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Gresham v. Arclabs, LLC

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

July 10, 2019

Patrick Gresham, Plaintiff,
Arclabs, LLC Defendant.



         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Arclabs, LLC's Motion to Dismiss (Dkt. No. 11). For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies the Motion to Dismiss.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff brings claims under § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794 and Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., alleging that he was, among other things, discriminatorily disenrolled from a welding school based on a disability.[1](Dkt. No. 1.) Plaintiff Patrick Gresham alleges that he suffers from Idiopathic Thrombocytopenic Purpura (ITP), an autoimmune disease which requires regular treatments which have a variety of side effects, including mood changes, sleeplessness, irritability, anxiety, headaches and nausea. (Dkt. No. 1 at ¶7.) Plaintiff asserts that on or about September 21, 2105, he began taking welding classes at Defendant Arclabs, LLC ("Arclabs"), and informed them of his condition and that his ITP may force him to miss class. (Id. at ¶ 8 - 9.) Plaintiff alleges that over his course of study at Arclabs, he complained on at least two occasions regarding his workstation being left in a cluttered condition. (Id. at ¶¶ 10, 16.) Further, Plaintiff alleges that he needed to miss class on a variety of occasions because of his medical condition and each time provided a doctor's note. (Id. at ¶ 15.) In April 2016, Plaintiff was scheduled to undergo a more serious treatment regimen, and, at a meeting with an Arclabs administrator, alleges that he was informed that his previously submitted doctor's notes did not excuse his absences and instead, moving forward, he needed to submit a leave of absence form, which could be retroactively approved. (Id. at ¶¶ 20 - 22.) Ultimately, during his course of treatment, Plaintiff missed a variety of classes. (Id. at 24.) On May 25, 2016, Plaintiff alleges that when he arrived at Arclabs for class and to submit a leave of absence form, he was informed that he was disenrolled from Arclabs because he missed seven consecutive days and failed to submit a leave of absence form. (Id. at ¶ 26.)

         Arclabs now moves to dismiss, [2] arguing that the claims are barred by the statute of limitations. Specifically, Arclabs argues that federal law requires borrowing the one-year statute of limitations contained in the South Carolina Human Affairs Law ("SCHAL"), SC Code Ann. § 1-13-90(d)(6). (Dkt. No. 11-1.) Plaintiff opposes the motion, arguing that the most analogous state statute of limitations is the three-year period for personal injury actions. (Dkt. No. 13.)

         II. Legal Standard

         Rule 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) (citations 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 Mas., 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 non-moving party, it "need not accept as true unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments." Id.

         To 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.

         III. Discussion

         "Because...the ADA does not contain a statute of limitations, federal courts 'borrow the state statute of limitations that applies to the most analogous state-law claim.'" Semenova v. Maryland Transit Admin., 845 F.3d 564, 567 (4th Cir. 2017) citing A Soc'y Without A Name v. Virginia, 655 F.3d 342, 347 (4th Cir. 2011). See also Wolsky v. Med. Coll. of Hampton Roads, 1 F.3d 222, 223 (4th Cir. 1993) ("Since the Rehabilitation Act does not provide its own statute of limitations and 28 U.S.C. § 1658, the general federal statute of limitations is not applicable in this case, the district court must turn to state law for an appropriate statute of limitations."). As the Rehabilitation Act has substantially similar language to the ADA, courts apply the "same analysis to determine the applicable statute of limitations[.]" Semenova, 845 F.3d at 567. The Fourth Circuit has indicated that a court should look to whether a state law provides a plaintiff with "the same rights and remedies" to determine the applicable statute of limitations. See Id. (declining to apply Maryland human rights law statute of limitations where it did not provide cause of action for discrimination in provision of public services). See also Wolsky, 1 F.3d at 224 (determining that Virginia law provided "same rights and remedies").

         The Court therefore must determine whether the SCHAL provides the "same rights and remedies" protected by the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act as applicable to this case. Plaintiff alleges discrimination from an educational facility that receives federal funding. Therefore to apply the SCHAL's one year statute of limitations, the SCHAL must provide protection for disability discrimination from educational facilities or programs receiving public funding. See Wolsky, 1 F.3d at 224 (applying Virginia disabilities law's statute of limitations to claim of dismissal from medical school where Virginia law prohibited discrimination by entities receiving state or federal funding).

         The SCHAL, as with the Maryland statute addressed by the Fourth Circuit in Semenova, "only recognizes causes of action [for disability discrimination] in limited circumstances." Semenova, 845 F.3d at 568. Specifically, the SCHAL prohibits disability discrimination in employment, SC Code Ann. § 1-13-80, in conducting certain medical examinations or inquiries of a job applicant or employees, SC Code Ann. § 1-13-80, and applies to state agencies, departments, local subdivisions, employers, employment agencies, labor organizations, and local governmental bodies, SC Code Ann. § 1-13-90(c), (d). These claims are subject to, at most, a one-year statute of limitations.[3] See S.C. Code Ann. § 1-13-90(d)(6). However, noticeably absent from these covered claims are any claims against educational institutions or facilities receiving state or federal funding. As noted by the Fourth Circuit, in prior cases where the Fourth Circuit applied a state human rights' law's statutes of limitation, it did so, "at least in part, because the relevant state laws also allowed claims for the same type of discrimination the plaintiffs alleged pursuant to federal law." Semenova v. Maryland Transit Admin., 845 F.3d 564, 568 (4th Cir. 2017). Notably, in Wolsky, a case involving dismissal of a medical student from medical school, the state statute explicitly prohibited disability discrimination by any program that received federal funding. See Wolsky, 1 F.3d at 224.

         Two other considerations mandate this conclusion as well. First, as indicated by the South Carolina Human Affairs Commission's website, the agency responsible for administering the SCHAL, they do also accept "Non Employment Complaints."[4] However, the section of the statute which arguably covers these complaints, SC Code Ann. § 1-13-90(e), a catch-all provision covering complaints of "the existence or occurrence of a practice asserted to be discriminatory on the basis of...disability[, ]" is similarly silent as to any claims for education or publicly funded programs and noticeably does not include any statute of limitations or private right of action for such claims, instead relying on alternative methods of resolving the complaint. Second, and most importantly, the SCHAL explicitly prohibits reading any additional causes of action into the statute. S.C. Code Ann. § 1-13-100 ("Nothing in this chapter may be construed to create a cause of action other than those specifically described in Section 1-13-90 of this chapter."). As the SCHAL does not include causes of action against private educational programs or programs receiving state or federal funds, the Court will not construe it as such.

         Therefore, as the SCHAL does not offer the same rights or remedies as the ADA or the Rehabilitation Act as applicable here and does not prohibit disability discrimination in private educational programs or programs receiving state or federal funds, the SCHAL is not analogous to the Plaintiffs claims here. Instead, the Court finds that the most analogous state law claim is for personal injury[5] or South Carolina's general provision for liability created by statute, and the Court applies South Carolina's three-year statute of limitations most applicable, which applies, in relevant part, to "liability created by a statute," personal injury and injury to the "rights of another." S.C. Code Ann. § 15-3-530; Semenova, 845 F.3d at 571 (applying Maryland's general civil action three year statute of limitations to plaintiffs ADA claims regarding a failure of Maryland buses to use disability ...

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