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Stroman v. York County Department of Social Services

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Rock Hill Division

February 7, 2019

Jeffrey S. Stroman, Plaintiff,
York County Department of Social Services, Defendant.



         The plaintiff, Jeffrey S. Stroman, proceeding pro se, brought this employment discrimination action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915, raising claims pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101, et seq., and the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), 28 U.S.C. §§ 2601, et seq. (ECF Nos. 12 & 16.) This matter was recommitted to the assigned magistrate judge with instructions from the assigned district judge to address the FMLA and ADA claims in the context of the defendant's motion to dismiss.[1] (See Order, ECF No. 46 at 3; Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 21.)

         Following the issuance of the district judge's order, Stroman filed an amended complaint which the court construed as a motion to amend because, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a), Stroman must now obtain leave of court or the defendant's consent to amend his pleading. In his motion to amend, Stroman seeks to add new claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 701 et seq. (ECF No. 49.) In response, the defendant argues Stroman's motion to amend is untimely and futile. (ECF No. 51.)


         For approximately three years, Stroman was a full-time employee of the York County Department of Social Services (“the Department”) and held the position of Human Services Specialist II. At some point during this employment, Stroman began having medical issues and informed the Department's human resources liaison that he needed to take sick leave. According to Stroman, he was approved by human resources to take leave under the FMLA. Stroman alleges that while out on FMLA leave, he continued to submit medical documentation to his employer showing his continued need to remain on leave; however, after he had been on leave for approximately five weeks, the Department's director informed him by letter that he would be terminated if he did not provide “additional medical information.” Stroman alleges that he complied, but that he received a letter dated March 22 informing him that he was being terminated from his position. Additionally, Stroman alleges that, apparently as a result of his termination, his health insurance was discontinued, he was unsuccessful in applying for employment benefits, and he was denied disability insurance. Stroman alleges that he was terminated as a result of his medical condition in violation of the FMLA and Title I of the ADA, and he appears to allege that the events that followed his termination are evidence of retaliation by the Department in violation of the FMLA and ADA. (See generally Am. Compl., ECF No. 12; see also Order, ECF No. 16.)


         A. Applicable Standards

         In its motion, the defendant seeks dismissal of Stroman's claims based on Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). Dismissal under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) examines whether the complaint fails to state facts upon which jurisdiction can be founded. It is the plaintiff's burden to prove jurisdiction, and the court is to “regard the pleadings' allegations as mere evidence on the issue, and may consider evidence outside the pleadings without converting the proceeding to one for summary judgment.” Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac R.R. Co. v. United States, 945 F.2d 765, 768 (4th Cir. 1991). To resolve a jurisdictional challenge under Rule 12(b)(1), the court may consider undisputed facts and any jurisdictional facts that it determines. The court may dismiss a case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction on any of the following bases: “(1) the complaint alone; (2) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts evidenced in the record; or (3) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts plus the court's resolution of disputed facts.” Johnson v. United States, 534 F.3d 958, 962 (8th Cir. 2008) (quoting Williamson v. Tucker, 645 F.2d 404, 413 (5th Cir. 1981)).

         A motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) examines the legal sufficiency of the facts alleged on the face of the plaintiff's complaint. Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, “[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). The “complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.' ” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). A claim is facially plausible when the factual content allows the court to reasonably infer that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. Id. When considering a motion to dismiss, the court must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). The court “may also consider documents attached to the complaint, see Fed.R.Civ.P. 10(c), as well as those attached to the motion to dismiss, so long as they are integral to the complaint and authentic.” Philips v. Pitt Cty. Mem'l Hosp., 572 F.3d 176, 180 (4th Cir. 2009) (citing Blankenship v. Manchin, 471 F.3d 523, 526 n.1 (4th Cir. 2006)).

         The court observes that it is required to liberally construe pro se complaints. Id. Such pro se complaints are held to a less stringent standard than those drafted by attorneys, id.; Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th Cir. 1978), and a federal district court is charged with liberally construing a complaint filed by a pro se litigant to allow the development of a potentially meritorious case. Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5, 9 (1980); Cruz v. Beto, 405 U.S. 319 (1972). When a federal court is evaluating a pro se complaint, the plaintiff's factual allegations are assumed to be true. Erickson, 551 U.S. at 93 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007)). The mandated liberal construction afforded to 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; however, a district court may not rewrite a complaint to include claims that were never presented, Barnett v. Hargett, 174 F.3d 1128 (10th Cir. 1999), construct the plaintiff's legal arguments for him, Small v. Endicott, 998 F.2d 411 (7th Cir. 1993), or “conjure up questions never squarely presented” to the court, Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985).

         B. Plaintiff's FMLA and ADA Claims

         The sole defendant, York County Department of Social Services, is a local office of an arm of the State of South Carolina. See S.C. Code Ann. § 1-30-10-(A)(20) (enabling statute creating the department of social services as a state agency within the executive branch); S.C. Code Ann. § 43-1-10. The State of South Carolina and its agencies are immune from suit for damages in federal court under the Eleventh Amendment. See Alden v. Maine, 527 U.S. 706, 712-13 (1999); Seminole Tribe of Fla. v. Florida, 517 U.S. 44, 54 (1996); Hans v. Louisiana, 134 U.S. 1 (1890); see also Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 101-02 (1984). While immunity does not bar suit where a state has given consent to be sued, or where Congress abrogates the sovereign immunity of a state, neither of those exceptions applies in the instant case. See S.C. Code Ann. § 15-78-20(e).

         In its motion, the defendant contends that Stroman's FMLA claim-because it is brought pursuant to the self-care provision of the FMLA-is barred by the Eleventh Amendment. The court agrees, as Supreme Court precedent is clear on this point. See Coleman v. Court of Appeals of Md., 566 U.S. 30 (2012) (distinguishing the FMLA's self-care provision from its family-care provision and affirming that Eleventh Amendment immunity protects states from suits under the FMLA's self-care provision for money damages). As described above, Stroman's claim unequivocally relates to medical leave taken by Stroman for his own medical condition, rather than to take care of a family member. Accordingly, Stroman's FMLA claim fails as a matter of law.

         Likewise, Stroman's Title I ADA claim is also barred by the Eleventh Amendment. See Bd. of Trustees of the Univ. of Alabama v. Garrett, 531 U.S. 356 (2001) (holding that Congress has not abrogated the States' Eleventh Amendment immunity from suits for money damages under Title I of the ADA, which prohibits ...

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