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Johnson v. Walmart Stores East, LP

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division

July 18, 2014

SYLVESTER JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
v.
WALMART STORES EAST, LP WAL-MART STORES, INC. RANDY HARGROVE, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION and ORDER

MAX O. COGBURN, District Judge.

THIS MATTER is before the court on defendants' Motion to Dismiss (#8), which has been fully briefed, and was argued on July 15, 2014, by counsel.

I.

In this action, plaintiff contends that defendant Randy Hargrove, in his capacity as national media relations director for the corporate defendants, defamed plaintiff by making statements that were published in The Nation on April 5, 2013, just weeks before this court tried plaintiff's previous action, Johnson v. Wal-Mart Stores East, LP, et al., 3:10cv659 (W.D. N.C. 2013) ("Johnson I"). It appears that while the previous action was pending, plaintiff initiated contact with The Nation, provided the magazine with a six-hour interview, and told the reporter that Wal-Mart discharged him from employment for unlawful reasons, including racial discrimination. The Nation then sought a response from the corporate defendants to such accusation and the following was reported in the article:

Walmart rejects Johnson's allegations. "We conducted a thorough investigation and have detailed information outlining his misconduct, and, based on the facts, he was terminated for violating company policy, " company spokesperson Randy Hargrove told The Nation. "Walmart does not condone or tolerate discrimination of any type and that played no role in his dismissal."
"Additionally, we have strict policies around inventory accounting, and the allegations Mr. Johnson have raised are completely false and unsubstantiated, " Hargrove added. "In addition to Mr. Johnson, more than a dozen associates in his market were disciplined for failing to report the direction he gave them."

Spencer Woodman, "Former Walmart District Manager Accuses Company of Widespread Inventory Manipulation, " The Nation (April 5, 2013) (#8-1). Based on the publication of that article, plaintiff brings a number of state-law tort and statutory claims based on alleged defamation.

While plaintiff brought a number of claims in Johnson I, including a novel claim for compelled self-defamation and a claim under the North Carolina Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practice Act ("UDTPA"), that action was ultimately tried on the issue of whether plaintiff was terminated from his employment based on his race in violation of Title VII. After a nearly two week trial, the jury returned a verdict finding that race was not a motivating factor in plaintiff's termination. Id.

Defendants have moved to dismiss the complaint in the entirety under Rules 12(b)(2) and (6), Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. In moving to dismiss, defendants have asserted six grounds for dismissal, with the overriding argument being that this action is barred in toto by the doctrine of res judicata. As discussed in greater detail below, the court finds this action is barred by res judicata and is, therefore, subject to dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6).

II.

In the past, a complaint could not be dismissed under Rule 12(b)(6) unless it appeared certain that plaintiff could prove no set of facts which would support its claim and entitle it to relief. Neitzke v. Williams , 490 U.S. 319 (1989); Conley v. Gibson , 355 U.S. 41 (1957). This "no set of facts" standard has been abrogated by the Supreme Court in recent decisions. First, in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544 (2007), the Court held that the "no set of facts" standard first espoused in Conley, supra, only describes the "breadth of opportunity to prove what an adequate complaint claims, not the minimum adequate pleading to govern a complaint's survival." Id. at 563. The Court specifically rejected use of the "no set of facts" standard because such standard would improperly allow a "wholly conclusory statement of claim" to "survive a motion to dismiss whenever the pleadings left open the possibility that a plaintiff might later establish some set of [undisclosed] facts' to support recovery." Id. at 561 (alteration in original). Post Twombly, to survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a plaintiff must allege facts in his complaint that "raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id. at 555.

[A] plaintiff's obligation to provide the "grounds" of his "entitle[ment] to relief" requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do....

Id. (second alteration in original; citation omitted). Further, a complaint will not survive Rule 12(b)(6) review where it contains "naked assertion[s] devoid of further factual enhancement." Id., at 557. Instead, a plaintiff must now plead sufficient facts to state a claim for relief that is " plausible on its face." Id. at 570 (emphasis added).

While the Court was clear in Twombly that Conley was no longer controlling, it again visited the Rule 12(b)(6) pleading standard in Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662 (2009). In Iqbal, the Court determined that Rule 8 "demands more than an unadorned, the defendant - unlawfully - harmed - me accusation." Id. at 678. The Court explained that, "to survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that ...


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