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Eagle v. Eastern West Virginia Community

Supreme Court of West Virginia

April 7, 2017

Robert Eagle, Plaintiff Below, Petitioner
v.
Eastern West Virginia Community and Technical College and Charles Terrell, Defendants Below, Respondents

         (Hardy County 15-C-37)

          AMENDED MEMORANDUM DECISION

         Petitioner Robert Eagle, by counsel Harley O. Staggers Jr., appeals the Circuit Court of Hardy County's January 4, 2016, orders granting respondents' motions to dismiss. Respondents Eastern West Virginia Community and Technical College ("Eastern") and Dr. Charles Terrell, by counsel Matthew R. Whitler and Benjamin P. Warder, filed a response and a supplemental appendix. Petitioner filed a reply. On appeal, petitioner argues that the circuit court erred in granting respondents' motions to dismiss upon its doubt that petitioner would prevail in the action and by applying an incorrect standard of review.

         This Court has considered the parties' briefs and the record on appeal. The facts and legal arguments are adequately presented, and the decisional process would not be significantly aided by oral argument. Upon consideration of the standard of review, the briefs, and the record presented, the Court finds no substantial question of law and no prejudicial error. For these reasons, a memorandum decision affirming the circuit court's order is appropriate under Rule 21 of the Rules of Appellate Procedure.

         In 2015, petitioner filed a complaint against his employer and respondent herein, Eastern. Petitioner also named Dr. Terrell, president of the college and respondent herein, as a defendant, both in his individual capacity and in his capacity as president of the college. In June of 2015, petitioner filed an amended complaint. According to the amended complaint, petitioner alleged that respondents threatened to terminate him and another employee, Tim Riggleman, sometime in 2012. Later, petitioner testified at a trial upon Mr. Riggleman's claims against Eastern based upon the West Virginia Human Rights Act ("WVHRA"). According to petitioner, three months after Mr. Riggleman's trial, Eastern disciplined him for hiring an individual who was never actually hired. Accordingly, petitioner filed a complaint against respondents for violation of the WVHRA. Petitioner alleged that because of these issues, the resulting hostile work environment altered the conditions of his employment.

         In July of 2015, both respondents filed individual answers to petitioner's amended complaint, in addition to motions to dismiss the same. Following additional briefing on the motions to dismiss, the circuit court held a hearing on the motions in December of 2015. Thereafter, in January of 2016, the circuit court entered orders granting both of respondents' motions to dismiss. In the orders, the circuit court specifically found that petitioner's claims regarding events that occurred in 2012 were barred by the applicable statute of limitations. As to the timely causes of action, the circuit court found that petitioner's allegations against respondents "amount to nothing more than generalized workplace grievances pertaining to routine personnel issues" and did not rise to the level of actionable conduct committed by respondents. It is from these orders that petitioner appeals.

         We have previously held that "'[a]ppellate review of a circuit court's order granting a motion to dismiss a complaint is de novo.' Syllabus Point 2, State ex rel. McGraw v. Scott Runyan Pontiac-Buick, Inc., 194 W.Va. 770, 461 S.E.2d 516 (1995)." Syl. Pt. 2, Hill v. Stowers, 224 W.Va. 51, 680 S.E.2d 66 (2009). Additionally, we have held as follows:

"The trial court, in appraising the sufficiency of a complaint on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, should not dismiss the complaint unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Syl. Pt. 3, Chapman v. Kane Transfer Co., 160 W.Va. 530, 236 S.E.2d 207 (1977).

Syl. Pt. 2, Roth v. DeFeliceCare, Inc., 226 W.Va. 214, 700 S.E.2d 183 (2010). Further, in addressing employment discrimination, we have set forth the following standard:

"In order to make a prima facie case of employment discrimination . . . the plaintiff must offer proof of the following: (1) That the plaintiff is a member of a protected class. (2) That the employer made an adverse decision concerning the plaintiff. (3) But for the plaintiff's protected status, the adverse decision would not have been made." Syllabus Point 3, Conaway v. Eastern Associated Coal Corp., 178 W.Va. 164, 358 S.E.2d 423 (1986).

Syl. Pt. 2, Johnson v. Killmer, 219 W.Va. 320, 633 S.E.2d 265 (2006). Upon our review, the Court finds no error in the circuit court's orders granting respondents' motions to dismiss.

         In granting respondents' motions to dismiss, the circuit court specifically found that the allegedly discriminatory acts of which petitioner complained "amount[ed] to nothing more than generalized workplace grievances pertaining to routine personnel issues" and, therefore, did not rise to the level of actionable conduct by respondents. According to petitioner, this finding evidences the circuit court's failure to apply the appropriate standard of review in granting respondents' motions to dismiss, as the circuit court improperly granted those motions because it did not believe he could prevail on her claims. To the contrary, the record on appeal is clear that the circuit court applied the appropriate standard of review and made its ruling upon the fact that, beyond doubt, petitioner could establish no set of facts that would entitle him to relief. This Court finds that the evidence supports the circuit court's findings.

         On appeal, petitioner argues that respondents discriminated against him, in part, because of his December of 2014 testimony in Mr. Riggleman's trial against Eastern. However, the record on appeal is clear that several of the alleged instances of discrimination of which petitioner complains occurred prior to his testimony in that separate proceeding. As such, it is unclear how respondents were alleged to have retaliated for an act that had not yet occurred. Further, of the alleged retaliatory acts that occurred following petitioner's testimony, the circuit court was correct in determining that these acts did not rise to the level of actionable discrimination. One of the alleged retaliatory acts involved an electronic correspondence from Dr. Terrell regarding the Riggleman trial that did not relate to petitioner, and other alleged acts related to disciplinary acts taken against petitioner with which he did not agree. At no point does petitioner indicate how any of these alleged acts of retaliation constitute an adverse decision against him or set forth any evidence that respondents would not have engaged in these acts but for his protected class. Moreover, it is unclear to which protected class petitioner alleges he belongs. Simply put, petitioner has failed to establish a prima facie case of employment discrimination, and the circuit court correctly granted respondents' motions to dismiss.

         Lastly, petitioner takes issue with the circuit court's finding that Dr. Terrell was immune from liability below. The Court, however, finds that this issue is irrelevant to the resolution of this appeal, given that the circuit court specifically found that, despite Dr. Terrell's immunity, none of the alleged acts that he committed constituted valid claims of discrimination. As such, it is unnecessary to address the appropriateness of the circuit court's ruling with regard to Dr. Terrell's immunity.

         For the foregoing reasons, the circuit court's January 4, 2016, orders granting respondents' ...


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