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Shuler v. Tower Legal Staffing, Inc.

United States District Court, Fourth Circuit

June 18, 2013



Catherine C. Blake United States District Judge

Now pending before the court is a motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment, filed by Tower Legal Staffing, Inc. (“Tower”) against plaintiff Melodie Shuler (“Ms. Shuler”). Ms. Shuler brings several claims against Tower arising out of her termination: failure to pay wages, defamation, breach of contract, and negligence. The issues in this case have been fully briefed and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons stated below, the defendants’ motion to dismiss, construed as a motion for summary judgment on two of Ms. Shuler’s claims, will be granted.


Melodie Shuler is a practicing attorney who has been licensed in Maryland since 2002. On February 7, 2012, Tower Legal Staffing, a company that provides legal document review services, extended an email invitation to Ms. Shuler to work as a temporary employee performing document review at Tower’s office in Charlotte, North Carolina. Tower’s email contained details about the project and required Ms. Shuler to notify Tower of her availability to begin work. The email also contained the following information about wages: “The rate of pay is $25.00 per hour Licensed, Active Attorneys for this project. Citi will not pay time and a half on this project. However, Citi will pay straight time for all hours worked.” (ECF No. 17, Ex. 11.) Tower attached its employee handbook and guidelines to the offer email and required Ms. Shuler to review the attachments before beginning work on the project.

Ms. Shuler communicated her acceptance of Tower’s offer of employment by email on February 7, 2012. The next day, Ms. Shuler signed a written offer of employment with Tower and began work in North Carolina. (Compl., ECF No. 2, 1; ECF No. 17, Ex. 4.) The offer included the following terms:

You will be employed by Tower in the position of Contract Attorney on a temporary basis for the purpose of performing services for Tower’s client, Johnson & Johnson (“Client”), at its location in Charlotte, NC.
Although we anticipate that your employment will continue until completion or earlier termination of the Project, employment at Tower is “at will.” This means that either you or the Company may end your employment at any time, with or without cause, and with or without notice.

(ECF No. 17, Ex. 4.)

Tower terminated Ms. Shuler’s employment on March 20, 2012, for failing to perform redactions. Ms. Shuler filed a pro se complaint against Tower in Baltimore City Circuit Court on April 5, 2012, claiming that Tower failed to pay her wages of “about $250.00” for her last day of work, failed to pay her overtime of “about $700.00” (Count I), and defamed her in its communications with Johnson & Johnson (Count II). Ms. Shuler also alleged that Tower breached its contract with her by failing to provide her with training or the opportunity to correct her work (Count III), and that Tower acted negligently by providing defective computer systems and maintaining an unhealthy work environment (Count IV). Tower removed the action to this court on June 7, 2012.[1]


Standard of Review

This case comes before the court on a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. “[T]he purpose of Rule 12(b)(6) is to test the sufficiency of a complaint and not to resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses.” Presley v. City of Charlottesville, 464 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Cir. 2006) (internal quotation marks and alterations omitted) (quoting Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999)). When ruling on such a motion, the court must “accept the well-pled allegations of the complaint as true, ” and “construe the facts and reasonable inferences derived therefrom in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Ibarra v. United States, 120 F.3d 472, 474 (4th Cir. 1997). “Even though the requirements for pleading a proper complaint are substantially aimed at assuring that the defendant be given adequate notice of the nature of a claim being made against him, they also provide criteria for defining issues for trial and for early disposition of inappropriate complaints.” Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 192 (4th Cir. 2009). To survive a motion to dismiss, the factual allegations of a complaint “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, . . . on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal citations and alterations omitted). Thus, the plaintiff’s obligation is to set forth sufficiently the “grounds of his entitlement to relief, ” offering more than “labels and conclusions.” Id. (internal quotation marks and alterations omitted). “[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not ‘show[n]’-‘that the pleader is entitled to relief.’” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)).

Where matters outside the pleadings are considered by the court, a defendant's motion to dismiss will be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(d); Gay v. Wall, 761 F.2d 175, 177 (4th Cir. 1985). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) provides that “[t]he court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” The Supreme Court has clarified that this does not mean that any factual dispute will defeat the motion. “By its very terms, this standard provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). Whether a fact is material depends upon the substantive law. See id.

“A party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment ‘may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of [his] pleadings, ’ but rather must ‘set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.’” Bouchat v. Baltimore Ravens Football Club, Inc., 346 F.3d 514, 522 (4th Cir. 2003) (alteration in original) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)). The court must “view the facts and draw reasonable inferences ‘in the light most favorable to the party opposing the [summary judgment] motion, ’” Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007) (alteration in original) (quoting United States v. Diebold, 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962)), but the court also must abide by the “affirmative ...

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