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Williams v. Clement

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

March 13, 2019

Sunny Williams, Plaintiff,
v.
Eva R. Clement, Clement Law Firm, PLLC, Karon Korp, Asheville Realty Group, JCV Properties, Defendants.

          ORDER

         This matter is before the court for review of the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation (“Report”) filed on September 18, 2018. (ECF No. 33.) The Report addresses Defendants Eva R. Clement, Clement Law Firm, PLLC, Karon Korp, Asheville Realty Group, and JCV Properties' (collectively, “Defendants”) Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 22). (Id. at 1.) The Magistrate Judge recommends that the court grant Defendants' Motion to Dismiss as it relates to Plaintiff Sunny Williams' (“Williams”) cause of action for civil conspiracy and deny the Motion as to Williams' cause of action for conversion. (Id. at 7.) For the reasons set forth below, the court ACCEPTS the Magistrate Judge's Report (ECF No. 33), incorporating it herein, and GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 22). Specifically, the court GRANTS Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 22) as to Williams' civil conspiracy claim, but DENIES Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 22) as to Williams' conversion claim.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Williams inherited a one-third undivided interest in Justice Ridge, a piece of real property located in Buncombe County, North Carolina. (ECF No. 13 at 2.) Williams held her interest as a tenant-in-common with three (3) other individuals, none of whom are implicated in the present proceedings, as a lawful heir to Winifred Morgan Garren. (Id.) At an unspecified time and after the filing of a petition by some of the lawful heirs, the Clerk of the Superior Court for Buncombe County, North Carolina, filed his Order on Petition for Sale in Lieu of Partition and appointed Defendant Eva R. Clement as a commissioner to list and market Justice Ridge for private sale. (Id. at 3.) Williams opposed the private sale of Justice Ridge. (Id. at 1.) On August 8, 2016, the Superior Court for Buncombe County, North Carolina, held a de novo hearing regarding the sale in lieu of partition for Justice Ridge. (Id. at 1.) On November 15, 2016, the Superior Court ordered the sale of Justice Ridge and affirmed the appointment of Defendant Eva R. Clement as the commissioner “to list and market the property for private sale . . . .” (Id. at 3.) Justice Ridge was sold to a buyer on February 16, 2017. (Id. at 7-8.)

         Williams, proceeding pro se, filed her Complaint on February 15, 2018, in the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina. (ECF No. 1.) Williams alleges that “[p]rior to said November 17, 2016 Order for Sale in Lieu of Partition, Defendants or persons under their direction began removing [her] personal property [from Justice Ridge] . . . .” (Id. at 3.) Williams maintains that all of her personal property was “thrown into a dumpster, or was otherwise hauled away by, and/or at the direction of Defendants.” (Id.) For relief, Williams seeks consequential damages, punitive damages, and the replacement value for her “personal property unlawfully removed and/or destroyed . . . .” (Id. at 5.)

         Defendants filed their Motion to Dismiss on June 7, 2018. (ECF No. 22-1.) Defendants first argue that Williams' Complaint should be dismissed for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction because the amount-in-controversy is insufficient under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. (Id. at 4-6.) In addition, Defendants submit that Williams' Complaint is defective because she failed to plead a claim for conversion. (Id. at 8-10.) Specifically, Defendants assert that their actions “were taken pursuant to a court order and in compliance with North Carolina law, ” thereby providing them with an affirmative defense to a conversion claim. (Id. at 9.) Lastly, Defendants maintain that Williams failed to allege the appropriate elements for a civil conspiracy claim within her Complaint, which warrants dismissal of the claim. (Id. at 10-11.) Because she is proceeding pro se, the court issued a Roseboro order to Williams on June 7, 2018, advising her of the procedural details and requirements of specific dispositive motions.[1] (ECF No. 23.) Williams responded in opposition to the Motion to Dismiss on July 13, 2018. (ECF No. 25.)

         The Magistrate Judge filed her Report on September 18, 2018. (ECF No. 33.) Within her Report, the Magistrate Judge recommends granting Defendants' Motion to Dismiss as to Williams' civil conspiracy claim, but deny the Motion as to her cause of action for conversion. (Id. at 7.) First, as to Williams' conversion claim, the Magistrate Judge reasoned that Williams' Complaint pleads an action for conversion because, even if Defendants possessed lawful authority to remove Williams' belongings at some point in time, Williams alleges that Defendants disposed of her personal property before they possessed such lawful authority. (ECF No. 33 at 6.) The Magistrate Judge also concluded that Williams did not concede her claim for conversion as suggested by Defendants. (Id.) Second, regarding Williams' cause of action for civil conspiracy, the Magistrate Judge found that Williams “appears to concede” that claim when she affirmatively states that her “Complaint does not allege a ‘civil conspiracy.'” (Id. at 6-7 (quoting ECF No. 25 at 5).) Both parties were apprised of their opportunity to file specific, written objections to the Report. (Id. at 8.)

