United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
WILLIAM L. OSTEEN, Jr., District Judge.
On April 30, 2013, Plaintiff Matthew Tubby ("Plaintiff") filed a Complaint (Doc. 1) against Patrick Donahoe, Postmaster General of the United States Postal Service ("Defendant"), alleging that Plaintiff was improperly discharged from his position as a mail handler due to his age and race. Defendant has filed a Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment ("Def.'s Motion") (Doc. 5), arguing that the Complaint should be dismissed because Plaintiff did not exhaust his administrative remedies prior to filing suit and, in any event, because Plaintiff failed to file his Complaint within 90 days of receiving his right-to-sue letter as required by 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-16(c). (See Def.'s Mem. in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss ("Def.'s Mem.") (Doc. 6) at 6, 12.) Plaintiff responded (Doc. 10) and Defendant replied (Doc. 12). For the reasons set out below, this court will grant Defendant's Motion.
I. STANDARD OF REVIEW
Because Defendant's motion invokes both Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6), and, in the alternative, requests a summary judgment ruling in its favor, this court will set out the three standards of review.
A. Motion to Dismiss - 12(b)(1)
The existence of subject matter jurisdiction is a threshold issue the court must address before considering the merits of the case. Jones v. Am. Postal Workers Union, 192 F.3d 417, 422 (4th Cir. 1999). The plaintiff has the burden of proving that subject matter jurisdiction exists when a Rule 12(b)(1) challenge is raised to the basis for subject matter jurisdiction. Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac R. Co. v. United States, 945 F.2d 765, 768 (4th Cir. 1991). In ruling on a Rule 12(b)(1) motion, a court must apply the standard applicable to a motion for summary judgment, under which the nonmoving party must set forth specific facts beyond the pleadings to show that a genuine issue of material fact exists. Id . In evaluating a defendant's Rule 12(b)(1) motion, "the district court is to regard the pleadings' allegations as mere evidence on the issue, and may consider evidence outside the pleadings without converting the proceeding to one for summary judgment." Id . The district court should grant the Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss "only if the material jurisdictional facts are not in dispute and the moving party is entitled to prevail as a matter of law." Id.
B. Motion to Dismiss - 12(b)(6)
To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a plaintiff must allege "sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). For a claim to be facially plausible, a plaintiff must "plead factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable" and must demonstrate "more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id . (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556-57).
C. Motion for Summary Judgment
"The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A motion for summary judgment is appropriately denied when an examination of the pleadings, affidavits, and other proper discovery materials before the court demonstrates a genuine dispute of material fact exists. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986) (discussing predecessor to Rule 56(a)). In considering a motion for summary judgment, the court is not to weigh the evidence, but rather must determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249-50 (1986). The court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmovant, drawing inferences favorable to that party if such inferences are reasonable. Id. at 255. However, there must be more than a factual dispute; the fact in question must be material, and the dispute must be genuine. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. A dispute is only "genuine" if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.
If, on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, matters outside the pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the court, the motion must be treated as one for summary judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. In that case, "[a]ll parties must be given a reasonable opportunity to present all the material that is pertinent to the motion." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d). A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) is not converted into a motion for summary judgment by the mere submission or service of extraneous materials. Finley Lines Joint Protective Bd. Unit 200 v. Norfolk S. Corp., 109 F.3d 993, 996 (4th Cir. 1997) (considering issue in context of voluntary dismissal under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)).
Here, however, Defendant's Motion (Doc. 5) was one for summary judgment in the alternative. In opposition, Plaintiff filed a response to Defendant's Motion to Dismiss. (See Plaintiff's Response in Opposition to the Defendant's Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment ("Pl.'s Resp.") (Doc. 10).) Plaintiff attached two affidavits and five exhibits to his Response. (Docs. 10-1 through 10-7.) Under the same circumstances, the Fourth Circuit concluded that on the basis of the plaintiff's own actions it appeared that the plaintiff had actual notice that the motion could be disposed of as one for summary judgment. Laughlin v. Metro. Washington Airports Auth., 149 F.3d 253, 261 (4th Cir. 1998) ("The district court, while it clearly has an obligation to notify parties regarding any court-instituted changes in the pending proceedings, does not have an obligation to notify the parties of the obvious."). This is particularly true when plaintiffs and defendants refer to exhibits in support of their arguments, as is the case here. See Tsai v. Md. Aviation, 306 Fed.Appx. 1, 3-5 (4th Cir. 2008) (unpublished per curiam) (finding case before it distinguishable from Finley Lines and facts in accord with Laughlin) ("[Plaintiff] cannot plausibly argue that he lacked notice that [the defendant] was moving for summary judgment, given that he acknowledged as much in the title of his responsive pleading and even put additional evidence before the court of his own volition.").
Because of the issue of equitable tolling, Plaintiff has not objected and submitted affidavits in support of the response. Further, Plaintiff has not objected to treatment of the motions as motions for summary judgment, but has also referenced both his own pleadings and exhibits filed by Defendant. Nor has Plaintiff sought relief under Rule 56(d). As a result, this court finds the issues before the court - equitable tolling, ...