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Nicholson v. Mecklenburg County

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

June 21, 2018



          Frank D. Whitney Chief United States District Judge

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 4) Plaintiff's Amended Complaint (Doc. No. 1-2), pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for failing to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Plaintiff responded in timely manner (Doc. No. 8), and Defendant then replied to Plaintiff's Response (Doc. No. 10). For the reasons stated below, the Court GRANTS Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Counts III, IV, and VI, and DENIES Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Counts I, II, and V of Plaintiff's Amended Complaint without prejudice.

         I. BACKGROUND

         According to the Amended Complaint, [1] Plaintiff Natalie Nicholson is a citizen and resident of Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. (Doc. No. 1-2, p. 3). Defendant Mecklenburg County is a public entity existing and operating in the state of North Carolina. Id. Plaintiff seeks declaratory, injunctive, and equitable relief and monetary damages. Id. The Complaint alleges Defendant hired Plaintiff as a nurse around September 2006. Id. According to the Complaint, in March 2012, Defendant offered Plaintiff a part-time Coordinator position with the Breast and Cervical Cancer Control Program Coordinator and the Wise Woman Project (BCCCP Coordinator), which Plaintiff accepted; in December 2012, Plaintiff accepted a full-time BCCCP Coordinator position and began working with another BCCCP Coordinator (“the co-worker”). Id. Sometime around late 2013, Plaintiff reported to management that: (1) patient data she had gathered to submit to state governing agencies disappeared, and (2) the co-worker had been failing to complete and submit important data forms to state governing agencies. Id. The Amended Complaint asserts that an investigation revealed that the co-worker had hidden multiple patient data forms in her office and had failed to properly report and submit over seven years of data to state governing agencies, which allegedly forced Defendant to return in excess of $250, 000 to the state governing body. (Doc. No. 1-2, p. 4). Plaintiff contends that as a result of reporting the co-worker's conduct, Plaintiff received negative annual reviews for 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 years. (Doc. No. 1-2, p. 4, 5). Plaintiff further alleges management isolated Plaintiff in an offsite location with limited resources, support staff, and an increased workload. (Doc. No. 1-2, p. 5). Plaintiff contends management failed to act after having heard Plaintiff's complaints and asserts that the she was forced to resign in lieu of termination because she complained to county management about the co-worker's performance. (Doc. No. 1-2, p. 6-7).

         II. ANALYSIS

         Plaintiff asserts the following causes of action: (1) 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Retaliation for Exercise of First Amendment Rights); (2) N.C. Gen, Stat. 126-84 (Whistleblower Claim Act); (3) Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress; (4) Tortious Interference With a Contract; (5) Violation of Article I Sections 1, 14, and 19 of the North Carolina Constitution[2]; and (6) Negligent Supervision. (Doc. No. 1-2). Defendant argues for dismissal of the Complaint in its entirety because Plaintiff fails to state claims upon which relief can be granted. (Doc. No. 4).

         A. Failure to State a Claim

         1. Standard of Review

         A motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) assesses the “legal sufficiency of the complaint” but “does not resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses.” Republican Party of N.C. v. Martin, 980 F.2d 943, 952 (4th Cir. 1992). A complaint will survive a 12(b)(6) motion if there are “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 697 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)); see also Robinson v. American Honda Motor Co., Inc., 551 F.3d 218, 222 (4th Cir. 2009). A claim is plausible on its face when the plaintiff pleads factual content that “allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) only requires “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. When ruling on a defendant's motion to dismiss, a judge must accept as true all factual allegations contained in the complaint. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93-94 (2007) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-56) (internal citations omitted). Conclusory allegations are “not entitled to be assumed true.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 681. Though a complaint does not require a high level of factual detail, it requires more than “an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

         2. Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress

         Defendant argues Plaintiff's Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress fails because Plaintiff has only alleged intentional acts. (Doc. No. 5 p. 7). To pursue this claim, Plaintiff must allege:

(1) Defendant negligently engaged in conduct, (2) that was reasonably foreseeable that such conduct would cause the Plaintiff severe emotional distress (often referred to as “mental anguish”), and (3) the conduct did in fact cause the Plaintiff severe emotional distress.

Johnson v. Ruark Obstetrics and Gynecology Associates, P.A., 395 S.E.2d 85, 87 ( N.C. 1990).Conduct that is “atrocious, and utterly intolerable in a civilized society” evidences negligent or intentional infliction of emotional distress. Ennett v. Cumberland County Bd. of Educ., 698 F.Supp.2d 557, 560 (E.D. N.C. 2010) (citing Wagoner v. Elkin City Schools' Bd. of Educ., 440 S.E.2d 119, 123 ( N.C. Ct. App. 1994). Severe emotional distress is any emotional or mental disorder, such as neurosis, psychosis, chronic depression, phobia, or any other type of severe and disabling emotional or mental condition that professionals recognize and diagnose. Holloway v. Wachovia Bank & Trust Co., N.A., 452 S.E.2d 233, 243 ( N.C. 1994) (quoting Ruark, 395 S.E.2d at 97.). In Wagoner, Elkin City School's Board of Education hired the plaintiff as a teacher, who was later assigned an In-School Suspension Coordinator position. Id. at 121. The plaintiff's supervisor placed her away from other faculty members in a room with high humidity and temperature, assigning her after-school and Saturday work hours, and preventing her from attending workshops in the area. Id. The court held such conduct was not sufficient to allege extreme and outrageous behavior but was rather indicative of mere insults. Id. at 124. In Ennett, the plaintiff alleged that her supervisor had given her a negative evaluation and asked her to retire, which was insufficient to allege severe emotional distress. 698 F.Supp.2d at 560-61. In the present case, Plaintiff has neither alleged any outrageous conduct nor alleged conduct that led to severe emotional distress as required under applicable law. For that reason, Defendant's Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED with respect to Plaintiff's claim for Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress.[3]

         3. Tortious ...

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