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Flanagan v. Syngenta Crop Protection, LLC

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

August 3, 2017

KATHRYN FLANAGAN, Plaintiff,
v.
SYNGENTA CROP PROTECTION, LLC and SYNGENTA CORPORATION Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          L. Patrick Auld United States Magistrate Judge.

         This case comes before the Court on “Defendant's Motion to Dismiss” (Docket Entry 6) (the “Dismissal Motion”) and “Plaintiff's Motion to Amend her Complaint with Consent” (Docket Entry 12) (the “Amendment Motion”). For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant the Amendment Motion and will grant in part and deny in part the Dismissal Motion.[1]

         BACKGROUND

         Alleging violations of state and federal law, Kathryn M. Flanagan (the “Plaintiff”) initiated this lawsuit against Syngenta Crop Protection, LLC (“Syngenta Crop Protection”) and Syngenta Corporation (collectively, the “Defendants”) in the Superior Court of North Carolina for Guilford County. (See Docket Entry 3 (the “Complaint”) at 1-4).[2] Based on federal question jurisdiction regarding “Counts ‘One' and ‘Two'” and “supplemental jurisdiction [regarding] Counts ‘Three, ' ‘Four' and ‘Five'” (Docket Entry 1 at 2), Defendants removed the lawsuit to this Court (see id. at 1, 3). Syngenta Crop Protection then moved to dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (the “Rules”). (See Docket Entry 6.)[3]

         After responding in opposition to the Dismissal Motion (see Docket Entry 11 (the “Response”)), Plaintiff filed her Amendment Motion (Docket Entry 12), which Defendants did not oppose (see Docket Entries dated May 19, 2017, to present). Instead, in its “Reply in Support of Defendant's Motion to Dismiss” (Docket Entry 13) (the “Reply”), Syngenta Crop Protection asked that the “Court rule on the merits of [the Dismissal Motion]” as applied to Plaintiff's proposed Amended Complaint. (Id. at 1 n.2.) Plaintiff filed no objection to that request. (See Docket Entries dated May 30, 2017, to present.)

         DISCUSSION

         I. Amendment Motion

         Through the Amendment Motion, Plaintiff seeks leave to “amend Count 2 of her [C]omplaint.” (Docket Entry 12 at 1.) At this stage of the proceedings, Plaintiff may amend her Complaint “only with [Defendants'] written consent or the [C]ourt's leave.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). Plaintiff states that Defendants consent to the requested amendment. (See Docket Entry 12 at 1.) Defendants do not dispute this representation. (See Docket Entry 13 at 1 n.2, 6 n.5; see also Docket Entries dated May 19, 2017, to present (containing no filing from Syngenta Corporation).) Accordingly, the Court will grant the Amendment Motion.

         Plaintiff attached her proposed “[A]mended [C]omplaint which contains only changes to Count 2 of her original [C]omplaint” to the Amendment Motion. (Docket Entry 12 at 1.) More specifically, Plaintiff submitted the “Amended Complaint” as pages four through eight, and “Exhibit 1” as pages ten through twelve, of Docket Entry 12. (See id. at 4-12 (all-cap font omitted).) The copy of Exhibit 1 attached to the Amendment Motion omits one page of the exhibit. (Compare id. at 10-12, with Docket Entry 3-1.) Given Plaintiff's stated intention to change only Count Two (see Docket Entry 12 at 1), which lacks reference to Exhibit 1 (see id. at 4-6), the Court will deem the Amended Complaint to contain (i) pages four through eight of the Amendment Motion (id. at 4-8) and (ii) Exhibit 1 as filed with the original Complaint (Docket Entry 3-1).

