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Monroe v. Brawo USA, Inc.

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

October 9, 2019

Thomas Monroe, Plaintiff,
v.
Brawo USA, Inc., Defendant.

          REPORT OF MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          KEVIN F. MCDONALD, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This matter is before the court on the defendant's partial motion to dismiss (doc. 27). Pursuant to the provisions of Title 28, United States Code, Section 636(b)(1)(A), and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(g) (D.S.C.), all pretrial matters in employment discrimination cases are referred to a United States Magistrate Judge for consideration.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         This matter was filed by the plaintiff in the Laurens County Court of Common Pleas on July 15, 2019 (doc. 1-1). The defendant removed the case to federal court on August 13, 2019, based on federal question jurisdiction (doc. 1). On August 14, 2019, the defendant filed the instant partial motion to dismiss (doc. 11). On August 23, 2019, the plaintiff filed a response in opposition (doc. 13), and the defendant filed a reply on August 30, 2019 (doc. 15).

         ALLEGATIONS

         In his complaint, the plaintiff states that he was employed by the defendant as a maintenance manager from December 2015 to June 5, 2019 (doc. 1-1, comp. ¶ 4). He alleges that he was paid on a salary basis and that he regularly worked more than 40 hours per week (id. ¶ 5). The plaintiff contends that the defendant deliberately misclassified him as a “salaried exempt” employee and failed to pay him overtime for the hours he worked over 40 in a given workweek (id. ¶ 6). He alleges that he does not meet the criteria for any of the exemptions under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), and thus the defendant improperly classified him as exempt from overtime pay (id. ¶¶ 7-9). The plaintiff alleges causes of action for failure to pay overtime in violation of the FLSA, failure to pay all wages owed in violation of the South Carolina Payment of Wages Act (“SCPWA”), breach of contract, unjust enrichment/quantum meruit, and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended (id. ¶¶ 10-37).

         APPLICABLE LAW AND ANALYSIS

         The defendant argues that the court should dismiss the plaintiff's breach of contract and Title VII causes of action pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. “The purpose of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion is to test the sufficiency of a complaint.” Williams v. Preiss-Wal Pat III, LLC, 17 F.Supp.3d 528, 531 (D.S.C. 2014) (quoting Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999)). Rule 8(a) sets forth a liberal pleading standard, which requires only a" ‘short and plain statement of the claim showing the pleader is entitled to relief,' in order to ‘give the defendant fair notice of what . . . the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). When ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, “a judge must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). The court must also “draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff.” Nemet Chevrolet, Ltd. v. Consumeraffairs.com, Inc., 591 F.3d 250, 253 (4th Cir.2009). “[T]he facts alleged ‘must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level' and must provide ‘enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Robinson v. American Honda Motor Co., Inc., 551 F.3d 218, 222 (4th Cir. 2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 570). “The plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement, but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Breach of Contract

         In his breach of contract cause of action, the plaintiff alleges that he and the defendant entered into an enforceable contract that provided the defendant would pay him $12, 500 per month in salary, and the defendant breached the contract by “shorting” him a paycheck in 2017 (doc. 1-1, comp. ¶¶ 26-28). The plaintiff alleges that he suffered damages in the form of unpaid wages (id. ¶ 29).

         “To recover for a breach of contract, the plaintiff must prove: (1) a binding contract entered into by the parties; (2) a breach or unjustifiable failure to perform the contract; and (3) damage suffered by the plaintiff as a direct and proximate result of the breach.” Tomlinson v. Mixon, 626 S.E.2d 43, 49 (S.C. Ct. App. 2006). The required elements of a contract are an offer, acceptance, and valuable consideration. Sauner v. Pub. Serv. Auth. of S.C., 581 S.E.2d 161, 166 (S.C. 2003). “A contract is an obligation [that] arises from actual agreement of the parties manifested by words, oral or written, or by conduct.” Roberts v. Gaskins, 486 S.E.2d 771, 773 (S.C. Ct. App.1997). Valuable consideration may consist of “some right, interest, profit, or benefit accruing to one party or some forbearance, detriment, loss or responsibility given, suffered or undertaken by the other.” Prestwick Golf Club, Inc. v. Prestwick Ltd. P'ship, 503 S.E.2d 184, 186 (S.C. Ct. App. 1998). In order to have a binding contract, it is necessary that the parties to a contract have a meeting of the minds with regard “to all essential and material terms of the agreement.” Player v. Chandler, 382 S.E.2d 891, 893 (S.C. 1989).

         The defendant argues that the allegations in the plaintiff's breach of contract cause of action are insufficient to overcome the presumption of employment at-will (doc. 11-1 at 3-4). The defendant relies on two cases from this district, Weaver v. John Lucas Tree Expert Co., C.A. No. 2:13-cv-1698-PMD, 2013 WL 5587854 (D.S.C. Oct. 10, 2013), and Anthony v. Atlantic Grp., Inc., 909 F.Supp.2d 455 (D.S.C. 2012). In the motion to dismiss, the defendant contends that in these cases the court dismissed breach of contract claims alleging failure to pay wages because the plaintiffs in those cases failed to overcome the presumption that employment is terminable at-will (doc. 11-1 at 3-4). However, as pointed out by the plaintiff (doc. 13 at 2), in Weaver, the defendant employer moved to dismiss the breach of contract claim “[t]o the extent . . . it is based on the termination of his employment, ” and the court specifically stated that it was “not address[ing] Plaintiff's breach of contract claim as it relates to his compensation . . . .” 2013 WL 5587854, at *4 (emphasis added). Moreover, the plaintiffs in Anthony also alleged a breach of contract claim based upon wrongful termination of employment. 909 F.Supp.2d at 469-70. Here, the plaintiff does not allege that he was terminated from employment in violation of a contract of employment. Rather, he alleges that the defendant breached their contract by failing to pay him all the wages that he was owed (doc. 1-1, comp. ¶¶ 25-29).

         In reply, the defendant acknowledges that the cited cases pertain to breach of contract claims based on wrongful termination rather than failure to pay wages (doc. 15 at 1). The defendant then argues that the plaintiff has failed to plead the elements required to establish a unilateral contract (id. at 2). To the extent that it is appropriate to address this argument as it was not raised in the defendant's initial brief, the undersigned disagrees. A unilateral contract is created “when there is only one promisor and the other party accepts, not by mutual promise, but by actual performance.” Sauner v. Pub. Serv. Auth. of S.C., 581 S.E.2d 161, 165-66 (S.C. 2003) (citation omitted). A unilateral contract contains three elements: (1) a specific offer, (2) the communication of that offer to the employee, and (3) the performance of employment-related duties in reliance on the offer. Prescott v. Farmers Tel. Co-op., Inc. 516 S.E.2d 923, 926 (S.C. 1999) (citing 82 Am. Jur.2d Wrongful Discharge § 84 (1992)). While the factual allegations in the plaintiff's complaint are somewhat scant, accepting the plaintiff's factual allegations as true and drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff, he has pled a claim to relief for breach of contract that is plausible on its face. He alleges that he agreed to work for the defendant as a maintenance manager for $12, 500 per month in salary, he performed the work, the defendant breached the agreement by failing to pay him for one month of work, and he suffered damages in the form of unpaid wages as a result of the breach (doc. 1-1, comp. ¶¶ 4-35). Based upon the foregoing, the undersigned recommends that the district court find that the plaintiff's allegations supporting the breach of contract claim are sufficient to overcome the defendant's motion to dismiss.

         Title ...


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