United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
For Laticha Scott, Plaintiff: Joshua David Wilson, LEAD ATTORNEY, WIGGINS CHILDS PANTAZIS FISHER & GOLDFARB, Birmingham, AL.
For Transport America, Inc., Defendant: Loren M Lancaster, BALCH & BINGHAM LLP, Birmingham, AL.
For Southern Cal Transport, LLC, Defendant: M Jefferson Starling, III, LEAD ATTORNEY, Loren M Lancaster, BALCH & BINGHAM LLP, Birmingham, AL.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
VIRGINIA EMERSON HOPKINS, United States District Judge.
This employment discrimination case was filed on November 7, 2014, by the plaintiff, Laticha Scott, against defendants Transport America, Inc. (" Transport America" ) and Southern Cal Transport, LLC (" Southern Cal" ). (Doc. 1). Count One of the complaint alleges sexual harassment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Civil Rights Act of 1991, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. (" Title VII" ). Count Two alleges race discrimination in violation of Title VII and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. The complaint also sets out counts under the Alabama state law theories of outrage (Count Three), invasion of privacy (Count Four), negligent/wanton retention (Count Five), and negligent/wanton supervision and training (Count Six). All counts are alleged against all defendants.
The case comes before the court on Southern Cal's motion, filed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, to dismiss the state law claims as barred by the applicable statute of limitations. (Doc. 8). For the reasons stated herein, the motion will be GRANTED.
A Rule 12(b)(6) motion attacks the legal sufficiency of the complaint. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) (" [A] party may assert the following defenses by motion: (6) failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted[.]" ). The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require only that the complaint provide " 'a short and plain statement of the claim' that will give the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47, 78 S.Ct. 99, 103, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957) (footnote omitted) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)), abrogated by Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1965, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a) (setting forth general pleading requirements for a complaint including providing " a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief" ).
While a plaintiff must provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief, Rule 8 does not mandate the inclusion of " detailed factual allegations" within a complaint. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 127 S.Ct. at 1964 (quoting Conley, 355 U.S. at 47, 78 S.Ct. at 103). However, at the same time, " it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009). " [O]nce a claim has been stated adequately, it may be supported by showing any set of facts consistent with the allegations in the complaint." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 563, 127 S.Ct. at 1969.
" [A] court considering a motion to dismiss can choose to begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the
assumption of truth." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679, 129 S.Ct. at 1950. " While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations." Id. " When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Id. (emphasis added). " Under Twombly 's construction of Rule 8 . . . [a plaintiff's] complaint [must] 'nudge [any] claims' . . . 'across the line from conceivable to plausible.' Ibid." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 680, 129 S.Ct. at 1950-51.
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, 129 S.Ct. at 1949. " The plausibility standard is not akin to a 'probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556, 127 S.Ct. at 1965).
The parties agree that a two year statute of limitations applies to the plaintiff's state law claims. (Doc. 8 at 3-4 (citing Ala. Code § 6-2-38(l) and 6-2-38(n) and applicable case law); doc.13 at 1 (" Plaintiff concedes that the applicable statute of limitations for each of her four state law claims . . . is two years." )). The defendant argues, and the plaintiff does not dispute, that, because each of the state law causes of action accrued no later than March 2012, and the complaint was not filed until November 7, 2014, the state law claims have been filed outside the two year period. (Doc. 8 at 5-9).
Still, the plaintiff contends that the filing of her EEOC charge (a prerequisite to maintaining her Title VII claim only) tolled the running of the statutes of limitations applicable to the state law claims. Her argument is two-fold. First she contends that principles of judicial economy mandate tolling. Second, she insists that, because the state law claims are not " separate, distinct, and independent" from the Title VII claims, the running of the statutes was tolled until the plaintiff received her right to sue letter from the EEOC. The court will address each argument in turn, beginning with the second.
A. " Separate," " Distinct," and " Independent"
The plaintiff argues that unless the state law claims are " separate," " distinct," and " independent" from the Title VII claims, the statute of limitations on those claims is tolled during the period of time that the plaintiff pursued her Title VII administrative remedies with the EEOC. In support of this argument she cites only Kelley v. Wal-Mart Stores East, LP, (S.D. Ala. Feb. 13, 2013) (Granade, J.).
The plaintiff, somewhat awkwardly, argues that the Kelley court " denied that the statute of limitations should be tolled because the federal claims and state law claims must be demonstrated under different theories and facts." (Doc. 12 at 3). The defendant more clearly states in response that " Kelley held that the statute of limitations for state law claims '[is] not tolled while the plaintiff is pursuing administrative remedies, at least so long as the state law claims are separate and distinct from the federal discrimination claims.'" (Doc. 13 at 5-6). However, a careful examination of Judge Granade's opinion in Kelley shows that, although the court did examine whether the state law claims before it were separate and distinct from the Title VII claims, the court did not hold that such an examination was required.
Further, an examination of the Supreme Court's opinion in Johnson v. Ry. Exp. Agency, Inc., 421 U.S. 454, 95 S.Ct. 1716, 44 L.Ed.2d 295 (1975), where the " separate and distinct" language first appears in this context, reveals that such an examination is not necessary.
1. Kelley v. Wal-Mart Stores East, LP.
[the] [p]laintiff assert[ed] claims under Title VII alleging that she suffered sexual harassment, retaliation, and a hostile work environment during her employment. Plaintiff also assert[ed] state law claims of negligent and wanton hiring, training, supervision, and retention (Count III) and invasion of privacy (Count IV).
Kelley, 2013 WL 608030, at *1. The defendant moved for summary judgment on the state law claims, claiming they were untimely filed. Like the plaintiff in the instant case, the plaintiff in Kelley did not dispute that more than two years (the applicable statute of limitations) had elapsed since her state law claims had accrued. However, she argued that " the statute of limitations for state law claims are tolled while a Title VII claim is pending before the EEOC." [WL] at 3.
The court in Kelley first noted that at least one case had held that " [i]t is well-established that the statute of limitations for a plaintiff's state law claims is not tolled while the plaintiff is pursuing administrative remedies with the EEOC." Kelley, 2013 WL 608030, at *3 ( citing Simmons v. Mobile Infirmary Medical Center, 391 F.Supp.2d 1124, 1131 (S.D.Ala.2005). The court then noted that
[o]ther Courts have agreed that the statute of limitations for a state law claim are not tolled while the plaintiff is pursuing administrative remedies, at least so long as the state law claims are separate and distinct from the federal discrimination claims. See e.g. Horaist v. Doctor's Hosp. of Opelousas, 255 F.3d 261, 268--269 (5th Cir. 2001) (finding that a Louisiana Statute which suspends or tolls the statute of limitations for state discrimination claims for up to six months during the pendency of an EEOC proceeding did not apply retroactively and that the EEOC administrative proceeding did not toll the statute of limitations for any of plaintiff's state law claims, which included intentional interference with contract, battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, discrimination and retaliation); Juarez v. Ameritech Mobile Communications, Inc., 957 F.2d 317, 322--323 (7th Cir. 1992) (finding that the time for filing plaintiff's state law invasion of privacy claim was not tolled by the filing of a discrimination charge with the EEOC because it is separate and independent from plaintiff's Title VII claim); Arnold v. U.S., 816 F.2d 1306, 1312--1313 (9th Cir. 1987) (finding that there was no federal policy mandating equitable tolling, stating that plaintiff's state law claims were distinct from plaintiff's Title VII claim and that " Congress did not intend for these proceedings to delay independent avenues of redress." (citing Johnson supra )). While the filing of the EEOC charge places the defendant employer on notice of a claim of discrimination, unless " there is ...