United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Beckley Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
C. BERGEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Court has reviewed the Defendants' Motion to
Dismiss (Document 6), the Memorandum of Law in
Support of Motion to Dismiss of Defendants Spartan Mining
Company, LLC and Ronald Miller (Document 7), the
Plaintiff's Response in Opposition to Motion to
Dismiss (Document 9), and the Defendants' Reply
Memorandum in Support of Motion to Dismiss (Document
14). The Court has also reviewed the Amended
Complaint (Document 11). To date, the Plaintiff has not
filed a substantive response to the motion to dismiss. For
the reasons stated herein, the Court finds that the
Defendants' motion should be granted in part and denied
ALLEGEATONS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Plaintiff, Jason Farmer, initiated this lawsuit with a
complaint filed in the Circuit Court of Wyoming County, West
Virginia, against the Defendants, Spartan Mining Company, LLC
(“Spartan”) and Ronald Miller. The two-count
complaint alleged that the Plaintiff was wrongfully
discharged from his position at Spartan as a roof bolt
operator and employee at the Road Fork #51 Mine (“the
Mine”). He alleged that the Defendants ordered him to
work in extremely dusty conditions downwind from the active
mining machines, which allegedly threatened his health and
resulted in his inability to work for Spartan. The complaint
further alleged that the Defendants' actions were in
violation of the West Virginia common law and the West
Virginia Human Rights Act (“WVHRA”). On April 6,
2018, the Defendants jointly removed the matter to this court
based on diversity jurisdiction. On April 13, 2018, the
Defendants filed an answer, which denied all allegations.
10, 2018, the Plaintiff filed an amended complaint. On May
17, 2018, in response to the amended complaint, the
Defendants filed a Motion to Strike Plaintiff's Amended
Complaint and Memorandum of Law in Support. On May 31, 2018,
the Plaintiff filed his response in opposition and on June 7,
2018, the Defendants filed a reply in support. On January 29,
2019, this Court issued a Memorandum Opinion and Order,
denying the Defendants' motion to strike and directing
that the amended complaint be filed.
Plaintiff claims that Ronald Miller ordered the Plaintiff and
other miners to operate a roof bolt machine in dusty
conditions in advance of the ventilation current. In the
summer of 2016, at the age of thirty-six, the Plaintiff began
struggling to breathe. On July 18, 2016, the Plaintiff
notified Terry Lambert, the Mine's safety director, in
writing, that his lungs were damaged, and that he would not
be able to work in advance of the ventilation any longer.
Despite this notification, the Defendants required the
Plaintiff to operate the roof bolt machine in advance of the
ventilation current. The Plaintiff was off work between July
19, 2016 and September 1, 2016. While he was away from work,
the Plaintiff's medical treatment providers informed him
that he suffered from an irreversible progressive breathing
impairment caused by pulmonary disease resulting from coal
mine dust exposure, also known as black lung disease. On
August 10, 2016, Terreal Blankenship, on behalf of Spartan,
filed a Form 7000-1 Occupational Illness Report with the U.S.
Mine Safety and Health Administration acknowledging that, as
of August 8, 2016, the Plaintiff had developed dust disease
of the lungs.
Plaintiff returned to work on September 1, 2016. Upon his
return, he requested that he no longer work in advance of the
ventilation current. He also informed management of his
breathing problem and provided them with an x-ray report
confirming that he was suffering from black lung disease. In
response to this information, the Defendants initially moved
Mr. Farmer to another part of the mine that was not as dusty
and assigned him less hours in comparison to the hours he was
assigned when he worked in advance of the ventilation
current. However, during September 2016, the same month of
the Plaintiff's return to work, the Defendants again
ordered him to work in advance of the ventilation current.
Working in those conditions aggravated the Plaintiff's
breathing difficulties and he feared working under those
conditions would lead to irreparable damage and additional
suffering from black lung disease. In light of his request to
work elsewhere, once the Defendants ordered the Plaintiff to
work in the dusty environment, in advance of the ventilation
current, with knowledge of his black lung disease, the
Plaintiff found the conditions to be so intolerable that he
was compelled to quit his job on September 25, 2016.
motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which
relief can be granted tests the legal sufficiency of a
complaint or pleading. Francis v. Giacomelli, 588
F.3d 186, 192 (4th Cir. 2009); Giarratano v.
Johnson, 521 F.3d 298, 302 (4th Cir. 2008). Federal Rule
of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires that a pleading contain
“a short and plain statement of the claim showing that
the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P.
8(a)(2). Additionally, allegations “must be simple,
concise, and direct.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(d)(1).
“[T]he pleading standard Rule 8 announces does not
require ‘detailed factual allegations,' but it
demands more than an unadorned,
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)
(quoting Bell Atlantic Corp v. Twombly, 550 U.S.
544, 555 (2007)). In other words, “a complaint must
contain “more than labels and conclusions, and a
formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action
will not do.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.
Moreover, “a complaint [will not] suffice if it tenders
naked assertions devoid of further factual
enhancements.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678
(quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557) (internal
quotation marks omitted).
Court must “accept as true all of the factual
allegations contained in the complaint.” Erickson
v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007). The Court must also
“draw  all reasonable factual inferences from those
facts in the plaintiff's favor.” Edwards v.
City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 244 (4th Cir. 1999).
However, statements of bare legal conclusions “are not
entitled to the assumption of truth” and are
insufficient to state a claim. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at
679. Furthermore, the court need not “accept as true
unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or
arguments.” E. Shore Mkts., v. J.D. Assocs. Ltd.
P'ship, 213 F.3d 175, 180 (4th Cir. 2000).
“Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of
action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not
suffice . . . [because courts] ‘are not bound to accept
as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual
allegation.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678
(quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).
survive a motion to dismiss, “a complaint must contain
sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, ‘to state
a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'”
Iqbal, 556 U.S. At 678 (quoting Twombly,
550 U.S. at 570). In other words, this “plausibility
standard requires a plaintiff to demonstrate more than
‘a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted
unlawfully.'” Francis, 588 F.3d at 193
(quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). A plaintiff
must, using the complaint, “articulate facts, when
accepted as true, that ‘show' that the plaintiff
has stated a claim entitling him to relief.”
Francis, 588 F.3d at 193 (quoting Twombly,
550 U.S. at 557). “Determining whether a complaint
states [on its face] a plausible claim for relief [which can
survive a motion to dismiss] will ... be a context-specific
task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its
judicial experience and common sense.” Iqbal,
556 U.S. at 679.
Defendants filed a motion to dismiss, which addressed alleged
deficiencies with the complaint, and raised affirmative
defenses. In response to the motion, the Plaintiff asserted,
without any legal basis or order from the Court, that the
motion was moot because he had filed an amended complaint.
The Defendants protested and filed a response renewing their
motion to dismiss and asked the Court to strike the amended
complaint. The Court addressed the procedural defects with
the filing of the amended complaint but permitted it to be
filed for the sake of preserving judicial economy. The Court
will address the arguments raised by the Defendants, both in
the initial motion to dismiss and in the briefing filed after
submission of the amended complaint. The Court's analysis
of the sufficiency of the complaint will rely on the amended
complaint as the operative pleading.