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Campbell v. Stonemor Partners, LP

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

July 17, 2018

DAVID A. CAMPBELL, Plaintiff,
v.
STONEMOR PARTNERS, LP, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION (DISMISSING AMENDED COMPLAINT)

          Henry E. Hudson Senior United States District Judge.

         This matter comes before the Court on David A. Campbell's ("Plaintiff) Amended Complaint (ECF No. 12), [1] filed on February 12, 2018. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will dismiss Plaintiffs Amended Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1406(a) and 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).

         I. BACKGROUND

         To begin, the Court notes that Plaintiffs Amended Complaint is difficult to understand due to inconsistencies in his allegations and a lack of chronological order. The following is the Court's best attempt to construct a coherent narrative from Plaintiffs allegations.

         Plaintiff was employed by Defendant StoneMor Partners L.P. ("Defendant") as a cemetery manager. (Compl. 8-9.) In February 2014, Plaintiff returned to work from a five-week absence due to double pneumonia. (Id. at 8.) On March 24, 2014, Plaintiff started managing Oaklawn Mausoleum and Memory Gardens ("Oaklawn") after management required him to transfer there. (Id.) During his tenure there, Plaintiffs office consistently received high ratings. (Id. at 9.) Despite being older and more experienced, Plaintiff was compensated at a $7.25 hourly rate, not the $455 weekly rate given to other managers. (Id.) Plaintiff made inquiries about his compensation and ultimately sent a letter inquiring about his job description and title. (Id.) Human Resources initially told him that he was a family services consultant but later told him he was an assistant manager. (Id.) Plaintiff continued to ask about his compensation and began receiving phone calls before and after working inquiring about his game plan for the work week. (Id. at 9-10.) In September 2015, Plaintiffs administrator informed him that he would be compensated at the $455 weekly rate. (Id. at 10.)

         On December 1, 2015, Plaintiff scheduled a telephone call with Area Manager Anita Deeb, related to a misunderstanding Plaintiff had with his assistant. (Id. at 2, 10.) When the call ultimately took place, Regional Vice President Pamela Harris was on the line with Deeb, which Plaintiff found to be "very unwelcome" and led him to attempt to end the conversation by saying that "he had to see his Doctor in a little while." (Id. at 10.) Plaintiff alleges that Harris replied: "Dave you always get sick when you get mad." (Id.) Plaintiff ended the phone call, and at some point later that evening sent a text message complaining about the call, because it was "harassing" and "not called for." (Id.)

         On December 2, 2015, Plaintiff was informed by Harris and Human Resources Compliance Manager Lauren Bailey that he was being placed on leave pursuant to the Family Medical Leave Act. (Id. at 2, 10.) Plaintiff alleges that he heard Harris say that he would have "plenty of time to think about that text." (Id. at 12.) Plaintiff was not permitted to return to work the following day. (Id.) This experience caused Plaintiff to become very ill, and he obtained notes from his doctor stating that he could not work until March 31, 2016. (Id. at 13.) Despite Defendant excusing Plaintiffs absence from work through that date, it terminated his employment on March 24, 2016. (Id.)

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The statute governing IFP filings provides that "the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that the action or appeal is frivolous or ... fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i)-(ii); see also Michau v. Charleston Cty, 434 F.3d 725, 728 (4th Cir. 2006) ("28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)... governs IFP filings in addition to complaints filed by prisoners ...."). Section 1915(e)(2) "is designed largely to discourage the filing of, and waste of judicial and private resources upon, baseless lawsuits that paying litigants generally do not initiate because of the costs of bringing suit." McLean v. United States, 566 F.3d 391, 399 (4th Cir. 2009) (quoting Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327 (1989)). Therefore, the Court must screen all IFP complaints to ensure judicial economy.

         When determining whether an action is "frivolous," the Fourth Circuit has observed that "[t]he word ... is inherently elastic and 'not susceptible to categorical definition.'" Nagy v. FMC Butner, 316 F.3d 252, 256 (4th Cir. 2004) (quoting Adams v. Rice, 40 F.3d 72, 74 (4th Cir. 1994)). "It is designed to confer on district courts the power to sift out claims that Congress found not to warrant extended judicial treatment under the in forma pauperis statute." Id. "The term's capaciousness directs lower courts to conduct a flexible analysis, in light of the totality of the circumstances, of all factors bearing upon the frivolity of a claim." Id. at 257. "[District courts are at liberty to consider any factors that experience teaches bear on the question of frivolity." Id.

         When assessing whether an IFP complaint "fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted," courts conduct a similar analysis to that used when considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). "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). When considering an IFP filing, a plaintiff s well-pleaded allegations are taken as true, and the complaint is viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. T.G. Slater & Son, Inc. v. Donald P. & Patricia A. Brennan LLC, 385 F.3d 836, 841 (4th Cir. 2004) (citation omitted). Legal conclusions enjoy no such deference. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

         Additionally, the Court acknowledges that pro se complaints are afforded a liberal construction. Laber, 438 F.3d at 413 n.3. 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 Welter 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, while "[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).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff identifies retaliation and the termination of his employment as the discriminatory conduct giving rise to his claims. At various points in the Complaint, he states the Court's basis of jurisdiction as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq., the Equal Pay Act of 1963 ("EPA"), 29 U.S.C. § 206(d), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621, et seq., and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq. (Compare ECF No. 5 at 3 (citing Title VII and the EPA) with ECF No. 5 at 7 (citing Title VII, the ADEA, and ADA)). In line with the latitude given Xopro se litigants, the Court will interpret the Complaint as broadly as possible without taking on ...


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