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Matthews v. Gee

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division

March 9, 2017

TRACY M. GEE, et al., Defendants.


          Henry E. Hudson United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Robert L. Matthews ("Plaintiff) brings suit pro se against Defendants Tracy Gee, Nicole Clark, and the County of Lunenburg, Virginia (collectively "Defendants"). According to Plaintiff, Gee and Clark, in their respective capacities as County Administrator and Human Resource Professional for Lunenburg County, are liable for committing tortious conduct and for violating various state and federal statutes and regulations in connection with Plaintiffs workplace injury and subsequent firing.

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. (ECF No. 5.) Defendants seek dismissal of all claims. Their central arguments are that Plaintiffs state-law claims are all barred by the relevant statutes of limitations and that Plaintiff has failed to sufficiently plead his other claims pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).

         The Defendants included an appropriate Roseboro Notice with the Motion, as required by Local Civil Rule 7(K) and the Fourth Circuit's decision in Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975).

         Each side has filed memoranda supporting their respective positions. The Court will dispense with oral argument because the facts and legal contentions are adequately presented in the materials before the Court, and oral argument would not aid in the decisional process. E.D. Va. Loc. Civ. R. 7(J).

         For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant Defendants' Motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         As required by Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Court assumes Plaintiffs well-pleaded allegations to be true and views all facts in the light most favorable to him. T.G. Slater & Son v. Donald P. & Patricia A. Brennan, LLC, 385 F.3d 836, 841 (4th Cir. 2004) (citing Mylan Labs, Inc. v. Matkari, 1 F.3d 1130, 1134 (4th Cir. 1993)). At this stage, the Court's analysis is both informed and constrained by the four corners of Plaintiff s Amended Complaint. Viewed through this lens, the facts are as follows.

         This case arises from Plaintiffs employment with Lunenburg County. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 5-6, ECF Nos. 1-10, 1-11.) In June 2007, the County hired Plaintiff as a "buildings and grounds technician." (Id. ¶ 5.) Three years later, in July 2010, Defendants offered Plaintiff additional part-time work as an assistant Animal Control Officer ("ACO"). (Id. ¶ 6.) Plaintiff received initial training for the ACO position in March, 2011. (Id. ¶ 9.) After completing his initial training, Plaintiff requested that Defendants provide him with additional training as well as personal protective equipment. (Id. ¶¶ 10-11.) Those requests were denied. (Id.)

         On May 20, 2012, while working as an ACO, Plaintiff responded to a call reporting a dog attack. (Id. ¶ 12.) Immediately after Plaintiff arrived at the scene and exited his vehicle, the dog attacked him as well. (Id.) Plaintiff suffered multiple lacerations and punctures to his throat, hands, and wrists. (Id.) He also tore his right and left rotator cuffs, causing an 11% permanent partial disability. (Id.)

         Because of his injuries, Plaintiff filed a Worker's Compensation claim which was approved. (Id. ¶ 13.) However, that "claim is still pending resolution and settlement." (Id.)

         After the attack, "Defendants] terminated Plaintiffs employment in the position of ACO." (Id. ¶¶ 15-16.) Plaintiff remained out of work for two years while recovering from his work-related injuries. (Id. ¶ 16.)

         Plaintiff alleges that in May, 2012, Defendants "participated in defamation of character and invasion of privacy by placing written statements and emails into Plaintiffs personnel file documenting non-work related and non-medical related hearsay and conversations purported to be fact." (Id. ¶ 17.) Plaintiff further alleges that Defendants shared those defamatory statements with several other individuals. (Id. ¶ 18.)

         On May 1, 2014, Plaintiff returned to work as a buildings and grounds technician with Defendants' approval of light-duty restrictions. (Am. Compl. ¶ 19.) Despite Defendants' accommodations, Plaintiff continued to experience pain in his right shoulder. (Id. ¶ 20.) Consequently, Plaintiff took unpaid leave pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), beginning on September 11, 2015, and lasting through December 4, 2015. (Id.) Plaintiff underwent shoulder surgery on September 25, 2015. (Id. ¶ 19.)