         Defendants filed their Objections on October 1, 2018. (ECF No. 35.) Within their Objections, Defendants argue that Williams (1) “has not sufficiently pled a cause of action for conversion”; (2) “conceded her action for conversion”; and (3) they, Defendants, have a “meritorious affirmative defense that precludes [Williams'] claim for conversion.” (ECF No. 35 at 2.) Essentially, Defendants request the court to grant the entirety of their Motion to Dismiss. (Id.) In the alternative to granting or dismissing Williams' conversion claim, Defendants request the court to “[t]ransfer this action” to the United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina because “the alleged tortious action [] occurred in that judicial district.” (Id. at 1.) Williams replied, untimely, to Defendants' Objections on October 22, 2018.[2] (ECF Nos. 35, 37.) Because this matter has been extensively briefed, it is now ripe for the court's review. See generally Sauls v. Wyeth Pharm., Inc., 846 F.Supp.2d 499, 501 (D.S.C. 2012) (“The parties have fully briefed the issues, and this matter is ripe for consideration.”).

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         A. The Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation

         The Magistrate Judge's Report is made in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local Civil Rule 73.02 for the District of South Carolina. The Magistrate Judge only makes a recommendation to this court, and the recommendation has no presumptive weight. See Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71 (1976). The responsibility to make a final determination remains with the court. Id. at 271. As such, the court is charged with making de novo determinations of those portions of the Report and Recommendation to which specific objections are made. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). See also Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b)(3). In the absence of specific objections to the Magistrate Judge's Report, the court is not required to give any explanation for adopting the Report. See Camby v. Davis, 718 F.2d 198, 199 (4th Cir. 1983). Rather, “in the absence of a timely filed objection, a district court need not conduct a de novo review, but instead must only satisfy itself that there is no clear error on the face of the record in order to accept the recommendation.” Diamond v. Colonial Life & Acc. Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 72 advisory committee's note). Thus, the court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the Magistrate Judge's recommendation or recommit the matter with instructions. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

         B. Motions to Dismiss Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6)

         Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a party may move to dismiss a complaint when the complaint “fail[s] to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). “A motion to dismiss tests the sufficiency of a complaint.” Occupy Columbia v. Haley, 738 F.3d 107, 115 (4th Cir. 2013). When ruling upon a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a federal court “must determine whether the complaint alleges sufficient facts ‘to raise a right to relief above the speculative level' and ‘to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Goldfarb v. Mayor & City Council of Balt., 791 F.3d 500, 508 (4th Cir. 2015) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 570 (2007)). “[A] judge must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). Moreover, “‘all reasonable inferences' must be drawn in favor of the complainant.” E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. v. Kolon Indus., Inc., 637 F.3d 435, 448 (4th Cir. 2011) (quoting Nemet Chevrolet, Ltd. v. Consummeraffairs.com, Inc., 591 F.3d 250, 253 (4th Cir. 2009)). However, “legal conclusions, elements of a cause of action, and bare assertions devoid of further factual enhancement fail to constitute well-pled facts for Rule 12(b)(6) purposes.” Nemet Chevrolet, Ltd., 591 F.3d at 255 (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677 (2009)). As such, a federal court “need not accept as true unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments.” E. Shore Mkts., Inc. v. J.D. Assocs. Ltd. P'ship, 213 F.3d 175, 180 (4th Cir. 2000).

         “Although a motion pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) invites an inquiry into the legal sufficiency of the complaint, not an analysis of potential defenses to the claims set forth therein, dismissal nevertheless is appropriate when the face of the complaint clearly reveals the existence of a meritorious affirmative defense.” Brockington v. Boykins, 637 F.3d 503, 506 (4th Cir. 2011) (quoting Brooks v. City of Winston-Salem, 85 F.3d 178, 181 (4th Cir. 1996)). Therefore, as a matter of law, a complaint is subject to dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) “if it appears that the plaintiff[] would not be entitled to relief under any facts which could be proved in support of their claim.” Elliott v. Am. States Ins. Co., 883 F.3d 384, 395-96 (4th Cir. 2018) (quoting Mayes v. Rapoport, 198 F.3d 457, 460 (4th Cir. 1999)). Accordingly, if a federal court is applying state law, and state law bars a plaintiff's claim, dismissal is warranted as a matter of law under Rule 12(b)(6). See Id. at 395-99; Ellis v. La.-Pac. Corp., 699 F.3d 778, 782-88 (4th Cir. 2012). See generally Littlepaige v. United States, 528 Fed.Appx. 289 (4th Cir. 2013); Sanders v. Norfolk S. Ry. Co., 400 Fed.Appx. 726 (4th Cir. 2010); ShoMe Techs., Inc. v. Nobska Gr., LLC, 190 Fed.Appx. 298 (4th Cir. 2006); Iodice v. United States, 289 F.3d 270 (4th Cir. 2002).

         C. Pr ...


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