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Williams v. GlaxoSmithKline LLC

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

January 16, 2019

Korey Williams, Plaintiff,
v.
GlaxoSmithKline LLC, Defendant.

          ORDER AND OPINION

         This matter is before the court for review of the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation (“Report”) filed on August 24, 2018. (ECF No. 14.) Within the Report, the Magistrate Judge recommends that the court grant Defendant GlaxoSmithKline LLC's (“Defendant”) Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 4), but only pertaining to Plaintiff Korey Williams' (“Plaintiff”) claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). (Id. at 16.) The Magistrate Judge also recommends that the court decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's remaining state law claims (ECF No. 1-1) and remand those claims to the Aiken County Court of Common Pleas. (Id. at 16-17.) For the reasons set forth below, the court ACCEPTS IN PART and REJECTS IN PART the Magistrate Judge's Report (ECF No. 14) and GRANTS Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 4) in its entirety.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         The Report sets forth the relevant facts and legal standards, which this court incorporates herein without a full recitation. (ECF No. 13.) As brief background, Plaintiff, who allegedly suffers from severe post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), worked for Defendant as a maintenance supervisor and oversaw twenty (20) engineers. (ECF No. 1-1 at 3-4 ¶¶ 1, 9, 12.) Plaintiff contends that his “supervisees” were “hostile, harassing, and threatening, ” and he received “multiple death threats.” (Id. at 4 ¶¶ 15, 18.) According to Plaintiff, although the harassment was “open and notorious, ” Defendant “failed to take meaningful action to protect and/or accommodate [him] . . . .” (Id. at 6 ¶¶ 27, 28.) Plaintiff submits that his working environment “aggravated” his PTSD, required him to take medical leave, and seek psychiatric treatment. (Id. at 6-7 ¶¶ 30-32.) After exhausting his medical leave, Plaintiff was terminated by Defendant in April 2017. (Id. at 7 ¶ 32.)

         Plaintiff originally filed his Complaint against Defendant in the Aiken County Court of Common Pleas on April 11, 2018. (ECF No. 1-1.) Within his Complaint, Plaintiff first alleges that Defendant violated the ADA for failing to provide reasonable accommodations for his PTSD. (Id. at 7-8.) Additionally, under state law, Plaintiff asserts that Defendant is liable for negligent retention, negligent supervision, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. (Id. at 8-10.) For all of his claims, Plaintiff seeks compensatory damages, punitive damages, and attorney's fees and costs from Defendant. (Id.)

         Defendant removed the instant matter to the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina on May 16, 2018, invoking the court's diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a), federal question jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C § 1331, and supplemental jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367. (ECF No. 1 at 2-5.) Shortly after removing the action from state court to federal court, Defendant filed the instant Motion to Dismiss on May 17, 2018. (ECF No. 4.) Within its Motion to Dismiss, Defendant argues that Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies under the ADA because Plaintiff's allegations within his Complaint “are completely unrelated to those in Plaintiff's Charge filed with the EEOC.” (ECF No. 4-1 at 4-6.) In regard to Plaintiff's claims arising under state law, Defendant maintains that those claims are subject to dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure because they are explicitly barred by the “exclusivity provision” of the South Carolina Workers' Compensation Act (“SCWCA”). (Id. at 8-9.) Plaintiff responded in opposition to Defendant's Motion to Dismiss on June 28, 2018, forcefully arguing that he exhausted all of his administrative remedies and claiming that the SCWCA did not bar his claims under state law. (ECF No. 11 at 4-7.)

         After extensive briefing from the parties, the Magistrate Judge filed her Report on August 21, 2018.[1] (ECF No. 13.) First, considering Plaintiff's ADA claim, the Magistrate Judge reasoned that Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies because of the dissimilarity between his Complaint and Charge. (Id. at 9-15.) Specifically, the Magistrate Judge found that Plaintiff's Charge has a “laser focus on the claimed retaliatory actions of Plaintiff's supervisor on one particular day in October 2016” and does not allege any failure to accommodate on the part of Defendant. (Id. at 10, 12-15.) Therefore, the Report advises the court to dismiss Plaintiff's ADA claim. (Id. at 16.) Second, turning to Plaintiff's state law claims, the Magistrate Judge recommended that the court decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over those claims and remand the dispute to the Aiken County Court of Common Pleas. (Id. at 15-16.) In the alternative to a remand, the Report fails to address whether the court possesses diversity jurisdiction over Plaintiff's state law claims, thereby allowing the court to resolve those claims. (See id.)

