United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division
ORDER AND OPINION
RICHARD MARK GERGEL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
the Court is a motion for judgment on the pleadings brought
by the College of Charleston, Glenn McConnell and Matthew
Roberts. (Dkt. No. 17.) For the reasons set forth below, the
motion is granted.
matter arises out of Jeffrey Whitfield's August 2017
termination from his approximately two-year employment at the
College of Charleston (the "College"). Whitfield
claims that defendants conspired to terminate non-party
Matthew Heath and replace him with defendant Holbrook as head
baseball coach at the College, which in turn lead to
Whitfield's termination as assistant baseball
coach. Whitfield also claims that the College,
McConnell (the former president of the College), and Roberts
(the director of athletics at the College) (collectively,
"Moving Defendants") violated his civil rights
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by depriving him of
procedural due process and his liberty interest in the job.
Whitfield made no arguments in opposition to the Moving
Defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings.
the pleadings are closed-but early enough not to delay
trial-a party may move for judgment on the pleadings."
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). Motions brought under Rule 12(c)
"dispose of cases in which there is no substantive
dispute that warrants the litigants and the court proceeding
further." Lewis v. Excel Meek, LLC,
2:13-CV-281-PMD, 2013 WL 4585873 at * 1 (D.S.C. Aug. 28,
2013) (quoting 5 Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller,
Federal Practice and Procedure, § 1368 (3d ed. 2010)). A
judgment on the pleadings is only warranted if "the
moving party has clearly established that no material issue
of fact remains to be resolved and the party is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law."M at *2 (quoting Park
Univ. Enters, v. Am. Cos. Co., 442 F.3d 1239, 1244 (10th
12(c) motions limit the court's review to the pleadings,
Abell Co. v. Bait. Typographical Union No. 12, 338
F.2d 190, 193 (4th Cir. 1964), and to "any documents and
exhibits attached to and incorporated into the
pleadings," Lewis, 2013 WL 4585873 at *1
(citing Eagle Nation, Inc. v. Mkt. Force, Inc., 180
F.Supp.2d 752, 754 (E.D. N.C. 2001)). Like a motion to
dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), motions pursuant to Rule 12(c)
call for the pleadings to be construed in the light most
favorable to the non-moving party. Burbach Broad. Co. v.
Elkins Radio Corp., 278 F.3d 401, 405-06 (4th Cir.
2002). Accordingly, "[t]he court must accept all well
pleaded factual allegations in the non-moving party's
pleadings as true and reject all contravening assertions in
the moving party's pleadings as false."
Lewis, 2013 WL 4585873, at *2 (quoting John
S Clark Co., Inc. v. United Nat'l Ins. Co., 304
F.Supp.2d 758, 763 (M.D. N.C. 2004)).
Count I for Civil Conspiracy among the College, McConnell and
South Carolina law, '[a] civil conspiracy . . . consists
of three elements: (1) a combination of two or more persons,
(2) for the purpose of injuring the plaintiff, (3) which
causes him special damage.'" State Farm Life
Ins. Co. v. Murphy, 260 F.Supp.3d 497, 503 (D.S.C. 2017)
(quoting Lee v. Chesterfield Gen. Hosp., Inc., 344
S.E.2d 379, 382 (1986)). "A claim for civil conspiracy
must allege additional facts in furtherance of a conspiracy
rather than reallege other claims within the complaint."
Hackworth v. Greywood at Hammett, LLC, 682 S.E.2d
871, 874 (S.C. 2009)). "Moreover, because the essence of
a civil conspiracy claim is the special damage resulting to
the plaintiff, the alleged damages must exceed the damages
alleged for the plaintiffs other claims."
Murphy, 260 F.Supp.3d at 503; see also Pye v.
Fox, 633 S.E.2d 505, 511 (S.C. 2006) ("Because the
quiddity of a civil conspiracy claim is the damage resulting
to the plaintiff, the damages alleged must go beyond the
damages alleged in other causes of action."). "If a
plaintiff merely repeats the damages from another claim
instead of specifically listing special damages as part of
their civil conspiracy claim, their conspiracy claim should
be dismissed." Hackworth, 682 S.E.2d at 875.
initial matter, the College is immune from suit under the
Eleventh Amendment in that it is designated as a state
college or university by South Carolina law. S.C. Code. Ann.
§ 59-101-10; see also Maryland Stadium Auth. V.
Ellerbe Becket, Inc., 407 F.3d 255, 262-63 (4th Cir.
2005) ("Numerous courts have decided whether public
state universities are 'arms of the state.' Almost
universally, the answer has been in the affirmative. . . .
We, too, have previously treated several public universities
as arms of the state." (collecting cases).
the College were not immune from suit, "[a] civil
conspiracy cannot be found to exist when the acts alleged are
those of employees or directors, in their official capacity,
conspiring with the corporation." McMillan v. Oconee
Mem. Hosp., 626 S.E.2d 884, 887 (S.C. 2006). The
complaint alleges that McConnell and Roberts were employed by
the College at the relevant time and acted "in their
capacities at the College" when conspiring to terminate
non-party Heath. (Dkt. No. 1 ¶ 40.) Therefore, as pled
there could be no conspiracy between the College on the one
hand and McConnell or Roberts on the other.
whether the complaint sufficiently alleges conspiracy between
McConnell and Roberts, the pleadings state merely that
McConnell and Roberts were sent emails "outlining just
how and why" to terminate non-party Heath, and that
Roberts at one point was quoted in a local newspaper as
saying staff terminations can create ripple effects on
"assistant coaches, spouses and kids."
(Id. ¶¶ 40, 46.) Such "conclusory
allegations" are insufficient to withstand judgment on
the pleadings here. Murphy, 260 F.Supp.3d 497 at 504
(granting motion to dismiss civil conspiracy claim).
Regarding special damages in particular, the complaint
alleges merely that Whitfield "has suffered special
damages as a result of the actions of the conspirators."
(Dkt. No. 1 ¶ 47.) Although Whitfield does not
"merely reallege the same damages" in relation to
the other claims, which seek compensatory and punitive
damages, Doe v. Erskine College, No. 8:04-23001-RBH,
2006 WL 1473853, *17 (D.S.C. May 25, 2006), this one-sentence
allegation is falls short of "specifically
alleg[ing]" the damages that flowed from any conspiracy,
Hackworth, 682 S.E.2d at 875 ("Special damages
must, therefore, be specifically alleged in the complaint to
avoid surprise to the other party.").
these reasons, construing the complaint's allegations in
a light most favorable to Whitfield, they fail to support a
claim for civil conspiracy among the College, McConnell and
Roberts. Moving ...