
Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 244 (4th
Cir. 1999)). The key difference between a Rule 12(b)(6)
motion and a Rule 12(c) motion is that on a 12(c) motion, the
court “consider[s] the answer as well as the
complaint” and “documents incorporated by
reference in the pleadings.” Fitchett v. Cty. of
Horry, S.C., C/A No. 4:10-cv-1648-TLW-TER, 2011 WL
4435756, at *3 (D.S.C. Aug. 10, 2011) (citations omitted).
motion for judgment on the pleadings is intended to test the
legal sufficiency of the complaint and will operate to
dispose of claims “where the material facts are not in
dispute and a judgment on the merits can be rendered by
looking to the substance of the pleadings and any judicially
noted facts.” Cont'l Cleaning Serv. v.
UPS, C/A No. 1:98-cv-1056, 1999 WL 1939249, at *1 (M.D.
N.C. Apr. 13, 1999) (citing Herbert Abstract v.
Touchstone Props., Inc., 914 F.2d 74, 76 (5th Cir.
1990)). “An issue of fact is deemed to be material if
the outcome of the case might be altered by the resolution of
the issue one way rather than another.” Walker v.
Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., C/A No. 4:16-cv-01388-RBH, 2017
WL 1020884, at *1 (D.S.C. Mar. 16, 2017) (quoting 5C Charles
A. Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice &
Procedure § 1368 (3d ed. 2011)). “Thus, the
plaintiff may not secure a judgment on the pleadings when the
answer raises issues of fact that, if proved, would defeat
recovery.” Id. “Accordingly,
‘[t]he court must accept all well pleaded factual
allegations in the non-moving party's pleadings as true
and reject all contravening assertions in the moving
party's pleadings as false.'” Catlin
Specialty Ins. Grp. v. Lowcountry Oysters of Murrells Inlet,
LLC, C/A No. No. 2:17-cv-1528-RMG, 2018 WL 369154, at *1
(D.S.C. Jan. 11, 2018) (quoting Lewis v. Excel Mech.,
LLC, C/A No. 2:13-CV-281-PMD, 2013 WL 4585873, at *1
(D.S.C. Aug. 28, 2013)). “[W]hen the plaintiff moves
for judgment on the pleadings, the motion should be granted
if, ‘on the undenied facts alleged in the complaint and
assuming as true all the material allegations of fact in the
answer, the plaintiff is entitled to judgment as a matter of
law.'” Walker, 2017 WL 1020884, at *1
(quoting Lowden v. Cty. of Clare, 709 F.Supp.2d 540,
546 (E.D. Mich. 2010)).
argues that Plaintiff's Second Cause of Action, alleging
Defendant violated South Carolina's whistleblower
statute, must be dismissed because Plaintiff did not comply
with the statutory prerequisites. ECF No. 21-1 at 10.
Specifically, Plaintiff did not allege that her grievance
resulted in a decision that she would not have been
disciplined but for her reporting of the alleged wrongdoing.
Plaintiff contends that strict application of the statute
renders an absurd result because it is improbable that the
decision-makers in her case, who were also the policy-makers,
would invite liability by ...