         On August 24, 2018, Defendant filed its Partial Objection to the Magistrate Judge's Report. (ECF No. 14.) While Defendant supports the Magistrate Judge's determination concerning the dismissal of Plaintiff's ADA claim, Defendant specifically objects to the Magistrate Judge's decision regarding the remand of Plaintiff's state law claims. (Id. at 1.) Defendant argues that the court has diversity jurisdiction over Plaintiff's state law claims and authority to decide them on the merits. (Id. at 2.) In the alternative to diversity jurisdiction, Defendant submits that the court should exercise its discretion in order to retain supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's state law claims and dismiss them pursuant to the exclusivity provision of the SCWCA. (Id. at 3-6.) Essentially, Defendant requests the court to dismiss all of Plaintiff's claims. (Id. at 6.) On September 7, 2018, Plaintiff responded in opposition to Defendants' Partial Objection. (ECF No. 15.) Plaintiff did not object to the Magistrate Judge's recommendation regarding his ADA claim or Defendant's agreement with that aspect of the recommendation. (See Id. at 2-4.) Instead, Plaintiff, without addressing whether the court possesses diversity jurisdiction, argues that the court should decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over his state law claims and remand the matter to the Aiken County Court of Common Pleas. (See id.) Plaintiff also contends, in the event the court has jurisdiction, that his state law claims cannot be dismissed pursuant to exclusivity provision of the SCWCA. (Id. at 4.) Defendant replied to Plaintiff's contentions on September 11, 2018, and noted that Plaintiff failed to disclaim diversity jurisdiction and his claims were not viable under the laws of South Carolina. (ECF No. 17 at 1-2.)

         This issue has been extensively briefed by the parties and is now ready for the court's review. See generally McCollum v. Jacoby Trucking & Delivery, LLC, C/A No. 8:17-cv-01244-DCC, 2018 WL 827187, at *1 (D.S.C. Feb. 12, 2018); Peter B. v. Buscemi, C/A No. 6:10-767-TMC, 2017 WL 4457775, at *1 (D.S.C. July 28, 2017); Henderson v. Allstate Ins. Co., C/A No. 7:15-2383-TMC, 2017 WL 2954951, at *1 (D.S.C. Mar. 28, 2017).

         II. SUBJECT-MATTER JURISDICTION

         Subject-matter jurisdiction “involves a court's power to hear a case” and may never be “forfeited or waived.” United States v. Cotton, 535 U.S. 625, 630 (2002). A federal court has an “independent obligation to determine whether subject-matter jurisdiction exists, even in the absence of a challenge from any party.” Arbaugh v. Y&H Corp., 546 U.S. 500, 514 (2006) (citing Ruhrgas AG v. Marathon Oil Co., 526 U.S. 574, 583 (1999)). “[28 U.S.C. § 1332] confers subject matter jurisdiction upon federal courts over civil actions . . . .” Athena Auto., Inc. v. DiGregorio, 166 F.3d 288, 290 (4th Cir. 1999).

