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Clark v. Guilford County North Carolina

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

October 2, 2017

GRACE J. CLARK, Plaintiff,
v.
GUILFORD COUNTY, NORTH CAROLINA, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          LORETTA C. BIGGS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff, Grace J. Clark, initiated this action on July 26, 2016, against Defendant, Guilford County of North Carolina (“Guilford County” or “Defendant”), in Guilford County Superior Court alleging employment discrimination in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2 et seq. (“Title VII”), the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), and the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), 29 U.S.C. § 2612 et seq. On August 26, 2016, Guilford County filed a Notice of Removal removing the case to this Court. (ECF No. 1.) Before the Court are Guilford County's Motion to Dismiss, (ECF No. 6), and Plaintiff's Motion to Amend Complaint, (ECF No. 8). For the reasons that follow the Court grants in part and denies in part Defendant's motion to dismiss, and the Court denies Plaintiff's motion to amend.

         As background, from November, 2009 to September 1, 2015, Plaintiff, who is Hispanic, was employed by Guilford County Department of Social Services (“DSS”) as a coordinator for the English as a second language program. (ECF No. 3 ¶ 3.) Plaintiff was the only Spanish interpreter and translator employed by DSS at that time. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that, beginning in February 2015, [1] her manager told her that she could no longer have contact with Spanish speaking clients and that her job as an interpreter and translator was being terminated. (Id. ¶ 7.) Plaintiff then filed a Charge of Discrimination against Defendant with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) based on national origin.[2](Id. ¶ 8.) She also complained to the County attorney and the attorney for DSS. (Id. ¶ 9.) Plaintiff further claims that “[u]p until February, 2015 [she] had always received the very highest evaluation scores . . . and she had no warnings, write ups, or other disciplinary events in her career. (Id. ¶ 10.) However, in February, Defendant reduced her evaluations to average and put in writing that Plaintiff “was uncooperative, did not work well with others, refused training, and did not follow directions.” (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that these actions by her manager were in retaliation for her filing an EEOC Complaint. (Id. ¶ 11.)

         Plaintiff's Complaint further alleges that she was on medical leave from March 20 to June 1, 2015 for surgery and convalescence. (Id. at ¶ 4.) Also, from about June 20, 2015 to September 1, 2015, Plaintiff was on medical leave due to an automobile accident. (Id. at ¶ 5.) When Plaintiff returned to work on September 1, 2015 she was fired from her job. (Id. at ¶ 13.)

         Plaintiff's Complaint alleges that: (1) she was discriminated against based on her race and national origin, (id. ¶¶ 14-25); (2) she was discriminated against based on her disability, (id. ¶¶ 26-35); (3) she was subjected to retaliatory discrimination for filing an EEOC complaint, (id. ¶ 36-42); and (4) her rights under the FMLA have been violated, (id. ¶ 43-47.) Defendant brings this motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction based on a failure to exhaust administrative remedies, and pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted.

         I. STANDARDS OF REVIEW

         A. Rule 12 (b)(1)

         A motion under Rule 12(b)(1), which governs dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, raises the question of “whether [the plaintiff] has a right to be in the district court at all and whether the court has the power to hear and dispose of [the] claim.” Holloway v. Pagan River Dockside Seafood, Inc., 669 F.3d 448, 452 (4th Cir. 2012). The burden of establishing subject matter jurisdiction rests with the plaintiff. Evans v. B.F. Perkins Co., 166 F.3d 642, 647 (4th Cir. 1999). When evaluating a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss, the court may consider evidence outside the pleadings and should grant the motion “only if the material jurisdictional facts are not in dispute and the moving party is entitled to prevail as a matter of law.” Id. (quoting Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac R.R. Co. v. United States, 945 F.2d 765, 768 (4th Cir. 1991)). Once the Court determines it lacks subject matter jurisdiction over a claim, it must dismiss that claim. See Jones v. Calvert Grp., Ltd., 551 F.3d 297, 300 (4th Cir. 2009).

         B. Rule 12 (b)(6)

         A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) “challenges the legal sufficiency of a complaint.” Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 192 (4th Cir. 2009). A complaint may fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted in two ways: first, by failing to state a valid legal cause of action, i.e., a cognizable claim, see Holloway, 669 F.3d at 452; or second, by failing to allege sufficient facts to support a legal cause of action, see Painter's Mill Grille, LLC v. Brown, 716 F.3d 342, 350 (4th Cir. 2013). Dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) is appropriate only when the complaint “lacks a cognizable legal theory or sufficient facts to support a cognizable legal theory.” Capital Associated Indus., Inc. v. Cooper, 129 F.Supp.3d 281, 300 (M.D. N.C. 2015) (quoting Brown v. Target, Inc., No. ELH-14-00950, 2015 WL 2452617, at *9 (D. Md. May 20, 2015)). In other words, “[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain 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)). A claim is plausible when the complaint alleges facts that allow the court “to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. The court must accept all factual allegations as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Johnson v. Am. Towers, LLC, 781 F.3d 693, 709 (4th Cir. 2015). However, the court is “‘not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id.

         Generally, on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a court cannot consider documents beyond the complaint without converting the motion into a motion for summary judgment. See Occupy Columbia v. Haley, 738 F.3d 107, 116 (4th Cir. 2013). The court can, however, properly consider “documents attached to the complaint, as well as those attached to the motion to dismiss, so long as they are integral to the complaint and authentic.” Philips v. Pitt Cty. Mem'l Hosp., 572 F.3d 176, 180 (4th Cir. 2009) (citation omitted). The Court will, therefore, consider certain documents attached to Defendant's Reply Brief in support of its Motion to Dismiss, [3] the authenticity of which have not been challenged by any party.

         II. DISCUSSION

         At the outset, this Court addresses Guilford County's argument that the County's Motion to Dismiss must be decided as uncontested pursuant to this Court's local rules because Plaintiff's response brief was not timely filed. Local Rule 7.3(k) specifically provides that “failure to file a brief or response within the time specified in this rule shall constitute a waiver of the right thereafter to file such brief or response, except upon a showing of excusable neglect.” LR 7.3(k). Further, the rule provides “[i]f a respondent fails to file a response within the time required by this rule, the motion will be considered and decided as an uncontested motion . . . .” Id. The time specified under Local Rule 7.3(j) for the filing of a response or brief in opposition to a motion is “within 21 days after service of the motion.” LR 7.3(f).

         Here, Defendant filed and served its motion to dismiss on September 29, 2016. (ECF No. 6.) Plaintiff's Memorandum in Opposition to Defendant's Motion to Dismiss was filed on October 26, 2016, (ECF No. 9), more than the 21 days after service of Defendant's motion. In the opposition brief filed by Plaintiff's counsel on behalf of his client, there was no acknowledgement that the response was untimely, no request seeking leave to file the untimely response, nor did counsel provide any basis for this Court to conclude that there was excusable neglect for the untimely filing, as required by the local rule. This Court is seriously troubled by the blatant disregard for, or lack of knowledge of, this Court's rules exhibited by Plaintiff's counsel. However, the Court concludes that, while Plaintiff will suffer great harm if this Court does not consider each of the parties' arguments with respect to her claims, Defendant will not suffer prejudice since it has already ...


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