         II. Dismissal Motion

         A. Preliminary Considerations

         Plaintiff moved to amend her Complaint while the Dismissal Motion remained pending. (See Docket Entries dated Mar. 15, 2017, to May 19, 2017.) In its Reply, Syngenta Crop Protection addressed the proposed Amended Complaint and requested that the Court rule on the Dismissal Motion “without issuing an order mooting [the Dismissal Motion, the Response, and the Reply] and requiring the parties to re-file” (Docket Entry 13 at 1 n.2). (See, e.g., id. (asserting that the Amended Complaint “is substantively identical to the instant Complaint, except that it adds a reference to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (the ‘ADEA'), ” and that “the only portion of Defendant's pending [Dismissal Motion] that would be mooted by Plaintiff's proposed amendment is Part III.2 (Dkt. No. 7, at 9), which notes that Plaintiff improperly asserted an age discrimination claim pursuant to Title VII [of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (‘Title VII')], rather than the ADEA” (emphasis in original)).) Plaintiff neither disputes Syngenta Crop Protection's characterization of the Amended Complaint nor opposes its request to apply the Dismissal Motion to the Amended Complaint. (See Docket Entries dated May 30, 2017, to present.)

         “As a general rule, an amended pleading ordinarily supersedes the original and renders it of no legal effect.” Young v. City of Mount Ranier, 238 F.3d 567, 572 (4th Cir. 2001) (internal quotation marks omitted). Thus, the filing of an amended complaint normally moots a pending motion to dismiss. See, e.g., Mooney v. Cato Corp., No. 1:07cv76, 2007 WL 2406961, at *1 (W.D. N.C. Aug. 20, 2007). Here, however, the Amended Complaint differs from the original Complaint in only minor respects (compare Docket Entry 12 at 4-8, with Docket Entry 3), and Syngenta Crop Protection addressed the Amended Complaint in its Reply (see generally Docket Entry 13). Moreover, the majority of Syngenta Crop Protection's dismissal arguments apply equally to the Amended Complaint as to the Complaint. (See, e.g., id. at 1 n.2.) Under the circumstances, the Court will “consider the [Dismissal M]otion as being addressed to the [A]mended [Complaint], ” 6 Charles Alan Wright, et al., Federal Practice and Procedure § 1476 (3d ed. 2017). See Brumfield v. McCann, No. 2:12-cv-1481, 2013 WL 943807, at *2-3 (S.D. W.Va. Mar. 11, 2013) (granting motion to amend complaint, but concluding that court could still consider pending dismissal motions, and collecting cases).

         The Amended Complaint asserts five counts against Defendants. (See Docket Entry 12 at 4-8.) Specifically, Plaintiff asserts claims for (i) “Age Discrimination/Retaliation, ” in violation of federal law (Count One) (the “Retaliation Claim”); (ii) “Age Discrimination, ” in violation of federal law (Count Two) (the “Age Discrimination Claim”); (iii) “Breach of Contract” (Count Three); and (iv) “Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress” (Counts Four and Five). (Id. at 5-7 (all-cap font omitted).) Syngenta Crop Protection moves to dismiss Plaintiff's Retaliation Claim for failure to exhaust administrative remedies and further moves to dismiss all counts for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. (See Docket Entries 6, 7, 13.) Plaintiff opposes each request. (See generally Docket Entry 11.)

         B. Retaliation Claim

         i. Jurisdictional Standards

         Syngenta Crop Protection requests dismissal of Plaintiff's Retaliation Claim under Rule 12(b)(1). (See Docket Entry 7 at 7.) In her Amended Complaint (and Response), Plaintiff asserts that she appropriately exhausted administrative remedies on this claim. (See Docket Entry 12 at 7 (“Plaintiff has complied with all necessary prerequisites and has received a ‘right to sue letter' from the” Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the “EEOC”).); see also Docket Entry 11 at 4 (“Plaintiff has raised a valid claim of retaliation both herein and before the EEOC.”).) Conversely, Syngenta Crop Protection contends that Plaintiff failed to exhaust administrative remedies on her Retaliation Claim, depriving the Court of subject matter jurisdiction over that claim. (See Docket Entry 7 at 7-9; Docket Entry 13 at 4-6.)

