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Paradis v. Charleston County School District

Court of Appeals of South Carolina

August 1, 2018

Leisel Paradis, Appellant,
v.
Charleston County School District, James Island Charter High School, Robert Bohnstengel and Stephanie Spann, in their individual capacities, Respondents. Appellate Case No. 2016-001337

          Heard June 5, 2018

          Appeal From Charleston County J. C. Nicholson, Jr., Circuit Court Judge

          J. Lewis Cromer and James Paul Porter, of Cromer Babb Porter & Hicks, LLC, of Columbia, for Appellant.

          Bob J. Conley and Emmanuel Joseph Ferguson, of Cleveland & Conley, LLC, of Charleston, for Respondents Charleston County School District and Robert Bohnstengel.

          Rene Stuhr Dukes, of Rosen Rosen & Hagood, LLC, of Charleston, for Respondents James Charter High School and Stephanie Spann.

          LOCKEMY, C.J.

         In this civil case, Leisel Paradis appeals the circuit court's order granting Charleston County School District's, James Island Charter High School's, Robert Bohnstengel's, and Stephanie Spann's (collectively, Respondents) motions to dismiss her lawsuit asserting claims for defamation and civil conspiracy. We affirm.

         FACTS

         Paradis was employed as a teacher at James Island Charter High School (JICHS), which is located within the Charleston County School District. Bohnstengel was the principal at JICHS during part of the 2013-14 school year and Spann was the assistant principal at JICHS during the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years.

         At the close of the 2012-13 school year, Paradis received notice she would be placed on an evaluation protocol to correct deficiencies identified by school administrators. After two years of evaluations, Respondents determined Paradis did not correct the identified deficiencies and terminated her. Thereafter, Paradis filed this action alleging claims for defamation and civil conspiracy. Respondents moved to dismiss her complaint. The circuit court granted the motions. This appeal followed.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         "In deciding a motion to dismiss pursuant to 12(b)(6), SCRCP, the trial court should consider only the allegations set forth on the face of the plaintiff's complaint." Plyler v. Burns, 373 S.C. 637, 645, 647 S.E.2d 188, 192 (2007). "A 12(b)(6)[, SCRCP] motion should not be granted if 'facts alleged and inferences reasonably deducible therefrom would entitle the plaintiff to any relief on any theory of the case.'" Id. (quoting Stiles v. Onorato, 318 S.C. 297, 300, 457 S.E.2d 601, 602 (1995)). "The question is whether, in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and with every doubt resolved in his behalf, the complaint states any valid claim for relief." Id.

         DEFAMATION

         "The tort of defamation permits a plaintiff to recover for injury to her reputation as the result of the defendant's communications to others of a false message about the plaintiff." McBride v. School Dist. of Greenville Cty., 389 S.C. 546, 559, 698 S.E.2d 845, 852 (Ct. App. 2010). The plaintiff in a defamation action must prove "(1) a false and defamatory statement was made; (2) the unprivileged publication was made to a third party; (3) the publisher was at fault; and (4) either actionability of the statement irrespective of special harm or the existence of special harm caused by the publication." Id. at 559-60, 698 S.E.2d at 852 (quoting Fleming v. Rose, 350 S.C. 488, 494, 567 S.E.2d 857, 860 (2002)). "The publication of a statement is defamatory if it tends to harm the reputation of another as to lower him ...


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