         Prior to the surgery, Defendant gave Plaintiff a performance review which stated:

[I]t has cost the County a great deal of additional part-time staffing to compensate for Mr. Matthews['s] restrictions. The County has gone above and beyond to accommodate the restrictions, but we must draw the line when it costs us more than our budget to get the job done. During Bob's previous years of employment, the County rarely had to get anyone to assist him to complete his duties. Contrarily, since his return in August 2014 [after left shoulder surgery due to dog attack] to full-time with restrictions, the County has had to utilize inmate assistance and pay part-time staff at an hourly rate to maintain the grounds, especially weedeating, changing light bulbs, checking overhead leaks, etc.

(Id. ¶ 21 (third alteration in original).)

         On October 22, 2015, Plaintiffs Worker's Compensation physician submitted medical orders stating that Plaintiffs medical condition limited him to sedentary work and that he was restricted to "walking or standing occasionally, [o]ccasional lifting of 10 pounds maximum and/or carrying articles like small tools." (Id. ¶ 22.) Additionally, the physician prohibited Plaintiff from working with his right arm away from his body. (Id.)

         On December 4, 2015, Plaintiff received a letter from Defendants indicating that his FMLA leave would expire on December 7, 2015. (Id. ¶ 23.) The letter stated that Plaintiffs failure to return to work that day would be deemed a resignation. (Id.) Plaintiff reported to work on December 4, 2015, seeking to return to his light duty restrictions. (Id. ¶ 24.) However, Defendants stated "no light duty work is available. You are terminated." (Id.)[1] On December 14, 2015, shortly after his termination, Plaintiff states that his "restrictions were upgraded" by the attending Workers' Compensation physician. (Id.)

         Plaintiff filed a complaint against Defendants in the Lunenburg County Circuit Court on August 30, 2016. (ECF No. 1-1.) That court dismissed the case against Defendants without prejudice because Plaintiff had pleaded insufficient facts to support a cause of action. (ECF No. 1-9.) Plaintiff subsequently filed his Amended Complaint on December 30, 2016, in the Lunenburg County Circuit Court. Defendants removed the case to this Court on January 17, 2017.


         "A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of a complaint; importantly, it 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) (citation omitted). The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure "require[] only 'a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ' in order to 'give the defendant fair notice of what the ... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Bell Atl Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). A complaint need not assert "detailed factual allegations, " but must contain "more than labels and conclusions" or a "formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citations omitted). Thus, the "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, " to one that is "plausible on its face, " rather than merely "conceivable." Id. at 555, 570. In considering such a motion, a plaintiffs well-pleaded allegations are taken as true and the complaint is viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. T.G. Slater, 385 F.3d at 841 (citation omitted). Legal conclusions enjoy no such deference. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

         The Court acknowledges that pro se complaints are afforded a liberal construction. Laber v. Harvey, 438 F.3d 404, 413 n.3 (4th Cir. 2006). The Court, however, need not attempt "to discern the unexpressed intent of the plaintiff." Id. Nor does the requirement of liberal construction excuse a clear failure in the pleading to allege a federally cognizable claim. See Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387, 390-91 (4th Cir. 1990). As the Fourth Circuit explained in Beaudett v. City of Hampton, "[t]hough [pro se] litigants cannot, of course, be expected to frame legal issues with the clarity and precision ideally evident in the work of those trained in law, neither can district courts be required to conjure up and decide issues never fairly presented to them." 775 F.2d 1274, 1276 (4th Cir. 1985).


         Defendants move to dismiss the Amended Complaint in its entirety. Plaintiff has attempted to enumerate his Amended Complaint into six separate "causes of action." However, some of these counts appear to contain multiple allegations, while others merely repeat previously stated claims. As best the Court can discern, the Amended Complaint alleges:

         Count One: Common law negligence and regulatory violations resulting ...

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