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Edwards v. Parrish Tire Co.

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

September 6, 2019

ANGELA EDWARDS, Plaintiff,
v.
PARRISH TIRE COMPANY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          LORETTA C. BIGGS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff, Angela Edwards, brings this action against her former employer, Parrish Tire Company (“Parrish Tire”), seeking damages for alleged employment discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”) as well as for violations of North Carolina common law. (ECF No. 1 ¶ 1.) Before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Partial Dismissal of the Plaintiff's Complaint, (ECF No. 8), as well as Plaintiff's Motion to Strike References to Unpublished Cases, (ECF No. 14). For the reasons below, Defendant's motion will be granted and Plaintiff's motion will be denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was employed by Defendant, Parrish Tire, from 2002 until her termination on July 21, 2017. (ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 4, 33.) Following her termination, Plaintiff filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) alleging that Defendant had discriminated against her in violation of the ADA by terminating her because of her disability. (Id. ¶ 6.) According to Plaintiff, in response to Plaintiff's Charge of Discrimination, Defendant gave the EEOC multiple false reasons for her termination. (Id. ¶ 39.) Plaintiff alleges Defendant's statements to the EEOC were “fraudulent and deliberately intended to mislead the agency into rejecting Plaintiff's claims under the ADA.” (Id. ¶ 61.) Furthermore, Plaintiff contends, “upon information and belief, Defendant's statements prevented the EEOC from reaching a determination on Plaintiff's charge of discrimination.” (Id.)

         The EEOC issued Plaintiff a Notice of Right to Sue letter on June 29, 2018. (Id. ¶ 7.) Plaintiff then filed the instant lawsuit alleging the following claims: (1) employment discrimination in violation of the ADA; (2) state law wrongful termination; and (3) common law obstruction of justice. (Id. ¶¶ 40-62.) Defendant now moves to dismiss only Plaintiff's obstruction of justice claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (ECF No. 8.)

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A motion to dismiss made pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure “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 v. Pagan River Dockside Seafood, 669 F.3d 448, 452 (4th Cir. 2012); 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). A complaint fails to allege sufficient facts to support a legal cause of action if it does not “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 facially plausible when the plaintiff “pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

         On a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court must accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true, Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, and construe all factual allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, Mylan Labs., Inc. v. Matkari, 7 F.3d 1130, 1134 (4th Cir. 1993). However, the Court need not accept as true “legal conclusions, elements of a cause of action, . . . bare assertions devoid of further factual enhancement[, ] . . . unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments.” Nemet Chevrolet, Ltd. v. Consumeraffairs.com, Inc., 591 F.3d 250, 255 (4th Cir. 2009).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Defendant advances three reasons to dismiss Plaintiff's obstruction of justice claim. First, Defendant argues that North Carolina does not recognize “a civil action for common law obstruction of justice based upon a party's purportedly false statements in the course of a proceeding.” (ECF No. 9 at 7). Second, Defendant contends that “Plaintiff cannot demonstrate that her discrimination claim has been in any way obstructed.” (Id. at 6.) Specifically, Defendant argues that Plaintiff's pursuit of justice could not have been obstructed because she was still able to file this suit alleging ADA violations. (Id. at 8-10.) Third, Parrish Tire asserts that “statements in quasi-judicial proceedings before the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission are subject to an absolute privilege that precludes [Plaintiff's] obstruction of justice claim.” (ECF Nos. 8 at 1-2, 9 at 13-15.)

         In response, Plaintiff argues that she “has sufficiently alleged acts which obstruct, impede or hinder public or legal justice, ” (ECF No. 12 at 12) (citation and internal quotation omitted), that her allegations “are sufficient to state a claim for relief regardless of her ability to file this lawsuit, ” (id.), and that “Defendant is not protected by judicial immunity because Defendant is not a judicial officer and was not preforming a judicial function” when the company allegedly lied to the EEOC. (Id. at 18.)

         A. The Law of Obstruction of Justice

         North Carolina recognizes a common law claim for obstruction of justice. In re Kivett, 309 S.E.2d 442, 462 ( N.C. 1983). In order to state a claim for common law obstruction of justice, a plaintiff must allege “any action intentionally undertaken by the defendant for the purpose of obstructing, impeding, or hindering the plaintiff's ability to seek and obtain a legal remedy.” Blackburn v. Carbone, 703 S.E.2d 788, 795 ( N.C. Ct. App. 2010). The claim has three elements: “(1) performing any act (2) which prevents, obstructs, impedes or hinders (3) public or legal justice.” Jackson v. Blue Dolphin Commc'ns of N.C. , 359 F.Supp.2d 442, 458 (W.D. N.C. 2004). “The common law offense of obstructing justice may take a variety of forms.” In re Kivett, 309 S.E.2d at 462 (attempting to prevent a grand jury from convening); see, e.g., Wilkes v. Argueta, No. 1:16CV260, 2017 WL 1215749, at *10 (M.D. N.C. Mar. 31, 2017) (intimidating a witness); Henry v. Deen, 310 S.E.2d 326, 334 ( N.C. 1984) ...


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