         By asserting “that the jurisdictional allegations of the [Amended C]omplaint [are] not true, ” Syngenta Crop Protection raises a factual challenge to the Court's subject matter jurisdiction. Kerns v. United States, 585 F.3d 187, 192 (4th Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks omitted; final set of brackets in original); see also Fonjungo v. Rite Aid Corp., No. CV 16-760, 2017 WL 1546415, at *4 (D. Md. Apr. 28, 2017) (“[The defendant] brings a factual challenge because it argues that [the plaintiff] failed to exhaust the administrative remedies for his claim under Title VII.”). Where, as here, the factual challenge does not implicate the merits of the case, the “[C]ourt is entitled to decide disputed issues of fact with respect to subject matter jurisdiction.” Kerns, 585 F.3d at 192-93; see also United States ex rel. Vuyyuru v. Jadhav, 555 F.3d 337, 348 (4th Cir. 2009) (“Unless ‘the jurisdictional facts are intertwined with the facts central to the merits of the dispute, ' the district court may . . . resolve the jurisdictional facts in dispute by considering evidence outside the pleadings, such as affidavits.” (internal quotation marks omitted)).

         In so doing, the Court “may regard the pleadings as mere evidence on the issue and may consider evidence outside the pleadings without converting the proceeding to one for summary judgment.” Velasco v. Government of Indonesia, 370 F.3d 392, 398 (4th Cir. 2004). Plaintiff bears the burden of establishing subject matter jurisdiction for her Retaliation Claim. See Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac R.R. Co. v. United States, 945 F.2d 765, 768 (4th Cir. 1991) (“When a Rule 12(b)(1) motion challenge is raised to the factual basis for subject matter jurisdiction, the burden of proving subject matter jurisdiction is on the plaintiff.”); see also Calloway v. Durham Cty. Pub. Sch. Bd. of Educ., No. 1:15cv187, 2016 WL 634878, at *4 (M.D. N.C. Feb. 17, 2016) (concluding that the plaintiff bore the burden of establishing administrative exhaustion in employment discrimination case removed under federal question jurisdiction).[4]

         “An employee seeking redress for discrimination cannot file suit until she has exhausted the administrative process.” Balas v. Huntington Ingalls Indus., Inc., 711 F.3d 401, 406 (4th Cir. 2013). To satisfy this requirement, a plaintiff must file a charge with the EEOC regarding the alleged discrimination. See Evans v. Technologies Applications & Serv. Co., 80 F.3d 954, 962-63 (4th Cir. 1996) (discussing procedures under the ADEA and Title VII). This “EEOC charge defines the scope of [the plaintiff's] subsequent right to institute a civil suit. If a plaintiff's claims in her judicial complaint are reasonably related to her EEOC charge and can be expected to follow from a reasonable administrative investigation, the plaintiff may advance such claims in her subsequent civil suit.” Smith v. First Union Nat'l Bank, 202 F.3d 234, 247 (4th Cir. 2000) (citation omitted). Thus, “a [subsequent] lawsuit may extend to any kind of discrimination like or related to allegations contained in the charge and growing out of such allegations during the pendency of the case before the [EEOC].” Nealon v. Stone, 958 F.2d 584, 590 (4th Cir. 1992) (internal quotation marks omitted). Nevertheless, “a claim in formal litigation will generally be barred if the EEOC charge alleges discrimination on one basis, such as race, and the formal litigation claim alleges discrimination on a separate basis, such as sex.” Jones v. Calvert Grp., Ltd., 551 F.3d 297, 300 (4th Cir. 2009).

         ii. Analysis

         The Amended Complaint appears to assert an age-related retaliation claim. For instance, the Amended Complaint states:

5. From approximately July 2015 through her termination, Plaintiff was subjected to disparate and discriminatory treatment by ...

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