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a), a federal district court possesses diversity jurisdiction when: (1) “the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75, 000.00, exclusive of interest and costs”; and (2) the parties are “citizens of different [s]tates.” A federal court cannot invoke diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a) unless there is “complete diversity among the parties, meaning that the citizenship of every plaintiff must be different from the citizenship of every defendant.” Cent. W.Va. Energy Co., Inc. v. Mountain State Carbon, LLC, 636 F.3d 101, 103 (4th Cir. 2011) (citing Caterpillar, Inc. v. Lewis, 519 U.S. 61, 68 (1996)). See also Home Buyers Warranty Corp. v. Hanna, 750 F.3d 427, 433 (4th Cir. 2014) (“And of course under § 1332 that diversity must be complete ‘such that the state of citizenship of each plaintiff must be different from that of each defendant.'” (quoting Athena Auto., Inc., 166 F.3d at 290)). For purposes of diversity jurisdiction, an individual's state citizenship is determined by his or her domicile, and it cannot be inferred from allegations of “mere residence.” Axel Johnson, Inc. v. Carroll Carolina Oil Co., Inc., 145 F.3d 660, 663 (4th Cir. 1998) (citations omitted). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332(c), “a corporation shall be deemed to be a citizen of every [s]tate and foreign state by which it has been incorporated and of the [s]tate or foreign state where it has its principal place of business . . . .” A corporation's “principal place of business” is “the place where the corporation's high level officers direct, control, and coordinate the corporation's activities.” Hertz Corp. v. Friend, 559 U.S. 77, 80 (2010). The “principal place of business” is sometimes referred to as a “nerve center” and “will typically be found at a corporation's headquarters.” Id. at 81.

         Plaintiff is “a citizen and resident of Columbia County, Georgia.” (ECF No. 1-1 at 2 ¶ 1.) Defendant, on the other hand, is incorporated in Delaware and only conducts business within South Carolina. (ECF No. 1 at 4 ¶ 21; ECF No. 1-1 at 2 ¶ 2.) Therefore, based upon the pleadings, there is complete diversity between the parties because Plaintiff is domiciled, as a state citizen, in Georgia, while Defendant is headquartered in Delaware. (ECF No. 1 at 4 ¶ 21; ECF No. 1-1 at 2 ¶ 1.) In his Complaint, Plaintiff, who does not provide a specific monetary amount for recovery, seeks actual damages, compensatory damages, punitive damages, and attorney's fees and costs from Defendant. (ECF No. 1-1 at 8-10 ¶¶ 41, 48, 54, 55.) Specifically, Plaintiff claims damages in the form of “lost back [pay] and future wages, income and benefits, . . . and medical bills and costs.” (Id. at 9 ¶ 47.) When removing the matter to federal court, Defendant meticulously alleged that Plaintiff's annual salary “when multiplied by the anticipated time between his termination and the trial of this matter, would exceed the jurisdictional minimum.” (ECF No. 1 at 3 ¶¶ 12-14.) Coupling Plaintiff's annual salary with possible punitive damages and attorney's fees under the ADA, [2] Defendant has sufficiently shown that the amount-in-controversy will likely exceed $75, 000.00, thereby satisfying the amount-in-controversy requirement under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). (See Id. at 2-4 ¶¶ 6-19.) See also Scott v. Cricket Commc'ns, LLC, 865 F.3d 189, 196 (4th Cir. 2017) (“In many removal cases, a defendant's allegations rely to some extent on reasonable estimates, inferences, and deductions.”); Francis v. Allstate Ins. Co., 709 F.3d 362, 368 (4th Cir. 2013) (holding that courts may include attorney's fees in the amount-in-controversy calculation if a statute allows payment of attorney's fees); Ellenburg v. Spartan Motors Chassis, Inc., 519 F.3d 192, 199-200 (4th Cir. 2008) (holding that the removing party's burden is “no greater” than that of a complaining party when he or she seeks to establish diversity jurisdiction for the basis of removal and must only provide a “short and plain statement” for jurisdiction (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 1446(a))); Mattison v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., C/A No. 6:10-cv-01739-JMC, 2011 WL 494395, at *2 (D.S.C. Feb. 4, 2011) (“[C]ourts have continued to include claims for punitive damages when assessing whether or not the amount in controversy is satisfied for purposes of establishing diversity jurisdiction.” (citing Am. Health & Life Ins. Co. v. Heyward, 272 F.Supp.2d 578, 581 (D.S.C. 2003))). Interestingly, Plaintiff has not disclaimed Defendant's contentions regarding the fulfillment of the amount-in-controversy or challenged diversity jurisdiction. (See ECF Nos. 11, 15.) Thus, because there is complete diversity between the parties and the amount-in-controversy exceeds $75, 000.00, exclusive of interest and costs, the court possesses diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a).[3]

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A. The Magistrate Judge's Report ...


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